Florence

The Arbitrary Swoon Torre Guelfa

We arrived in Florence nearing the evening and due to the small streets and the bus being unable to travel to our hotel we got out a few blocks away and walked the cobblestone streets to Hotel Torre Guelfa.

If one is not paying attention one might miss the understated entrance from the narrow street.  This hotel is a castle built within the 13th centuty by a highly influencial and wealthy decendant of the Acciaioli family named Niccolo.  The tower, erected in 1280, was one of the first things that we explored within the walls of the castle and made it to the top to hear the melodic bells ringing throughout the town.

The Arbitrary Swoon Gelato

The first night without hesitation we sought out the local gelato spots for a taste.   There were several around with varying flavors to try.  There weren’t very many gelato spots that we passed without stopping…  lucky us!

The Arbitrary Swoon

The next morning we met up with our walking tour guide on the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge crossing the Arno river.  The Ponte Vecchio was built across the narrowest part of the river and was once home to local merchants who sold their wares on tables.  If a merchant was unable to pay their debts, their tables were literally broken, the term “bancorotto” meaning broken table, is said to be where the “bankruptsy” concept originated.

Above the Ponte Vecchio and running the length from Pitti Palace over the bridge to the offices where the Grand Duke resided is the Vasari Corridor.  This covered walkway  is a kilometer long was built so that the Grand Duke to go from his home to his offices without having to mingle with the masses.  It was said that due to the horrific stench of the butchers on the bridge offending the delicate nose of the Grand Duke, they were moved off of it and the spots were quickly filled by gold merchants, which we found were the prominent business’ in this location.

It’s hard not to notice the many locks found on the bridge.  The legend suggests that if two loved ones place a lock on the bridge and throw the key into the river Arno below that their love will last forever.  Today, there is a big old fine if you contribute to the romance of a lock on the bridge so it is advisable to skip that tradition.

We came across Il Porcellino in the market area.  This tourist favorite’s snout has been rubbed shiny, by those hoping to ensure a trip back to Florence.  Another tradition is to put a coin in his mouth for luck.

2014-02-07_0005

The statues found along our walk through old town Florence were never ending.  The statue of Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli, located at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio is amazing in detail (upper left above).  A copy and exact replica of Michelangelo’s David (lower right hand corner above) stands amid dozens of tourists stopping to take photographs.  The original statue of David was moved indoors to the Accademia Gallery not far away to protect it from the elements.  We weren’t allowed to take photographs of the original indoors, however it was just as incredible as the one out in the Plaza.  Another amazing statue in that same area is that of the Fountain of Neptune, commissioned in 1655.  Each time that you look at it you notice another interesting detail within the bronze river gods and sea horses.

2014-02-07_0006

 

The main church in Florence is called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.  It was completed in 1434 and is considered to be Florence’s most important landmark.  Coincidently it is also the fourth largest church in the world.  The exterior walls are covered in pink, green and white marble creating a striking appearance as you take it all in.  Visitors were allowed to take the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo for the breathtaking view.  I personally sat out that little tour, choosing to soak up a bit of warmth in a dry coffee shop over a hot chocolate as three of my friends made the climb.  You can see my shot of them on the center right handed side of the collage above, they are the three in dark jackets on the right.  The Cathedral itself is amazing, there is a museum and wall to wall art in every direction from the floors to the ceilings.

2014-02-07_0008

In the back of the cathedral there is a little leather shop selling a variety of belts, wallets and bags.  We decided to purchase fantastic little leather bracelets and monogramming was available by a leather craftsman.  It was amazing to see the tools that they used as they gently heated and pressed each initial into our bands.

2014-02-07_0007

Florence was incredible to visit.  Although it was rainy and cold, our enthusiasm was not dampened as we trod down street after street in search of art, good flavorful food, and history.  I took a moment to rub the snout of the piglet… because I definitely hope to return.

 

 

Getting our gnocchi on in Florence

The Arbitrary Swoon Gelato

 

It would be no surprise to me that attending a cooking school in Florence, Italy is at the top of many bucket lists around the world.  Italian gastronomy is abundant in flavor, and colors.  It is to be experienced using all of the senses.   I will let you in on a little secret that I have…  as much as I loved to experience the entire package of fine dining Italian style… I have no interest what-so-ever in cooking it.  Gasp if you must, but that is not my gift.  In fact I’d rather wash clothes than cook, and I don’t like to do the laundry.   So when I was told that we were going to a cooking school, I had a tad bit of hesitancy getting excited about it.  Almost immediately I had a backup plan…  food photography.

My friend Pam & I surrounded by yummy ingredients.

My friend Pam & I surrounded by yummy ingredients.

 

The Arbitrary Swoon Gnocchi

Following an eventful taxi ride (aren’t those the best kind?) from the hotel we were warmly greeted at the Giglio Cooking School by chef Marcella Ansaldo and her staff.  She graciously outlined the meal that we would be preparing, and the steps involved.  Lucky for us we seemed to have several very knowledgeable people in our group with years of extensive meal preparation experience so we were smooth sailing.  We would be making handmade gnocchi with a mushroom sauce, chicken breast rolls with spinach and Tiramisu for dessert.  Everyone broke off to the area where they wished to begin and went to town!

The Arbitrary Swoon Gnocchi Prep

The Arbitrary Swoon Gnocchi Cutting

I did my best to stay out of everyone’s way…  I did help a few times, but frankly not much at all.  It was a fun process watching everyone working together and it was a pleasure attempting to capture natural expressions as the dinner progressed.

The Arbitrary Swoon Veggie Prep

The Arbitrary Swoon - Chicken Prep

The Arbitrary Swoon - Instagram Pic

Of course I sent a pic to my Instagram account that evening of our fun cooking experience later in the evening.  Note my hands are not actually doing anything!  Heaven forbid I get a bit of potato on my camera lens!

The Arbitrary Swoon Tiramisu

The Arbitrary Swoon Tiramisu

That night, I felt we did experience the full essence of Italian cooking.  It was a lovely affair.  After some bit of time we all finally sat down at our tables, cheerfully toasted our dinner with wine and then proceeded in some fabulous fellowship amongst each other.  It was a night that we will never forget and I am so glad that I was allowed to participate… even if only through the eye of my lens.

The Arbitrary Swoon Cooking Tiramisu