Firenze, la bella

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This is post number 5 of 6 in a series covering my 5 weeks in Greece, Istanbul and Italy. The other posts are linked at the bottom of this post.

Florence has always been one of my favorite stops when in Italy, even before we had an Untour there, even before I started working at Untours. Its beauty, art, architecture and life are compared to no other city in Italy or elsewhere. There is constant movement, always something “on,” always something new. And though this was a brief, three-day stop for me, I had a lot to see and do, as usual.

I arrived on a Thursday, but due to my appointments in Siena that morning, I missed orientation in Florence. Not to fret, I was meeting the group later that evening for the Untours’ sponsored dinner and arts’ crawl. The afternoon I spent settling in and meeting with Mary Jane to discuss business and personal life over a lovely little lunch in her backyard.

Ponte Vecchio is electric at nightThe evening was full of excitement. We all met at Club Paradiso, in the San Frediano neighborhood of Oltrarno. As it’s a private club, we all had to sign up to become members, free of charge of course. The owners, Andrea (he loves the fact that we have the same name), and his wife Manuela, are lovely, chatty people who spend time at the tables checking in and joking with their guests. This evening was particularly interesting as the Guardia della Finanza, or financial police, came in to inspect the books.

Private clubs such as these follow different tax rules than a regular restaurant, and spot checks are common. So, our evening meal took a bit longer than normal, but it was all so very exciting indeed! As we were waiting for the rest of our dinner to be served, and while the police were keeping the owners and chefs occupied looking at records, our guides Marta and Elisabetta talked about what we’d be seeing that evening. They had diagrams and photos and spoke about the 1Elizabethkillough6 flood, which did some major damage to the Uffizi. They also talked about the modern art movement in Florence, all the while prepping us for our “crawl,” encouraging us to have our cameras ready and to be sure to stop and ask questions en route.

So, off we went and what delightful works of art and architecture we did see, from works by Buontalenti, the quintessential late renaissance architect, to the modern Mario Mariotti and his creation, the Madonna del Puzzo. What an enjoyable evening and what good company to share it with. The guides were fabulous, our clients all so interesting and interested. And the main character of our story, Firenze, lit by streetlamps, was breathtaking.

The rest of my time, as usual, was spent visiting staff and apartments and working on that secret, special project again, this time with both Harriet and Mary Jane. We spent the better part of a day together and enjoyed a meal at Trattoria Nella, where we normally hold orientation in Florence. It was like dining in grandma’s kitchen. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard, at my own expense, during a meal. My face was about 13 shades of red.

Just sneaking through the Vasari Corridor!The most interesting and exciting thing I did while in Florence, thanks to my special project, was to tour the Vasari Corridor. When I learned that I could do this, especially at the last minute, I nearly did a cartwheel. (Please note: I have never, ever, been able to do a cartwheel.) Not only is the artwork, the self-portrait collection in particular, vast and exquisite, but just the chance to enter that corridor was enough to make my whole trip worth it. I mean, imagine walking in the footsteps of the Medici through the corridor linking their home in the Palazzo Pitti to their offices in the Palazzo Vecchio!

Crossing the Ponte Vecchio, looking out the window to the people on the bridge below, is a sight to be seen. Along the corridor there is even a stop at the church of Santa Felicita, with a balcony projecting out so that the Medici could stop and worship on their way to or from work without having the fear of assassination or mingling with the commoners. I was fascinated. Yes, I paid attention to the art, but I was more impressed with the experience as a whole, sharing the same four walls as the Medici, taking in the same views from the windows, having the experience of following in their footsteps near 500 years after the corridor was built. And to top it all, the guided visit, ending in the Oltrarno, was capped off with a lovely glass of prosecco in a wine bar. How utterly civilized!

It's so clean I could see my reflection!The next day I was off to Venice, by way of Bologna where I spent the night with friends. And, since I always over pack, over “paperwork” myself and over shop, I decided to rent a car rather than take the train. So, off to Avis I went to pick up my Fiat 500. I mean, really, this work assignment had turned into a dream come true! Not only was it a brand, spanking new, midnight blue Fiat 500, but it was a convertible to boot! And Sunday was a truly beautiful day. I kept the top up on the highway, but once in Bologna, with my friends, we went cruising downtown, with the top down. Talk about dolce vita. A sunny day off with friends and their families in my old “hometown.”

I got to meet the newest additions, my friends’ twin boys born in August, and another set of friends’ little girl who just turned a year old on 1 January. Good people, good location, good conversation over good food and wine. I am truly blessed. And blessed and thankful I would be the next day when I got to Venice and made my visit to Padova with our staff person Denny and some of our apartment agents.

Alas, you’ll have to wait until the next episode of Andi’s European Adventures.

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