Saturday a week ago, Sparks and I took off for our belated honeymoon. I had convinced him to go to Italy, and since I have had so many experiences of stinking heat in Europe, I thought we should wait until Fall-ish in order to catch tolerable weather. We were so, so lucky in that regard–the week before we were there, Florence baked in the upper 90s, and the day we left thunderstorms set in. In between, while we were there, it was sunny, clear, and never hotter than 83 degrees. Perfetto.
Our hotel was on the Piazza della Santissimi Annunziata, the same square as a semi-famous basilica and Europe’s first orphanage. Three of the seven nights we were there, things were Happening in the square. On the first night, there was a market.
Piazza Duomo is a three-minute walk, and there’s absolutely no doubt that you’re heading in the right direction, while you’re walking it.
The Duomo is staggeringly huge. I mean. Huge huge. To think that it was built on literal horsepower–and to hear whispers about what an engineering triumph it is–make it more impressive still, but believe me, seeing it cold is impressive enough.
Our very first morning, we took the hike up 463 stairs to the top of the dome. First you go up about a dozen straight staircases, then up a dozen staircases’ worth of spiral stairs. At this point, you take a half-circuit in a gallery just under the dome, then begin climbing tiny, steep, handhold-free, badly-lit stairs that go between the dome’s inner and outer shells. Finally, you emerge on the cupola, on top of the whole world.
Though we were centered in Florence, we took a day trip to Venice. It is quite a long train ride and we ended up with only five hours there, but that was fine with me. In my opinion you need to see Venice in either a very short period of time, or a very long period of time.
We lunched at Hotel Monte Carlo at the mouth of the Grand Canal, with a lovely view toward the Lido. We ordered the “mixed grill of fish for two persons” and oh my, it was exactly the right thing to order! Four perfectly-cooked fish were wheeled out and plated in front of us. One was a huge langostine and one was a sole; I don’t know what the other two were, but they were all cooked perfectly, firm and moist and oh so sweet.
Watching the super-rich arrive in their private taxis and be turned away because the restaurant was too full was part of the experience.
La Serenissima. I maintain that this is one of those things you have to see to believe.
And yes, of course we took a gondola ride in Venice on our honeymoon. Getting fleeced in Venice is part of the authentic experience, every bit as important as seeing ruins in Rome or Botticellis in Florence.
Because we ate mostly at restaurants on famous piazzas–in order to enjoy the view and milk our sitting-down time for all it was worth–the food was hit or miss. We found one lovely place on the piazza by the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi, and ate there twice. Both times we ordered vin santo with biscotti, for dessert, and had espresso.
In our hotel, there was a small window in the hallway just where the door to our room was. It looked out over the back of the Accademia. We could see a porch full of easels, belonging to the art school (the first art school in Europe, so they say), and the round glass roof–see it?–that Michelangelo’s David is under.
For reasons I can’t quite explain, Santa Croce is one of my favorite places in Florence, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I always go to it second and am too tired to examine it thoroughly. The church is entertaining because it contains so many famous tombs (which are, at the minute, under restoration, so scratch seeing them), but the cloisters are delightful.
The other place in Florence that I would still like to spend more time is the Bargello museum. Not only is it full of sculpture, which I tend to prefer to paintings (Botticelli excepted, whose paintings in person glitter and glow and are generally wonderful), it is also full of lots of domestic artifacts. We took a whirlwind tour, out of which I retain impressions of necessaires, forks, censers, rings, and astrolabes.
One evening when the grounds in Piazza Duomo had abated a little, we managed to get close enough to the Baptistry doors to examine them. My favorite part of them are the borders by Ghirlandaio, which are delightfully rich with leaves, flowers, fruit, and animals. I adore the little doggie on the far left.
After several days of hit-and-miss dining, Sparks invested some time with our guidebook and directed us to Acquacotta for dinner. I’m so glad he did; the meal rated as the second best of my life (after the meuniere amandine at Irene’s in New Orleans). We had the wild boar platter as a starter, pictured above. It included ham, sausage, salami, and salo. Salo, for the uninintiated, is cured unrendered fat. Imagine taking a very fatty piece of bacon and cutting off the meat.
The Uffizi is another of my favorite attractions in Florence. Again, what makes it my favorite aren’t the things that are supposed to make it my favorites (though it houses my beloved Botticellis), but the building itself. The ceilings are plastered with Florentine illumination, and it’s gorgeous. Also, there are great views of the Ponte Vecchio.
One evening in our square (the evening of September 7 or 8) there was a carnival for children. Some children were carrying around tissue paper lanterns with candles inside. Others were carrying pea shooters, and trying to destroy the lanterns.
Sweets vendors set up on the edges of the square, and sold freshly candied nuts.
There were also machines to make anise-flavored cookies which a vendor told me are called dolci.
Rooms with a view, in Florence. Of course.
Another evening, while trying to find a nice square we had glimpsed from our taxi into town, we came across the Medici’s horticultural gardens. Once upon a time, they kept their mengerie of exotic animals there, but today it is just gardens. It was small and unpopulated, and charming. Greenhouses, groups of herbs, cacti, succulents, and citrus fruit, and some lovely fountains and niches. The citrus fruit seemed unreal, exactly the kind of thing you see in old still-lifes and think can’t be real.
And there was a little stray Siamese in the lavender border. What a cutie.