Florence 2005

Day 11, Tues., March 22

We took the train from Venice to Florence.  Our train ride was about three hours.  Quiet and relaxing.  We were debating whether to take a taxi or not as our hotel appeared not too far from the train station, but at the last minute we opted for the taxi.  We did not mind finding our way with a map, but with luggage, kids, etc. the taxi seemed like a good idea.

We arrived at our place, The Tourist House Ghiberti B&B.  It was a smaller establishment, I believe they only had five or six rooms, on the 1st floor (2nd in US) of an apartment building.  We were greeted by Claudio the proprietor.  Not the overwhelming, effervescent greeting we received in Venice, but that was unique.  We had two rooms again, which are really quite large, and the bathrooms are also very big.  Definitely the nicest bathrooms, with a tub and nice tile work.  We were right across from the hospital, but as long as the windows were closed we heard no noise.  (For summer travelers they do have air conditioning.)  They also had a computer with internet access in every room.  This was very handy and really appreciated.  I believe Claudio said they had some form of satellite TV as well, but we never turned it on.

We went for a late lunch at a little Trattoria on San Lorenzo, walked around for a bit and located Vivoli gelateria (Via isola delle stinche 7)for our first taste of gelato in Florence.  It was very crowded, definitely had the best giandua so far.  We headed back to the room.  Stephen & Michael stayed to rest.  Lauren and I headed to the markets in Campo San Lorenzo.  I bought two purses and three silk scarves.  Lauren got a pink bracelet and Ciao Ciao t-shirt and some STI shoes at a shoe store.

For dinner we ate at Trattoria Roberto on Via Castellini near the Uffizi.  It was quite good.  We feel as though we are really getting spoiled with such great food everywhere!  We shared bruschetta pomodoro, caprese & pomodoro, pasta di mare and bistecca.  The bistecca had a wonderful flavor.

We headed out to try a new gelato place, but turns out they close early on Tuesday nights.  Headed back to Vivoli’s for our gelato nightcap, then head to the B&B.  We found Florence a little bit more difficult to navigate than Rome, just because the streets are longer and wider so the cars are bigger and go a little faster.

Day 12, Wed. March 23

Woke up and enjoyed breakfast.  The breakfast here is similar to the one at Albergo Cesari in Rome.  Today we were going to visit the La Marzocco espresso machine factory.   Stephen is ordering some equipment from them, and when his Seattle rep. found out we would be in Florence she set up a meeting for us.  We took the bus out to Pian San Bartolo.  It is about 20-30 minutes outside of the city in a small town called Cercina.   We were greeted warmly by Ron, the President.  He is an enjoyable and gracious host.   Stephen was completely in his element, fascinated by seeing the inner workings of the machines.  He asked the production manager many technical questions about the features.  This was a small factory about 30 total employees where everything is done by hand.

After our tour Ron and Claire, who I believe is the VP of marketing, took us to the most incredible lunch.  We drove out another 10-15 minutes to a restaurant called I Ricchi (Via della Docciola 14 in Cercina).  We sat with a stunning view of the countryside.  Ron ordered for us all.  First the antipasti – bresola, proscuitto and lard (yes it is lard!), fried polenta with a mushroom pate, crostini with liver pate, and little fried bread balls that you eat with a soft goat cheese.  Now, we prefer our polenta creamy rather than fried, but this was the best fried polenta ever!  We were then served a plate of fried vegetables, and a plate of astounding sausage and ribs.  Lastly, the centerpiece of the meal – the bistecca.  (Now this was true Florentine bistecca).  The waiter had brought it to our table earlier when it was uncooked for Ron to inspect, it was at least four if not five fingers thick.  It was cooked very rare (which works for us as we like our meat on the rarer side).  It was heavenly with a wonderful flavor.  We were all completely stuffed!  Headed back to the factory for espresso and La Marzocco goodie bags!.  Then Ron drove us back into Florence just in time for our 4:00 reservation at the Accadamia.

We were all awed by the David.  (Okay, maybe Stephen and I more so than the kids.)  I just want to interject here that if you are going to Rome and Florence you MUST read Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.  It is an historical fiction novel about Michelangelo and will give you a much deeper understanding and incredible insight into his work.  There were also several other unfinished works of Michelangelo there.  Oddly there was some very modern art scattered throughout the museum that did not seem to go with the rest of the collections.

We stopped at Carabe (Via Ricasoli, 60) known for it’s granita, and enjoyed incredible tasting fruit granitas.  Probably even more enjoyable on a warm summer day!  Boys went back to the hotel to rest, while Lauren and I hit the main shopping streets from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio.  I bought a pair of blue leather loafers.

We headed back to the rooms, I am exhausted as I didn’t get my rest, and still full from lunch, but the boys are ready to eat.  We had a reservation at Buco Marios (Piazza Ottaviani, 16r).  It is a very large restaurant with many different rooms.  We all agreed to have a very light dinner.  We ordered cannelloni fagioli with olive oil, fried artichokes, caprese and proscuitto e melone.  Everything was quite good, the melon being excellent.  We head to Perche No! (Why Not!) for gelato which had been closed the night before.  I deemed it some of the best hazelnut (nocciola) gelato.

Day 13, Wed., March 24

We had a 9:00am reservation at the Uffizi.  We were so thankful once again that we had a reservation as the line was already winding through the interior courtyard.  I had photocopied pages from Rick Steve’s book on the guide to the Uffizi.  It worked out quite well.  It took us from the medieval period to the high renaissance period picking out select paintings to discuss.  Lauren enjoyed reading the information.  Michael would read the information sometimes, but always enjoyed helping us find the picture we were looking for in the room.  I would definitely do this method again, only I would make a copy for each family member so we would not all have to read off the same sheet.  It discussed how art changed from one period to another.  In addition, the kids learned what a Pieta, Madonna & child, Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi and Holy family paintings are.  Yes, we missed some art, but the kids had a good experience and I would do it that way again.

It was just starting to sprinkle, and then the rain really started to come down.  (The first and only rain of the trip!)  We ducked in to the Nuovo Mercato and shopped for leather goods.  By the time we are done the rain has stopped.

We walked across the Ponte Vecchio, and decided we are hungry.  We had not planned where to eat for lunch so stopped in at the Golden View Open Bar Ristorante (Via dei Bardi 58r).  Yes, it looked like a tourist restaurant – right along the Arno with a nice view of the Ponte Vecchio.  However, the food was good and not expensive.  Stephen had caprese with delicious tomatoes and a mussel soup.  Lauren and I split bruschetta mozzarella with pomodoro and risotto with gamberi (four EXTREMELY large prawns), Michael had a proscuitto pizza.

We walked back over to the Duomo and went inside.  The inside was quite stark compared to the designs and color on the outside.  The kids lit candles for Nonna and Poppa.

Stephen had read about an incredible gelato place in the Piazza Cure called I Cavini.  Unfortunately it was too far to walk, and we were not totally clear on which bus to take, so we took a taxi.  The gelato was incredible, but worth the taxi ride?  Not so sure.

The boys went back to rest, Lauren and I headed to Zara in Piazza Repubblica.  In 2005 we had never heard of Zara before.  Everyone in the city was carrying a bag from Zara and we needed to find out why!  We saw why when we got there.  The store was packed, had stylish clothes at reasonable prices.  Lauren bought some jean capris and a cropped green sweater.

Back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.  We have a reservation at Il Ritrovo (Via de Pucci).  It was highly recommended on both Slow Travel and Fodors.  It was a wonderful restaurant run completely by the husband and wife.  Marco explained that his Mom and Dad come in early in the morning to help him with the prep work before lunch, which is his busiest time as he is located in a government building.  His wife does not speak English so only asked what kind of water we wanted, but waited for Marco to take our order.  She was very charming.  We ordered a house antipasti which includes – salami, bresaola with cheese – wonderful!  cheese biscuits, crostini with spinach pate and cucumber.  We also ordered proscuitto with melon , cannelloni fagioli with sage and garlic ( Lauren has found she really enjoys the cannelloni beans), and caprese.  Then we ordered the filleto with mustard sauce to share.  Everything was excellent.  I had the chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise which was very good.  We tried to make it to Carabe  as Michael was craving the granita, but when we got there they were closed.

Day 14, Friday, March 25

Our last full day in Italy.  We took the 10:10am bus to Siena.  It was an easy and nice one hour and 15 minute drive.  We just walked around exploring.  We already noticed that we prefer Siena to Florence (perhaps not a fair comparison as Siena is larger than I was expecting but clearly smaller than Florence).  However, we liked the cool streets and little traffic.  The campo is stunning and I can only imagine what the city is like during the Palio.

We ate at a little restaurant called La Torre.  We had read about it somewhere but did not have an address.  We just happened to walk by it so were pleased it was a familiar name.

If you are standing in the Campo facing the tower, just to the left of the tower is a street.  It was down that street a short way on your left.  There was no menu and they only spoke Italian.  While this may have been difficult our first day in Italy, we were now two week seasoned travelers so we are up to the challenge.   The “Poppa” came over and recited the primi – basically a long list of different pastas.  We can do that.  Stephen ordered the ravioli, me the tortellini, Lauren the gnocchi and Michael spaghetti.  We had no idea what was in the ravioli or what kind of sauce we will have, but when everything arrived it was fabulous.  It was all served with a delicious Bolognese sauce.  Stephen said it was the best ravioli he had ever had!!   We were done with the pasta and “Poppa” came by again and started reciting.  We pick up on “pollo”, “pesce”, and “osso bucco”.   We chose osso bucco and insalata mista to share.  The osso bucco was incredible.  Also the best we have had – ever.  So incredibly tender, cooked in a wonderful sauce.  We had noticed another table eating something out of a frozen lemon.  The kids each order one, it is a cool presentation.  Lemon sorbet served in a hollowed out frozen lemon.  The kids dubbed it the best limone sorbet in Italy.  Stephen and I ordered the tiramisu to share.  Unfortunately they served us a prepackaged dessert – a real disappointment, but the only one of the meal.    In order to get your bill you go up to the counter and you go over with Poppa what you ordered and he adds it up.  This is a wonderful restaurant.  The kitchen was VERY open to the seating area so you can see the two cooks at work.  And all the freshly made pasta is lined up on tables near the front as the waitress hand cuts it when not busy.  When we first arrived, we were definitely the only tourists in there, although two Americans arrived just as we were leaving.

We headed over to the church.  The first church we have to pay to enter (three euros each – the kids are free).  It was really interesting.  Black and white horizontal stripes everywhere and beautiful stained glass windows.  We would have liked to stay longer in Siena but wanted to get back to pack a bit before dinner, so we took the 3:10 bus home.  I think we would definitely enjoy staying in Siena for a night or two, or possibly using it as a base to visit more of Tuscany in the future.

We got back to Florence and I realized I had not bought the leather gloves I had wanted and I had promised my Mom I would get a pair for her.  We headed over across the Ponte Vecchio to a famous glove store – floor to ceiling gloves, but frankly more than I wanted to spend.  Stephen said he had heard that Santa Croce had good leather shopping as well, so we headed over there.  By this time it was almost 6:00pm and some stores were beginning to close.  Clearly though this area has the best selection of leather goods stores.  (Much better than San Lorenzo and Mercado Nuovo – all those stores and stalls tended to have the same items).  In Santa Croce we noticed more unique products.  In our third store I found nice gloves and Stephen actually bought a leather jacket.  Lauren was convinced they wouldn’t let us go without buying one but Stephen kept bargaining until he got the price he wanted.  By now it is 7:15 and we have a 7:30 reservation at Il Ritrovo so we hurry over.

I think they were truly pleased to have us return.  The wife was more comfortable now serving us and took our order.  She then returned with a bottle of champagne and asks “Bambini?”  wanting to know if the kids can have some too.  Well, it was our last night – let them celebrate a little.  Michael thinks this is SOOOOOO cool!  (When he returned to school and was asked to say what he liked best about his spring vacation he of course announced to the class “ Drinking champagne!!!”)  We have proscuitto et melone, carpaccio, crostini and bruschetta, and caprese.  Then we ordered bistecca to share.  Everything was wonderful again, however, we must admit the bistecca at I Ricci is still unsurpassed.  Marco comes out and chats with us.  Explains that he can trace back his family to the 1300’s when they were butchers on the Ponte Vecchio.  (I had just read earlier in the week how the Ponte Vecchio used to have all the butchers, but the leaders of the town had kicked them out because they were polluting the Arno – they just threw their scraps into the river, and they got the jewelers to start moving in).  Anyway, it was very interesting to have that tidbit come full circle.

We walked to Perch No! for our last Italian gelato – boy did we savor this one.  Went back to the hotel to pack and go to bed.

Day 15, Sat., March 26

Woke up about 6:00am for our 9:45am flight from Florence to Frankfurt.  Then Frankfurt to Portland and then Portland to Medford.  Took a taxi which really only takes about 15 minutes, and the Florence airport is quite small.  As soon as we arrived at the airport we notice our flight is delayed.  With a 50 minute layover in Frankfurt we were definitely at risk of missing our connection.  The airport says it was due to weather in Frankfurt and all flights were delayed.  However our flight didn’t actually take off until noon, and we found out we missed the connection when we arrived in Frankfurt.  Oh well, we got to extend our European vacation one more day as there was only one flight a day from Frankfurt to Portland and we had missed it.   All the Lufthansa agents were very nice and helpful.  They put us up in a hotel for the night.  One good thing was we were able to get our boarding passes that day, and pick our seats so Stephen and I got exit row seats (at 6’2”  Stephen was in heaven – definitely said it was worth the extra night).  The kids were in the first row of our cabin so right in front of the movie screens.  Everyone was happy.  We arrived at our hotel, and slowly see most of the passengers from our flight arrive as well.  Well, we took off the next day at 1:00pm and arrived safely home that evening.

I just want to say this was by far our best family vacation ever!  We were so glad we took the kids.  My kids are average kids who play sports, listen to music, Lauren loves fashion and reading People Magazine.  Michael loves the NBA and the NBA!  They have never shown a fascination for art or a desire to explore history beyond the classroom.  They did however, thoroughly enjoy the trip.  Just being there and experiencing it was enough to keep them excited – the gelato didn’t hurt!  This is just meant to encourage those traveling with teens or pre-teens who don’t seem as overwhelmed with excitement as you do in the planning stages.  They will LOVE it.  They will be fascinated by the art and intrigued by the history, fully satiated from the food, and broke from the shopping, and hopefully ready for the next  trip.

Did we miss Maui??  To be honest there is some major lobbying going on for Maui at Christmas, but everyone is excited for a week in London and a week in Paris next spring break!!  Maybe this time they won’t even complain when I bring home a movie that takes place in Paris or London or a book they have got to read!!

Ciao!!

Read about the rest of this trip here:

5 Nights Rome
4 Nights Venice
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4 responses to “Ligurian Coast – Lerici 2006”

  1. Jailbreak says:

    Fantastic info and well written. Keep up the great stuff!

  2. Claire says:

    Lovely feel to your writing and photos – reads like a real family on real vacation. My children are younger but we hope to follow in some of your footsteps. Looking forward to reading more of your blog. Thanks for taking the effort to share your ideas. I just hope this Italian information still holds up for spring 2013!

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