Rainy Day Florence: What to do Indoors

IMG_3172Happy New Year! And welcome to winter in Tuscany.

I’d highly recommend visiting this time of year – crowds are fewer, there are several events going on, the climate is mild and the costs are less. Florence is a temperate city, with an average of only 88 days of rain annually. November is typically the rainiest month of the year, but the start of January has been a gray and gloomy one. But you don’t have to let dreary days drag you down!

Take a romantic rainy day stroll. So this isn’t exactly indoors as my blog title suggests. Maybe it’s because I’m originally from Raincouver (Vancouver, Canada), but my first suggestion to you is to pull up your boot straps and pop up your umbrella for one of the most enchanting afternoons you could picture. Florence can be even more magical in the rain, fog, or under the umbrella of clouds. The piazzas are speckled with colourful umbrellas and puddles that reflect the strong structures that surround you. Loggias, overhangs, shops, churches, and covered patios offer refuge, and the rain often lets up pretty quickly here. Get singing in the rain!

Photo credit: St Regis

Cozy up with a tea cup in una sala da tè. St. Regis is one of the most swanky hotels in town, so I shyed away from setting foot in it, until a friend so smartly invited me to afternoon tea there. At a very modest price of just 15 euro per person, we enjoyed a splendid cup of tea and trays stacked with scones, sandwiches, macaroons, and other truly scruptous treats that could fill you for lunch or at least tie you over for a later dinner. The service and scenery were exquisite.

My afternoon tea was a dream!

My afternoon tea was a dream!

 

The presentation makes you feel like a noble, as the trays of fine teas and china, delicate finger foods, clotted cream and jam are all placed with care before you while you lean back on velvet cushions and lay your eyes on the illuminated stained glass ceiling of the Winter Garden. The structure was originally designed by Brunelleschi in 1432, turned into a hotel over 400 years later, and now pieces that add to the luxurious ambiance like the gorgeous marble fountain and grand Murano blown glass chandelier create for a perfect place to pop your pinky up with your tea cup. From 3:30-5pm daily in Piazza Ognisanti, call to reserve a table +39 05527163787

La Via del Tè offers a slightly more casual but still divine tea time. To sit down for nibbling and sipping time, go to one of the tea room locations either on Via Santo Spirito 11 or Piazza Ghiberti 22 (there are 3 locations in town, the other on Via della Condotta is a shop only). You’ll feel very Victorian here and the staff knows their wide selection of teas well. Be sure to go tickle your nose with the tea sample jars and choose a couple to take home with you to extend your tea party time. http://www.laviadelte.it/

Or, if hot chocolate is more your “cup of tea…” head to Rivoire, THE formal Florentine institution for cioccolata calda since 1872. This is not the powdered stuff you may be familiar with, but rather thick and rich “European drinking chocolate.” You’ll need the spoon. If you wish to sit and enjoy the bustle of the most lovely piazza in town, Piazza della Signioria, know you’ll be paying for table service. Or simply enjoy it at one of the most antique bars in the city.

Riviore in Piazza della Signioria

Riviore in Piazza della Signioria

For further cafe options, have a look at these locales where you’re welcome to stay a while to read, write, chat, surf (the web), or just chillax.

Hideout in a museum. Rain or shine, you know that Florence is flooded (pun intended) with museums of all sorts. The art city is abundant with museums of genres across the art canvas, but there many other fascinating types of museums to visit.

IMG_3171Get into some mad(ly awesome) science. Explore the brilliant minds of Galileo and other early scientists who made revolutionary discoveries in science and technology that we take for granted today at the Museum of the History of Science. Not only are instruments and experiments exhibited here, including the groundbreaking telescopes that Galileo constructed to see Jupiter’s moons, but also part of the very hands at work – Galileo’s fingers! The museum has won international awards and is a great one to take the kids to, with a family ticket option available and engaging workshops for young scientists. The building is one of the oldest in the city, dating back to the 11th century. For more information, see the museum’s website: www.museogalileo.it/en/

Hall of the Cavalcade, photo credit Stibbert Museum

A little bit of everything at the historical Stibbert museum. It’s well worth the short bus ride just outside of the centre (Take the number 4 from Santa Maria Novella station and get off at stop “Gioia”) Stibbert had an Italian mamma and an English dad, inherited a fortune from his commander governor grandfather, and had eclectic taste. He already had a museum in mind when decorated his house, and wrote his vast collections over to the city of Florence in his will so it would enlighten the lives of others like you and I. You have your paintings, sculptures, costumes and furniture pieces, but the main spectacle here is the armoury collection. An impressive sight is a room with fully dressed Italian, German and Islamic knights of the 15th and 16th century on horseback. Other particulars of the villa are the collections of Oriental arms (Samurai stuff too!), the robe Napoleon wore when he was king of Italy in 1805, and the wall drawings crafted in leather. There are over 50,000 items to see in the Stibbert museum. The gardens outside are worth a walk, even on a gloomy day! This is another kid-friendly museum and garden to visit. For more information see website http://www.museostibbert.it/en

Ferragamo and his celebrity footprints, photo courtesy of Ferragamo museum

Ferragamo and his celebrity footprints, photo courtesy of Ferragamo museum

History is chic. Fashion museums like Gucci and Ferragamo are a stylish choice. Florence houses the flagships of these iconic fashion masters. The Gucci building is a cafe, bookshop, museum and shopping boutique all in one heritage palace in the beautiful Piazza della Signioria. Walk through nearly 100 years of fashion artistry while you gaze at red carpet dresses worn by the stars, alongside all the accessories of course. There’s even a Gucci car that was commissioned in the US. 50% of each ticket sale benefits the City of Florence preserve and restore the city’s signature art treasures. http://www.guccimuseo.com/en/museum/

The Ferragamo museum is located in another stunning, historical palace and its museum brings to light the illustrious artist’s mind through photographs, print, clothing and accessories – and, the shoes. Oh the shoes. Ferragamo was born in Naples, emigrated to the US at a young age and ended up in Hollywood crafting custom shoes for celebrities, especially pioneering women of the day. If you have a shoe fetish, you’ll want to see for yourself the 10,000 models of shoes from the 1920s to present day are on display! http://www.ferragamo.com/museo/en/usa/

Speaking of shoes, now might be a good time to go boot shopping. Who doesn’t want a pair of Italian leather boots? If you’re looking for a durable pair for the weather, but aren’t looking to spend a small fortune, check out Geox, Bata, or Peluso, and a shop that carries several quality brands that is under the train station but forgive me, I always forget the name! But if you are looking for those fancy names for your feet, hit up Via Tornabuoni for shops like Prada, Tod’s, and Ferragamo. Wherever you’re roaming in the city, those gray skies are gonna clear up and you’ll put on a happy face when you see all the SALDI signs. It’s sale season. IMG_3162

Yes that's a 330,000 euro truffle.

Yes that’s a 330,000 euro truffle.

Meander in an indoor market. Florence’s Central Market, Mercato Centrale had a face lift in April 2014 and it’s always packed with people, because it offers so much to do in see in one place. You can sign up for a workshop (cooking class anyone?), eat at a variety of quality restaurants, shop the stands for fine Italian goods, sit down for a drink of any sort, and shop for souvenirs. If you decide to sit for something to eat and find the main floor too crowded, there are tables up top at most of the restaurant stops.

Food for the soul

Music is food for the soul

Or, sit at the bench of the piano placed in the space to bring mood music to the patrons. These pianos are in a few different spots around town, the train station has another for example, as they are in many other cities in the world. A young man tried his hands at the one in the Milano Centrale train station just recently, and landed himself quite a bit of a attention – millions of video views, work offers and interest from a television producer. Could the next YouTube sensation be you playing a tune in the heart of Firenze on a rainy day?!

Downstairs there is a food market open in the mornings that has a big spread of produce, dairy, meats, oils, herbs and spices to do your shopping for homemade meals or just have a bite right there!

http://www.mercatocentrale.it/en/mercato-centrale-firenze/

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Shameless Vancouverite representin’ in the rain

Catch an original language flick in a beautiful cinema. The Odeon Theatre is a spectacle in itself. You feel as if you’ve walked into the 1920s as you stride across the original carpets and draw your eyes heavenward at the stained glass dome overhead. Films are available in English with Italian subtitles. See the program here: http://www.odeonfirenze.com/ There are two great spots for aperitivo or just drinks right outside the cinema doors in Piazza degli Strozzi: the Odeon Bistro http://odeonbistro.it/ and Colle Bereto. http://www.cafecollebereto.com/ Take your pick!IMG_3177

 

 

 

 

 

See a live performance. Bless your ears with symphonic sounds at the Teatro dell’Opera di Firenze. This opera house is modern with state of the art acoustics. The whole complex is an architectural work of art in itself, and if a contemporary structure can win over the classically-hearted Florentine residents, then it must be something to see. It contains three separate concert halls, allowing for three simultaneous shows to entertain audiences of up to 4,800. If you wish for some fresh air before or after the show, the theatre backs right on to the large Cascine Park. http://www.operadifirenze.it/en/

There is also the very beautiful and less costly Pergola theatre, a historic opera house that was built in 1656, Teatro Verdi, which interestingly was founded in 1854 on top of an old prison with some cells still visible today, and other small, local theatres where live shows are performed. http://www.teatrodellapergola.com/

http://www.teatroverdionline.it/

Teatro della Pergola, photo c.o. e-toscana

Looking over these options, I realized that most of them are more lazy-day type activities. Do you have any suggestions for more active, indoor things to do in the city? Or any other ideas in general? Let me know!

Hope these ideas make you happy when skies are gray, sunshine! IMG_3175

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Visit or live in Florence like a local with “A Daydream in Florence”

painting

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work – Aristotle

The upcoming new year will be full of new adventures, and I am emphatically excited! Not only will we be welcoming our first child in April, but we are starting up a new business! With the excitement of it there are occasional waves of nervousness too, mostly in trying to figure out the ropes of everything (the unknown can be such inspiring but scary territory!), but our passion for this business we’re pursuing in helping people and for Italy never fails to trump the nerves.

“A Daydream in Florence” is what we’ve called the company, because we want to provide people with experiences that are dreams made into reality. We all have different dreams, hopes, wants, desires, of all shapes and sizes. I remember when I first came to Italy, once to study and then to stay, often pondering, “I want/need to do this, this and this, but how?!” Cue impending and crippling doubt, anxiety and disappointment, but still lingering dreams. On top of the own walls we can internally face, Italy can slam a few down hard in your path sometimes. Life isn’t so easy here, contrary to popular belief when people see the mystifying photos and films. I seriously would have been at such a loss on countless occasions if it weren’t for the persistence and knowledge of my husband and Italian family. Even with their help, things don’t often come easy here!

So how in this bel mondo are visitors, expats or even longtime locals who maybe don’t speak the language or don’t know particulars about the way things work around here (or how they don’t really work…) supposed to figure things out here?! There’s often help through new acquaintances, books and blogs (it’s the inspiration behind this one!) or other resources, but often times they don’t go deep enough or where you want to go at all. That’s the main focus of what we do and love to do: help you figure whatever-it-is out. Or we just do it all for you, leaving you to reap all the benefits 🙂

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Here to help you make things happen!

The idea for this project has been percolating since the beginning of our relationship. It evolves and adapts, and will continually do so. The ideas come easy because the passion births them. The implementation is the challenge, and we’re trying! We know that the failure would lie most ultimately in not trying. As tough as it can be when “busts” happen, be they big or small, the regret would be in failing to try at all when you really believe in something. We’re striving to focus not on the reasons why we can’t do it, but why we can, hoping to consequently be exceptional among the masses 🙂 We figure, if we just can’t stop thinking about this as our life’s work, then it’s probably a good one to pursue, right?!

We’ve been busy compiling connections and contacts to provide for people, from tour guides to photographers to event planners, and more. It’s been amazing actually – the more we’ve believed and persisted in this idea, the more things have appeared in our path to make it work. For example, we encountered a kind older couple in our neighbourhood who have these 3 beautiful vintage cars that they don’t wish to sell but would love to see them being loved, and so we shined them up together to be ready to use with our clients! We will also have an apartment available for guests in the centre of Florence in just a couple of months. My interior designer husband, Alessio is adding his magic touch to it while maintaining the classic Tuscan touches, like the original exposed wooden-beamed ceiling and terracotta tiled floor.

Since we enjoy helping people so much and that the tasks are things we  often do ourselves as locals in love with our land, we think that is what will leave people most satisfied and give them an experience that goes beyond their expectations. We know one of the most important keys in this business is to know the wants and needs of those interested in using it, of course. That’s the whole point, pursuing the joy of knowing we have helped others realize their dreams!

So what is it you dream of making your reality in Italy? Do you want to move here? Have a long-term stay? Just one perfect day? Plan a surprise or party? Get married here? Connect with relatives or old friends? Know where to find the authentic olive oil and pick the olives yourself? Taste Chianti in Chianti? Have a ride in a vintage Italian car to that idyllic Tuscan town you can’t get out of your head, while pausing whenever you wish along the rolling roads on the way for unique photo ops and to clink prosecco glasses? Learn the history of all the amazing stuff you’re surrounded by, or perhaps you’re missing because it’s not being pointed out to you? Have something special delivered to someone here? Pick up something like a Christmas tree since you don’t have a car here? Figure out what you need to do to get a car here? Just get that blasted paper work done already? Big or small dreams, share them with us!

bianchina

Cruise in our vintage cars!

Inspire us with your story. What chapter are you in and where do you want it to go? That totally just reminded me of those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a child. You know them, right? Well that’s what we’re here for – to help you turn the page in your “choose your own adventure” book!

We would love your feedback to fuel this fire we’ve started in serving people through “A Daydream in Florence.” Tell us what you want, or what you would want to see happen in your dolce vita here in Italy, however long your stay!

Dream On,

Gina & Alessio – “A Daydream in Florence” www.adaydreaminflorence.com

Sit-down Cafes: International Coffee Shops in Florence

Let’s have coffee!

Prendere un caffè, or “to take a coffee” in Italian, is a different ritual than that other internationals know. Unless it’s after a meal, you won’t often find an Italian sitting to have their coffee. Even then, they down it pretty quickly. Most things here are done slowly. I quote these lax-latinos: “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano, chi va forte va incontro alla morte.” It means that if you take it easy, you’re “sane,” and if you go too fast, you go towards your death. “Piano” is a fulcral part of the dolce vita. Two things I can think of that Italians don’t do slowly are driving, and coffee-drinking. Almost all else is “piano piano” (and this has become one of my recurrent sayings as I embrace the life here) It’s mealtimes in Italy that are meant to be partaken in at a gradual pace, not coffee. Your espresso shots are meant to be had in such a way as the name suggests – shot back with no chasers. Cappuccinos here are downed almost as swiftly. Florence and Italy are becoming more internationally-influenced (piano piano!) though. Sometimes we want to meet a friend for a good chat, flip open a laptop to concentrate on some work or delve into a good book with a warm mug in hand, or have a little brunch to go along with your brew. If you want the Starbucks-style ambiance but without their crap coffee (sorry not sorry…although there is serious talk of Starbucks coming to Italy now!), there are places popping up all around the city where you can swap the mediocre cafe for a quality coffee and sip it as piano-ly as you wish from the comfort of a chair.

Read on to discover some cordial coffee shops in various neighbourhoods of our city.

Around Santa Maria Novella station and Duomo:

Todo Modo

Todo Modo Libreria Cafe

Todo Modo – thanks to new pal and fellow blogger Girl in Florence who knows more of more great locales than the lifelong local, I came to know Todo Modo. I’ve walked past it several times thinking it was merely an unassuming little bookshop, but it’s another hidden treasure revealed in this city. Inhale the scent of pressed paper as you walk through the front room full of page-turners until you pick up the aromas of coffee towards the back. Ta-da! Before your eyes is a fabulous little coffee lounge, tables buzzing with sounds of calm conversation and laptop keys. I loved the natural appreciation in the decor, with plant vines drooping down overhead along with books cracked open on the light fixtures. Todo Modo entranceI had one of the freshest pressed-juices ever that was a vibrant ruby red colour, proudly served in a wine glass to style it up (or maybe they just did that because I’m pregnant and pitied that I have held a wine glass in a while). Loose leaf tea sits in tins on the wooden shelves and fresh-baked indulgence is just the lift of a glass cake dome away. The staff seems to be a blasé bunch who will casually chat with you but also other customers, so hopefully you’re unhurried too! But that’s what you’re looking for instead of a quick coffee shot, right? Dolce vita your day.

 

La Menagere

Photo courtesy of La Menagere

La Ménagèreeffortlessly emitting a sensationally posh, Parisian-scented energy, this place is has been the talk of the town. But what is it? A bar? Resto-lounge? Bistrot? Flower shop? It’s all those things! So many things they dub themselves a “concept restaurant.” It’s larger than most coffee shops and eateries, so you’re almost guaranteed a table, but don’t put your money on it since it’s such a happening hot spot!

Menagere

Photo courtesy of La Menagere

If you find yourself grasping the utensils and dreaming of them homing in your own kitchen, fantasize no further – this place is a design shop too. It actually used to be a landmark location for finding Florentine houseware, and La Menagere holds to the heart of its history by selling home design items right here on site.No password is necessary for the wifi, and the coffee comes direct from the barista masterminds at Ditta Artiginale (read about this cafe below), so you know it doesn’t miss a caffeine-injected beat.

 

 

ITIT Cafe

Thanks for the whipping, ITIT Cafe

ITIT Cafe – I find this place to be a bit overpriced, but I guess they can get away with that when coffee shops such as these are still a rarity. I do like the atmosphere though. You pay for it – each menu item is a little more costly if you decide to have a seat. So make the most of it and grab one of the comfy chairs and a beverage of choice to be enjoyed slowly. The coffee here is nice, made to order in a variety of ways – in your choice of Italian or American fashion. They usually give you some cookies on a plate if you sit down with your drink, but you can opt for a muffin, brioche, donut, or other snack if you’re up for it. There’s an open fridge with other packaged snacks like sandwiches and salads, and lots of choice for beverages. Ask for the wifi password when you order if you want to work a while under those pretty white high-vaulted ceilings.

 

Arnold

Meet Starbucks wanna-be, Arnold

Arnold Cafe – the most similar to Starbucks in both space and menu. They are the first chain coffee shop in Italy to boast “an American coffee experience.” I saw the first three that opened when I lived in Milan (if any global business opens up in this country, you can pretty much guarantee it will be in Milan first every time). Since living in Florence, they have opened one at a prime location just steps from the station, tacked-on to Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Here you’ll find caramel-drizzled whip atop larger coffee cups with names resembling those you would find at American style coffee bars, but don’t make the mistake of asking for a “white chocolate mocha” at a traditional Italian cafe unless you want to raise some eyebrows. Along with an array of sweets, sandwiches, and salads are several spots to hide out for a while with your selected treats, complete with outlets to charge up those phones and laptops. Here you won’t feel any pressure to be on your way in a hurry. I might grab a chai latte from here now and then, since those are hard finds. Insider tip – there’s a free toilet here, albeit not very clean (I get genuinely excited if I find a clean, no-cost bathroom in this country), but like American style cafes, you can run in to use it senza-purchasing something from them if you’re in need! Naturally, there’s wifi too.

Red Cafe

Cafe Red in Feltrinelli Bookstore

Feltrinelli Red in Piazza Repubblica – this large, modern bookstore is relatively new to Piazza della Repubblica. I sadly missed the days of Edison which was the old bookshop that stood in its place. But they’ve done a nice job making a space for bookworms and movie buffs who want to do a little shopping, with the addition of a cafe area where customers can kick back with a coffee and/or snack for a while. A lunch menu is also available. There’s a newer location at Santa Maria Novella station, which is good for shopping but not so much a sit-down. Shop for some international books, stationary and gift items while you’re at it.

Gucci Cafe

Tea time at Gucci

Gucci Cafe – I steered clear of this place when I first moved to Florence, thinking that their swankiness would leave me disgruntled. I’ve discovered it’s quite the opposite! A friendly, attentive staff is ready to serve you either inside their snazzy cafe or outside on their nice patio that has a great view of one of the prettiest piazzas you’ll set eyes upon. Of course your cappuccino will cost a little more than that at your average bar, but that’s because Gucci ain’t average. For some fashionable fun, sugar cubes are in the shape of the Gucci symbol. I believe if you wish to linger a while for some sort of meeting, you should let them know ahead of time, but if you wish to relax with a friend or two or work a while solo, don’t let the suits intimidate you – they’re cool with it. The Firenze Moms4Moms group meets up here too. Contact them if you’re a mamma in Florence to get connected with others! Bonus – very clean washrooms with Gucci baby change tables! The museum I have yet to visit but have heard it is quite interesting.

Amble

Menu del giorno at Amble

Amble – immediately warm and welcoming the second you step into the hidden little piazza around the corner from the hustle and bustle of the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio, let your nerves be soothed by fresh drinks and lunch plates to the tune of Sinatra.

Amble table

Swarming with locals served by laid-back staff, Amble plays up the trending shabby-chic vintage vibe. Prop your feet up outside on the patio space or find a spot tucked inside the two rooms at one of the unique tables, but don’t stay put there waiting for service. Go to the bar, grab one of the menu cards and tick off your choices for the freshest ingredients in your panino, or opt for a plate of the day. If you just want a warm drink, be prepared to gush over how cute your cups and spoons are, but please don’t pocket them, that’s just not cool (but sadly not uncommon for poor Amble). If you like your seat, it is for sale, so check out the attached price tag if you want it to go home with you!

Astor Cafe

“Hot specials” at Astor

Astor – smack-centered at the foot of the duomo, many Americani I know will drop in for a coffee-on-the-run. They offer a lot of the mixers (pumpkin spiced latte anyone?) and the big to-go cups. This has more of a pub style atmosphere where you can sink your teeth into a decent burger and catch a sports game. But in the daytime it’s not a bad place to sit, especially if you want to be beneath the duomo on the deck out front. If you’re looking for American coffee to accessorize your stroll in centro with, then this is an option for you. Oh, and they have Dr. Pepper for those of you who miss it.

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Park it in Reverse

Reverse Cafe – on a main street Borgo degli Albizi, Reverse switches things up by offering Italian or American style coffee and eats. Americano, soy cappuccino, ice caps and even Nutella milkshakes are at the drink bar, while pastries, pancakes, and yogurt-galore are on the food menu. For being a more modern spot, you might think it to be pricey, but it costs less than others of its kind. Inside or outside you find people reveling in the cool vibe of this place.

Santa Croce / Sant’Ambrogio neighbourhood:

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Probably the tastiest cappuccini in town

Ditta Artiginale – if you’re a coffee connoisseur, this spot is for you. The owner is literally an Italian Barista champion. Even though Via dei Neri is covered with coffee bars, often costing less, Ditta Artiginale is always busy. Why? They care about giving customers a coffee experience, a caf-education, if you will. Instead of the common Italian coffee shots at the bar not appreciated much more than as a fuel for the day (very necessary fuel to Italians, albeit), Ditta Artiginale wants you to know what’s actually in your cup – the blend, the process, the flavour, all its glorious elements should be appreciated. They have an Italian coffee and International coffee menu to choose from. That means you can choose the brew style – whether you want the straight siphoned espresso, filtered, pressed, you name it. One of my favourite drinks here is the “cappuccino jump” which is a blend of different coffees that gives it a really unique flavour. Ditta ArtiginaleYou can pair up delicious coffee with rare-in-Florence food finds like pancakes, French toast or Croque Monsieur. I had hoped to have my cappuccino with my French toast…but the service here can be unfortunately slow, so don’t be in a hurry. They do happy hour, which I’ve yet to try, so if you hit up Ditta Artiginale for aperitivo, let me know how it is, please!

 

 

Andersen lounge area

Lounge in lovely Andersen Cafe

 

Andersen Cafe – I was sad when former Mug cafe closed but very pleased to discover this great new cafe took over in this very space! It’s very family-friendly, run by two creative mamma-besties, one Italian and one Scandinavian, who both pay with attention to world-class detail and design, so you know there will be extra TLC in your coffee, tea, cocktail, fresh fruit smoothie or pressed juice. Affordable soup/sandwich/salad combos are plated up for grown ups, but there is also a great menu for little people! I paired a nice Chai Latte with a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake. Clementina explained to us that they are always looking for fresh menu items to change with the seasons, and they use ingredients from the Orti Dipinti garden which I’ve mentioned before. Andersen cafeParents are fully encouraged to chill out while allowing their little ones to freely explore the play area where they can colour, read or imagine away (hey, perhaps you wanna join in on that too), but it’s still a fab place for adults unaccompanied by babes to unwind too. But why wouldn’t you appreciate the sound of children’s laughter and sight of their innocent smiles now and then when you peer up from your book or computer?

Quelo

Quelo Bar – a stone’s throw away from Andersen Cafe, seriously right next door, with an eclectic environment and accommodating staff. If you’re into an artsy ambiance to relax in with your coffee, this is where you want to head to. You won’t find a wide selection of coffee and tea, but you will find quality menu items. They tend to mix things up more with their cocktails, alcoholic and non, as well as their food menu. Though both bars, Quelo and Andersen are on a street just down a few meters from Santa Croce church, they are a bit hidden from the beaten path, so mainly locals are clients, or visitors who have been filled in on these gems by locals! That being said, Quelo is on the smaller side and can get pretty packed at lunch time, so if you’re here with your laptop or Moleskin for some focus time, come morning or post-lunch hour. Quelo also has a good, cheap, vegan-friendly aperitivo.

Le Vespe

Le Vespe – almost every time I’m here I think to myself, “if only it were a little bigger,” to offer more space to customers who want to stay put for a while, but if it were, it would quickly lose some of its charm. Le Vespe is where you go for a big cup of Joe, a fruity smoothie…which you can add alcohol too, if it’s one of those days (that’s a mimosa in the photo). Lots of American-style favourites on the drink and food menu: iced tea, lemonade, flavoured coffees, pancakes and bacon, and banana bread. There are lunch options like quesadillas, soups and salads, along with the increasingly-seen vegan options. If you feel like challenging someone to a friendly game of Battleship or other board game, snatch one from one of the shelves or inside the retro suitcases and it’s game on.

L’Arte del Sogno – a warmly-smiling employee will greet you in this haven of furniture finds that they themselves have restored to new life or got from local artisans. This place really does care about your dreams – they even ask you to add them to the “dream tree” on the wall in the back room. So pick a pretty chair and grab a piece of paper to add to the tree as you indulge in one of their delicacies which are sure to inspire a daydream made reality right there. Ever-changing but always scrumptious layered cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and of course some tasty eats in the savoury department as well, many of which are vegan. Don’t forget the coffees and teas – this small cafe has a big selection. Aside from the traditional cafe menu, there are several loose-leaf teas that they acquire from Peter’s Tea House in Santa Maria Novella neighbourhood, hot chocolate blends, and a “gli sfiziosi” menu, meaning “delicious,” coffee blends with your choice of nutella, chocolate, caramel, or even go for coffee-doused pistachio ice cream topped with chocolate, or vanilla and strawberries. Salivating yet? Don’t droll on the decor; it could be yours or the next for purchase if you want to take that home with you.

André Benaim-Firenze

Caffè Letterario

Le Murate Caffè Letterario – a former prison, this place is a sweet hideout, especially on a sunny day since the courtyard is so spacious and interesting to lounge in. Stroll down one of the corridors in the complex, complete with old prison doors, and find a bookshop to grab a good read and crack it open in the outdoor patio area or chill inside. By night this space hosts musical and dramatic performances, poetry readings, or just a good aperitivo.

Oltrarno area:

Mama’s Bakery – BAGELS. This Canadian was thrilled to discover bagels here, and even more pleased to hear that the owner actually went to Montreal to study the art of making them, transporting learned recipes back to Florence for your enjoyment and mine. With an assortment of American-flavoured delights for your mouths to take your brain to a Big Apple bakery and several seats to enjoy them in, you can get large cups of Joe (that’s the American kind, you actually won’t find cappuccinos on their menu) to grasp on to as you get though a good book , study or chat. There’s outdoor seating and a small play area for kids.

Stadium / Campo di Marte / Le Cure:

Dolci Pensieri counter.JPG

Dolci Pensieri – a new locale close to home for me, I adore this darling shop with its perfect name meaning “sweet thoughts.” A recent addition to the Le Cure neighbourhood, this cafe is quaint and charming. They have an in-house pastry chef who is constantly contriving new and delectable treats, not only for humans, but for canines. One of my favourite pastries in the lemon-earl grey cake along with a tea from Via del Te. Dolci Pensieri tablesThe staff here is so kind and courteous, and they are totally cool with you parking in their lovely space for a while. It’s cash only here folks, but there is a bancomat across the street if you forgot (and they trust you to come back with your cash). There’s also a great park called Area Pettini close by if you’re around with little ones or want to spread out in some grass to relax a while, as mentioned in my post about green spaces in the city here.

 

Caffe Lorenzo

Stop and smell the beans at Caffe Lorenzo

Caffè Lorenzo Pasticceria – bordering Campo di Marte and Le Cure, this is another nice coffee bar that is new to the scene. The long pastry window displays will drop your jaw (bet you can’t have just one) and the scent of several gourmet coffee blends to choose from will tickle your nose. I’ve frequented this bar for the outrageously good sweets and cafe with friends, but probably wouldn’t choose this cafe to get work done in. There is only one room and a few tables, and it can get quite busy, full of happy locals! They also serve light lunch plates and apericena.

So as you can see, there are actually plenty of places in Florence where you can chillax, international style! The options are only increasing.

Where’s your favourite coffee shop in Firenze?

Mamma Mia! I’m Going to be Mamma Gina!

I’ve been dreadfully MIA with the blog. In what action have I been missing in, you ask? Well, we were on holiday this summer (post is comin’ up) aaaaand…I’ve been busy making a human for the last 15 weeks. We’re expecting a bambino/a!

Mamma Gina

Growing a baby in your body is no easy task, at least for most mammas. It’s been exhausting for me already. The few women, like my very own dear sister, who coo at me “oooooh, isn’t pregnancy the most wonderful time of your life?! Well, other than when you have your newborn, of course!” make my “pregnant glow” turn to a fiery red. I’m convinced that those who even tell me I’m “glowing” are just saying that to be nice. It is nice and all, but part of me inside is like, “don’t make me puke on you. Seriously, it’s about to happen.” It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the hormones.

Several times I’ve sat down at my computer and either got all nauseous or fell asleep with it in my lap. I’m hoping now that I’m into second trimester at least some of my energy will return so that I, and the blog, can come back to life!

It’s not all bad. Babies and creation are a flippin’ miracle! I have the honour of being part of a miracle in the making! Thoughts like these help me through nauseating days and sleepless, sniffling nights. Achoo.

Another great blessing I definitely don’t take for granted is having a supportive husband who keeps this hormonal mamma stable and comforted. He’s over the moon excited about becoming a “babbo” (the Tuscan way to say daddy). Sharing the news with our family was a thrill of a lifetime, even if we had to via Skype! We’re so happy to have their love and support close in spirit even if we’re miles apart. My family is all in Vancouver and Alessio’s is in Milan, 3 hours away from us (a hop, skip and a jump away compared to Canada though!).

My first

My first “bumpie”

Though we love that Florence is home, it’s hard being in this exciting time of your life without being in the presence of all your loved ones and without having fellow baby-makers around you as a support network. We’re grateful to have a few friends who have been through it and are there for us, and we are ever-thankful for technological communications so I can be in touch with those who live far away. If you’ve been one of those people taking the time in any way to show us love that knows no boundaries, we sincerely, wholeheartedly want you to know it is deeply appreciated. You’re awesome at being awesome.

I admit it isn’t as difficult as I once feared, but it’s still another level of challenge being pregnant in a country that is still somewhat foreign to you. Definitely foreign in the creating-and-raising-humans department. The way you obtain doctors, complete necessary tests, the language in it all, it’s all unfamiliar. We’re going through the public system, I should add. You always have the option of being followed by a private doctor, and you can have both private and public at the same time if you want to. Private doctors usually cost 90-120 euro a visit, which is not an option for us right now. Even if we had it, I think we’d still just stay on the public line. As we go, I’m realizing more and more that public healthcare in Italy is actually very good. This is coming from a Canadian, which says something (in humility, Canada is known for having great healthcare).

In any case, like in many sectors of Italian life, even if principles on paper seem fairly straightforward, it’s ultimately people who run it…Italian people. So sometimes the experiences of pregnancy here are like what they are when you go to the cursed Questura or Comune (municipal offices). They give you the run around, even in the gyno office. The same manner in which I’ve run between offices with paperwork for permits to stay, live and work in Italy, I recently ran between one clinic space to another with a cup of my urine. I kid you not. One person would tell me to go somewhere, then when I arrived, they sent me elsewhere, and so forth. None of this was for ignorance of my own, but rather confusion on their part. Thankfully I found there to be a level of hilarity to it and have learned to just roll with the ways things “work” around here sometimes, and I wasn’t wildly gesturing with rage this time, thus avoiding splashing medics of all sorts with said substances… When it finally got sorted, my young and probably traveled gynecologist uttered, “pazienza, eh, siamo in Italia” with an empathetic eye-roll.

Maybe you’re a mamma-to-be in Italy and you need the basic lowdown laid out for you in first steps of pregnancy in this paese. I’ll give you a run through of the first few steps in our experience, so you have an idea of where to go.

Step 1: Well…you know…get busy makin’ that baby. 😉 That’s amore!

Step 2: When you suspect a little extra magic happened, get an at home pregnancy test (or two!). You can find them at most supermarkets and of course at pharmacies. They are called “test di gravidanza.” They’re pretty expensive here. An average test is about 12 euro each and I paid 18,50 for a single Clear Blue digital test!

Step 3: If the two lines show up or your digital test says “incinta” that means you’re preggo! Say a little prayer, do a little dance, cry a little cry…and tell your partner. I playfully daydreamed of how I wanted to share the news with Alessio “when the day arrived” but thought I had a heck of a lot more time to scheme a sweet little plan. That day arrived a lot sooner than we expected! I had no words the morning I took the pregnancy test, I just walked into the bedroom, opened the window to let in a little light, shook my way over to the edge of the bed where Alessio was just waking up, and through teary eyes and a trembling smile, I simply showed him the positive test. He beamed and repeated “really? REALLY?!” a few times as we embraced. So no it wasn’t the cute “plan” but it certainly was a magical moment I wouldn’t change at all!

Step 4: Go to your private gynecologist or if you’re using the public system, go to your general practitioner and tell them you think you’re pregnant. You’ll be “prescribed” a urine test to prove it and then get everything you need in the public system. Here it’s not your family doctor who follows you. You are assigned to or choose an obstetrician and a gynecologist who will be alongside you through your pregnancy. FYI, however, they will not be there at your delivery (in rare cases, like ones where your gyno works at the hospital where you give birth and they happen to be on shift, maybe they deliver your baby, but probably not. It’s whatever doctors are on duty who deliver the baby). Once you have the “ricetta” paper from your GP, take that to the ASL office to do a pregnancy test that confirms you’re pregnant in their system. A positive result gives you the hailed, green “libretto.” This is a little gem of a booklet that tells you when and what tests and appointments you need done through the whole of your pregnancy. Hold up though, it’s not that easy, you’re in Italy still, remember?! When you arrive at the ASL office closest to you, you’ll find a little machine at the front door that will spit out various numbers. You push letter “L” which gives priority to certain people, such as you being pregnant! Find the waiting room you need to go to for doing urine and blood tests. Show the prescription from your doctor to the person at the desk. They’ll give you the pee cup. Go ahead to the toilets in the back of the room… Wait for your number to show on the callout screen. Yes, you’ll be holding on to your little tube of urine, but so are most of the people around you. Wash your hands, people. When your number pops up it’s not time to give the test yet, you’re just being registered. They’ll give you a paper that tells you when you can come back to pick up the results and you go back a wait a shorter while before you’ll be called in to drop off your urine for them to test! Wash your hands again (I would), and jet on outta there!

To get the official pregnancy test results, you’ll need to wait at least 24 hours for results. It’s not like in Canada, where you just waltz into a walk-in clinic, pee in the cup, twiddle your thumbs for a few minutes and the doctor will tell you then and there if you’re pregnant or not. When you’re due to pick up your results you just go to a machine in the entrance of the ASL office, punch in your codice fiscale, and it will give you a receipt. Take that to the people at the front desk and they will hand you your results. Congratulations, you’re “officially” pregnant!

Step 5: Take the positive test results to the CUP (or call them) to book an appointment with an obstetrician and get your libretto. For me, the CUP was in the ASL building. Go back to the magic number machine, but this time push “C” to get the CUP call number. They tell you a date to come back to meet the OB with your fancy new libretto. They will explain more of the process to you, the appointments you will have like when your first ultrasound will be, and you decide if you’re going to get chromosomal tests done (for Down Syndrome and such) etc. Then for whatever silly reason you have to take that green libretto to your family doctor so they can stamp every page since each one is like a prescription. Here in Italy an obstetrician is more like a midwife, and if you need anything prescribed or have more complex medical issues, it’s a gynecologist who deals with that. Regardless, you will meet with an OB and a GYN in your initial appointment so they can give you a screening that looks at your health history, family history, your first round of blood work, and confirm whether or not you need to be followed by a GYN or just stick with an OB. And it’s easy as ABC 123 😉

Then you go home and make yourself a mocktail to celebrate getting all these first steps done towards caring for your little one!

Auguri! Best wishes!

Have you been pregnant in a foreign country? What was your experience like?

12 Parks and Gardens in Florence: Solace in the City

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I’m always on a nature hunt. If I don’t get out of the cobblestone jungle and into somewhere with more foliage and freshness from time to time, I’m start to lose it. Because I lose myself if I don’t get in touch with nature! Growing up in a place with rivers flowing through our backyards, bears occasionally wandering across your porch, lakes and ocean water a stone’s throw away, and with acres upon acres of forests and fields open and free to the public even in the cities, will do that to you (I’m Canadian if you didn’t already know or guess). Sometimes I yearn for it so badly that when I see it I let loose a little too much…If you’re with me, be cautioned that you may be hit in the head with my shoes being launched off my feet so I can prance barefoot in grass, and ears may need to be covered to avoid being pierced by my childish squeals. I couldn’t even resist at the tower of Pisa. At least there I could just be a tourist.

What a tacky tourist.

What a tacky tourist

We often voyage into the countryside with the car (which many tourists don’t do when they visit Florence = HUGE mistake), but sometimes we are stuck city-dwelling. That means I need some nature time all the more so.

When I first moved to Florence I thought there were no parks. It’s a foreign concept to me (then again, what’s not around here?) that you can’t just walk to a school or neighbourhood and find playgrounds and grass and trees open to any passersby. Honestly, I just don’t think it’s really fair that many of the few green spaces in this city are private and closed off to fresh-air starved humans like myself.

Garden with pool!

Garden with pool!

It’s also very foreign to not have grass and gardens of your own at your house. Even apartments. Here in Italy, a giardino at home could be this (see photo)…

A garden doesn’t necessarily have to have flowers in it. Nor does it really even need grass. It could be a pebbly space maybe with some trees around it, and be called a “garden.” For me, that’s a more of a garage than a garden! I’ve learned that even in British English, a garden is what we North Americans would call a “yard.”

Maybe since parks here are often more like “secret gardens,” you’ll appreciate them that much more. Something else that I love about these solaces is that they have stories too. Everything does living in such a historically rich country!

Italy is finally modernizing a little even in the sense of opening nature’s doors to people. Florence’s city hall has added a “Green on web” online portal where you can input what you’re looking for on a map and locate spaces available. You might be looking for a garden, dog park, playground…select what you want and find the pins on the map! (In Italian)

In the meantime, here are some good places to start. Let’s commence with two of the most famous gardens in town, Boboli and Bardini, where non-residents pay an entrance but residents are admitted for free. Those listed thereafter are parks that even locals don’t know about, and are all FREE ENTRY!

Boboli

Boboli Gardens – Florence’s most famous park and one of the most important historically, here you can wander the same steps of grand dukes of Tuscany. Boboli was the Medici’s former backyard. A girl I can relate to, Cosimo I’s wife Eleanora decided the old palace in the city centre wasn’t spacious enough and she wanted a garden. So they went “out of the city” (really a 10 minute walk!) and took over the Pitti Palace, evicting the bankrupt Pitti family who originally owned the palace. At the time this space was more of a wild woodland area, which is where the name Boboli comes from: it refers to a ‘wooded space’ in Tuscan lingo. The Medici transformed the classic 16th century garden into a Renaissance garden, which opened to the public in 1766, made to impress global visitors.

Maybe you’re expecting flowers everywhere when you hear “gardens” in Boboli’s name. I don’t want to disappoint you, there are some, but not many colourful blossoms here so much as you’ll find trees and bushes with fountains and statues speckled throughout this garden. But you will still be happy to forget that you’re in the middle of a city in this large, classic Italian garden.

The Grotto by Buontalenti is a sight to see, and imaginably would have been more so in its time. Constructed to create the sense of being in water, Buontalenti intended on suspending a crystal fish basin from the skylight, but it proved too difficult to keep the fish alive due to the temperature changes.

IMG_8236Child and adult alike find a whimsical statue quite unlike the others you will see in your European trek, the “fountain of Bacchus” or better known as Nano Morgante. Cosimo’s household dwarf Braccio di Bartolo was not just an entertainer as most were in his era, but indeed a confidant. It must have been true, if he had a statue mortalize his small friend for whom he had a big heart. Nano was also given a retainer, land, and the right to marry. In his drunken merriment riding his turtle along, he is chilling right beside the entrance to the Vasari corridor. There are plenty other interesting bits to this special garden in the city.

Boboli is free to residents of Florence but the 7 euro entrance fee is a small price to pay if you take a picnic along with you and enjoy the day in the shade of the trees of royalty. The ticket price is also valid for entrance to the Museo degli Argenti, Costume Gallery, and Porcelain museum in the Pitti Palace, as well as the Bardini gardens.

Piazza Pitti, 1

Hours: 8:15am– 4:30pm (November-February), 8:15am-5:30pm (March), 8:15am – 6:30pm (April, May, September, October), 8:15am – 7:30pm (June-August). Entry is permitted up to an hour before closing time. Closed on the first and the last Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.

https://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/en/musei/?m=boboli

Bardini

Just one spectacular view from Bardini

Bardini Gardens – In Boboli’s shadows but not in beauty, Bardini gardens are attached to Boboli. Bardini offers a fine example of historical urban landscaping. After many rounds of digging and restructuring over eras dating back to the 16th century, Bardini is classified as an English style garden, while Boboli is of the traditional Italian style. This is my personal favourite in the city centre, providing a panoramic view, and a great bar and restaurant to take a load off in nature without leaving the city. A dramatic baroque staircase and a tunnel sheltered by wisteria (especially enchanting in the Spring), this place has a more romantic feel than neighbouring Boboli. What a sensational pleasure it was when I was caught in the rain in this garden one afternoon. The scent was superb and the view mystifying. To think that this gorgeous solace was neglected after Bardini’s son passed away in 1965 and was only reopened to the public in 2005 after restored to its splendor.bardini paint bardini wisteria

Residents of Florence are admitted for free, entrance is otherwise 8 euro, or you can get a ticket to Boboli at Pitti Palace, which is 7 euros and is valid for both gardens and parts of the palace.

Costa San Giogio 2

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8:15 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (November-February), 8:15 a.m – 5:30 p.m. (March)
8:15 a.m – 6:30 p.m. (April, May, September, October)
8:15 a.m – 7:30 p.m. (June-August). Ticket offices close at 6:00 p.m. Tickets 8 euros

http://www.bardinipeyron.it/

 IMG_0722IMG_0720Cascine Park – yes, this one is a PARK. Not just a European style “garden” this park runs along the Arno river. It’s always open and always free. Historically it was a Medici hunting ground in the 1500s and has been a public park since the time when Napoleon was in power. Bring a picnic and spread out in the open grass areas where you can also find others sunning, or setting up soccer or volleyball nets. Plenty of other activities can be enjoyed here too: cycling, rollerblading (you can rent them from the Paviaonne where there is also a swimming pool) walking, running, and exercising with the bars and beams placed throughout the park. I’ve seen yoga, judo, and of course, classic games of tag happening in these ramparts. Every Tuesday morning there is a market open along the long, flat strip.

http://parcodellecascine.comune.fi.it/

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Play in Il Boschetto

Villa Strozzi Gardens also called “Il Boschetto” Boschetto meaning “grove” or little forest, this is a lovely little haven in the city. There are paths that wind upward into a mixture of many types of trees, natural playground structures for kids, even trampolines! There is a small roller-rink at one of the entrances where rollerskating courses are offered. Its landmark limonaia, a greenhouse structure which once was an essential element of a Tuscan garden, is now used to house cultural events, especially in the summer months. There is not much signage to indicate entrances to the garden (same goes for plenty), but that just makes it feel more “secret” doesn’t it? The sixteenth-century Villa Strozzi is a very pretty place for some fortunate design students to study at. This park provides a nice diversion from the crowds in centro.

Via Pisana 77, Via di Soffiano or Via Monte Uliveto

Hours: 8am-5pm (November, December, January), 8am-5:30pm (February), 8am-6pm (March), 8am – 7pm (April), 8am-8pm (May-August), 8am-7:30pm (September), 8am-6pm (October)

Iris Garden

Giardino dell’Iris – only for a special, short time of year when the iris flowers are in bloom, the garden can be found where Viale dei Colli meets Piazzale Michelangelo. Only for the merry month of May can you immerse yourself in a pretty prato of irises, the symbol of Florence. With over 2500 varieties of the iconic flower, you can flower-lust in a wonderland of natural and historic ties to the city the garden watches over.

Piazzale Michelangelo (on the right side, if looking out in the direction David is at the city)

Hours : 10am-12:30pm, and 3pm-7pm Monday – Friday and 10am-7pm on Saturday from May 2-20th

rose garden

Florence’s Rose Garden

Giardino delle Rose – hide away in this rosy oasis on a hill with a view of the city skyline. Not only roses are in bloom here. You’ll be surrounded by other plants and herbs – lemons hewing yellow and waterlilies white in the ponds of fish and frogs. This garden’s prime is usually the month of May and early June when the roses are at their prettiest, but still a marvelous hideout that allows you to spy on the city below. It’s quite lovely when someone brings their guitar, so if you can play a pretty tune, do as locals do and serenade other picnicking park-goers with a song.

Viale Giuseppe Poggi, 2 or Viale Galileo (just below Piazzale Michelangelo on the left side if looking out at the city)

Hours: 8am to sunset, year round.

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Stibbert’s gardens

Gardens at Villa Sitbbert – This is actually three parks in one. There is that of Villa Stibbert, Villa Fabbricotti, and the Baden Powell garden. You scouts and guide alumni will recognize the latter name! The Stibbert garden is another that was transformed from the more simple Italian to more romantic English form. There are many types of trees that are very old and beckon deep refreshing breaths. I particularly like how this park settles the city soul in its stillness. There’s even a small Egyptian temple on a pond occupied by swimming birds and turtles. Federico Stibbert was English but his mother, Florentine. Fede himself loved to collected armoury. The villa is now a museum, a very particular one worth visiting. It contains weapons and armour from medieval times onward, and also boasts the largest collection of Japanese armoury outside of Japan itself.

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Baden Powell Garden beside Villa Stibbert. A small playground is on the left.

The ajoining Baden Powell and Fabbricotti gardens host a small play area for children, grassy spaces, paths and picnic tables. My elementary school students love this park, as well as the next on the list, which is nearby.

Via Stibbert, 26 Entrance Parco di Villa Fabbricotti: Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 24

Hours: 8am-7pm (April to October) – 19:00, 8am – 5pm (November – March) Closed every Thursday, January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, August 15th, December 25th

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Unwind or play in the Giardino dell’Orticultura

Giardino dell’Orticultura – This great green space was established in 1862 specially by the Horticultural Society of Tuscany to share the knowledge and love for plants and horticulture with Florence’s public, and is still serving that purpose! One of my favourite ways to welcome Spring in Florence is to shop for new plants at the annual Flower Fair held here in May. The gorgeous cast-iron and glass greenhouse was constructed in 1880 to celebrate the garden’s hosting of the First National Horticulture Expo. It later became a butterfly farm (which I sometimes wish it still was) and is now used for various events. Another interesting structure is up above the greenhouse: a dragon that snakes up a set of stairs guiding you to a sweet, and free, view of Florence. It’s a perfect place to read or rest, where there are benches in front of a fountain that flows from the top of the stairs all the way down the dragon’s mosaic spine, made of pieces of stone and glass.IMG_5663

Come have a picnic, a nap, or kick a ball around. There’s a great playground for children, a bar that hosts many performances through warmer months, and a small library in this park.

Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 4 or Via Bolognese 17

Hours: 8:30am-6pm (January – March), 8:30am-7pm (April-May), 8:30am-8pm (June- August), 8:30-7pm (September), 8:30-6pm (October- December)

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Area Pettini Burresi

Area Pettini Burresi – this park answered prayers for me (seriously) because it’s a quick jaunt from my front door, so I consider this one to be my “yard.” There’s a decent children’s playground but still more than enough space for me to plot myself somewhere on a grassy knoll and watch the scene of all ages around me between pages of a good book. You’ll find some playing sports: soccer as usual, the sounds of rackets whacking tennis balls at the courts on the other side of the fence, and the swish of the basketball hoops now and then. Frequently used for picnic gatherings and other events, this park sets the scene beautifully with seating areas surrounded by olive and cypress trees and the sweet sound of church bells intermittently ringing. There’s also a youth centre on the property, plus a cafe, pizzeria, and gelateria right outside of the entrance.

Via Faentina 145

Hours: 8:00am – 6pm (November, December, January – March, 7:30am-7:30pm (April, May, September October), 7:30-11pm (June-July), 7:30am-8pm (August)

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Villa Demidoff in Pratolino. This park is on the hills above the city and definitely merits the bus trip, as it is much larger than the other parks and a more rustic escape from city life. Formally a Medici property, rich Russian prince Paolo Demidoff acquired the land in 1870. It’s said that originally the Grand Duke originally purchased the land for his wife Bianca to live a fairytale in its groves and trees. Unfortunately the park and villa as the Medici family knew it was neglected and deteriorated over time. It is quite different than it was in the 1500s, but is nonetheless charming and beautiful. The colossal statue of Apennines, also known as “the giant,” made by Gianbologna in 1579-80 was recently unveiled after restoration. It’s possible to see fauna as well as flora, as deer, fox, and rabbit scamper about this area.DSCN2238

Across the street Via Bolognese there is an Adventure Park where you can do obstacle courses in the trees. There are different ones respectively for all ages and ability levels. http://www.parcoavventurailgigante.it/?lang=en

ATAF Bus 25A (it must be 25A not just 25!) will take you to Pratolino from Piazza San Marco. You can also take a CAP bus from the train station to Pratolino.

Via Fiorentina, 276, 50036 Vaglia FI

Hours: Friday – Sunday, from 10am-8pm from April 25th– November 1st

 

Ventaglio

Ventaglio

Villa Il Ventaglio – I discovered this place not too long after moving to Le Cure neighbourhood. Parco Ventaglio sits between Le Cure and Campo di Marte. Like the Cascine park it was founded back in the sixteenth century but it’s a much lesser-known green area. It has a few short trails that wind up hill, offer a good little workout for walking or running between the trees. There is a bit of a view at the top where you’ll find the villa, sadly closed to public. People relax and play in the grass around the pond at the bottom of the hill.

Via Aldini 12

Open: 8:15am – 4:30pm November – February, 8:15am -5:30pm March – May, 8:15am – 7:30pm June – September, 8:15am – 5:30pm in October.

 

Orti Dipinti Community Garden

Orti Dipinti Community Garden

Orti Dipinti 2Orti Dipinti – Across from Four Seasons, this is more of a courtyard garden than a park, but worth mentioning for its central location and for its concept; it’s a community garden that educates about urban horticulture and sustainability. Visitors are welcome anytime, but there are opportunities to also volunteer to care for the garden, take part in workshops or other events, or even become a part of the community garden’s board of directors! This is cozy hideout to perhaps read a book, unwind a moment, or get your hands dirty as you get tangible with nature during volunteer hours.

Borgo Pinti 76

Open Monday till Saturday 10 am – 6 pm, Sunday 10 am – 1.00 pm, Volunteer times: tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10:30am-1:00 pm.

http://www.ortidipinti.it/en/

If you’re interested in getting involved in other volunteer opportunities in Florence as well as taking care of the nature of the city, look into working with the Angeli del Bello.

It irritates me like crazy to see invaluable buildings, monuments and streets tainted by graffiti and litter. I come from one of the most “green cities” on Earth (Vancouver, Canada) so you can imagine my fury when I see our planet poorly treated. There are a number of ways you can volunteer with this “Angels of beauty” organization so that Firenze can be enjoyed in a more environmentally respectful way. Throughout the month on weekday afternoons, these urban angels volunteer precious time to give TLC to community spaces in Florence. Fresh air high-fives to you, beautiful angels. Their website is also in English, so you can get in on making this city shine!

http://www.angelidelbello.org/eng/

As emphasized, I’m always on the lookout for garden and park areas in Florence, so if you discover some in your own nature walks, then please do share them! What garden is your favourite in Florence?

Rain or shine, get out there, nature lovers!

Rain or shine, get out there, nature lovers!

Happy Italiverssary to Me!

Canada Day in Vancouver, just days before I moved to Italia

Canada Day in Vancouver, just days before I moved to Italia

It’s my Italiverssary. 3 years ago today I got a plane from Canada to Italy to stay.

Well, actually, yesterday was the day. But I didn’t get to posting until now. Nonetheless, here’s to 3 years and counting living in bella Italy!

It really doesn’t feel like 3 years have passed already. This may be because I’ve been a bit of a nomad in the course of my time here; we first lived with Alessio’s parents, sister, and nonno in an apartment in Milan (way to get close with the family straight up, right?!) when I first landed in Italy in July. That whole summer was spent traveling around the country with visiting friends, our Italian wedding in Tuscany, and our honeymoon in Greece. Getting back to Milan as our first Italian homebase, we moved to our own apartment in the Fall, and moved to another just a couple months later. I’ve been back to Canada a couple times for a couple of months at a time. After deciding Milan was not for us within the first year, we headed for Florence, all on our own.

We moved mid-month and our apartment wasn’t available until month’s end, so our landlord so kindly offered their “casina” or little guest house on their property in the outskirts of Florence in Galluzzo. It was more of a log cabin. Log room, more accurately. It was my first summer in Florence and I roasted in there. It was like living in a forno a legna (wood oven). I certainly could not complain about the vastness of space around us on the property though, complete with panoramic views to settle me into Toscana the right way.galluzzo

Since moving into our apartment in Florence, we haven’t left. Until we are ready to buy, I don’t foresee us leaving either. We love our little place, in it’s great location just outside of the city centre, with a pretty view of Fiesole and my favourite “broccoli trees” (Mediterranean pines) that line a stream that flows into the Arno. It’s a short bike ride to work, it’s close to a park (because this Canadian needs some sort of green space!), and it’s got a bathtub (a rarity here but must for my casa dolce casa).

Mediterranean pines along our street. Italy isn't always rainbows and broccoli trees, though!

Mediterranean pines along our street. Italy isn’t always rainbows and broccoli trees, though!

I’ve experienced a number of stages of living in Italy, in no particular order, and often overlapping or recurring. You start more like an enthusiastic tourist (with gawking at everything around you blissfully exclaiming, “how is it possible that I actually live here?!) , to a new resident both in love and denial with where you live (the gawking has become occasionally embittered as you scoff “how is it possible that I actually live here?!”), to a humbled acceptance that culture shock is a very real thing no matter how tough of a person you may be and you’re not really sure how to define “home” or even “self” anymore. Then you start to become ok with that, even welcoming of the exciting unknowns and growth. It’s almost addictive, but in a non-narcissistic kind of way.

Moods can be a bit springy around here...

Moods can be a bit springy around here…

Suddenly down the line you find yourself a local raging at tourist mobs that block your bike path while you wave exaggerated gestures like a true Italian would. Take that a step further and you catch yourself actually envious of tourists who leisurely enjoy your city while you press on in the daily grind.

For those of you who may be in your first year or so of living in Italy, or I’ll risk referring to really any expat anywhere, HOLD ON! Hold on to the littlest of little things. Those sweet little successes. Celebrate them. Celebrate the fact that you navigated your way through the grocery store, even if it was just for a single item. Celebrate that you figured out how to use that antique key to open your front door. Celebrate that your bidet, while it annoyingly takes up space in your tiny bathroom, can be used to hand-wash clothes or shave your legs. If you go to any government office, celebrate if you come out alive, even if you don’t get what you need to done (Italians themselves do the same, no shame, glass of wine in hand!). Realize that your resilience is going to shoot through the roof, and it is already rising right now. I know you might not “see the light” right now. I smiled and nodded doubtfully at those who told me I would see it too when I was head-spinning here in my first year. Only 3 have passed for me, so I’m still considerably a “newbie,” but I can promise you that you will make it out alive, stronger than most people you know, and about as ready for any challenge put on your piatto that is to be served. There are many times that I look back to a year, two years, heck, even a week ago, and I think “hey, go me! I’ve learned a TON about this place, this lifestyle, this ME already and I’m actually really loving it now!” It becomes so much less of a painful struggle when you really just choose to embrace it.

The trick is, you’ve got to embrace the uncertainty. Because you see, you come here with all your perceptions of Italy (or wherever), and you can’t help that really, but you will quickly be slapped in the face with a whole set of new ones, the realities, that are often great but still just as shocking as the harder-to-accept ones. Why? Because it’s different. Different in ways you just couldn’t prepare for until you got here and lived it out. And so you are! Give yourself a pat on the back right this second.

Grazie for this mantra, Michelangelo (photo by Enrico Nunziati)

Grazie for this mantra, Michelangelo (photo by Enrico Nunziati)

Even people who just travel here without even transferring their whole life here indefinitely can  kind of botch their trip experience by packing their preconceived notions of Italy in their baggage along with their belongings. What? No chicken alfredo? What? You expect me to down this unwatered-down coffee straight up in this shotglass-like little cup just standing here at a bar and move on my merry way? I want to relax with my coffee! What? You’re having ANOTHER coffee when I am standing here at your window where you’re supposed to be serving me, the customer, and not yourself another coffee break?!!

Whether just passing through or sticking around for the long haul, be humbled and be happy to be humbled. You’re going to be, whether you like it or not! I have always been a strong, confident, independent woman type. I totally thought I “had this” whole move-to-another-country-culture-language-everything thing. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but, pffff, I could deal with it like a boss! Shock hit me on a whole other level – I confess, this tough girl had somewhat of an identity crisis. But in the end, I’m really glad I did! I learned so much about me, and learned that this is just where I am supposed to be.

While for me, Canada may be “better” at some things and Italy may be “better” in others, it just comes down to that they are both just different. Accepting them as such is the key to your own happiness, even sanity. Catch yourself in the comparison dance and boogie your way on out of that pattern until you’re in a place of contended contentment. If it doesn’t match your perspective of how it was “supposed to be,” chances are that it wasn’t in fact supposed to be that way in the first place. Reality check: Your fantasy may be the very thing holding you back from enjoying the reality. If you want authenticity, you have to allow and accept what’s around you to be as they are. Then graciously move along as you are, or rather, as a better person for it. At least this is what I’m taking from all this!

Thought ramblings

Thought ramblings

I found that the more I tried to look for a “comfort zone” the more I got uncomfortable! Looking for what I thought would make me comfortable here actually frustrated me senseless. Now, I just let those old senses of comfort stumble upon me when they might (and they do, don’t worry), and learn a new sense of comfort – finding joy in embracing the challenges. The same things don’t all matter to me as they did before, and there are new things that are important which I never expected them to be. On that note…I’m a blogger now? I never thought I would be “Gina the blogger.” I made fun of all those blogger weirdos before. Now I’m proud to be one. 🙂

Actually, the blog thing is a good example of the concept I’m trying to get at here. This blog is a “newbie.” It’s a beautiful mess, constantly under development. It’s developer doesn’t know what she’s doing (*awkward uncouth wave*). Social media is a whole other language I have to learn, along with Italian and trying not to forget my English (seriously though, another shock for this English major). But piano piano as they always say here (slowly!), I’m doing it! And it’s been a fun journey so far.

I asked the husband, Alessio, “what do you remember about me when I first moved here?” And he responded: “You were blonde. You complained I didn’t feed you enough. You always missed grass.” That was deep, amore mio, thanks. So there you have it, I was a blonde food-fanatic, grass-crawler. This does sum up some things though. Those things haven’t changed. I’m naturally dark blonde and just being a little more of my natural self, letting the sun kiss the highlights in. Here in Italy they say, “il sole bacia i belli” – “the sun kisses the beautiful” so I don’t need dye 😉 I still LOVE to eat but now I’ve adjusted to ordering for myself whenever I want it (gelato anyone? Yes, now.), and I have adjusted to and even prefer eating at later hours in the day than I did my whole life (6pm is still practically lunch time, guys). I still run rampant like a wild child in grass when I see it here, but I would painfully long for the rolling green hills covered in vineyards, orchards, cypress and pine if I were away from them. The cobblestones always call me to adventure too, never ceasing to mystify me with how many centuries of souls have paraded them before.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other one whatever path you’re on, whether you’re walking, running, crawling, or getting back up again after a fall or detour. Don’t forget to celebrate the smallest and even silliest things, even giving them fun names if you want to, like “Italiverssary” to make them more official.

salute

What was your experience of adjusting to a foreign place? Did you come to call that place home?

 

 

An Other-Worldly Weekend in Amalfi Coast, Capri, Pompeii and Naples

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Campania is a riveting region of Italy that will enrapture you. It give you exactly that kind of escape you’ve been yearning for and won’t want to leave. It’s in this region where pizza and Sofia Loren were born (yay), and also Cammora, organized crime mafia-style originators from Napoli (boo). We had been noses-to-the-grindstone and in need of a true Italian dolce vita revival. We threw our burdens to the wind, a bag in the car, and headed south for a long weekend (not long enough) getaway. As soon as we were in southern sections of Italy, we knew it. Sights like these don’t pass you in just any place:

You know you're in the south when..a hearse becomes your travel car.

You know you’re in the south when..a hearse becomes your travel car.

It was a first (but not last!) visit for me, and the first where my italiano husband saw it with grownup eyes after having been on a family trip back in younger years. Let me give you the lowdown of our voyage, which will hopefully help you to plan out your own magical visit!

The Who, What, Where, Why, When, aaaand How:

Who: The marito and me (husband). This place is perfect for a romantic adventure, but I could also seeing it being a blast with a couple good pals, or solo!

What: Anniversary Trip, 3 nights

Where: Amalfi Coast, Capri, Pompeii and Naples. Homebase for the weekend was Conca dei Marini at Locanda degli Agrumi

When: Long weekend to kick off June. June 2nd is a holiday in Italy (Festa della Repubblica) which landed on a Tuesday this year, so many people were thrilled to have a “ponte” which means “bridge,” allowing for an extra day off attached to the weekend!

Why: To reencounter dolce vita in one of the purest forms in this paese!

How: Car, bus, boat, foot! Bring your walking shoes and a sense of humour…this dolce vita wouldn’t be complete without classically Italian frustrations on some fronts, which especially highlighted those in the mode of transportation in this region.IMG_0070

 

The Itinerary:

Day 1: Pompeii on the drive down from Florence.IMG_9781[1]

Laid to rest for hundreds of years under about 30 feet of volcanic ash, Pompeii is a playground for ancient-Roman enthusiasts as a whole city is under your feet, untainted by human hands, but tarnished by immense forces of nature. The sensations you feel here are unlike any other, no matter who you are, you can’t avoid being affected by the erry feelings of being present in a place that was a bustling commercial centre of an empire of over 20,000 people who were met by such a devastating fate, some two-thousand years ago.

Latin salutations on one of the world's first welcome mats

Latin salutations on one of the world’s first welcome mats

As you roam from one space to another, you can visualize the community alive again: merchants selling their trades, chariots nosily buckling down some of the first stoned streets in existence, the scent of hot food floating to your nose as it was displayed in ancient ovens, colourful mosaic signage to inform visitors: “beware of dog,” “welcome.”

And then for perhaps the most fascinating and heartbreaking part of our trip: witnessing the plaster casts of the victims of the 79AD eruption. Just days before our arrival, the bodies were recently restored and placed in a prism-shaped structure right in the middle of the Ampitheatre of Pompei. It’s a strange sort of humanistic intrigue. The striking visual of the faces of these victims, creases of the very clothing they still had on, bodies positioned frozen in the moment of time when the deadly gas and heat hit them and took life in an instant. By postures of their corpses, it seems some were trying to protect themselves or agonizing over the horror. The volcanic ash created a sort of casting over the body’s skeletons, but the immense heat and toxic gas disintegrated these poor people. It becomes so much more painfully real when you witness an alleged family together, a mother with her child in her lap and likely the helpless father nearby. There is another couple bracing themselves by embracing each other. It stings the soul to imagine what their last thoughts and words may have been, and there’s an eerie sense that you hear their cries and whispers bouncing off these angled walls.IMG_9423

Pompeii impressed a renewed sense of mortality…how precious and how short life is. From walking the streets that were once so lively and now cower in the silencing shadows of still-active Vesuvius, to standing in the centre of the world’s oldest standing amphitheatre (more than 150 years older than Rome’s Coliseum) and imagining gladiators in their ultimate moments, to paying witness to remains of human beings whose lives were so deplorably taken. Yet it’s a site were you see some of the very first operational water and sewage systems and other structures for various amenities of civilized livelihood. Who knows what could have become of this rich, booming society if Vesuvius hadn’t made claim to it? To say the least, being at this very particular place in the world provokes some deep thoughts on life.

Do you need a tour guide? I asked myself that question and in the end we didn’t go with one. We grabbed one audio guide at the ticket office, and it sufficed. Actually, it didn’t really, because it wasn’t really updated to the current state of the site, meaning that, the audio guide often told me to go inside certain structures that were certainly out of bounds. But that, along with some reading I did ahead of time, gave me grounds for what to focus on. I’d say the “don’t miss” parts of Pompeii are: the Villa of Mysteries (a little walk outside of the core centre), the ampitheatre, the Bath houses, the House of the Faun, the House of the Tragic Poet (where the “beware of dog” mosaic is), the Lupanare (the brothel), Apollo’s Temple, and the Basilica.

Villa of Mysteries

Villa of Mysteries

House of the Fawn

House of the Fawn

Tunnels in the world's oldest standing ampitheatre where gladiators and wild beasts once roamed

Tunnels in the world’s oldest standing ampitheatre where gladiators and wild beasts once roamed

Other things to observe are the cafeterias with their ceramic oven pots and display walls, the roads complete carriage tracks and with stone “crosswalks” for people to cross without getting their feet dirtied which also acted as a sort of “speed bump” to slow chariots so they didn’t splash pedestrians, and the phallic symbols proudly placed everywhere (just wait until you see the “Cabinet of Secrets” room in the National Museum of Naples) which in a pagan society symbolized fertility and prosperity.

Ovens of antiquity

Ovens of antiquity

Don’t expect to see objects left behind in Pompeii itself. It’s mostly just the carcass of the sleeping city. To see the things excavated from the site, head over to the National Archeological Museum in Naples. Definitely see both if you want more fullness of experiencing this fascinating, unique era and people. Though the eruption of Vesuvius was so deadly, it also preserved much for lovers of antiquity to see.

Full price tickets for just the site of Pompeii are 11 euro, but you can get an all-in-one ticket for 20 that will let you see Pompeii, Herculaneum (Ercolano), Oplontis, Stabiam and Boscoreale. The audio guide is 6,50 for one or 5,00 each when you rent more than one.

After an head-spinning day at Pompeii, we spent the evening relaxing close to our B&B in Conca dei Marini which is about an hour drive from Pompeii. Conca dei Marini is one of Amalfi Coast’s charming towns, is much less tainted by tourists, and is conveniently smack-dab in between Positano and Amalfi. Conca dei Marini just so happens to be one of the country’s “borghi piu belli d’Italia” – translation, one of the most beautiful towns! When looking for where to stay, most people opt for Positano, Amalfi, or Sorrento when they come down to the Amalfi Coast, but I would suggest checking out the more unchartered local towns like Conca dei Marini, Praiano, Furore, or Vietri su Mare. In the Amalfi Coast, your homebase is important. Getting around isn’t going to be a snap, so try to be stationed in a convenient location. It will also be more economical than the more tourist-dense towns, so you can save money for more pizza and limoncello!

Our evening welcome...actually it was for the town's patron saint

Our evening welcome to Conca dei Marini…the fires and fireworks were actually lit for the town’s patron saint

Day 2: Amalfi and Ravello by day, Positano by night.

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B&B Locanda degli Agrumi

I initially didn’t think all three places could be done in one day, but we grazed them well for our limited timing. We started with a nice buffet breakfast under the citrus trees and over the sea. Locanda degli Agrumi stands true to its name: Citrus fruits are growing all around you and the rooms are all named after them. The tasteful decor in our room named “Pompelmo” (grapefruit) gets you in the mood for the flavours of the coast, with ceramic and frescoed touches everywhere at this lovely inn. We opened the windows and doors to nothing but blue and green.

Room with a view: sea and citrus trees

Room with a view: sea and citrus trees

There was air-conditioning for a comfortable night’s sleep, and though the Jacuzzi wasn’t quite ready yet when we arrived that weekend, Salvatore promised it would be the following week. Next time we go, I’ll definitely be enjoying a drink in there after a long day of sight-seeing…

The day before we were so enthralled by Pompeii and were there until closing time…so we called Salvatore to request a later check-in time than we originally booked. With a kindhearted but blunt “and so? Come whenever you like, we’re ready for you!” from Salvatore, we felt more at ease in our travels. These people have a wonderful “no-stress” type attitude that is gloriously contagious. As soon as we arrived and got settled in, Salvatore was happy to sweep open a map and give us a sense of direction on this trip. I’d definitely recommend it!

Locanda deli Agrumi, Via 1 Maggio 24, 84010 Conca dei Marini, +39 089831064, www.locandadegliagrumi.it, info@locandadegliagrumi.it

Other notes on where to stay: check booking.com and airbnb.com. Airbnb offers more intimate, authentic accommodation, and also takes much less of a surcharge from business operators than booking.com. Something to keep in mind when finding where to stay!

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We got in the car and headed for Amalfi after a great breakfast buffet. It’s an exhilarating ride on this colourful coast. When towns surface on the bigger bends, you see multicoloured houses spilling down the cliffs, surrounded by vibrant green vegetation and the crystal blue of the Tyrrhenian. The horizontal wave of roads rocks you, as the Mediterranean waves vertically below. As dizzying as the bends and drops are, the views are all the more so. Once you get your vertigo under control, you can start taking mental snapshots if you forgot your camera at home (like I did…which wasn’t so bad in the end! Photos come to you courtesy of my iPhone5 and I felt lighter in mind and body without carrying a big camera around. It challenged me to just breathe in the moment!).

Man at work. Don't look down!

Man at work. Don’t look down!

The drive from Conca dei Marini to the town of Amalfi was only about 10 minutes. We found a small pay parking lot that I imagine fills up pretty quickly, and cost a lot. There aren’t exactly many options on these crammed cliff sides for parking. That’s another reason why a scooter or bus might be a good mode of getting around for you. I would say though that driving the coastline is a very memorable experience!

Scooters basically go wherever they want to!

Scooters basically go wherever they want to!

I’d suggest renting a scooter if you plan on staying within the coast for at least a few days. That way you can weave in and out of the traffic, all-the-while feeling a little more authentic Italian! In the peak of summer, bus drivers are less than patient. They’ve been known to get out of the bus and personally move cars that visitors don’t know how to maneuver on those tight bends. Another thing a local told us is that they don’t even insure their own vehicles in July and August. In rare cases when they do, they are only permitted to drive every other day: even-numbered license plates one day and odd the next. Car owners usually put their 4-wheeled rides away and if anything, break out the scooter, e basta (that’s all).

Or, there’s the SITA bus, with its main terminal in Amalfi. If you go on this route, don’t be scared, be bold and allow yourself to be entertained. You’ll likely be soaked in your own sweat and forced to inhale or even be rubbed by that of others as you’re snug as sardines. If you’d rather save the sardines for the pizza toppings, there are a few other options. Bus is the cheapest way to get around, but will surely test your patience. There’s no clear bus stop signs to indicate which buses are headed where, and the bus drivers themselves aren’t exactly friendly like the other locals (apparently a common trait of bus drivers all around Italy, but can you blame them sometimes?)

Ferry transportation has recently gotten better along the coast. There are kiosks at the dock areas of towns that you can get tickets and schedules from. I highly recommend embarking on some type of boat while you’re there – it will give you the best photo ops. Check out this post about Travelmar ferry boats along the coast.

After that very important parenthesis about transportation, let’s get back to towns to visit.

Orchards in the sky in Ravello

Orchards in the sky in Ravello

Ravello towers up and over from Amalfi and is well-worth a visit. This enchanting crown of the coast is known for its summer music festivals and splendid villas. As always, take time to just  wander the streets and piazzas, and take in something refreshing to eat or drink. We got a way overpriced gelato just off from the main piazza, which is an “I-told-you-so” moment for me, knowing better than to buy food in the tourist traps, as I wrote about here. But it was more for the photo with this fun fellow:

Someone get this guy a gelato.

Someone get this fun guy a gelato.

 

A lovely stroll through the town guided us to the famous Villa Cimbrone. We chose to enter this one in particular, though I would have loved to have the time to see others too! Tickets cost 7 euro to peruse this paradise with its beautifully manicured gardens overlooking the sea. The regal villa with medieval roots is a palace fit for royalty; it was in fact once the residence of the King of Naples and Sicily. It’s not a wonder that many poets like T S Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and DH Lawrence found refuge and inspiration here. If you really wanna go all-out on your trip, you can book to stay in this villa. And yet-another reason to come in the late Spring: this garden is much more personal with less people and more flowers in bloom!IMG_9524 IMG_9550

 

Observe marble statues and structures scattered through rows of well-pruned plants until you arrive at what is said to be one of the most breathtaking panoramas on earth.

On top of the world at Villa Cimbrone

On top of the world at Villa Cimbrone

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We would have loved to stay to take in some of the infamous music festival performances in Ravello, but it was time to move on to Positano. If you can manage to be present for a blend of one of the most beautiful languages put to music with the backdrop of one of the most beautiful countries in the world, by all means, do and enjoy!

We’ve done a lot of walking in the hot sun, so be prepared by drinking plenty of water, wearing good walking shoes, a hat, and sunscreen. Especially if you stay in a place like Positano, you’ll need to ready yourself for some hefty hikes just to get to your hotel! This gives another reason I wouldn’t recommend Amalfi coast in the height of the hot summer season, but would encourage travel here in a more cardio-friendly climate. One thing I look forward to doing here on a future trip is hiking! There are many astonishing trails in this terrain that lead through lemon groves, vineyards, caves, and mesmerizing coastal views. One path is named Sentiero degli Dei or the “Trail of the Gods.” The name itself beckons me – sounds epic!

IMG_9555 Positano is a pretty place to walk – or climb – around. We just openly explored this maze of stairs, peered into storefronts and villa gates, and people watched along the way. We checked out the cathedral and made our way to the beach area for more people watching. Don’t be disappointed by the beaches – they are few and far in between, small, and rocky. The towns are characteristic for being embedded on rock cliffs, and so you have a couple little beaches complimenting the style. No one is saying you can’t spread out of a towel or rent a reclining chair and bask in the sun, but be aware that this particular coastline isn’t one for spacious, sandy beaches. IMG_0421Positano’s “Spiaggia Grande” was a nice spot for sight-seeing and smooching! Alessio patiently entertained my obsession over wanting to find “Marcello’s house” from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. With backup from Google, we think we managed to find it! Even more obliging to my want for a photo of a kiss on that very same beach where Francis Mayes was embraced by the cunning Marcello, we got a snapshot of our own rendition of the movie moment. The friendly Italian family who took the photo thought we were on our honeymoon. This quick anniversary trip did feel delightfully honeymoon-like!

"Marcello! Marcello!"

“Marcello! Marcello!”

An Under the Setting Positano Sun kiss!

An Under the Setting Positano Sun kiss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3: Boat tour of the Amalfi and Sorrentine coasts all the way to Capri and Anacapri around the island and back! This is ideal for the best photo ops of the mystifying land. The tour was a splurge for us, but a seize the day opportunity that was well worth it.

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Would you dive off this bridge?

We boarded the boat at the docks of Amalfi. We then back-tracked a little (fine by me!) to the town of Maiori to pick up other passengers. Then we headed straight on for Capri, but not without our tour guides telling us about the sights along the way, from town to town (visited by the likes of many from pirate to aristocrat) and cave to cave (white, green, blue, emerald!) where Sofia Loren’s house was, and how there is an international diving championship held from the bridge over the natural fjord in Furore, 28 metres above the waters below.

The boat stopped right at the entrance of the Grotta Smeralda (Emerald Grotto). There you pay 5 euros at the cave and set foot into a little rowboat with characteristic local whose delightful songs and stories echo off the jagged walls in the cave. They will splash the water with the oars for you to see a dancing diamond show of the water splashing back into the pool of blue. IMG_9593Speaking of blue, we didn’t go in the famous Blue Grotta and I was quite ok with that. I was pleased with our experience in the Emerald cave, and when we arrived at the blue grotto there was another HOUR minimum wait and additional costs just to go inside. I would have rather spent that time exploring Capri, and that’s just what we did.

As we approached Capri, the boat took us right in and under the “Faraglioni” and then for a swim in the Marina Piccola where we also went into another cave, big boat and all! We were allotted 3 hours onshore at Capri, which sounds like a lot more time than it really is.

"Faraglioni" approaching Capri

“Faraglioni” approaching Capri

I would only suggest a visit to Capri if you have a decent amount of time. It demands a full day, at least. If possible, I would even recommend staying a night or two, preferably in Anacapri which sits above the busier bustle of Capri.

We chose to head straight up to Anacapri when we docked in Capri. It was a bit confusing even for my Italian husband and I to figure out where to get the bus and tickets to board to head up there, but we finally figured it out.

My Caprese salad sandwich in Capri

My Caprese salad sandwich in Capri

After losing precious time waiting so long for the tiny, jam packed bus, we decided to grap a Caprese panino (I HAD to eat caprese salad somehow while in Capri) and that taking the convertible taxis were the best way to move about here! We still hoped to take a bus back down from Anacapri, but as a number of buses passed us “completo” leaving us to keep cooking in the sun, a mutual panic came over other impatient people trying to get back down the hill and we decided to carpool for the split price of 5 euro a head.

Ride in style on the isle of Capri

Convertible cabs at Capri

Since you’ll be smart in these ways of transport and allot yourself more time on this “Paradise Island,” you will have the chance to take the chair lift up to the top of Monte Solaro in Anacapri where you’ll feel as if you’re on top of the world.

We just roamed around the pristine streets and alleys, admiring the overpriced merchandise from afar, but recognizing their iconic reputation: Capri pants, handmade leather sandals, limoncello.

Capris in Capri.

Capris in Capri

Sandal artisans

Sandal artisans

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On the boat cruise back, we circled around the island of Capri, waving at Vesuvius, Sorrento, and Naples in the distance.

Views from the boat are spectacular!

Views from the boat are spectacular!

We arrived back in Amalfi at around 6pm, wandered around there a little bit, then composed ourselves for dinner. We couldn’t resist retuning to the pizza place down the street from where we stayed, with its sea views, friendly servers, incredible menu and prices!

Always a pizza party in Campania

Always a pizza party in Campania

Amalfi Boat Excursion, Departures from Amalfi, Maiori, Minori, morning pick-up from your accommodation available, bookings necessary: +39 3351572362, +39 3294603771 100 euro

Ristorante Le Bontà del Capo, Via I Maggio, 14, 84010, Conca Dei Marini, +39 089 831515, +39 338 8803764 www.lebontadelcapo.it

 

Day 4: Naples . Naples was…intense. Honestly, my first impressions of this iconic city were not great. It honestly concerned me that if this is what people think “Italy” is, then they could be very disappointed. That being said, Italy is honestly a very diverse place, so to attempt to define it by a single place is inaccurate. But what a shame to me it was to see the potential of Naples be what looked to me at least as very depressed. Many locals would say it is so, because “the unification of Italy ate up its richness.” Naples began as very important port city, named “Neapolis” by the Greeks in the 6th century BC meaning “new city.”I found it difficult to imagine the days of emperors and economic livelihood, in the madness of this old “new city.” And if you drive here, you should receive some type of reward for not only keeping your car in one piece, but your composure. I’ve never seen such insanity on the streets! There were moments that I would have thought the scooters would have been bouncing off the car hood, as they were practically there already. If you just have a day, I’d suggest doing as we did: visit the National Museum, wander some streets and piazzas as well as the seaside promenade, and revive yourself with the most prestigious pizza in all the world – you’re going to need the energy to survive getting out of here. We found an awesome pizza place and by some miracle just barely beat a long line-up out the door to get a table. It’s where a Sofia Loren film called L’oro di Napoli produced a famous scene of her fondling pizza dough!IMG_9737 IMG_9735

 

 

 

 

 

The original pizza

The original pizza

A "racket" pizza with stuffed ricotta crust! It hit me with the freshness, mmm!

A “racket” pizza with stuffed ricotta crust! It hit me with the freshness, mmm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizzeria Starita, Via Materdei, 27-28, 80136 Napoli +39 081 5441485, http://www.pizzeriestarita.it/

The goal for our half-day visit was pizza and Pompeii: the Archeological Museum a must-see if you’re going to Pompeii, as it contains most of the objects, mosaics and frescos excavated from the ruined city, it’s a marble-lovers paradise. IMG_9757 IMG_9761

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Original mosaic frescos of Pompeii

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Close up of tiny mosaic tile detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll repeat the suggestion of going here BEFORE seeing the site of Pompeii, to give you a more complete picture of what life was really like there as you walk around the ancient city grounds. I’ll note that another thing I would add to the itinerary if we had more time would be to go up Vesuvius and see Herculaneum, an ancient city that is apparently more well-preserved than Pompeii and less congested with tourists. Next time we’ll have to get a better sense of the quieter, more local-filled towns. And of course, Sorrento.

All in all though, I would say we did a job well-done in making the most of our little getaway here. I can’t wait to get back and discover more of Campania’s treasures!

Have you been to the Campania region? What is on your “must-see-and-do” list?

Until next time, Campania!

Until next time, Campania!