Florence is a great city to walk around. Besides all the conventional art and architecture, which in itself is extremely abundant and awe-inspiring, there are hidden treasures which make exploration by foot even more interesting. One such under-appreciated, and largely unknown treasure is the creative street art by the local artists Clet and Blub.
Observe the stop and no entry signs and you will notice each one has some graffiti / modifications. Only after a few did we realise that it is a pattern and indeed art, by the local artist Clet Abraham. While some see his work as defacing public property, others view it as contemporary art, which reflects a modern Florence. Either way, it was fun tracking the signs through the city! We even came across Clet’s studio where you can buy some of the stickers and signs. You can follow Clet on Facebook or Instagram
Blub’s art is called L’Arte sa Nuotare which means ‘Art knows how to swim’. His aim is to make art more accessible and he achieves this by taking famous pieces of art, literally, for a swim. That’s why famous statues from Boticelli or Michaelangelo can be seen in water tanks and scuba gear. His pieces are all over the city as well, in some of the most unexpected places. You can follow Blub on Facebook and Instagram
Other, less known, street artists also can be found all over the city. Truly, Florence itself is an open air art museum!
Florence city is an open air art museum, every corner has an interesting piazza with spectacular art, and every street has work from a budding artist. While there are enough museums to fill up more than a week, 2 days gave us a great feel for the city. With 48 hours to explore, here is an itinerary we’d recommend:
Take a free walking tour (or 2): Walking tours are a great way to get to know the lay of the land, and the stories help remember landmarks that would otherwise be overlooked. We went on the Renaissance (11am-1pm) and Medici (2-4pm) tours offered by Florence free tours. While together they took up a large part of the day, by the end, we could walk around the city confidently without getting completely lost, and knew where the major landmarks were. A great self-guided tour can be found here, though we found that it was more fun to have a guide to tell us stories.
Piazzale Michelangelo: Now that you know the city, get a spectacular aerial view of it. The walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo is not too tough, and though it does involve a few steps, the panoramic view from the top is worth it! With a chilled beer in hand, gaze upon the city you have just gotten to know. The rose garden on the way down is worth wandering into too, remember to stop and smell the roses!
End the day with one or a few glasses of Tuscan wine at Senorvino and dinner at one of the exciting restaurants along Via di Santo Spirito.
Day 2: Museum day
While visiting museums isn’t always on everyone’s list, you can’t go to Florence and not visit at least one museum. Most museums are closed on Monday, so plan accordingly. With a wide variety to choose from, we picked,
Uffizi – The Louvre of Florence it houses masterpieces by maestros like Botticelli, Caravaggio, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and others. Since we did not have the foresight to buy advance tickets, we joined the line as early at 8.30am and still had to wait for about 2 hours. Advance tickets can be purchased online, or from the ticket counters at the Uffizi or the Pitti Palace, for 4 EUR more, and are definitely worth it, especially on a weekend or during peak tourist season. Get the audio tour, or a guided tour, it makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. With its vast collection, allot at least 3 hours to the museum and prepare to be amazed!
Accademia– Besides the famous David, which itself makes the visit worth the time, the museum also houses great art pieces and displays the history of music. The line was shorter, it took only half an hour to get in, and an hour and a half was about enough to look around.
Florence cathedral aka Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or simply the Duomo was on our list too, but the lines were impossibly long. Again, advance tickets can be bought.
With more than half the day spent inside museums, spend the evening sipping a Spritz or with a delicious gelato, people-watching at Piazza dela Signoria or on Ponte Vecchio, watching the sun set on the Arno.
If you have had your fill of the ubiquitous pizzerias, find a local trattoria and try one of the local dishes- read more here.
Florence by night is less impressive than one would imagine, but it does get cooler and there are fewer people, so admiring the spectacular architecture is easier by night.
Finally remember to meet il Porcellino, the Florentine boar, and rub its snout to ensure your return to the birthplace of Italian Renaissance, the capital region of Tuscany, the city that itself is a cultural, artistic and architectural gem!
We ended our Italian holiday in Rome, a fitting end to a fantastic trip! While the sights took our breaths away, the food of the Eternal City was almost as good and as interesting as its architecture. Read about food in Florence and along the Amalfi coast.
Pizzas from wood-fired ovens and fresh pastas are ubiquitous in Rome, but typical Roman food does comprise some unusual, tasty dishes, some of which we tried and would recommend.
Flore de zucca (fried courgette florets- right) and Carciofo (globe artichoke- left), either is eaten as a delightful first course.
Coda alla vaccinara: Oxtail stew with celery, which we were surprised to find, is a Roman speciality. So delicious that every last piece of the meat was picked off the bone (with fingers!).
Saltimbocca alla romana: Veal escalopes in wine sauce, eaten with potatoes or artichokes.
Of the different pastas available, the Roman specialities included,
Pasta Amatriciana: the sauce is made with tomatoes, pecorino cheese and cured pork cheek. Served with any pasta, it is definitely worth trying!
Orecchiette in trastevere sauce: pasta shaped like tiny ear-lobes, with anchovies, olives and cherry tomatoes. Tasted as pretty as it looked!
Home made pasta on the way to Vatican City: apparently begun by enterprising locals to combat the financial depression, these small shops allow you to pick the freshly made pasta and the sauce, and they put it together as a hot meal, all for a mere 5 EUR. It is a quick and tasty sit down or take away meal.
No post would be complete without pizza,
Pizza romana: not traditional pizza- but pizza romana looks like a sandwich, and is light and delicious! Especially on a warm day with beer or a spritz- it makes a great snack.
While not conventionally Roman, we found baked brie with ham in a few restaurants and oh was it delicious!!
Walking around Rome can also be hot and tiring work. Gelato offers a cold and delicious break, and is available at almost every corner. We tried 5 of the 150 flavors offered here and wished we could’ve tried some more!
And finally to end each meal, home made tiramisu: as alluded to in part 2 of this series, Roman tiramisu was different from the tiramisu along the Amalfi coast. It was always yellow and with a layer of coffee soaked biscuits at the base. Sooooo good!!
From Florence (read about food recommendations here), we drove to Sorrento and along the Amalfi coast, continuing our culinary adventures.
With a long coastline and a number of quaint towns perched on the hillsides overlooking the water, the Amalfi coast provided a picturesque setting for delicious sea food!
Food we sampled, and would recommend includes:
Orata and fresh pasta: Orata was the fish of the day in Capri so of course, we ate it. Cooked in a tomato garlic sauce, the plate was wiped c-l-e-a-n!
Sauted mussels: plump juicy mussels need no more explanation!
Mixed sea food pasta in squid ink: finger-licking good!
Walking around in the sun can be hot business, but with the abundant fresh fruits, iced fruit drinks (with no added sugar) are a great way to bring down the temperature!
Moving away from the sea food, the locals also make delicious smoked hams and salami, served with fresh cheeses from sheep or cow’s milk, sundried tomatoes and pickled artichokes. While normally served as the first course , one can easily make an entire meal of the meats and cheeses. Yummm! Here, it was served with the house wine, made with no suphites. While quite different from the bottled wine we are used to, it was delicious and made for a really fun evening!
With the strong Neapolitan influence,Napolitano lasagne and Napolitano patata (potatoes baked with meat and cheese) are also worth trying, and quite nice. Suppli or Arancini: Fried rice balls, with a variety of stuffings, including ham, cheese, spinach are cheap, easy to find and make a great snack.
Also cheap and easily available are ‘family’ pizzas, which are 6″ x 15″ rectangular pizzas, with proscuitto, mushrooms, or veggies (eggplant and bell peppers- a different but delicious combination!) and which can satisfy 4 hungry adults!
What better way to end the meal than with freshly prepared tiramisu! Very different from the tiramisu in Rome (featured in part 3 of this series), with white mascarpone and no ladyfingers at the bottom, this one was so delicious that one serving was not enough at all!
And finally, no trip to the Amalfi coast is complete without copious amounts of limoncello! Best served ice cold (keep the bottle in the freezer and chill the glasses before serving), it makes an amazing digestif.
For the real food aficionados, a large number of cooking classes are offered all over the Amalfi coast, and those who attended the course (we ate the food they learnt to make!) said it was extremely informative and lots of fun too.
Italy is a foodie’s paradise! We spent 10 days traveling through Southern Italy- from Florence, though Tuscany, along the Amalfi coast and ended in Rome, sampling the sights and sounds, and of course the food and drink! This post is part 1 of a 3-part series of the food we ate and loved, in Eat-aly!
Here are some must try foods in Florence.
Bistecca alla Florentina: Florentine beef steak, which was first prepared for the wedding of Isabella de’ Medici, is seared on the outside and medium rare or rare inside. Eaten with artichokes or potatoes, its delicious!
Gnocchi with truffles: it is just impossible to go wrong with this, it was half gone before it even occurred to us to take a photograph!
Tripe: not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, but cooked with the right kind of sauce, it can be quite tasty. The texture takes some getting used to though.
Ribollita: a tasty potage, made with white beans and a number of vegetables, it makes a nice break from the meat and carbs that constitute most meals. It is also amazingly warming on a cold evening. While not available in most of the ubiquitous pizzerias, it is worth the effort of finding a local trattoria to try it.
Arancini: these are fried rice balls, stuffed with anything ranging from ham, cheese, salami, mushrooms, spinach, to the ones we tried with squid ink! They’re sinful and delicious!
Meat and cheese (and everything in between) at the Mercato Centrale. The central food market in Florence is a great place to sample small portions of a number of local dishes, including the famous lampredotto sandwich.
When it comes to desserts, the Italians have some of the best sweets we’ve eaten.
Panna cotta: Forget about the panna cotta you’ve eaten before. This has the perfect sweetness, a melt-in-your-mouth consistency- it cannot be resisted! Served with nuts or fruit compote, it is a must-have.
Creme brule with orange zest. Again, sweetened to perfection!
Cannoli: Piccolo or grande, filled with cream or chocolate, it is the perfect infusion of sugar to keep you going as you explore Florence. So versatile is the cannolo, that we had it at all times of the day, including breakfast, with an espresso to perfectly balance the sweetness!
And of course, wash it all down with a lip-smacking glass of Chianti from the Tuscan wineries! Salute!