Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Florence, Italy

The trip to italy was too short!! 5 days is definitely not enough. There were lots of things that I had wanted to do but did not get to do becuase we were pressed for time. I didnt get into any museums, not even to see Michelangelo's David. We also did not go to Venice and Pisa. We did a lot of sightseeing done, though.

But, you can't expect everything to be perfect, so let's focus on things that we did get to do. First, let me tell you about Florence.


The morning view from our room

We arrived in Florence on mid-morning of July 8th. The view from the sky was breath-taking, with squares of different colored fields sprawled across undulating hills. The hotel sent us a mini bus to pick the 10 of us up from the airport and we got a first glimpse of the suburbs of florence from the bus. Very green and very quaint apartments with narrow alleys and verandas filled with flowers.

We were staying at the Grand Hotel Baglioni, right smack in the middle of town. On its doorstep was Piazza Unita Italiana, and across the strees is the Church of Santa Maria Novella and the train station of the same name. All the buses stop there so it is a very convenient place to start your sight seeing of Florence. There are many shops surrounding the hotel, including small cafes, gelaterias and lingerie shops. We found 2 halal kebab shops, one right beside Piazza Santa Maria Novella and one just a block away from our hotel, closer to the florence central market.

The decor of the hotel was beautiful. It had antique furniture and the ceilings of the lobby and all the rooms were this square wood corniches. The floors of our rooms were wood as well and it squeaked a bit, but it was okay. Our rooms were huge and one room could have comfortably acommodated our family of 2 adults, 3 children and one toddler, but somehow the regulations (?) does not allow that, so we still had to take 2 rooms (which turned out to be better actually, coz then the parents get some private time *wink*).

The hotel is famous for Terrazza Brunelleschi Retaurant on its rooftop. We tried to get dinner reservations on the first evening, but only managed to secure one for our third night there. When we got up there for a peek, we could see why it could be fully booked. From your table you could see a panoramic view of florence and the terrace is decorated with blooming flowers of all sorts, including a few hibiscus plants. Izani just loved touching all the different textures of leaves and petals.

The Baglioni breakfast room, and the rooftop restaurant

We had our first lunch in Florence at the Buca Mario, as recommended by the hotel's concierge. We walked and got lost for a bit at first, but with the help of a very helpful Photo gallery person, we finally found the restaurant. The service was very nice. We explained that we could not eat any of their pork, chicken or beef or any its extract and the waiter was considerate enough to ask if fish was okay, if cheese was okay and if balsamic vinegar was okay and made recommendations. They were also very accomodating when we asked them to make dishes that were not on their menu (spaghetti pomodoro/alfredo for the kids). My porchini mushroom and rugola salad was delicious, but Taufik wasnt really happy with his grilled sea bass. The restaurant was a tad expensive in my opinion and I was also pissed to find out later that they opened fresh bottles of evoo and balsamic vinegar and had not told us that they would charged us for it. If I had known, I would've taken the bottles home with me!

Boboli Gardens and the hills of Fiesole

We spent one day on a hop-on-hop-off tour bus (EUR20 per adult, EUR10 per child above 5). The tour bus was a really good way to get to know the town because you get to listen to the commentary and learn about its history. I think it was a real value for money. It brought us to the other side of the Arno river, up the hills to see the big mansions where machiavelli and aristocratic medici families used to live in, Piazzale Michelangelo (where a bronze copy of David stands and you get a very good view of Florence) and the huge Boboli gardens and Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace). The bus also brought us up to Fiesole, which was so beautiful and I had wanted to explore more but the other family i was with were too tired.. :( My kids were also tired, actually, which made Taufik and I think that the next time we come here, we'd leave the kids at home. tee hee.

When we're not on the bus, we walked. I loved the fact that you could walk almost anywhere and everywhere in Florence. So you will notice that most of the pictures will have me pushing a stroller, with or without Izani in it.

Walking in Florence is a lot of fun! Izani loved it when we're on the cobblestoned streets, because he could go "aaaaaaaaaaah" and listen to his voice vibrate. The north side of the Arno river (where my hotel was) was pretty flat, so it wasnt that tiring even for the kids.

Most of the piazzas (squares) where most of the monuments are were only about one or two blocks apart and even in between there were plenty of beautiful buildings to gawk at. The kids loved looking at the different door knockers (and the size of them) they had on the big old wooden doors of the big old buildings. I loved looking down alleys and up to people's verandas ;). I took a lot of pictures of buildings but I will post them on my flicker site instead of here. will give you that link later.

The weather was also very conducive for walking about. It was only around 24degress celcius during the day, but at noon it could get slightly hotter when you're out in the open and is not in the shade.

Since it's summer, the day is also longer. Daybreak is at 5am (almost like in Saudi), but get this - sunset is at 9:30pm! So we had a lot of daylight time for our walks. Unfortunately though, most shops that are not trattorias (eateries) close by 7pm, even some of the street sellers. So we had very little time to shop. Perhaps it's better, because the exchange rate really kills my mood to buy anything. I found myself multiplying everything by 5 before I buy anything, and I always end up not buying anything at all. :(

The bridge Ponte Vecchio and Street sellers outside 'Central market'

We visited Piazza del Mercato Centrale or the 'Central Market', which looks like a really huge greenhouse with green and red beams and glass walls. The lower piano (floor) has sellers selling groceries like fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, vinegar and dried mushrooms and spices. Unfortunately it also houses the fresh meat section, which had aromas that were too overpowering for us. :p bau babi, macam nak muntah...

Outside the Central Market were small shops selling leather goods, like jackets on sale for EUR99 (which is still expensive for a cheapo like me). On the streets around them were small stalls selling souviners from miniature duomos and davids, the ubiquitous t-shirts, silk scarves that look like they came from india coz they were the same ones sold in S@udi only they had a 'Made in Italy' tag glued on it and murano glass jewellery and prayer beads.

Fruits in the Central market and the family in Piazza Unita Italiana with S.Maria Novella Church in the background

In one of the other piazzas, Ihsan managed to convince a street seller to part with a bobbly-head turtle for a lesser price. He first asked the price, and the seller said EUR3. He asked whether he could buy it for EUR1, and the seller said no. He then asked whether he could buy it for EUR2 and the seller said "Okay, because you are so cute and you asked so nicely". Ihsan was simply estatic and proud of himself! :laugh:

We had to leave Florence after 3 days we spent there, and I left with a heavy heart because, as I said, there were so many things that I still wanted to see in Florence. I am praying that I will come back, so that I could finally get my fill of the wonderful city.

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