8 June 2013


Firenze for another day trip. Yep, had to come for a second look; underestimated just how important this city was.

Yesterday was a write-off. My back ached. We needed to find a Laundromat in the bowels of Bologna and by the time we got back to our suburb the bloody tavernas were closed so we settled for a bar snack or two. We had fruit, bread, a bottle of Soave, tomato and cheese back in our hotel room so it wasn’t all bad. But the back was playing up and I needed rest. Today I am fine. But this is not all about me . . .is it? Hahaha. Anyway, we moved from our first hotel to a bargain placement at a Best Western Hotel for 3 days. Then I booked a night at Ancona in a hotel near the station at a good price. Meanwhile, today’s train ride to Florence was one of those gems one has when travelling. Rachel chose a cabin where only one young bloke was seated, and on our speaking in English to each other about our qualms of where to change trains, this young Italian assured us he was going to the same place. Then started one of those wonderful chance encounters. Besides much else we found we agreed upon, he was able to recommend to us a couple of places to eat in Firenze – after all, we would be arriving for lunch (now our main meal).

The countryside we travel through (Tuscanny) is as you will have read about: verdant, lush and Tuscanny-villa’d. Back in Firenze we struck out direct to our recommended eating place – and found it. It is well outside the tourist belt. Firenze/Florence is one very powerful tourist magnet – I’ve never come across so many tourists in one place. The food is superb, simple and inexpensive. The bread alone is worth a mention. Crusty, with the interior having a stone-ground bouncy texture, it had a rich flavour and aroma. It is, I would think, the quality of the flour. Florence is as it turns out renowned for the quality of its food and produce. I had a dish of kidneys in a bay leaf sauce and it was exquisite. Rachel had a gnocci that was so soft I questioned (with Rachel) its authenticity, but it was just the freshness and the texture of the ingredients that made it so. I also chose a mixed salad and Rachel some fried Zuchinni strips in a tempura-like batter. We washed it all down with a regional, house white wine. All was superb. We finished our feast with a typical regional desert – Biscotti (a dried bread with almonds) served with a sweet sherry for dipping the biscuit in. We were given a complementary one of these at the previous Firenze tratoria as we were about to depart but I didn’t know it was their desert – drank the sherry, ate the biscotti: thought it was a lovely gesture and left in a glow of amity. Oh it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it!
We did another scout about though the tourist traps after our repast, checking out and taking snapshots of the old bridges over the river, especially the incredible Ponte Veccio. It featured in the film ‘Perfume’ and has olde shops over its length. Got the photos, drunk the beer and ate the food. Forgot to get the tee-shirt . . .

This Italy is growing on me. Hmmmmm.

Firenze – with Camera

7 June 2013

FirenzeThe high-speed train took us only about 3/4hr to get here, but most of the trip was through tunnels (the Italians are renowned for their tunnelling) thereby decreasing the time spent en tren but destroying the scenic pleasures of train travel. Such is progress. We left the crowded and very touristic area around the central station and plodded off in search of our Menu Del Dia. Granted, it did take us a while and some distance, but we were ultimately rewarded. For 1st course I chose a pasta dish with a fresh tomato salsa and Rachel chose the Carbonara. Both were excellent. For the 2nd, I chose a roasted pork chuletta that was tender, almost to a fault, served in a delicious gravy. Rachel chose roasted portions of chicken. Her 3rd choice was a small patter of those large white beans in a light tomato salsa, while I finished with an ensalada mixta. Olive oil, balsamic and white wine vinegar and a mild chilly-in-oil dressing were complementary as was the hearty and delicious bread. This was for 13 Euros each, but we blew the budget with a couple of half litre carafes of spritzy house white wine. The restaurant had a rapid turnover of (obviously) local folk while we leisurely tarried over our meal. We’d struck gold. It was so pleasing to have found something so locally typical and away from all the tourist restaurants with their menus written in English. This is one very busy tourist town. And justly so as we found as we meandered back into the heart of it.  Foto foto foto! It’s one of those places. Stunning olde architecture:  Basilicas, churches, fortresses and offices of the rulers from time immemorial. Stunning. We considered coming in for a second run – the rail fare can be very cheap (we did a return trip for 8.50 Euros each by a rural and slower train). We may or may not, as we didn’t cover all its glorious sights today, but then, hell,  we’ve seen a few architectural wonders already (especially in Spain and Greece) and we are never going to see all the world’s wonders. We also encountered a bar or two today that serve similar food to the Spanish – by that I mean superb little snacky things (but not tapas) served on artisan bread. Saw more, bewildering, bursting-to-the-seams delicatessens today at a market we encountered. Oh what a friend we have in cheeses.

About to land back in Bologna. This rural train’s accompanying scenery is lovely. It’s hilly and verdant out this way and one glimpses great old fincas/villas. Slow is much better ain’t it, though this one’s average speed is about 100kph! I’d hate to guess at the speed of that bullet shaped train we went out on.

One in the eye: I recently had an intense conversation with a friend, Arthur Gatley (a friend of Freddo Dirk) about the corking of wine in bottles, as opposed to the affixing of screw caps. Australia has been completely sold on the screw cap – a marketing coup, a method sold to the vintners for its expediency, lower cost, and purported non-contaminating properties. My argument, which I maintain to this day, is that wine, stoppered with a cork but which has become bad, can be directly attributed to incorrect storage. The bottles are supposed to be stored lying down in order that the cork, a natural product, absorbs some of the wine’s moisture and swells, thus completing the seal. Simple. But no one is going to tell an Aussie how to store his wine. Screw that! So they happily bought the screw cap concept.

Well, you New World folk down under – shove this in your pipe and smoke it: I can’t find a bottle of wine here (and you just know I’ve been looking at them) with a screw cap. Of course, you could say – “Well, what do the Italians know about wine? Eh?”

There are signs that it is going to be a very hot summer here. Phew.