25.06.2014 - 25.06.2014
Having arrived first thing on a Sunday morning, most of the stores were still closed. Having arrived early and without accommodations, our first task was to find a hostel. Luckily, Florence provides actual free internet that does not require logon or a credit card and we found a hostel within blocks of the train station.
After securing our packs we went out to look at the sights and grab some food. The two most iconic are the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, both of which are on main plazas lines with overpriced restaurants.
Our breakfast was a simple croissant with prosciutto, mozzerela and tomato. The meat was thinly sliced and salty, complementing the cheese and tomato slices rather well. It is a simple set up but most Italian food is simplistic but using great local ingredients. Ben remarked that he has never had tomato's with such flavor before and that the ones in the US are watery with little flavor.
Since the hot weather has followed us since Morocco, we needed something to cool us down. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and decided on one of the numerous gelatarias.
Gelato is similar to ice cream but it is not brought to as low of tempature. This gives a creamier consistency and a more robust flavor. The flavours are both similar and different to what we have in the States. You will find the basic flavors of chocolate, vanilla and some berries such as blueberry, strawberry or blackberry. The flavours I don't see in the US are a wide range of citrus (pineapple, passion fruit, lemon, etc), nuts (pistachio, hazelnut) and other fruit (banana, melon). When you order you decide how many scoops of different flavors to get although you can opt for more of the same. My favorite is the chocolate, banana and pistachio. Otherwise melon and pineapple if I want something refreshing.
For lunch we tracked down the most popular sandwich shop in Florence. The line was out the door when we arrived but this gave us time to look at the offerings and talk with patrons. The setup is like Subway, choose a meat, sauce, cheese and vegetables. Only one choice of bread though. If you don't know what to do they will make one for you.
We were talking with one of the servers, and after having a discussion of whether or not to put sweet balsamic onions on sandwiches, he told us the classic Italian sandwich. Fennel sausage, artichoke sauce, garlic eggplant and arugala. The whole sandwich works well together, both the salami and eggplant give it meatiness while the artichoke spread and arugala give it a fresh and light taste. The bread is nice and chewy although depending on which piece you get the edges can be hard. Other standouts are the lard and truffle sauce. The lard is actually light and melts in your mouth while the truffles have that earthiness to them. And despite what the guy says, those onions are amazing on a sandwich. Given Ben's fondness of the place and the cost (only €5) we have eaten here about a half dozen times.
Needing to eat other things than sandwiches, I insisted on trying some pizza. We had been holding out for this dish despite seeing it everywhere we went. The dough was a sourdough. Thin and crispy but still with some chewyness. Ben had one with potatoes on top while I had a four cheese with Pecorino, Mozzerala, Gorgonzola and Parmesan. The four flavours melded together with the saltiness of the Pecorino and Parmesan and the pungent note of the Gorgonzola.
Since we are staying near Florence for 20 days, we were able to see some local sporting events. Unfortunately, we were unable to head to the larger medieval fares in Arezzo or San Gimignano due to work but Florence provided some entertainment. Both events were proceeded by drummers and flag bearers. Each contest had a representative from each of the four sections of the city.
First there was a local joust which had lancers aiming for rings and stabbing a spear into a target followed by armored knights clashing with lances.
The second event was calcio storico. This medieval football game consists of 27 players on the field with the only rules being no kicking the head and no multiple attackers on one person. The object is get the ball to the goal line. Before the referee even through the ball out there were people being tossed to the ground and pinned. This match was a charity event so the players didn't go all out but the finale was cancelled due to extreme violence by the fans during the prior games.