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Amber Paulen

My Best in Florence

Florence is one of those cities, so close to Rome, that I have gone into and out of for a weekend or a night but rarely stayed. Even though I saw the major sites, there was always more to see, and not to mention the continuous desire I have of really “seeing” a place, of getting past the facade a city shows to visitors. So I followed Simon there for the whole of last week, and while he conferenced with Python geeks I explored all I never thought I would know. These are a few of my favourites:

Bikes: The death-grip of Rome’s traffic has always scared me away from biking here. But in Florence, the small streets, loads of bikers, lack of worry that the bikes would be stolen, and relative patience of the car drivers made it easy. And how freeing! Zipping through the hordes of tourists staring up at the Duomo, going from one side of town to the next without waiting for the bus, without crowding into a bus filled with people sweating. I rented my bike from the cooperative in front of the station, and the people there were very nice.

Oblate Library: I’ve already written about this place here, but I’ve got to say it again, this library is amazing. The food and the comfort with which people lounge about the chiostro and terrace lend the library the comfort of a house open to everyone. A house with an amazing view. (Just don’t come for the internet.)

Giulia Materia: (Handmade clothes and books and other things.) Walking down the main street between the Duomo and the Arno can be depressing. People pouring into H&M and every other shop sometimes feels like a disease without a cure. Luckily there are shops and designers like Giulia Materia who sells clothes she makes. The first day I talked to her partner and the next day she was there with their 2-month-old mini baby. The t-shirt I bought is fabulous in the hot weather.

Santo Spirito: Having usually stayed on the main side of the river, I knew that this time I wanted to stay on the other, the Oltrarno. Our apartment was a few blocks from the piazza of Santo Spirito with its Fiorentini hanging out at night or drinking aperitivo or just enjoying the shade. There were lots of delicious restaurants, and the streets surrounding the piazza always had something to discover.

Il Chicco di Caffe: This small restaurant a few blocks from Santo Spirito was my favourite in Florence. They don’t serve up the 3 kilos of steak the city is renowned for, but they do have fresh pastas, vegetables, and meats for a very low price. The restaurant has two faces: for lunch the owner is an 80 year old woman who still pounds chickens in the kitchen. For dinner the owner is Cosimo who is young and encourages the transition after hours from restaurant to bar. I must also mention the cook who is, well, a master of his art.

Frescoes: And it’s impossible for me to write about Florence without writing about painting. This time I went to see the frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Mantegna in Santa Maria Novella and those by Giotto in Santa Croce. It’s impossible to not be filled with a quiet reverence for such works while standing within the cool stone of a beautiful place.


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