Viva La Italia – Part 4 – Pisa and Florence

Yes, finally, the last part to conclude my journey across Italy. We are now in Pisa where most people automatically associate with the leaning tower of Pisa. But Pisa is in fact, a city. A city full of shopping and touristy souvenirs, and lots of pick-pockets. Speaking of pick-pockets, several students and a staff member got their stuff stolen from a couple attractive young women holding fake babies. This is apparently extremely common. When confronting them, they might even throw their babies at you, hoping that you who have a heart will try to catch the falling baby while they use that chance to run off. Hold on to your belongings! These thieves are so fast that they can pick your pockets and purses in seconds. They even zipped up the purses after they took the wallet out so you wouldn’t suspect anything.

The negatives aside, Pisa was okay. The tower and the Duomo were as amazing as the last time I visited. I didn’t get to climb the tower due to time constraint, plus I heard that it’s one of the most expensive site to visit, sort of a rip off. An interesting fact – The tower was meant to be built as a bell tower and perfectly straight up, but it started to lean during the construction. No one wanted to be responsible for the miscalculation thus the name of the architect still remain unknown to this day. The tower is finally stabilized in the 1920’s with some cement work strengthening the foundation.

an adorable gelati cart.

It was a gorgeous day.

Quick lunch at Ristorante L’Europeo. (Via S Maria 177, 56126 Pisa, Italia) Simple pasta with clams and light broth. Wish I had a glass of wine with that.

Saw a lot of street vendors selling coconut slices and other fruits in a fountain-esq stand like this. The water cascades down from the top, not sure if it’s meant to keep the fruits “fresh”. I was skeptical about the cleanliness so didn’t dare to try.

I loved these Pinocchio puppet ornaments. I brought some home last year as gifts.

Tower of Pisa candies and lollipops. Besides these, you can also find overpriced and strangely colorful limoncello in miniature bottles shaped like the tower. Oh and I’m not sure about the fasination with the Simpsons but Duff Beer and other Homer merchandises were spotted everywhere.

Just a beautiful cup of cafe. I really miss these, but haven’t been able to justify the reason to buy a nice espresso machine to take up more counter space. (French pressed and cone dripped coffee for now)

A rum-soaked baba au rum to go with that espresso. Day drinking, disguised in the form of desserts. I like it!

On to Firenze! I’m so glad we got to spend a few days in Florence this time. Last year I was only there for half a day and it was way too short. This time I got to visit the Uffizi gallery (breath-taking and amazing art!), finally ate some bisteca fiorentina, and bought some leather and gold goods.

The other staffs and I were tired and exhausted and only wanted a nice and quiet evening (with amazing food) to ourselves. Our local guide Anselmo suggested an Osteria for dinner that is located right around the corner from his apartment. It’s a place where the locals go and we had a fantastic meal there, sat outside with a nice breeze and a view of old historical buildings and quaint alleyways.

I finally got to try bistecca fiorentina (Florentine-style steak)! Big T-bone steak grilled over open fire, seasoned with nothing but salt, and olive oil. oh my goodness! I probably could have eaten the whole thing but I ordered a smaller portion, which the steaks were sliced for me and placed over an arugula/rocket salad with pecorino. The English translation on the menu said that the steak is served “bloody” and I can see that would scare off some customer. I like my steak served medium rare, and this was probably more towards the rare side (as the traditional bisetecca fiorentina should be), but expertly grilled, NOT bloody or anything. The meat was tender, juicy, smoky, well marbled. The spiciness from the arugula and the nuttiness from the pecorino were the perfect pairing for this. I enjoyed my steak with a bottle of brunello di Montalccino. What an awesome night.

The best steak needs no marinade!

Osteria De’ Benci (Via dei Benci, 13. 50122 Firenze)

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and took a nice stroll around the neighborhood. Found a restaurant that opened late – ZaZa‘s. We sipped some STRONG limoncello and reminisced about our trip and performances thus far.

We had a walking tour around Florence the second morning. The architecture of the whole town is simply breath-taking. Saw the Duomo and the bell tower again, but I can look at it every day and not ever get sick of it. Again, due to time constraint, didn’t get to climb the bell tower like I had planned. One of these days I wish to finally get the magnificent birds eye view of Florence!

Also finally saw the beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge. This is also where all the jewelers are, streets after streets of gold vendors. A lot of the jewelers have their “masters” on site and will do adjustments and alterations in the blink of an eye, and for free too!

One of the many talented street artists I saw. Street art gets washed away every night so the streets are squeaky clean the next morning.

Plentiful of colorful masquerade masks. This was near the Piazza della Repubblico (city square). Lots of outdoor vendors.

a quick bite for lunch. A nice latte and a plate of bruschetta. Also had some lasagna (not pictured) but it wasn’t that memorable.

Passed by Caffe Gilli (Via Roma 1/R – 50123 Firenze) with the display of all the sweets and pastries, I was glued to that window for quite some time.

And how could we resist and not try a cannoli while in Italy?

Our last performance of the trip took place at Chiesa Santa Maria De’ Ricci. All of our concerts were free and we were surprised to see how well the turn out was. A big part of the audience were locals and came because they saw our posters around town. Being lovers of the arts, they were excited to hear a high school group from California. The other half of the audience members were tourists who passed by. I was standing outside the church passing out flyers and greeting any concert-goers, I turned around 20 minutes into the concert and saw that there were no more sitting and standing room inside but everyone was still perfectly content just standing by the door listening. What an incredible and rewarding sight!

After the concert, we ended up back at ZaZa’s again, to have dinner this time. I also had the best risotto I’ve ever tasted that night.

Trattoria ZaZa  (Via Chiara, 2  50123 Florence, Italy)

This seems to be a very popular bottle of Chianti Classico, we had this a few times at different restaurants. Good and affordable.

My dinner – saffron risotto with zucchini, shrimp, and freshly shaved black truffle. It was very dark so the picture is very pixelated. With all the hard work done on our second to last night in Italy, and it couldn’t be more perfect.

We spent the last day touring the Uffizi gallery, admired all the gorgeous sites one more time, purchased any last minute souvenirs, and had a wonderful farewell dinner (with a singer serenaded us numerous Italian pop songs.) Most importantly, I finally got to buy matching leather jackets for my husband and me, and also ordered a case of wine to ship home.

De Nicola Florence Leather
Via Dell’Ariento 57 rosso
Firenze, zona San Lorenzo

There are countless leather retailers on the same street. I picked this store only because several students had wandered in and came back with some good looking jackets.  Really friendly and nice people that work here, went out of their way to help me find the right size jacket for my husband (who didn’t go on the trip with me). Yes, European sizes are totally different from US sizes. I’m wearing the jacket I purchased almost daily, great quality leather jacket really does make a difference.

La Galleria del Chianti
Via del Corso 41/r Piazza del Duomo

This little shop doesn’t just carry chianti wine, but carries a great varieties of wine from the Tuscany region. I shipped home a case of Chianti Reserva, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, some super Tuscans, and a bottle of Vin Santo. Shipping charges can be ridiculously high, but this place was fairly reasonable. The shop owner was very friendly and helpful, and spoke perfect English. I gave him a price range and he helped me picked out a great selection.

……

We headed to the Bologna airport at 2am and began our 20-hour journey back to home sweet home. That’s it folks, thus conclude my 2-week journey in Italy. If you missed out on the previous entries about this trip, click here –

Part 1 – Roma

Part 2 – Orvieto and Assisi

Part 3 – Siena and Lucca

Thanks for reading! And I am almost done with my Indonesia posts, I want to post them consecutively all in one week so please just wait a tiny little bit longer. 🙂

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