06 July, 2014

Day 3: rest and roaming

After yesterday's very long day with many activities, we decided that today would be one of the slower kind of days. Vacation needs to have these, and people who don't allow for them are really cheating themselves of what vacation is supposed to be all about... slowing down. Of course, I am partly saying that to myself so I don't feel bad about not having done more... so it goes. We slept late.

After rising, and it was quite late, we decided to take a walk downtown, with the intention of eventually going up to the hills on the other side of the Arno River, to see Piazzale Michaelangelo and some other stuff over there. We took a different walk that Stefania and Luciano's guide suggested. The geography of Florence still eludes me. I will be thinking we are heading in a more westerly direction than some previous walk, but we'll end up east of where I thought we should have been, without having ever crossed the path that I imagined we'd have had to cross to end up east. It must be a case of winding roads. Anyway, we walked through a meh part of town, but ended up in a nice part of the old town, in a little piazza, where we came across a few restaurants and decided we were hungry. I did a quick Google search, as if I can really trust reviews, and we settled on one of the restaurants, named "I Ghirabelli" and we had pizza and salad, and a half liter of wine. And sparking water (Frizzante). It was decent. Again, in that bucket that I call the 70% of pizza that is "good" but not utterly phenomenal.

While we were dining, an African street vendor came to all the tables, pretty much harassing people to buy his wares, which included small ceramic figurines, and maybe some bracelets. He was dressed in traditional African garb. People were dismissing him right away, and he was pretty much a pest. When he came to our table, we couldn't help but at least be funny with him. He asks if we want to buy the ceramic elephant, we say no. We keep saying "no thanks" but he doesn't go away. Then Allie tells him she really likes what he's wearing, and he says "how much you pay for it" and Allie tells him it looks too good on him. But it was so funny, that turn of events, that I had the switch flip in my mind, and I had already decided "I want to buy something from this guy." And Allie didn't know this switch had flipped. He shows us a ceramic turtle. And I like the turtle. He says something like 10 Euro for the turtle, so I say "3 Euro" and Allie's like "No... no... we don't want that..." but then he says "10 Euro for the turtle and the elephant" but I don't want the elephant. I want the turtle. He says "6 Euro for elephant and turtle" and I say, again, "I only want the turtle." And we get the turtle for 3 Euro. I like the turtle, and I probably would have paid more than that for the turtle at Pike Place Market, so it's good, and it was a funny experience. After he sells to us, the owner of the restaurant begins berating him in Italian, pretty much saying "Don't insist... don't insist..." And she apologizes to us, and says that since their seating is outdoors, it's public property and they can't exclude him from coming over. I told her we didn't mind. I suppose I served to reinforce his behavior, but what can I say. He was a good salesman. And why shouldn't I buy the turtle?

Winding through more streets we arrived at a large Piazza. I cannot remember which one it was, but there were many artists showing their work, and the paintings were very good I was extremely tempted to purchase something, but the logistics of transporting it back to the states without damage prevented me from going forward with that plan. Plus there is this kind of extravagance mindset one can get into when traveling and having a good time, where one wants to buy everything to try to hold on to the memory of the experience. But, instead, I have this blog for my memories! Right?

We crossed the bridge, this time not the Ponte Vecchio, since we were quite a bit to the east of there (this was the confusing part to me, but it worked out, since it's where we needed to be). And then we began the lovely trek up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo. I will tell you in advance that the trek is far better than the destination, which is actually a giant parking lot with a copy of David made of copper standing in the middle among tour buses and garbage tourist souvenir schlock. In fairness, the view from that parking lot is what draws tourists. A high vantage point with sweeping views of the entire city of Florence. The trek goes through a small neighborhood just on the other side of the Arno with some restaurants, enoteca (wine bars), and gelato shops. The you begin a stairway that may as well be to heaven, rising hundreds of feet up to the Piazzale. We wandered around a bit, and saw what there was to see. We ran into some American tourists from Boston, who gave us lots of advice, helpful, though unsolicited, about sightseeing in Provence. They did have one or two good pointers, but I can't remember what they were. The father was funny, and didn't have all his facts straight, but really wanted to help. He gave us a 10 minute lecture about backing up our photos into the cloud every night so we don't lose them. And I certainly do hope we don't lose them!

After that, we went up to see the church San Mineto on the hill behind this Piazzale business. It was a nice church, probably the most impressive we've seen on this trip, with lots of ornate work inside. Some jerkos outside tried to con us into donating money, pretending that there were there officially. I told them that I was traveling on business, and was strictly forbidden from doing such things. Heh.

We then walked down the steps from which we came, and had a gelato. At some point prior to this, which I guess I have forgotten, we purchased some ridiculous 5 Euro gelatos. I think it was yesterday, either just before or just after the clothing store. It was one of those mistakes you make. Don't buy gelato within 100 meters of the Ponte Vecchio. I'm just sayin'...

We walked to a bus stop along the Arno, after finishing our (2 Euro) gelatos (which were better than the 5 Euro ones, in terms of the bargain, but not as good as the 1.5 Euro ones near our B&B). We waited in the hottest of the hot sun for probably 20 minutes for the bus to come and take us to SMN so we could then take the other bus back to the B&B. We rested for a bit, and lounged, recovering from the heat. I eventually did yoga. I had done some research and decided that we'd have dinner at a place called Lo Stracotto back down near the Duomo again. It seemed to have good reviews. But there were a few bad reviews. But in tourist locations, there always are, so you never know. What we'd heard was that the food was good but the service not so good. So we walked there, no reservation. And we were able to get a table right away. It was kind of neat because they were playing American music on a very old record player, which I thought was kind of cool. We looked at the menu, and it seemed fine, but for some reason, the people around us didn't seem like our kind of people, and the place and the location seemed quite touristy. And nobody really seemed thrilled with what they were eating, and the ambiance wasn't great. And they brought bread to the table, and we tasted the bread and it was not even bread that I would feed to the dogs behind the building. So we both had this "Oh Shit!" moment, where we decided, "This is not the place where we are supposed to be." But at this point, we're kind of locked in, right? They gave us bread! What do we do? As a solution we decided to order a couple of glasses of Prosecco, and apologize but say that we're only having drinks. That took them a little by surprise, but they were nice. And then we tipped them ridiculously well, so that any negative reaction that had about it would probably be outweighed by the equally bizarre positive of receiving a large gratuity from someone who has basically walked out of your establishment. I doubt they cared nearly as much as we did.

So now, we'd decided we were going to back to La Garga, for another fantastic meal. Yes!!!!

But... sadly... no... closed on Tuesdays. Why? Why? Why? Who closes on Tuesdays?

So now, we're hungry, and without a plan... wandering the streets of Florence. We wander and wander. We pass one cafe/pizza place, and enter, but Allie got a bad vibe because the place was empty and they had auto racing on a large screen TV, so we continued onward. I was starting to think we were screwed and maybe going to find nothing, since it was already 9pm. We made the dubious decision to walk along one of the main roads that have generally been unpleasant, but we got lucky and came across a place that looked cute. It was called Il Cavalieri, and was very much family run. They had garden seating in back, inside of stone walls. It had a very authentic feel, even though some of the "garden" consisted of plastic ivy. In the dark, it was real enough, and we were hungry. Allie had Spaghetti Vongole, and I had something pretty basic, I think it was just a meat sauce. And we had a good mixed salad. And after some indecision, we also ordered Chianti, which was good. The people at the tables around us served for some amusement. There was a table with some Spanish-speaking folk, who appeared to be celebrating the grandfather's birthday or something. He was about 75 maybe, and his daughter, and her daughter, the youngest of whom was probably 18-20 years old. This is all conjecture, but that's what the relationships seemed to be. The ladies to our right were middle-aged, overweight English pair, who had quite a bit to drink, and were about as English as two people could possibly be.

After that successful Hail Mary, we walked home, and we slept. Another day gone well.

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