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Italy 2004 – Day 4


We both woke up around 4:00am, and it took us a while to get back to sleep, but we did. At 5:30, my alarm went off and we pulled ourselves from bed, put on our clothes, grabbed the cameras and tripod, and set out for some dawn photography.

We took pre-dawn pictures of the Duomo, and then moved on to the riverside for pictures of Ponte Vecchio. Unfortunately for us, the sun rose in the wrong place, leaving the bridge in shadow as the southern bank of the river brightened. Nonetheless, we got some really good pictures as the sky brightened before dawn, then as the sun lit up the tower of Palazzo Vecchio and surrounding buildings.

Around 7:15 we left the bridge and walked along the south bank of the river, back to Ponte Vecchio. The neighborhood at the south end of the bridge looked pretty seedy with its adult movie theater, but we made it through unmolested. The bridge itself was empty of people and the shops lining both sides of the street were closed up tight. It was a beautiful, peaceful place, quite different from 6:30 the previous evening.

From Ponte Vecchio, we walked back to our hotel, returning around 8:00. We had already been up for two and a half hours, and we were hungry! We dropped off the camera gear in our camera (room) and headed back downstairs for breakfast. We enjoyed cereal, yogurt, fruit cocktail, a pear, bread and cheese and (most important) two cappuccinos apiece.

Back at the room, we spent some time planning. I called and made museum reservations for Thursday, downloaded our pictures to the laptop (and burned them to CD). Chris looked at some brochures she had picked up and found some more museums to visit. While I caught up on this journal, she continued to plan our next few days and took a nap.

After our rest, we headed out for a walking tour suggested by one of our guidebooks. It would take us across the Arno to the south bank, where we would walk through neighborhoods that didn’t have many tourists at all. Before we crossed the river, we stopped at Pallazo Feragamo, named for Salvadore Feragamo, maker of high-fashion shoes. The ground floor is a huge Faragamo store, but we were looking for a photography exhibit that had been mentioned in one of the brochures Chris had picked up.

We went inside the building and found a way up to a museum on the second floor. There were no photographs, only displays of shoes and shoe molds; it was the Feragamo museum. We looked at the displays and eventually came to a room where a video about the life of Salvadore was playing. It was pretty interesting, telling of his rise to fame, his bankruptcy during WWII, and his rise again after the war.

After the shoe museum, we got back on track for our walking tour. As we walked, we were on the lookout for a tobacco shop where could buy a card with more time for my cell phone. We managed to find one, and the young man behind the counter even added the time to my account for me. I couldn’t understand the voice-response menus, which were in Italian.

We also found a nice little sandwich shop where Chris got a sandwich with mozzarella and pomodoro and I got salami on focaccia. We ate as we walked. There wasn’t anything exciting about the street, but we saw normal Florentines going about their normal business. When we got to the old wall of the city, we headed back toward the riverside, where we found a nice little park.

We sat on a bench in the park for a while, just resting our feet and cooling off in the breeze. I checked the map, found a way back to our hotel, and we were off again. We crossed the next bridge we came to, Ponte di Vittoria. We found ourselves in the posh area of Florence, where the fancy hotels are. We walked down a narrow street lined by a slightly less-narrow park.

At the end of that street we looked right – toward the river – and Chris noticed an odd-looking car. It was an old Fiat with Italian-language funny papers decoupaged all over it. To top it off, the keys were lying on the roof of the car! Apparently, the owner was satisfied that no one would steal such a unique (and probably worthless) car.

We continued on our way, taking a few wrong turns until we finally came upon the “street” that would take us back to our hotel. It was really just a small alley. If it were in New York (or even my own neighborhood in San Jose) I wouldn’t have walked down such an alley. However, there were numerous, respectable-looking people walking there, so up we went.

I had chosen that street to take us back to the hotel, because it was the street where Trattoria Sostanza, our restaurant for the evening, was located. The restaurant was not well marked, but we did manage to find it. We would be able to find it easily that night.

We dropped Chris’s tote back at the hotel, then headed down the street to a bar we had seen earlier, Chequers Pub. We were disappointed to find it closed, but we knew there was an open bar across the street from our hotel. We headed back up the street. Before we got to that bar, though, we looked into a purse shop, where a bright, lemon-lime green leather purse caught Chris’s eye. We went in to check it out, only to find that it cost €89. That was too much for us.

We finally made it to the convenient bar, Bar Sandra e Claudio, where we sat at a street-side table and had a beer apiece. We enjoyed about an hour there, relaxing and watching the people go by. It was really amazing how any motor scooters there were on the streets!

After our beers, Chris decided we needed to check out a market we had walked by that morning. When we had walked by earlier, the vendors were just getting set up. It had looked like they were selling lots of leather goods. She might be able to find a cheaper purse there.

We walked back towards town, through the Piazza della Republica and headed south to the pavilion where the market was. We hadn’t really intended to buy anything, but Chris kept checking out purses and leather jackets. One of the vendors showed us a couple of jackets that didn’t quite fit. Then he said he was sure he had a jacket in Chris’s size in his shop, which was just two doors down the street. He then proceeded to lead us there.

In the store, the market vendor left us in the hands of his best salesman and went back to tend his stall. Chris tried on style after style of jacket. None of them worked on her short-waisted frame. Finally, they brought out a nice, three-quarter-length jacket that worked very nicely. We couldn’t think of any reason not to buy it, so we bought it, for €180.

We hadn’t made it all the way through the market, so we headed back, looked at the rest of the stalls and headed up the street again. I noticed an internet café and went in to see if they had wi-fi (wireless) access. They didn’t, but the attendant circled a place on my map that did. It was near our hotel, so I planned to check it out the next day.

Next door to the internet place was an optical shop. Once again we stopped in to see if they had clip-ons that fit Chris’s glasses. They had none ready-made, but the very nice man behind the counter offered to trim a larger clip-on to fit. It would only take 10 minutes. After that short break, the specs were ready, and they fit the glasses perfectly. All for only €23. Actually that’s a bit more than we wanted to pay, but we hadn’t been able to find anything before that. Chris would definitely need shades, so we figured we should shell out.

From there, it was back to the hotel for a glass of wine, a shower, and then off to dinner.

Dinner was at Trattoria Sostanza. This restaurant had been recommended by our guidebook, and – more importantly – by my co-worker, Debbie. We had reservations for the 7:30 seating, and we left our hotel about 7:10, thinking if we got there early, we could have a drink. It took only about 5 minutes to walk to the restaurant. When we got there, the inside was mostly dark, and the corrugated-tin door was pulled down, leaving a doorway about 5 feet high. It was obvious they weren’t looking for customers yet.

We took a stroll around the block and got back to the door about 7:25. They still weren’t really open, so we spent some time deciphering the menu and deciding what looked good. Debbie had recommended the steak – bistecca alla fiorentino – so I decided that’s what I would have. Chris wasn’t quite decided. Right at 7:30, a restaurant employee came out and rolled the door up the rest of the way, and the lights came on inside. However, he did not motion us in, or say anything to us.

We kept looking at the menu, waiting to see if anyone else showed up, or we were given an active sign to come in. About 7:32, I stuck my head in the door and said “Aperto?” (“Open?”). The answer came back “Si, signore!” So, in we went.

This trattoria has group seating. As first to arrive, Chris and I had our choice. The waiter motioned to the back table and said, “You can see into the kitchen.” That sounded interesting, so we sat there, where we could, indeed, see the cooks at work. That turned out to be an excellent spot. We got the only seats at the table that were convenient and out of traffic, so no one joined us at that table, even though the restaurant quickly filled with other patrons.

I ordered insalata verde (green salad) as my antipasto, and Chris ordered pomodoro (tomatos with olive oil). For “afters” as the waiter put it, I ordered the bistecca as planned, and Chris settled on the vitello con brodo (veal with broth). We also ordered aqua, no gasse (plain mineral water) and a mezzo (half liter) of wine.

After we ordered, the waiter set two small loaves of bread – a little smaller than zucchini – directly on the tablecloth. The bread was very hard. Chris insisted that it was meant to be dunked in the wine, and she proceeded to do just that. I tried dunking a couple of pieces, but decided that the softer bread wasn’t worth getting crumbs in my wine.

The salads came and were good, then the main course came. Chris and I simultaneously took sample bites of our dishes, started chewing, then looked at each other with blissful expressions. We couldn’t believe how good the meat was. I cut her a piece of my huge (at least 16-oz) steak, and she cut off a piece of her veal. We agreed that both dishes were excellent, but each preferred the one we had ordered.

My steak was tender, salty, juicy, and aged to perfection. It was seared to a crisp outside, but rare inside. I have never had a steak like it. As big as it was, I ate until nothing but fat, a little bit of gristle, and small chunks of bone were on my plate.

Chris’s large portion of veal was served in a clear broth – a very flavorful chicken broth with rosemary seasoning. The flavors of the meat and broth were distinct, but blended to create a unique taste that Chris found indescribable. She ate every bite, and was immediately ready to make reservations for one of the following evenings.

Amazingly, after that dinner, Chris still wanted a gelato. We headed up the street to our favorite gelateria, where she ordered a scoop of cocco (coconut) and a scoop of pistachio. I had a small taste of her treat, but was too full to order one of my own. She kept her spoon and added it to the collection.

Back at the room, we were soon in bed, and shortly asleep.

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