Building some routine….
Once again, our week started with the Saturday Parkrun – having discovered the Mobikes, we could cycle the 5+km to get there instead of walking. That said, the one-way roads and lots of construction proved a bit of a challenge – will try a different route to get there next week. Fortunately, Walter’s leg was feeling a little better having not run at all during the week, so he was able to take part, albeit a minute slower than Glenda – for the first and no doubt the last time!
The church was a bit emptier this week. As it is Italian holiday season, many people including the students are away in August, so a large percentage of the congregation tends to be made up of tourists. There were only a couple of visitors from the US and someone from China.
Having a couple of regular activities and meeting with like minded people helps to slowly build a sense of belonging in a place that is so foreign in terms of so many things not least of all the language.
More eating and drinking….
During our stay last year, we had discovered a fabulous restaurant serving melt-in-your mouth steaks. Even before our arrival in Florence this time, we had already booked a Saturday night dinner at L’Ortone. We received an amazing welcome back and were served by the same guy as the last time we were there! The steak was just as good as we remembered and the service extremely friendly and efficient. We’ll definitely be back again.
With our local bar closed for the holidays, we’ve had to venture further afield for breakfast. An old Florentine institution named Robiglio, about 1km away (10min walk), has proved a fair option.
We’ve also ventured to our old favourite – discovered during our first visit to Florence over 7 years ago. Finisterrae is almost 2km from home, making it a 40 minute round trip, but their delicious pastries are worth the effort – the coffee slightly less so.
As mentioned before, we spend many hours just strolling around Florence, by day and night. Sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming with the huge number of tourists around. But there is always something new to discover, views to behold and times where we are the only ones enjoying the scenery. One cannot get tired of the spectacular views over the Arno River – in the mornings when the Ponte Vecchio and surrounding buildings are reflected in the still water or in the evenings when the sun is setting behind said bridge.
Piazzale Michelangelo is THE place to go for sunset – there are throngs of people heading up the hill each evening to enjoy the wonderful vista over Florence. Having walked and run up there a number of times before, we were surprised to uncover another route to get there – and on the way, discovered a little “secret” garden that Walter had read about in a book. We enjoyed a glass of wine on the terrace of a cocktail bar overlooking Florence but headed down just as the crowd was making its way up the hill to watch the sun go down. Whist they were fighting for their viewing spot, we were enjoying a pizza at a little vibrant, family run place down the hill.
Returning to the Uffizi and relaxing in the Boboli Gardens….
One of the temporary exhibitions in the Uffizi was of sculptures by a German artist, Fritz Koenig. Some may remember Koenig as the man behind the giant bronze sculpture that was at the centre of plaza beneath the twin towers in New York. The Sphere, as it is called, was recovered from the rubble, visibly damaged but largely intact. After being dismantled and stored, six months after the attack, it was relocated to a temporary location in Battery Park, where in unrestored condition it was re-dedicated with an eternal flame. Having become a major tourist attraction, the unrestored sculpture was re-dedicated on August 16, 2017 at a permanent location in Liberty Park, overlooking the September 11 Memorial and its original location.
In addition to another visit to the Uffizi, we also spent some time in the Boboli Gardens – a peaceful retreat amongst the trees, fountains and statues. There was a Koenig display in the gardens too – much bigger sculptures than those inside – which we appreciated all the more having seen his work in the gallery and read his story.
The Boboli Gardens was also housing an exhibition tracing the strong historical ties between man and horse, beginning with early cave paintings and moving through to medieval times. From the time that the horse was thought of as food, through to it being a status symbol, primary part of war and then for sport and competition. Through the ages, horses and their livery were buried with their owners – and many of the 100 pieces on display are those having been found in tombs.
Walking the backstreets….
With the dawning of a cooler day, we decided to take a walk away from the ZTL and all the tourist hangouts and headed in the opposite direction. Walter was keen to see the Stadio Artemio Franchi, a football stadium and currently the home of ACF Fiorentina and had identified that it is only a couple of km away from home. It was the day of the big public holiday, so most of the shops were closed, although some of the bars were open and full of Florentines having a day off.
Close to the stadium is an indoor sports arena used for things like basketball and concerts. Inaugurated in 1985 and called Palazzetto dello sport di Firenze and Palasport, it was renamed in 2004 to Nelson Mandela Forum. Outside the forum is the Nelson Mandela Memorial, representing a symbol of hope. It is a glass “box” representing the cell in the Robben Island prison where Mandela spent 18 years in captivity. The memorial was inaugurated in February this year by his first granddaughter.
A day at the beach….
Desiring to have a break from the city and heat, we hopped on the train to Castiglioncello, one of the Tuscan beach resorts recommended by our friend Malle. It was close to a 2-hour trip, with a change in Pisa.
On arrival, needing our daily caffeine and sugar fix, we headed into the central bar in town. After one of the best pastries we’ve had so far this trip, we ventured down a path towards the sea. As typical in Europe at this time of year, the beaches were adorned with the colourful umbrellas of the “bagni” – establishments that have bought permits from the local authorities to set up their equipment and rent it out.
There were a few small “public” beaches where anyone can go and put down their towel or use an umbrella. Whilst we had taken bathers, we found that there was a long walking path tracking the seaside, so we enjoyed that and didn’t venture into the water. A lot of the coast was covered in volcanic rock, so our feet would’ve been shredded without reef shoes or something similar.
Oddly, one of the highlights of our day was stumbling across an old villa or hotel that was totally neglected and full of graffiti. The pool was still intact but empty, the walls were still standing and the beautiful floors were still shining. The views out to sea were spectacular. In its day, it would have been an amazing property, likely visited by the well to do of the time. It’s hard to understand why this particular property had been abandoned, while similar ones down the street were setup as museums or expensive hotels.
It was easy to get a break from the hot sun as there was a fairly large Pineta (pine forest) near the sea. The local market had been set up amongst the trees, so we spent some time perusing the food, books, clothing, kids toys and other bits and pieces. When we returned in the afternoon – it was near the station – Walter was fascinated with which the stalls being taken down. The canvas structures were dismantled, seemingly “swallowed up” by the roof of the trucks to which they were attached.
As we were at the sea, we felt it was prudent to have our share of seafood for lunch, rather than resort to the meats that are so plentiful in Florence. Thanks to Tripadvisor, we found a little backstreet establishment serving the freshest most delectable Fritto Misto (mixed, fried seafood). Yummy! And what’s a trip to the beach without gelato?? Good thing we’d had another day of more than 20,000 steps!