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We arrived to Florence on early Monday afternoon and stayed till about 12 pm today. The city of Dante was an unforgettable experience, the crowds of Chinese tourists notwithstanding. (There were so many of them in Florence, that in a few years the Florentines will say "Chao" instead of "Ciao").
We stayed at a charming little hotel a few feet from the Duomo. The rooms were spacious and had that old wood furniture smell that I remember from my childhood. On the first day we saw the Duomo, climbed the Campanile tower (the inside walls are covered with graffiti from bonehead tourists) and visited the Baptistery (which was being worked on from the outside and the famous doors were covered up). The Duomo's museum was closed for renovation (due to reopen in 2015). I was going to climb the Duomo's Cupola dome, but the terribly long line dissuaded me. Lunch was at the Central Market: excellent Italian draft beer (Morretti Rosso red beer), a strong Negroni martini, and some delicious focaccia with eggplant and other vegetables. We had the famous Florentine steak for dinner with a bottle of excellent Bolgheri wine and ended the night with a walk over the Pontevecchio bridge.
Tuesday started off with an hour-long wait to get into the Uffizzi gallery - a rather overrated museum, which in my humble opinion, in no way compares not only to the Louvre, but even the small, but excellent Brea gallery in Milan. Lunch was at the famous Nerbone sandwich shop in the Central Market, where I had their famous tripe sandwich, followed by Italian draft beer and my wife had some delicious handmade linguine with tuna. Then, we took an hour walk through the meat and vegetable stalls inside the market, lamenting the absence of such high-quality wares in NYC. I was going to visit the Academia and Santa Croce, but the lines were unbearably long. Dinner was at a place at the Piazza de la Signoria: pizza and pasta with Chianti.
Today, we had excellent and inexpensive pizza (the topping was garlic-fried potatoes) for brunch next to our hotel, at a place called "PizzA" (how original!) and I had a chance to see the excellent San Marco museum with its Fra Angelicos (hat tip to Dr. Fleming) before taking an Italo speed train to Rome. During my next visit, which will hopefully not be in the peak tourist season, I will definitely visit Santa Croce, the Academia, and Dante's house.
The Chinese are there in Florence even in January. Unlike the Japanese, who are willing to spend money on entrance fees and tip in restaurants, the Chinese mostly seem bewildered and hardly ever go into, for example, Santa Croce. Instead, they visit one or another leather shop--we used to take an apartment right near one of them and out our window could watch the endless procession of goggle-eyed Asian tourists, made up as Americans, filing into a shop with a chinese employee, where they could buy authentic Florentine leather goods that may well have been made in China. (This is a serious problem on which the city government is forever trying to crack down).
I am happy you made it so San Marco but you should never eat in or near the P. della Signoria unless you positively know the place. To quote the late Pete Seeger, "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"
Eugene, is Sicily on your tour list? I spent three years on that island (which pales to Navrozov, I know) and loved it for (among other things) its lack of tourists. The Greek temples at Agrigento, the seafood in AciTrezza and AciReale, the elevated city of Taormina (which gets tourists, but sparingly by my measure) all left favorable impressions on me. I lived in AciTrezza, just north of Catania, and have a few ristorante recommendations should you head that way.
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