Tuesday, June 30, 2009

4 Rivers, a Great Piazza, and Chariot Races

Rome is a lot of things.  It is a city of Fountains.  It is a city of Popes.  It is a city of Emperors.  You can't go to Rome and not visit, in fact, visit often, one of the coolest piazzas in Italy...Piazza Navona.  It was once a chariot racing arena built by the Emperor Domitian.  Bernini built the amazing fountain of Four Rivers in the center.  His sworn enemy built the church and the pope's palace on it.  And today lots of artists, vendors, restaurants, and tourist pack it.

Just off the piazza you can enjoy Rome's most famous outdoor market, paintings by Caravaggio, the Pantheon, and lots lots more.

Join me on Twitter: ajcspqr or on Facebook at How to Tour Italy.

Using the auto-tix machine is the way to go!

The line at the train station ticket counter is always long and now, totally unnecessary.  Using the automatic ticket machine is a snap. (On a side note, as I type this post, the bells of Santa Croce are ringing in Florence just down the street from my apartment.)  They have an easy to use English option and the screens are simple to use.

All you have to do is choose your destination city, the date you wish to travel, how many passengers, whether or not you want to reserve a seat, and then pick the train you want to travel.  You can pick today or any date in the future.  

There is really no reason not to use the automatic ticket machine and avoid the lines.  

Check out my video on it.  It takes all of 2 minutes to buy my tickets.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Knobby Kneed Lamp-posts of Florence

Florence is a lot of things, but something I especially love are the lamp-posts along the Arno River.  What a great city.  They have taken the time and spent the money to polish something up as simple as a lamp-post.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words I'll just show you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Graffiti Dripping off of the Walls in Italy

Wow.  The graffiti seems extraordinarily bad this year.  It is literally everywhere and all over everything.  I'm amazed where people will put it too.  In side the Colosseum, on the School of Athens, on every building, on every train, on anything.  Somehow the major sites avoid getting "tagged" but it still really sucks.

I know every major city has its issues with vandalism, but Italy is overrun with it.  I don't like complaining, but maybe it's time someone in Italy did something about it.  I have no idea what to propose, I don't have a solution, so I guess I'm simply venting. 

Enough is enough.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fagioli Uccelletto - A Tuscan Treat and easy to make

When you come to Tuscany be sure to eat lots of beans and focus on Fagioli Uccelletto.  This delicious dish has beans, tomatoes, and sage with a touch of garlic.  

Here is how to make it:

1.  Add oil to a frying pan, put whole cloves of garlic in the oil (be sure they have been crushed with your hand to break them open) and turn on the flame.  Add your Sage too...4-5 leaves whole.

2.  Cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and pop.  When it is sufficiently browned take it out of the oil.

3.  Drop your beans in now.  Use two cans (serves 4) of Cannellini beans.  I drain the oil out of one of the cans.

4.  Cook for 5-7 minutes.

5.  Add 1/2 of a can of tomato paste.  Let cook for a minute, then stir it with a wooden spoon.

6.  Purists stop here, but I like to add one can of whole peeled tomatoes for good measure.  It tastes good and delivers lots of sauce for dunking.  The key here is to pour the tomatoes from the can to a bowl and pop all of them open by hand, then add it to the pan.

7.  Let it cook on medium heat and reduce for about 20 minutes.  Stir it, and turn the heat down after 10 minutes to low.

8.  Enjoy with a loaf of Tuscan Bread.  

This dish is even better on day two so make plenty so you have leftovers.

La Piazzetta - The best Florentine Steak in Florence!

This is one of my favorite spots in Florence at Via di Ripoli 43/R.  It is not in the center and you'll have to take a bus or a cab to get here.  Don't worry, after dinner, they'll call you a cab to get you back to your hotel.  This place is filled with locals.  You will very likely be the only tourist there and that is fantastic.

1.  The Florentine Steak here is so good it hurts.  I don't care what you've heard, or read this is the best place to get the coveted Florentine steak.  They do it right every time and this is the best in town.

2.  The grilled and skewered meat is fantastic.  They skewer it, cook it on the grill perfectly, and hang it from a stand at your table so you can dig in like a true carnivore.

3.  Do you like seafood?  If so, then this place still rocks.  They have a wonderful, for lack of a better term, Paella loaded with seafood and big enough to feed the entire table.

4.  Still hungry?  The pizza here is outrageously good with so many options any pizza lover can find exactly what they're looking for.  They make Vera Pizza here.

5.  Room for more still?  The pasta is very nice.  Go with one of the meat pastas to take advantage of their incredible meat selection.

6.  The house wine is a bottle and not a carafe of wine, but don't worry...it's cheap and very good.

7.  The dolci is fantastic.  A huge list to choose from.  I love the first one on the dolci page.

8.  Still have room?  The Grappa list is impressive.

9.  Digestivo!  End with a nice Cynar a little espresso and roll into your cab.

10.  Price tag - Not bad at all.  Very affordable or can get a little pricey if you go with a large meat selection.  

VERY GOOD!  Excellent in fact!  Check out their website.  The menu is posted.  

I forgot one thing.  They have a great outdoor seating area that will make you smile and the night even more fun.

Good Eats in Florence II

These are in no particular order

1.  Birreria Centrale at Piazza Cimatori 1/R - This unbelievably good spot is just down the street from Dante's house and is in the medieval district of Florence.  It is small so get there early or late.  In the nicer months they double in capacity due to the fantastic outdoor seating.  Beware of the annoying flower and junk peddlers though.  For a great meal in Florence you really can't miss here.  The chairs inside are old church pews.  The crostini are fantastic, the pasta misti is a great primi piatti and allows you to try 4 different pastas and sauces.  It comes on a little hot plate.  The real treat here is the Florentine Steak...OMG.  It is at the top of the charts for me where Florentine Steak is concerned.  The staff is wonderful.

2.  Cart with no name near Birreria Centrale at Piazza Cimatori - A great little place to grab a bite.  It is lined up with locals during the lunch hour.  They serve all kinds of panini, but specialize in Florentine Tripe sandwiches.  The price is right too.  Refill your water, pop, grab a panini, and off you go.  Nowhere to sit though.  You have to stand or find a seat elsewhere.

3.  Golden View Open Bar at Via de Bardi 54 - 64/R - The view here is spectacular and caters to Americans.  They have live jazz every night, the staff speaks better English than I do, and the view...oh my, the view.  If you call ahead and make a reservation you can get a table at the window.  I recommend reservations here because it fills up quickly.  This is a trendy little spot with huge, luxurious bathrooms that is filled to the rim with American travelers.  The food was excellent, but in my opinion, has lost a few notches.  My antipasti was excellent, my pasta was ok, my second course wasn't good at all.  I've eaten here a few times to make sure I'm not catching them on a bad night.  I don't want to overanalyze it, but it should make your list, but no this isn't the best food.  The place itself is amazing.  It overlooks the Arno, Ponte Vecchio, and the Uffizi.  The wine list is huge and well put together.

4.  Gusto Leo at Via Proconsolo 8-10/R - This place is next door to the Rum e Pere cafe and caters to tourists.  I have to admit...it isn't too bad.  Come for the bruschetta, stay for the pizza, and move on.  My favorite bruschetta is the one with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Simple, but good.

5.  Naima at Via dell'anguillara 54/R - A GREAT stop for lots of reasons.  During the day it is quiet with great prices, great espresso, and cold bottled water.  Take a break from the heat and catch up on email with their free WiFi.  The staff here is great.  Some of the nicest in Florence.  Matteo is the best bartenders you'll find in Florence.  He's happy to whip up all number of frozen, tropical drinks and makes the best Mojito I've ever had.  The lunch here is good too.  Naima has one of the best happy hour buffet you'll find here in Florence.  At night it gets pretty busy with college students, and it is always fun to hang out here.

6.  Grana Market just up the street from Birreria Centrale - Go here, grab some wine, some olives, some salami, and a little cheese and sit at the well in the Piazza by Dante's house.  

Great eats - Florence

These are listed in no particular order. 

1.  Le Colonnine at Via de' Benci 6/R - a good spot for lunch very near Santa Croce.  This is a well-priced spot with good pizza and crostini.  Indoor and outdoor seating.

2.  Rubaconte at Via Ghibellina 178/R - Not too far from the Bargello this place has great A/C for a little retreat from the Italy heat and some good pizza and pasta.  Their Fagioli Uccelletto is very good.  They are used to serving large groups from walking tours so they move pretty quickly if you're pressed for time.  The Olio Piccante is very good here.

3.  Bar Rum e Pere at Via Proconsolo 2/R - directly next door to the Bargello.  Make this your cafe.  It is very well priced for being so close to a great museum.  It is really a little local joint tucked in to the center of Florence.  You pay less the Euro 1,00 for a good espresso.  The beer is cold, the wine isn't bad either.  Stick to the bar here.  The food is below average since it isn't make on premise, but bought and stacked into the cooler.  They have a bathroom if you're in a jam; buy an espresso at least though.  

4.  Grom at Via di Campanile and the corner of Via Oche a very short walk from the Duomo - This is the third best gelato in Florence and I included it in my Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini walking tour (download it from iTunes and print it off for walking directions too).  I like the granita here and the pistacchio.

5.  Trattoria Alfredo at Via dei Leoni 14/R - A very short walk to the Uffizi, Piazza Signoria, the Bargello, and my favorite gelato in Florence Alfredo isn't too bad at all.  The crostini are good, the chef's pasta of the day is always a good bet, and the service is good.  They have good fruit salad here as well.  

Lemon Ice aka Granita in Positano

The best things in life aren't usually free, but they don't have to be expensive.  A favorite treat of mine throughout Italy is the granita.  I love lemon granita.  There isn't a better place to get lemon granita than the Amalfi Coast.  In Positano, every day, I would go to the little lemon granita cart just up the walkway and stairs from the beach, near the cab stand, the cool art store, and the bus stop that takes you to the top of Positano.  You can't miss it.  It is set up on your right as you walk up the hill.  Directly across from it is an art store that has the coolest picture of the beach from the 80's I've ever seen ( it's of a girl with an amazing tan line :) ).  The lemon Ice is only Euro 1,50 and tastes so good once it hits your lips that you'll keep coming back for more.  So much so that you may even spoil your dinner.  Don't be concerned that the portion is too small...it isn't.  In fact it is just right.  Enjoy it and go back as often as you can.

Positano Dining

One of the wonders of the Amalfi Coast is the food, sometimes above its amazing beauty.  There is a lot more to enjoy than limoncello in one of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy.  

1.  La Tagliata - Simply one of the best restaurants in the whole of Italy.  This is a family run place that delivers 100% of the time.  There is no menu, they use the vegetables from their garden, Mom cooks, Dad grills, the Sons cook and serve too.  Start to finish amazing.  For only Euro 35,00 per person you get 8 different antipasti delivered to your table, then a huge family sized plate of the pastas of the day.  After that they'll bring over a platter of grilled meats that would make any carnivore cry.  The limoncello is home-made, the dolci is too.  I had a cake made with Ricotta cheese and pear that brought me to my knees.  I can say that if God came to Italy to eat he would go to Positano and dine at La Tagliata.  I interview the family during the How to Tour Italy show.  One more thing...they have a pick-up and drop-off service.  Just have your hotel call or email them (link is their name) and they'll come get you and drop you off for free.

2.  Da Vincenzo - This great little spot is open for lunch and dinner and is about half-way up the hill in Positano.  You can walk or take the bus...it's easy.  Watch my video on getting around in Positano.  This place has been in the family since Nonna had it as a grocery store.  He started cooking for friends and one thing led to another.  Now his grandson, also named Vincenzo, is the namesake for this great place and his Mom and Dad are the owners.  When we did the interview for the How to Tour Italy Project with Vincenzo we got a tour through the kitchen as the chefs prepared the menu and dishes for the day.  They chopped fresh tuna, made fresh pasta, and Mom and Dad cleaned and peeled beans.  The espresso was delicious which came as a perfect ending to a molten-lava, homemade chocolate cake that made me look forward to the hike down the mountain to shag a few pounds.  A must stop in Positano.

3.  Grottino Azzure - One of my favorite little local spots in Positano.  It is near the top near Via Chiesa Nuova next door the Bar International.  Every local knows where it is.  You can take the bus up to it too.  (watch my video).  I had a fantastic bruschetta and a nice arrabiatta sauce.  When it took a little too long they brought over a little pizza.  It was cheap and it was great.  This is a real local spot so be ready for the local fare, the local pace, and a great bill.

4.  Bar International - A great stop for a great espresso, a little snack, some chips, cheap beer, wine and water.  This is a local cafe and one worth the tiny bit of effort to get to in Positano.  It is near Via Chieso Nuova directly across the street from a bus stop.  Any local can tell which stop to hop off at for a little Bar International espresso.

5.  Valle dei Mulini - On the mid to lower side of the hill in Positano near some great clothes shops this little gem has a great garden that you sit in to enjoy lunch or dinner.  I have to admit that the server was a bit of a pain, but the food made up for it.  The pizza was great, but the real claim to fame here was my antipasti.  It was simply grilled vegetables in oil with a touch of salt, but the bufala Mozzarella was grilled and drizzled with a little honey...OMG!  Amazing and worth the price of admission for sure.

6.  If you want or need some additional tips on where to go or what to eat email me at ajc@howtotouritaly and I can dig around for more insider tips from my friends that live in Positano to help you make your trip fantastic.

Getting to the Amalfi Coast on the Circumvesuviana

It's a snap.  All you have to do is get to Naples.  At the Naples train station called Napoli Centrali simply follow the signs to Circumvesuviana.  

1.  As you get off a train you'll walk down the binaro towards the station.
2.  You'll walk to your left.
3.  Hit up any of the tabacchi in the station along the way to buy your tickets.
4.  Be sure to hit the bathroom.  It's a long ride (about an hour and a half) to Sorrento and once you enter the corridor leading from the main Naples train station to Circumvesuviana there is no bathroom.
5.  If you need cash there is an ATM (Bancomat in Italy) down the same corridor towards the Circumvesuviana line.  You have to slide your card to be let into the room through a secured door to get to the actual ATM.  A VERY good thing at Napoli Centrali.
6.  Follow the signs.
7.  Feed your ticket into the ticket-feed like at any public transportation turnstyle.
8.  It beeps and you walk through.
9.  You will see a little cafe.  Grab an espresso and a bottle of water.
10.  Go down the stairs to binario 2 and 3.  The train will come on your right as you walk down the stairs.
11.  The TV's will tell you when the next train to Sorrento arrives.
12.  Got on.  Fight for a position because it gets packed.
13.  Watch your pockets at all times.
14.  The train starts to emply after the fifth stop or so and you'll likely be able to get a seat.
15.  Sorrento is the last stop so enjoy the ride.

The annoying flower and junk peddlers of Italy

Here is a little advice on how to deal with the annoying flower and junk peddlers of Italy.  Don't deal with them at all.  Ignore them, don't look at them, don't ever buy anything from them.

If you sense the annoyance in my tone it's because as I'm sitting down at a nice table outside enjoying my Florentine Steak or a cocktail one of the junk peddlers comes up and jams a rose in my face.  It really gets under my skin.

You'll find them selling whatever it is they get their hands on.  They'll walk right into a restaurant or cafe and shove whatever they have in your face.  Sponges, flowers, rocks that make weird noises, junk toys, sunglasses, plastic motorized cars, umbrellas, bull-horns (no joke), cowboy hats, gloves...you name it.

The best way to handle them is to say no and keep walking.  If you're at a restaurant just say no and wave them off with a polite annoyance.  If they don't stop then get a little more forceful.  Be nice, but don't buy anything.  If you have to just call over the server and let them deal with it.

Here are some of the scams they'll run.  "A free flower for the beautiful girl."  Nothing is free and once you have it in your hands they'll relentlessly hound you for payment.  Once in a while you'll see a huge tour group and everyone in the group has a flower!  This only encourages them.

If you haven't experienced them yet...you will.  Don't buy anything!  

Here is how you DON'T wait in line at the Uffizi or to see the David in Florence

1.  Go to OrsanMichelle in Florence.
2.  On the side between the statue of Saint John the Baptist and Doubting Thomas there is a little booth.
3.  That booth sells tickets to all state run museums which include the Accademia (David) and the Uffizi.
4.  Go there, walk up, buy your tickets for same day entrance.  
5.  Walk right by the people in line.  

A. Go early so you can choose what day you want to get in.  
B. Pick your time.
C.  If you have time to kill do my Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini walk through Florence and enjoy some of the city's best Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini.

Ranking in the top 5 on iTunes!

I am very excited and happy to report that I am ranking in the top 5 on iTunes in the Places and Travel category right behind that other guy Rick Steves.  I am also happy to report that I'm ranked #30 in the Society and Culture category.  I'm using David as my picture to capitalize on the symbolism.  The little guy taking on the big guy and winning, staring down my competition.  You know...all those things.

Thank you to everyone who subscribed to my podcasts to help me rank so well.

Lot's more great stuff to come over the next few months during the How to Tour Italy Project.

Have a great day and remember to Feed your Soul everyday.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini Walking tour in Florence

In Situ: Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini Walking Tour of Florence

The Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini Walking Tour of Florence features the best of the best for gelato, chocolate, and Panini in Bella Firenze. 

If you aren’t’ coming to Italy anytime soon I suggest heading over to your favorite ice cream shop at home and listening as you enjoy a little ice cream.   If you are coming to Florence get ready for one of the best and tastiest walking tours of your life.

I recommend this tour for two people to share the goodness along the way.  We’ll be hitting 3 gelaterias, 3 chocolaterias, and 2 panini places.  I won’t tell you what to order, but I’ll let you know my favorites.

I’ll stress getting one small cup or cone of gelato and sharing.  At the first 2 chocolaterias get a piece or two and sharing.  Both Panini places get one panino and share, and finally at the last chocolateria, well, no holds barred…dive in, go nuts, order a bunch, take it back to your hotel, it is amazing.

1.     Starting at the Duomo our first stop is going to be the gelateria Grom.  Start the tour looking at the duomo on the campanile side with your back right up against the posts on Via Campanile.  The Campanile will be right in front of you and the baptistery just to your left.

2.     Turn around and walk one block up Via Campanile to the T intersection of Via Campanile and Via Dell’Oche.  Grom will be on your left at the corner.  It has a blue sign and there will likely be a line of locals and tourists waiting to order that goes around the corner.  Try any flavor you like.  At Grom I prefer their granita, but that is only in season during the summer.  If you are there any other time try their pistachio…it is heavenly.

3.     Take note of something.  Artisan gelato is places in little bins and isn’t overflowing into the glass case with fruit jammed into it.  The artisans are masters at creating gelato and keep it at exactly the right temperature to be enjoyed.  Like most food in Italy it is about the taste, not the appearance.  In the US food is marketed like the monster bowls of pasta you get at many Italian restaurants.  In Italy food is tasted and enjoyed.

4.     Now with you back to Grom and standing on Via Dell’Oche you are going to go right to Via dei Calzaiuoli.  At Via Calzaiuoli you’ll go left.

5.     Pass all those other people that didn’t take the time to listen to the How to Tour Italy Gelato, Chocolate, and Panini walking tour eating their sub-par gelato.  There are lots of gelateria on Via dei Calzaiuoli that will be filled with people.  Notice the overflowing tubs of mountainous gelato.  Smile, nod your head, snap a picture, and walk right by.

6.     OrsanMichelle will come up on your right.  As you walk by you’ll see a little door with a ticket window.  This is where you can buy same day tickets for the Uffizi and Academia I told you about last week.  The ticket window is right between Saint John the Baptist and Doubting Thomas.

7.     Look to your left.  You’ll see Via dei Cimatori.  3 doors down on the left side of Cimatori is one of Florence’s best Panini shops named I Fratellini.  You walk up, order your Panini and wine, and eat in the street.  There are no seats and you can place your wine on the little racks they provide against the wall in front of the shop.  Try anything here.  It’s all delicious.

8.     Head back towards Orsanmichelle and go left back onto Via Calzaiuoli and walk into Piazza Signoria.  Stop, take it in, even if you’ve seen it a hundred times the view from here is fantastic.  You will talk diagonally toward David and the corner of Palazzo Vecchio.  Check out my videos on the Loggio, and my other In Situ walking tours for lots of great information on all the great things you see in Piazza Signoria.

9.     At the corner where Palazzo Vacchio, The Loggia, and The Uffizi are you are going to go left onto Via di Ninna.  That puts the side of Palazzo Vecchio on your immediate left.

10. As you walk you’ll see a café and tabaccheria with a white sign on your left and a little non-descript Loggia on your left.  On the corner, on the loggia side you see a little fountain that is a face with a man sticking out his tongue with the water dripping from his tongue.  Walk straight between the café and Fountain now your are on Via dei Neri.  It twists and turns a bit, but the next Gelateria and chocolate shop are on Via dei Neri.  Stay the course and before you know it at Via dei Neri 22 on your left is my favorite Gelateria in Florence Gelaterian dei Neri.  Here I love the Fiori dei Latte and Chocolate Messicana (hot peppers, pistachio, and chocolate).  They have around 6 cups sizes to choose from.  Remember go small so you can enjoy the entire tour.  Share.

11. Directly across the street from Gelateria Neri is a little chocolatieria.  Pop in and buy a little something nice.  Lots to choose from here.  Go small…save room.

12. When you walk out of the chocolateria with Gelateria Neri in front of you you’ll go left back the way you came.  At the corner where you see the crazy little fountain you can cross the street and sit on the funky little bench in the small piazza.  This is actually the exit for the Uffizi.  You can sit and enjoy the goods from Neri and the chocolate shop.

13. OK.  With the bench you sat on to enjoy the best gelato in Florence you’ll go left and walk up Via dei Leone.  The loggia and crazy fountain will be on your right, then you’ll cross over Via dei Neri and the little café will be on your right.  Walk a couple blocks.  In the distance you’ll see a building on your right with some cool white statues above the doors.  Cross over to the right side of the street if you haven’t already.  You will soon see a bunch of Vespas parked, and the Bargello.  Walk right past the Bargello which will be on your right.  By the way the street name changed from Leone to Proconsolo.  Welcome to Italy.  That is why it’s tough to drive here.

14. Just after the Bargello you’ll pass café Rum and Pere (pear) and right next door Gusto Leo the restaurant.  Keep walking and just up the street from there is a little magazine/newspaper stand La Nazione.  That corner, the corner with the stand La Nazione is Via Borgo Degli Albizi.  Go right.

15. Walk up Via Borgo Degli Albizi until you come to a small piazza.  You’ll see the Lion’s Fountain Irish Pub on your left.  Just after that will be small archway.  Turn left into the archway and ½ way down on your right you’ll see in big red letters the word Vino.  That is the Panini shop named Antico Noe.  You’ve come the next Panini stop.  They offer 25 types of Panini, fresh made as you order.  I love number 14.   You can sit on the small tables out front in the shade from the archway.  This is a good stop to catch your breath. 

16. After you eat your Panini from Noe with Noe at your back go left back to the piazza.  Go left and just on your right about 20 feet is Vestri.  My second favorite gelateria in Florence.  Here I love the melon and white peach gelato.  They also make handmade chocolates.  Try the orange dipped in chocolate.  Crazy good. 

17. Sit on the little bench in front of Vestri.  After you enjoy the chocolate and gelato you’ll get up and go right.  You’ll pass a little flower stand in the piazza immediately on your left.  Stay straight and cross the street onto Via Pietrapiana.

18. As you look down up Via Pietrapiana you’ll see a pharmacy / farmacia.  Walk to the right of it.  After the pharmacy the street changes to Via dei Martiri del Popolo.  Stay on Martiri del Popolo until the streets ends at a T intersection.  There will be a little park on your right.  You’ll take a right at the park and T intersection onto Borgo Allegri.

19. Go up one block and on your left across the street you’ll see a store named Pepe Rosa.  It is pink.  You go left at this corner onto via dell Agnolo.  We are almost at the last stop.  Go up on block to Via Macci and take a right.

20. Look up the street about ½ down the block on your left.  You will see La Bottega del Cioccolato owned by the chef and dolci master Andrea Bianchini.  Slide the door open and let the wonderful aroma seep into your nose.  He’ll greet you warmly and describe his wonderful creations to you.  Pick one or two or three, he’ll wrap them up, and head to your hotel or favorite spot in Florence and enjoy.

21. Oh to get back to the city center from the Santa Croce area where you are now simply go left out of La Bottega del Cioccolato to Via Ghibellina which is the very next street.  Go right and keep walking until you get to the Bargello on Via del Proconsolo in the city center.

I hope you enjoyed the tour.  Best to walk it off a bit after you’ve enjoyed all the tastiest treats in Florence.  The best part of this tour is you can do it again and again or do a segment per day until you get through it.  I say dive in and do the whole thing in one walk.  Lots of great photo opps along the way and this tour will help you get your bearings in Florence too.

Don’t forget to look me up if you're here.  Shoot me an email at ajc@howtotouritaly.com, and remember…Feed your soul.

The ultimate Italian Experience is at the Market

If you love to travel, if you love to dive in to a culture,  and you love Italy there is no better place to get the real deal experience than the market.  They have everything you could ever want from chairs to tomatoes.    

The real experience is diving in even if you don't speak Italian.  Buy your lunch.  Grab a shirt.  Eat a white peach.  Smell why Italian food is so great...it's because of the fresh daily market.

In Rome go to Campo dei Fiori.  In Florence go to Mercato Sant'Ambrogio (locals).  There is another one in Florence called Mercato San Lorenzo, but it's filled with tourists and worse prices.  That noted the San Lorenzo market has lots of leather vendors so you can barter one against the other to get a great jacket or belt.  Feel free to haggle.  Don't ever pay sticker for anything at the market.  

A word to the wise.  If you are at a market and want to buy some fruit or vegetables you will hear the vendor yell out "one euro" to get your attention.  If you see something you like or want don't point at it right away because they'll often say that what you picked isn't one Euro, but Euro 1,50 or 2,00.  So point at something you don't really want at first, then go for what you want.  

Be sure to visit the market with your camera ready.  Sample the goods before you buy.  And don't buy the first things you see.  Peruse the market, then buy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Enjoy the Tuscan Countryside for only Euro 2,40

If you want to enjoy the Tuscan countryside, but didn't rent a car you're in luck.  This is a great option that delivers Bella Toscana without the white knuckle driving that you would otherwise have to endure to see the bending cypress trees or the wise old olive orchards.

Here is how to take a 1/2 day trip from the center of Florence by bus and be back in time for dinner for only Euro 2,40.

1.  Starting with your back to the Duomo facing Via Del Proconsolo with the Museo Dell'Opera del Duomo in front of you walk to your right to the first bus stop you run into.  It is right in front of a little restaurant that will likely be closed during the day.

2.  Wait for bus 23 A Sorgane to come by and pick you up.  Don't forget to stamp your ticket right away in the little yellow box on board the bus.  If you don't and get caught it is a Euro 43,00 fine that must be paid in cash immediately.

3.  Take bus 23 A for about 20-30 minutes to Bagno a Ripoli.  Ask the driver to let you know when you get to the Rodolico stop.

4.  Get off bus 23 A at the Rodolico stop.  It is a small stop with a little cafe right out front.  It will have a circular round-a-bout in front.

5.  You will likely have a few minutes to wait for your small connection bus so go into the cafe and grab a beer, espresso, or a prosecco and sit out front on one of the chairs.

6.  Bus 48A to Villamagna will come soon or later.  Before you get on walk up to the front door and ask the driver, Villamagna?  If yes, hop on and enjoy the ride up the hill to Villamagna. 

7.  The view is amazing.  You'll enjoy the valley around Villamagna with olive orchards, vineyards, amazing views of Florence off in the distance, and enjoy the cooler temperature of the hills only a few minutes from Florence.

8.  Hop off the bus in the piazza a Villamagna.  It's the last stop so you can't miss it.  There is a small cafe in town.  Go there and grab lunch and an espresso.  It is very affordable.  For 2 panini made with artisan cheese, Tuscan bread, and salami, and a bottle of wine you'll only spend around Euro 14,00 (mostly for the wine).  Sit at a table out front.

9.  After lunch wander around town snapping pictures.  Next to the cafe on the left you'll see a small gravel road.  Follow it around.  The view from the hillside is breathtaking.  

10.  If you want to stay for dinner the local restaurant Antico Forno is fantastic.  The Chef Owner is very nice and his lovely wife is the server.  They speak little to no English, but that's ok...you're in Italy.  You can sit outside under a canopy and enjoy some great Tuscan dining at great prices.  If you stay for dinner be sure arrange a taxi or limo to pick you up before you go.  The restaurant can call on your behalf too.  It is better to call a cab and have this arranged ahead of time so you don't have to wait too long or get stuck in Villamagna.

11.  Getting back to Florence is a piece of cake.  Take 48A from the piazza in Villamagna to the  Rodolico stop in Bagno a Ripoli.  

12.  Grab another espresso or bottle of water from the cafe as you wait for your connection.

13.  Hop on bus 23A back to Florence.  Be sure to stamp your ticket!

14.  Get off bus 23A in front of Santa Croce and enjoy my In Situ audio tour of the burial church of the great Michelangelo.

15.  Enjoy the ride and remember to feed your soul!