A room, but which view?

June 18, 2014

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View from Piazzale Michelangelo

“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence…to fling wide the windows, pinching fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into the sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”

In the 1985 and 2007 film versions based on E.M. Forster’s lovely novel ‘A room with a view’ the titular view is from the Oltrarno side of the river. The first paragraph of the novel, however, states that Lucy Honeychurch (what a name!) and her cousin Miss Bartlett were promised ‘south rooms with a view’. Might Forster have been invoking a view closer to this?

 

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Forster modeled the Pensione Bertolini on the Pensione Simi at 2 Lungarno delle Grazie*, which is indeed on the north side of the Arno, and just around the corner from Santa Croce, Lucy’s first stop in Florence. The photo below, taken from Ponte alle Grazie, offers a view from nearby to where the Pensione Simi once stood.

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The last time I was in Florence my view was what Miss Lavish might call that of “the true Italy”, or what Miss Bartlett might call”a failure”. But in Florence, pretty much any view will do for me.

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A view of “the true Italy”

*According to ‘Florence and Tuscany: a literary guide for travellers’ by Ted Jones.

This site is a great resource on the film locations for Merchant Ivory’s ‘A room with a view’ adaptation.

While the views aren’t spectacular, I’d recommend Home in Florence, a B&B, to anyone going to Florence. It’s in the Oltrarno area, just a few steps from the Boboli and lots of great restaurants. The proprietors were always helpful, our room was spacious, and the breakfast room was open all day, so you could always pop in for a snack or espresso.

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Le Quattro Volte

March 27, 2013

As Easter approaches, I’m thinking about the themes of life, death, and resurrection (of a kind) in the 2010 Italian film ‘Le Quattro Volte’. In its press release, the director paraphrases Pythagoras, who lived in the 6th century, BC in what is now Calabria, Italy: “Each of us has four lives inside us which fit into one another. Man is mineral because his skeleton is made of salt; man is also vegetable because his blood flows like sap; he is animal in as much he is endowed with motility and knowledge of the outside world. Finally, man is human because he has the gifts of will and reason. Thus, we must know ourselves four times.”

Regardless of whether Pythagoras philosophy resonates, the film moved me as a meditation on life and death and time and beauty in a village up in the hills of Calabria. It’s tempting to say that the village is “isolated” and “remote” and “forgotten by time”, but these platitudes are not only cliché but untrue. Read the rest of this entry »

Get that kid some gelato, pronto.

We ate well in Italy, and not by chance. I knew that ‘x’ amount of days meant ‘x’ amount of meals and desserts and because Italian is my favorite cuisine, I didn’t want to waste a single dining opportunity. I researched food blogs and forums, magazines and even guidebook reviews and compiled a list of recommendations. During the many months leading up to our trip, I developed great expectations for memorable culinary experiences.

Too often in Rome, though, our sightseeing schedule didn’t jive with the good restaurants, which are often far removed from touristy areas. Florence, however, is a much smaller city and because we were staying in Oltrarno, an area known for delicious and reasonably priced restaurants, it turned out that every place we ate was a place to which I’d gladly return. We ate well throughout the city, though, including at the place pictured above, called Vestri, just a short walk from the Duomo.

Vestri (Borfo degli Albizi, 11r) is a chocolatier that also happens to have excellent gelato.  The dark chocolate flavor was excellent, of course, as were the hazelnut and stracciatella. Another notable gelato spot was Carapina (via Lambertesca, 18r), which is all about quality, seasonal ingredients. We popped into the small outpost near the ponte Vecchio for some sustenance after an afternoon at the Uffizi and, cups in hand, joined the small crowd of people enjoying their own cones and cups along the small, cobbled lane. Grom (via delle Oche, 24r), a chain, proved a good alternative to the puffed up bins of unnaturally colored and flavored gelato throughout the city center.  The caramello al sale (salted caramel) was particularly tasty.

A panino at ‘Ino

I’m wild about French baguettes and the freshly pressed sandwiches that are common street food in Paris. I had imagined that Italy, being home to panini, would offer a similarly good rustic bread but until we visited ‘Ino, near the Uffizi, I had been surprised and bewildered by the inferiority of Italian bread. ‘Ino has a clean, modern design (tables are barrels topped with clear glass) and offers not only plenty of sandwich options, but functions as a tiny grocery as well–a great option for souvenirs of the edible sort. The freshly made loaf (pictured above) sandwiching a few slices of proscuitto tasted as good as it looks.

How fresh and colorful can you get?!

The San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale is, to use a well-worn but highly appropriate cliche, a feast for the eyes. As it turned out, that’s just what we did: our bellies still full from lunch, we walked all over the market, gawking at the fresh produce and browsing the sweet shops. You can have a sit down meal or grab a sandwich, fruit, cheese, wine, chocolates, and other picnic provisions from one of the many stalls. Note that the streets around the church of San Lorenzo leading towards the covered food market are filled with market stalls selling souvenir t-shirts, cheap clothes, and leather goods. This is the place to bargain for that ‘Ciao, Bella!’ t-shirt you’ve been eyeing.

  • For more tips on markets, wine bars, and restaurants in Florence, check out this Florence for Foodies post from the Divina Cucina blog.
  • Carapina and Vestri are featured in this post on doing a Florence ‘gelato crawl’, by Faith Willinger.

coffee

On my first morning in Rome I went to a bar on via Merulana for an initiation into the Italian-style colazione of capuccino e cornetti. There was a bustle of activity as patrons coasted in and out and staff plucked pastries from display cases to the tune of the gurgle and steam of the espresso machine. The coffee cups were diminutive in size, the coffee itself rich and strong and a little bitter.  I dropped a packet of sugar into my macchiato, stirred it up a bit, and took a sip.  Delizioso.

Over the course of our Italian journey, Matt and I sampled caffè and macchiatos and cappuccinos in Rome and Florence and Milan, and even a caffè freddo in a small bar in Assisi; this slushy iced espresso drink was the perfect jolt of caffeine on a warm, sunny day. In Italy the variety of coffee was relatively limited: you could get coffee, or coffee with milk, or coffee with foam, or coffee with a touch of alcohol, or chocolate, or con panna (whipped cream). Those were the choices, and you couldn’t go wrong because they were all good choices.

I wish that was true of life in general. Read the rest of this entry »

In the 1996 film ‘Traveling Companion’ (Compagna di viaggio), a young woman named Cora is hired to follow an elderly man, Cosimo, suspected of having dementia. Cosimo’s daughter is worried about him and wants to make sure he doesn’t get lost on one of his seemingly pointless trips around Rome, but since he’d balk at having someone accompany him, Cora must follow him undetected.

He doesn’t visit the Colosseum or the Spanish Steps or Campo dei Fiori, he doesn’t stroll up the Aventine Hill; there’s nary a picturesque piazza in sight in the course of his wanderings. Cora grows irritated as they move from one random outpost to another, but behind her impatience there is growing curiosity. One day she follows him to Termini station and watches, panicked, as he boards a train out of town. Where is he going? Must she follow? Read the rest of this entry »

Briciola

January 10, 2013

On our last night in Florence, Matt and I had dinner at a small, family run restaurant in the Oltrarno called Trattoria Da Ginone. I ordered bucatini tossed with peperoncini flakes, parsley, and breadcrumbs fried in olive oil. Olive oil soaked breadcrumbs add nice, crispy bite and texture to any the pasta, anywhere, but there’s obviously something special about eating it in Italy. I’m always tempted to roll my eyes, then, when someone promises that this or that Italian restaurant in New York or San Francisco or wherever is “just like being in Italy”.

Really? And are there two thousand year old ruins around the corner from this quaint little trattoria? How about a Michelangelo sculpture within spitting distance? Then again, being in Italy doesn’t guarantee a phenomenal meal. It helps, of course, but in truth I was surprised to find that unlike in Paris, where you can get a fresh pressed jambon-beurre for mere euros at any old hole in the wall, in Rome it was all too easy to stumble upon lousy panini. Read the rest of this entry »