Thursday, May 21, 2009

All About Florence

I am a wimp. I cry when my heart is broken, I cry when I break a nail and I try not to cry while driving on Italy's A1 highway. The distance from Bologna to Firenze is only about 100 km and should be an easy one hour drive.

If it wasn't for the mountains and the curving roads. And the trucks. And the construction. And the crazy Italian drivers. To my way of thinking, it is a miracle we are alive. But then, Firenze is a city of miracles.

Once we arrived in front of the hotel, however, it was all worth it. Usually when driving to Florence, I exit at the north, but the Baglioni Hotel instructions-- kindly provided by the sister hotel in Bologna-- said to take Firenze Sud and gave us such precise directions that we didn't get lost once! (What fun is that?)

We dumped the car and then explored the newly restored Bernini Palace which is as gorgeous as a Moorish palace gone Marco Polo in the lobby, complete with Fortuny style lamps and gold leaf front desk. Our suite was in the old style of turn of the 19th century grandeur with furniture to match and patina galore. Out the window, a view of the next door church, the blue blue sky and the angels.

Even though the season has not yet even begun,the hordes are everywhere. It's hard to even get around town in the thick of things. We managed (we're good). The best parts of the visit, however, were the hidden finds-- the new Lisa Corti at Piazza Gilberti (across the street from Cibreo, one of the msot famous restaurants in Italy) and the back-street walk toward the Bernini from there, passing the tiny flea market at Ciompi, The Leather School and Santa Croce.

Speaking of Santa Croce, there was nothing more perfect than our inspection of the Relais Santa Croce, a private palazzo turned monastery and now hotel, with only 24 rooms. It is one of the most perfectly restored palaces I have ever seen and has the decor of a design magazine, with snazzy sleek leather furniture mixed with antiques.

The rest of our shopping was to check Born to Shop addresses, to eat gelato and for me to give in to a handful of ginaduja chocolates. Thankfully, Sarah doesn't like them very much. I am wild for hazelnut and gobble up nocciola (hazelnut) ice cream as if I could pronounce it.

The San Lorenzo Market was more of the same junk-- all of it from Asia, including ties that say MADE IN ITALY. I will say one thing for these ties, they are usually arrayed in a glorious rainbow that makes you melt with desire.

Then, around one bend, we found a vendor with extraordinary accessories made of felt. She explained that the items were made in America by her daughter Tosca. The necklaces cost 10 euros and the handbags were 20-25 euros, a steal.

This just proves that not everything in Italy is made in China after all.

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