Waking up characteristically late, I decided I would remain faithful to my decision to at least visit one other Italian city while in Bologna. Thus, I ventured taking the 14 then the 25 to the main station Bologna Centrale for a well-deserved excursion.
The main terminal for buses and trains for the city, Bologna Centrale is an ever bustling centre full of business people, families, and tourists alike rushing to get to their destinations. As mentioned prior, be careful of pickpockets.
What I will say is counterintuitive is that the ticket machines literally shout at you when you make a purchase. Therefore, if you change the language to English, it will automatically mark you as a tourist, so spotlight is on you! Not very helpful to keep a low profile to evade thieves, but I digress …
Tickets from Bologna to Florence average around 10 euros one way, so it is worth the visit considering what awaits you there.
After purchasing my ticket and locating my train in the subterranean labyrinth that is this station, I took my seat in coach and took a short nap of only about 40 minutes while heading to the Tuscany region.
Tuscany is likely one of Italy’s most famous regions as a result of its stake in the fashion, art, and food scenes of the country. And, that is saying something for Italy. Tuscany is the birth region of the Italian Renaissance as well as a major wine producer. It has been the home of great writers and artists like Dante Alighieri (‘Dante’s Divine Comedy’) and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci.
One factoid I did not realise is that Pisa, the city, is located in this region as well. Welp. We learn new things every day; personally, I thought it was way more south in Italy, closer to Calabria.
Furthermore, it is Tuscany’s prominence and might that made its dialect, specifically the Florentine dialect, the basis for the Standard Italian language today. For this reason, visiting Florence was a must as a linguist also because a new friend who studies at Lund too is from the city and gave me loads of suggestions.
Unfortunately, arriving in Florence, it was quite grey and dreary as a result of a spell of rain. It was not the warm welcome, figuratively and literally, I was hoping for, but I was excited to just be there honestly.
Florence is the regional capital and is particularly known for its textiles, making the city a major fashion destination, as well as glassware. I was not expecting such glamour and fashion – boy, was I dumb and should have done my research.
The main fashion street is Via de’ Tornabuoni close to the Palazzo Strozzi, which boasts more shops and eateries. Expect to see Armani, Prada, Chanel and many other brands I do not know, but need to ask my good Swiss friend about who is obsessed with them.
I had my fur, so I did not feel too underdressed, but if you think Bologna is elegant, just you wait for Florence!
There is much to peruse in Florence with many buildings and galleries devoted to the city’s rich cultural heritage that stems to the time of the Etruscans. Throughout my time in Florence, I delved deep into my linguistics-related book I had been meaning to read for ages about a possible link between Etruscan and modern Tuscan. The basis of the theory is the unique spirantisation (when a stop like a /b/ becomes a fricative or a sounds that is made with friction) that is present in the Tuscan dialect. Where did it come from? Etruscans, maybe?
Unfortunately, the evidence does not look good for some ancient lineage, but it was a nice pipe dream. It is easy to want to believe though, walking through Florence (which is cited and referenced heavily in the book). One wants to think that the city is just another glorious chapter in this region’s great history … Oh lord, is this what Italo-nationalism is marketed as to the masses? Yuck. Agh!
One aspect I did not expect to love so much was the Arno river. Divided by this large waterway, Florence has two sides that are connected by various bridges that are perfect for pictures as well as occasionally displaying light shows. One such spectacle I caught on the Ponte Vecchio (‘Old Bridge’) after a stupendous meal was the perfect distraction from my post-dinner bloat …
Oh, the food. How long did it take me to start talking about the cuisine!? Of course, the fashion, art history, and literature are fascinating, but on a day trip, one must prioritise. And, as usual, my interests turned to food.
Tuscany is known like the Emilia-Romagna region for staple-based cuisine. Simple fare, that is hearty. Beans, bread, and meaty game like boar, rabbit, and domestic pigs and cows too are typical and delicious here, prepared without frills.
Wine is also central. Dark reds and sweet whites, the production of Tuscan wine is complex, regulated, and based on further division of sub-regions in Tuscany. I will not pretend to understand it fully. Just remember, wine is divine and must be sampled as much as possible while visiting.
For a snack, I grabbed two schiacciate (sing. schiacciata), a classic Tuscan panino. Made from a flat focaccia, it is quick bite to eat or something to savour with a coffee. It began to rain while strolling through the fashion district, so I ran to the nearest café for something to warm me up. The ones I sampled were filled with finocchiona, which is a type of Tuscan salami. Rich, fatty, and toasted — what could have been better?! Rhetorical, I know. The name of the venue escapes me, but I will update the post if I can remember it!
My friend also suggests La Menagere, the well-known instagrammable local/ flower shop for a coffee break, or also Reale Firenze close to the train station for good brioche. Both are great for breakfasts, but go early to beat the crowds!
Nevertheless, I was in the mood for dinner as the sun was setting. Walking around Florence in the winter, it is bright and buzzing. Since commerce is such a big draw for the city, people are excited to shop and shop they do!
With multiple Christmas light shows on antique buildings and various curated displays, it feels somewhat magical, and this sentiment is coming from someone who is Jewish. Ha!
However, the lights could not distract me from my goal. I wanted to continue my eating quest!
For dining, my friend suggests anywhere in the Piazza Santo Spirito area across the river for a good meal in the evening. Personally, I went to La Fettunta, close to the river, but still on the city centre side, as I was getting cold and hungrier by the second.
What looks like a simple deli of sorts turns into a dining room in the back with a superb list of traditional Tuscan dishes to try. The staff there is quite welcoming. You can definitely see a difference in moods between speaking Italian and English with them; however, this is no fault of their own.
It is Italy. Adjust a wee bit!
A dining pair who sat after me had some issues with English and were, through observation, a bit picky, which the waitstaff did not expect I think.
Again, my motto is to let the kitchen do their thing – especially in Italy!
Anyway, I decided on a peposo and also artichokes cooked in white wine for my entrée and a chianti of red wine too. Simply, it was almost too much. If you love peppercorns, and I mean love peppercorns, this beefy Tuscan stew is exactly what you desire. The artichokes were also superb and expertly tart and savoury at the same time.
They did not pair amazingly together to be honest (almost too much richness for my taste), but it was delicious nevertheless. For those who want a lighter fare, the bruschette here is also fantastic (and large) I hear. My whole meal came to only 19€! What a steal.
With great staff, amazing food (another table got a huge thing of meats and cheeses, which despite my condition at the time, I still envied), this restaurant is one to return to in Florence. At least, I definitely will.
If I ever marry a rich designer for Gucci, I will convince him to relocate here to the main office, I swear.
More realistically, I do also want to see Florence in the spring/summer and visit more of the cultural sites, not just stuff myself. This is the problem with day trips – one simply cannot fit everything he or she desires into it (especially if one wakes up in the PM regularly).
I should not sell myself short however. Florence is a capital; it has a lot to enjoy and to feast on and buy within it. Even with a full day’s advantage, it would be impossible to see it all. I just need more time. Surely, I can find some or make some at that.
The train back to Bologna was an easy ride despite a copious amount of snowfall. If one is in Bologna, Florence is a destination one must take advantage of. Closer than Venice, and larger than Modena, it is the glitzy sister of sorts (despite any regional rivalry that might exist) to Bologna’s more reserved charm. Firenze, beckons! Go to it!
Phew! On a technical level, I was skeptical about the wordpress update, but blogging is actually a little easier. As long as there isn’t any wild formatting errors on past posts … But, that is a wrap on Italy so far. I am excited to be headed back. I have no idea to where, perhaps Milan or Bari … Nevertheless, Italy is quickly forming a special place in my heart (and stomach for that matter). And, I cannot survive with just a tease of a day trip to some of its most important locations. Sigh … More to come soon about Morocco, and if I do not post before then, happy new year to all!