~*Florence Day 2*~
After jumping like crazy hyenas at Porta San Niccolò (Torre San Niccolo), our next stop was to check out Ponte Vecchio.
Mini electric cars are ubiquitous in Italy. They are exceptionally cute when driven by big-sized Italians. I think they would look cute when driven by us Asians too.
I was intrigued by the range of landscape and vegetation along the Florence river, Arno. We observed sandy grounds which almost look like a beach. The people treated it as a beach too. Just about a few lamp posts down was an arid land with sparse vegetation and no people but lots of birds. Without any gradual change, the view of the sparse vegetation was soon replaced by tall plants. It was as if a giant drew an invisible line on the ground and planted different plants on the plots. The variety was all rather interesting.
We were not to far from Ponte Vecchio, a colourful Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge which is the oldest bridge in Florence. It is believed that the bridge already existed during the Roman times. Its current appearance dates back to 1345 when it was built to replace a bridge which was destroyed by a flood. Houses were built on the bridge, a common practice in large European cities during the Middle Ages. In the 15th century these shops were greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers. Today, the houses and shops had been converted into shops selling a wide assortment of jewelry, ranging from affordable modern jewels to pricey antiques.
It was half past two and the hubz was complaining about his rumbling tummy so we had to peel ourselves from the river walkway, enter the alleys and pilfer for food... I meant looking for an eatery. We decided to eat light so as to enjoy a heavier dinner later as the timing was a little off. We were always eating at weird timings in Italy.
The weather was sweltering and all the eateries seem to be emitting hot air except for Golden View Open Bar Firenze which felt like room temperature. The prices were fine for a restaurant that looked elegant and we made up our minds to stop our hunt for an air-conditioned eatery. (When crafting this post, I learnt that this restaurant has a 4-star rating on Trip Advisor.)
The waiter showed us to our seat which was by the open window. When we saw the view of Ponte Vechhio, we did not even care that the section he brought us to was not air-conditioned. I chose the seat facing the unobstructed view of Ponte Vecchio only to realise that my backdrop for photo-taking wasn't as nice as kh's.
Hence, we swapped places after kh had a shot with Vecchio. Check out the crowd at the 3 arches. I wondered if we could get a spot there for photo-taking later.
Did you know? The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence that survived the Second World War unscathed. Rumour has it that Hitler found so much beauty in the bridge that he made an express order for it not to be destroyed. Well, historical rumours and gossips are just so interesting!
What used to be my backdrop.
We hoped that the lunch would be as gorgeous as the view we were having.
We were a little clueless about how to eat the bread. Bottles of olive oil and vinegar were served with the bread but we had no dish to pour them into. When we dine at Italian restaurants in Singapore, we would always be served a little dish of olive oil and vinegar. Kh thought that the way to eat bread with olive oil and vinegar in Italy was to pour them straight onto the bread and did just that. Does anyone have any idea if what he did was right?
Carpaccio Di Bresaola-- Dry Salted Beef Carpaccio with Rucola and Parmesian Cheese.
Ravioli (Ricotta e Spinaci) Ai Quattro Formaggi e Tartufo-- Ricotta Cheese with Spinach Stuffed Ravioli with Four Cheeses and Truffle Cream.
Kh was doing that stupid kiam pa Ah Beng expression again. Can't stand it!
Btw, kh said that was the best pasta he had ever eaten. I thought that it was quite good too. Firstly, kh and I aren't ravioli people. We aren't Bella from Twilight, you see. Secondly, I could never ever finish a whole plate of pasta in cream sauce. No matter how hungry I am, I would get so sick of the rich, creamy taste to finish a creamy dish of pasta. This ravioli in truffle cream that kh had was delicious with obvious hint of truffle, not those artificial truffle oil taste but actual truffle. He finished all the cream sauce without feeling that it was too rich and oily.
For dessert, we had dessert wine and creme brulee. I didn't like the dessert wine as it was too heavy. It tasted a little like sweet whiskey neat. The waiter recommended it but I'm not blaming the waiter as I liked his affable service.
The restaurant's toilet was located downstairs. It felt like an art gallery there. The female sculpture indicated where the ladies was though there wasn't a male sculpture to indicate the gents. I was browsing the restaurant's official website and learnt that they have apartments too! I wonder if the little room at the bottom right of this collage is part of the showroom.
After lunch, we set foot on Ponte Vecchio. It was just that kind of place where people would describe as a tourist trap. All I saw were rows and rows of goldsmith shops. There was a charming little shop selling exquisite trinkets but I wouldn't pay the price they were charging.
We reached the arch and this view of the Arno was snapped from the arch. It looked so peaceful in front of the camera lens. It was a totally different story behind the lens.
Most of the tourists were considerate in that they wouldn't hold up the space at the arch for a long time. Most just snapped a few pictures of the surrounding and of themselves before smiling at the next group in waiting and "let the space out". Of course there were also some who simply stood there and chatted and even sat on the ledge like they owned that space. No matter what, I wanted a shot of the Golden View Open Bar before we moved off.
Could you spot where we were sitting for lunch?
Finally making our mark at Ponte Vechhio.
The picture below shows the Corridoio Vasariano (The Vasari Corridor) from Palazzo Vecchio to Uffizi. The whole corridor is an elevated enclosed passageway which connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti. The idea of an enclosed passageway was motivated by the Grand Duke's desire to move freely between his residence and the government palace, when, like most monarchs of the period, he felt insecure in public, in his case especially because he had replaced the Republic of Florence.
Moving away from Ponte Vecchio, we reached a minor piazza which we could not even locate on the map. Piazza Santa Trinita is a triangular square taking its name after the church of Santa Trinita.
[Aside: My hubz looked like an uncouth Asian sitting and yawning with mouth uncovered.]
"The church is famous for its Sassetti Chapel, containing notable frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio, ranked amongst 15th-century painting's masterworks, and the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel, with frescoes by Lorenzo Monaco." -- Wikipedia
We had wanted to visit the Florence Cathedral but once more, the timing was a little off after spending 1.5 h on lunch. I always made fun of kh's hunger getting in the way of sightseeing with our 1.5 to 2 hours meals. There he was sitting like an uncouth Asian once more and checking out some stuff on his iPad. He said that if anyone thought his whole outfit was mismatched, he would just say he was from ______________. (insert appropriate Asian country in the blank)
Reflection shot of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and me through his LV. I LURVE this pair of aviators a lot. It's unisex but somehow I feel that it fits me a lot more than him. He refused to let me have it.
The day before, we were at the area outside Palazzo Vecchio. This time, we were going to visit the museum --Museo di Palazzo Vecchio-- which would be open till midnight. That's quite cool. All museums should be like this as well so that tourists could visit outdoor locations in the day and museums at night. Museo di Palazzo Vecchio is ranked as #20 attraction in Florence with a 4.5-star rating.
I enjoyed my time at this museum. The artwork and fresco in there were simply awe-inspiring. Every single room had beautiful and ornate paintings on the ceiling that after a while, I stopped snapping pictures and admired them with my eyes instead of through the camera. Some paintings told stories of long ago. Some paintings were renditions of famous paintings. Some paintings were simply intriguing. In addition, period pieces in some of the rooms gave a feel of how the rooms were really used in the past.
Before we reached the top of the most impressive chamber --Salone dei Cinquecento-- we spotted a lift! Kh joked that these medieval people were so high-tech to have built a lift in the chamber way before modern people had lifts. -_-|||
An interesting excerpt of Salone dei Cinquecento:
"Leonardo was commissioned in 1503 to paint one long wall with a battle scene celebrating a famous Florentine victory. He was always trying new methods and materials and decided to mix wax into his pigments. Leonardo had finished painting part of the wall, but it wasn't drying fast enough, so he brought in braziers stoked with hot coals to try to hurry the process. As others watched in horror, the wax in the fresco melted under the intense heat and the colors ran down the walls to puddle on the floor. Michelangelo never even got past making the preparatory drawings for the fresco he was supposed to paint on the opposite wall—Pope Julius II called him to Rome to paint the Sistine Chapel, and the master's sketches were destroyed by eager young artists who came to study them and took away scraps. The surviving decorations in this hall were made between 1555 and 1572 by Giorgio Vasari and his helpers, among them Livio Agresti from Forlì. They mark the culmination of mannerism and make this hall the showpiece of the palace." -- Wikipedia
On the walls are large and expansive frescoes that depict battles and military victories by Florence over Pisa and Siena.
The ceiling consists of 39 panels representing Great Episodes from the life of Cosimo I, the quarters of the city and the city itself and towards the center is the apotheosis: Scene of His Glorification as Grand Duke of Florence and Tuscany
On the north side of the hall, illuminated by enormous windows, is the raised stage called the Udienza, built to receive citizens and ambassadors.
From one of the windows, we saw where we were in the day time. Could you spot the church of San Miniato al Monte and the Statue of David at Piazzale Michelangelo? Of course you could. I've circled them for you.
There was an exhibition by Zhang Huan titled Soul and Matter. We overheard a Chinese tourist guide explaining to a tour group how Zhang Huan used ash for many of his art work as it has metaphysical representation. Most of the ash artwork are busts of conservative size. Hence when we saw the immense ash sculptures of Buddha and Jesus Christ, we were amazed.
Left: Judith Beheading Holofernes. I really love strong women.
Right: A chamber that reminds me of how a chamber in Laputa (a fictional place from the book Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift) would look like.
We finished touring the museum at 9 plus and caught night shots of Piazza della Signoria.
Free water from the mountains flows out from taps and fountains all over the streets in Florence. While many people filled their bottles or drink directly from these taps and fountains, kh and I decided not to take the risk but to buy bottled water whenever necessary. I was actually a little disgusted by the dirt, moss, fungi and whatever green and brown stuff I see on the taps and fountains. This free water area looked pretty clean as somehow the poster lulled us into a sense of security that the water was indeed safe. There was even instructions on how many times to press the button for various sizes of bottles. So cool!
We had dinner at Affe di Bacco which was a stone's throw away from our hotel. It was recommended by the hotel's receptionist. In her very own words with limited English vocabulary, she said , "There is this really cute place that you could try." I thought that was really cute. Ranked #337 with a 4-star rating on Trip Advisor, this is not your usual tourist restaurant. It had a neighbourhood feel, just the sort of place that the locals would go. There is a separate menu in English which wasn't updated as told by the waitress. She spent quite some time explaining to us the new dishes on the updated Italian menu in her halting English. Kudos for the effort! We really appreciated that.
Somehow, Coca Cola in Italy seems flat and doesn't have a refreshing feel. You know how even people aware of how much sugar Coke has would occasionally drink Coke for that super refreshing feel? Well, the Coke in Italy totally didn't give that feeling. When I asked for ice cubes, the friendly waitress served a dish of ice cubes with 2 wedges of lemon. That certainly did the trick.
Sadly, I didn't think that the dinner was to be raved about. The bread was hard, the cheese platter wasn't the kind of cheese platter we like-- there were only 2 slabs of hard cheese, the rest was mushy cheese. I had to glaze the mushy cheese with lots of honey as I didn't quite like the taste. Kh thought that his main course of Carbonara was not bad. I had risotto from the Italian menu which was done in a way that wasn't quite to my liking. All the ingredients in my dish had almost the same mushy texture except for the black seed-like stuff. It helped to break the overall mushy texture with little bursts of crunchiness. I can't remember the name of that black seed-like stuff as I'm typing right now though I knew its name that evening. (The waitress was having difficulty translating it into English so I keyed the Italian name onto my phone to look it up in the hotel when I had wifi.)
When the waitress cleared our table, she looked concerned that my risotto was 2/3 done. She enquired if there was anything not to my liking and that she could feedback to the chef. I answered with a smile that I was too full (which was true). It wasn't that the food was no good. It just didn't gel with my taste buds. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed ourselves feeling like a local in this casual restaurant. We were also pleased with the waitress's service.
It could get quite boring having consecutive posts on my blog about my Italy trip. Hence, I would take a break from travel posts after this and continue catching up with other backdated posts for the year.
I've replied to your comments so do check back on the posts where you left yours. =) Happy work week/ school week to all of you!