Saturday, June 11, 2011

Second day of Sightseeing

June 9th

Stop #1: Farmer's Market

Like yesterday, today was awesome! And I have some pictures and stories to share. We started out with a lazy morning and this afternoon managed to hit one of the things on my list: the Mercato Centrale, or Central Market (the largest farmer's market in Florence). This place is a giant two-story six-days-a-week bazaar, at which your eyes can't decide where to look first or next because everything looks colorful, delicious, and worth having (possibly immediately)! The market interior offers preserved foods, liquers, cheeses, fresh meat, cured meat, candies, sandwiches and more. We got there just as it was ending, but I snapped a slew of pictures anyhow. To my friends and family, luggage space is limited but I'm taking orders!

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Italian-made Preserves (sweet and savory), olive oil, Porcini Mushrooms etc.

Pasta, Sun Dried Tomatos, Spices, etc.

Dried Fruit, Preserves

Italian Sweets

More Pasta and Spices

For my BFF specifically, meat you can buy with the head still on! Rooster anyone?

Cured Meats: Sausages, Hams, Proscuito, Cheese (not pictured) to the right


Marinated Artichokes and Olives

Precooked Foods.....Yum!

Overall, I found the market comparable to the ones I've visited in Paris and in Jerusalem. The colors. The smells. The frenetic commercial exchanges. The customers' happiness and appreciation at their purchases. The sellers' pride in their product that clearly radiates from their eyes.

It is an affordable and extremely fun way to eat in this city. You go and buy a little of this and a little of that, bring it home or take it to a scenic place for a picnic. Buying at markets indulges your senses. It's a good idea to eat before heading to a market though. Your eyes can run away from you and if you are starving you can buy more than you can eat. That being said, you can buy more than you can eat when you are already full too! :)

On the outside, the Mercato Centrale is surrounded by a flea-market/turkish bazaar. Tents line three sides of the building- with vendors selling everything from t-shirts and touristy knick-knacks, to leather goods, scarves and Mardi Gras masks. It looks like the Armenian quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. Colorful fabrics and chaotic movement. An element of danger. If only the danger of buying more than you need.

Colorful Scarves and Shawls

Leather purses: a major product category specific to Florence

Shearling slippers that remind me of soft

Hand tooled journals: Another popular good produced in Florence

Mardi Gras Masks

Mercato Centrale, like Florence and Tuscany, is teeming with life and full of color. I have always loved bright colors and it is not surprising that I find myself falling in love with this city.

Detour #1:

The market is next to one of the great landmarks of the city, San Lorenzo, - the parish church of the Medici- which is named after Lorenzo the Magnificent. We took pictures of the exterior, the beautiful buildings across the piazza and tried to capture the hustle-and-bustle ambiance of the market at the footsteps of this ancient church. There is an odd and perfectly right blending of the historic and the contemporary in this corner of Florence.

San Lorenzo (side facing the Mercato Centrale)

View of the flea-market tents lining the walkway at the steps of San Lorenzo

An artist sitting on the Cathedral steps with his back to the church. He was sketching the architectural features of the buildings facing San Lorenzo above the flea-market.

Panoramic View of of San Lorenzo and the Mercato

Pigeons and People

Detour #2:

Following our spontaneous tendency of having somewhat of a plan and then taking all kinds of interesting detours, my roommate and I happened upon the cloister adjoining the church. The church itself we will visit as a part of the Florence Summer Arts Program in a few weeks.

Memorial reliefs and markers commemorate significant figures on the right-hand side as you enter. Without knowing even minimal Italian, it is hard to distinguish who they are and why they might be important, beyond the knowledge that these figures were honored with a plaque and/or beautifully rendered by a skilled sculptor. I did figure out that one of the women honored was in some way related to the Bourbon monarchy in France and possibly the Duke of Conti, the first cousin of Louis XIV.

I'll certainly learn more when we visit this cathedral with experts in Renaissance history and art.

Below is a plaque describing the history of San Lorenzo and its importance to the history of the city.

This cloister is an island of calm. While the aesthetics are recto-linear, the open courtyard with its blooming vitality, leave the impression of a treasured place in which one might sit and think. If you were to walk down the isle on the right to the opposite corner and look back at the isle on the left you would catch a glimpse of the Duomo's copula. Never far from sight within the city center, it makes its presence known and even competes with this older architectural relic of pre-Renaissance architecture.

Columns of the Cloister Courtyard

In the center of the cloister is a small square garden with well-manicured hedges in a cross-angle design that converges at a beautiful orange tree that is full of fruit. Something about this single tree, with its vitality despite being enclosed in a rocky and overbearing space, was calming and moving. I can picture nuns meditating in the garden and if I were to take the time to research, I am certain that the orange tree is not a trivial choice but in some significant way meaningful and/or symbolic.

We spent some time sitting inside the cloister courtyard, peeking into a free contemporary exhibit, and beginning to worry about spending a longer period of time within the church- as something in the air inside causes dizziness and headaches.

Leaving the church I spotted my first knitting shop, for all my Stitches! The shop sold Italian brand yarn only...  :) Which is bella, bella!

Detour #3:

After visiting the cloister we walked through the colorful streets and window shopped as we went along, with somewhat of a predetermined notion about seeing the Picasso, Miro, Dali exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi. Alas, sightseeing and documenting Florence in pictures, meant enough was enough in terms of visual stimulation. We chose instead to continue adventuring and see what else may strike our fancy.

A Romanesque church

 Another view of the Duomo by day:

Street scenes:

Impressions. Color. Tourists. Slight madness in the crowds. Without intending or knowing it, we were headed towards the most touristy and upscale shopping part of town, in which I had one of the most unique and slightly unbelievable experiences of my life. 

Detour #4:

My roommate, struck up a conversation with a man who was a leather coat manufacturer. But not just any leather coats, as he repeatedly stated with pride, rather leather coats sold to every major designer label in the world. He invited us to his shop to show us the newly arrived 2012 collection. The coats are spectacular. The designs are the height of chic and elegance. And the man himself, had the most captivating and mesmerizing aqua-green eyes I have ever seen.

He was Italian to his fingertips. His manner of speech, his slight machismo arrogance and his shock that we would willingly chose to live in a youth hostel. He is classy. He knows how to dazzle in a way that puts you at ease and impresses you all at once. His leather coats, with their extravagant furs, original designs and beautiful workmanship are truly wearable art. Like him, they are elegant, make you feel special, and provide a sense of crystalline experience. Visiting his shop, was seeing a side of Italy that few tourists may have the privilege of doing. It was exciting and wonderful. 

Detour #5:

After leaving his shop, we went to sit at a bar across the way from the Palazzo Strozzi, where the Picasso, Miro, Dali exhibit is being staged. The bar is a perfect vantage point for watching people in the square around the museum. Impressions. Old women strolling. Young couples holding hands. Chic Italian women briskly walking. A high fashion model posing. Florence natives and fleeting tourists.

The bar began quite sparse but exponentially filled with individual patrons reading and groups of friends sitting down for some aperitifs as the dinner hour approached.

After sitting long enough to forget that we needed to pay a check and relaxed enough to no longer feel the pain of walking, we headed towards the river. Once again we passed through the swanky area of designer fashion houses and art galleries that borders the pontes (bridges) of the river.

Farragamo Shoes

Chic Children's Fashion

The Arno...

Finally we had reached the water and the fresh breeze of air that isn't stifled among buildings. It was a beautiful time of day. Nearly sunset. The water reflected the setting sun and the old buildings lining either side of the river. We stood at the Ponte Sante Trinita. The Ponte Vecchio (the oldest bridge in Florence was to the left) the view of the sun setting to the right. Across the bridge is another area in Florence, that to me looked more like I imagined the city before arriving here. The buildings seem to be built atop one another and Italians seem to outnumber the map-holding tourists.

After the Basilica di Santa Croce this was easily one of the most beautiful and uplifting moments of my trip. We snapped endless pictures. The softer light brought out the gold and terracotta colors of the buildings and made the water of the Arno sparkle. The Ponte Vecchio had groups of people standing in an open vantage point at the center of the bridge looking out at the setting sun. There were small boats and kayaks sailing along the water.

Here is some of the beauty of the Arno at sunset:

The Ponte Vecchio (Oldest surviving bridge in Florence) is covered in jewelry shops. The three arches in the center offer a vista point that was filled with people watching the setting sun.

Seagull flying over the Ponte alla Carraia

Streetlamps along the Lungarno Guicciardini

The Ponte alla Carraia

Buildings along Lungarno Guicciardini 

The Ponte Santa Trinita (from which the majority of the photos were taken)

Buildings lining the Arno along Lungarno Corsini

Lungarno Corsini and Ponte alla Carraia


After all these incredible experiences we headed home and became aware of our need for food (beautiful subjects for photography are distracting). Following intuition we stopped at a little Ristorante-Pizzeria on Via della  Scala called Tira...baralla. A rule of thumb about eating in other countries that I firmly believe in is that the less tourists and the more natives, the better the food. This place- apart from the Scottish couple to our right who barely spoke and when they did only in a nearly silent brogue- was filled with Italians. We sat outside and were able to people watch. The customers leaving the restaurant. The people sitting outside, like us. Groups of friends. A parade of older elegant ladies and gentlemen leaving with their wives. Our waitress spoke English with a heavy accent and we ordered what was to be one of the best meals I have had thus far. I got my favorite staple, a Margherita Pizza that had the best cheese and the thinnest crust ever! and my roommate ordered an incredible dish called Ravioli della Tartuffe (Ravioli with Truffle Sauce). All I can say is....


Mille Grazie, Firenze!


  1. Totally wonderful eye candy! I look forward to every posting now.

    My request is local olive oil.

  2. Posting random comments, we miss you

    you understand why the first word I learn in Italian was 500g of this, 500g of that, I had to try all the food...
    Leather is a major thing in Northern Italy, good quality, not too expensive, my mum closet is full of bags from Italy.
    the city looks beautiful, I can't wait to see it myself
    sweet you found more yarn stores,...taking notes :-)
    we, we, we, who is we, post pictures!!
    Just a few day in Italy and already a fashion victim, careful of Italian charms...

  3. As for the animals with their heads on.. this is really common in Europe, especially with poultry just so you know exactly what you're buying. Sometimes they'll leave the tail feathers on too.