Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Day 22: Lerici-Florence

NOTE: We are back home now....we arrived in Washington on Friday, June 17. We are now trying to get over our jet lag and catch up with mail, etc. It was a very good trip.
Reluctantly leaving Lerici, we make a detour to Lucca on the way to Florence.

One mission in Lucca is to buy some of the very delicious hazelnut dark chocolate bark at the chocolate store, Caniparoli. However, I had forgotten that they don't make chocolate in the hot summer months, so we have to make do with some biscotti. We still find Lucca a very pleasant town and would be happy to return for another stay.

We also want to visit our friend Paolo, the owner of the Piccolo Puccini Hotel, with whom we have become friendly, on the internet and during our stays in Lucca. He is in the midst of remodelling a bar in the center of town which he hopes to open in less than a month. He tells us that the bar is a "new challenge" for him and it will cater to the increased influx of British tourists in Lucca. This increase is due to the availability of inexpensive flights from Great Britain and the relative strength of the British economy. We also meet his father and have a discussion about Italian families and the father's desire to have stronger Italian-American ties.

Lunch is at one of our favorite restaurants in Lucca.....Vecchia Trattoria. We sit outside on this very warm day....Diana orders the very memorable fried chicken which comes with equally good fried vegetables (it is still terrific); Diana made this dish for Hanukkah last year after she discovered the recipe in an Italian-Jewish cookbook. I have the zuppa di farro and grilled polenta covered with melted cheese--very simple and very good. The other customers today are a German tour group and two French families with young children. It is nice to be able to return to favorite restaurants and find them as good as you remember.

We are keeping the car for our three days in Florence so we have to navigate right to the Piazza Santa Croce where we are staying; we have been offered a free apartment for three days--a travel agent perk. We approach the center along the riverfront and have no problem reaching the piazza. The problem is that our apartment is right on the piazza which is designated a pedestrian zone. In addition, the access areas on the sides of the piazza are filled with vendors blocking the way to the apartment's front door. We negotiate our way to the front of the church where we are stopped by a policeman who tells me that I am in a pedestrian zone. I try to explain that I am trying to unload luggage at our apartment at which point he leaves us alone. I park, leave Diana with the car and go to the apartment office to see what I should do.

The manager tells me that I am about as close as I am going to get so we roll our bags the half block to the door and wrestle them up the stairs to the first floor apartment (not served by the elevator).

The apartment is amazing....it is in the Palazzo Antellesi, which is the painted building on the south side of of Piazza Santa Croce. Our two bedroom apartment has unbelievably high ceilings (maybe 16 feet) and frescoes on the walls. We also have windows that give us a great view of the piazza.

Before getting too comfortable, I go to retrieve the car and take it to the nearby garage. On my first try, I somehow miss the garage and have to make a wide circle to return to the street....if you miss your destination in an Italian city, it is not a matter of just making a u-turn or going around the block to get back on track. You have to follow the traffic patterns that take you completely out of the center before you can make your way back in.

Once the car is parked, we go out for a walk. We walk down the Via Ghibellina in the direction of Tuscan Artist's shop and after a few blocks, we find it. Angie (an active member of the Slow Travel board) is there and we have a nice talk and admire at the paintings on the walls -Tuscan landscapes and pictures of food- done by both her and her husband. Diana has her eye on a small oil painting of poppies with a purple sky. We agree to stop to see her again in Castellina in Chianti on our way to Siena to see the show of their pictures in the tower of the Town Hall. Saying goodbye, we next stop at a sidewalk cafe at the Piazza della Signoria, like good tourists and have a pre-dinner prosecco while watching all the other tourists troop back and forth across the broad square.

Since we had been in Florence for two weeks last October, we have a nice feeling of familiarity as we walk through the streets on our way back to the apartment. Just before we are ready to go out for dinner, the sky becomes extremely dark and it begins raining very hard. This rainstorm continues for an almost an hour (we learn later that there had been hail in other parts of the city and in Chianti). Here is a picture I took from our window overlooking the piazza.

Finally it lets up and we decide to brave the rain so we can have dinner. The storm seems to have broken the heat wave and it is cool and we need jackets as we go outside. We eat at a local trattoria called dei Fagioli, just a block or two away from the apartment. Dinner is excellent...it is a traditional trattoria and the clientele is a mixture of locals and tourists. The waiter is very professional and we appreciate how he explains the specials in English but then reverts to Italian for the rest of the meal. I have a hearty bowl of ribollita (vegetable soup thickened with bread) and a rich, very tasty plate of tripe, Florentine style. Diana has the house special (named after the waiter's father--Gigi), an involtini preparation filled with prosciutto, artichokes and cheese. We drink a nice Morellino from Scansano, the wine that has become our regular red on this trip. For dessert, Diana has a good piece of cake (torta della nonna) and I have one of the best desserts ever....sliced ripe peaches soaked in lemon and sugar.

When we have finished, the weather is clearing and the streets are again filled with people; even the outdoor restaurants are set up and serving customers. Tomorrow, we will have lunch with our friend and my travel business colleague, Maddie Bacarelli and will visit the neighboring city of Pistoia.


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