Friday, September 16, 2011

Italy: La Dolce Vita - Florence

Arriving by train from Venice, we alighted on the Florence train station platform about 11 a.m. Steamy weather and big crowds were there to greet us, but with only one afternoon and night in this city, we knew we needed to make the most of our visit. Thus started the second segment of our Italy adventure – Florence and Tuscany. As a reminder, you can see the set of pictures associated with our visit to Italy on my Flickr Photostream HERE. I will add new pictures to the set as I post about the places we went.

Our first goal was to get to our hotel without walking. Seriously, it was HOT in Florence. So, we took a taxi for the short 1-2 mile trip to the Hotel Consigli, situated right along the Arno River.

Checking in and situating our gear, we decided that – much like in Venice - we would forgo seeing the things we had already seen in favor of checking out some other locations around the town. Yes, I know, some will say that it’s a crime to not go see The David or tour the Ufizzi, but we saw those things last time and we only had the rest of the afternoon. For us, we made the right choice. However, I would advise anyone who has not been to Florence to go see those two things at minimum. They are a “must,” but for us not a “must twice.” Maybe next time.

The first order of business was lunch. Again favoring a taxi instead of walking given the heat, we were dropped off right in the middle of town where we attempted to get a table at a restaurant called Cantinetta dei Verrazzano. This is a well known and generally well reviewed restaurant – but since the word is out on it, the wait time would have been more than an hour. Forget it. We simply walked about half a block and found a nice, shaded outdoor place where we enjoyed a tasty lunch – and cold beer.

Next, we strolled through the main Piazza della Signoria and down one of the nearby “leather streets” that Florence is known for. Jackets, bags, shoes…you name it, this row of shops had it. And as a bonus, they carried styles that I don’t think you can readily get in the U.S. (Left: Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria. Leather shops just off to the right behind that white truck you see.)

As we talked to various shop owners, we learned that their clientele had changed over the past few years. According to them, sales to American tourists used to make up 70% of their revenue, but now it’s less than 30%. Meanwhile, guess who has taken over as the biggest tourist customer base for leather goods? The Chinese. And indeed, in a couple shops there were signs in Chinese. In one shop, the entire three floors were inundated with Chinese tourists looking over the goods.

Anyway, we ended up buying ourselves some very cool leather jackets from a proprietor we liked. This latter point is not a small one. There are a lot of leather shops in Florence and many of them carry similar styles. But not all offer the same price, and not all offer the same level of customer service.

Let me tell you what I mean...

After identifying a jacket I liked at one shop – decent price, nice owner – we went down the street to another shop where I spied a very similar jacket – perhaps even a bit nicer than the first one. Now, bargaining over price is a normal thing in most parts of Europe. So, when I heard that the jacket was priced $100 or so higher than the first one I had liked at the other shop, I thought I’d see if I could get it for near the same price. After trying it on and asking the price from the sales lady, I offered $50 less than the asking price. After a bit of back and forth, the lady disappeared and then the owner came out. He sternly said, “What is the problem.” I said, “No problem, I really like your jacket. We were just talking about the price.” He replied with something along the lines of, “Yes, our price is our price.”

We talked a bit more and I advised him that there were similar jackets nearby for less. He acted insulted and claimed that those “other jackets” are inferior.

Once again, I offered him my price and once again he acted insulted and said no.

So, I said, “OK, well…I guess I’m not ready to buy it for that price. Thanks for your time. We may be back later.” To which he replied, “If you come back, come back with $50 extra dollars.”

Done. Not EVER coming back buddy. At that point I wouldn’t have bought from him if he gave me a 70% discount. The man let hundreds of dollars walk out the door. Good job man.

With that decision easily made, we went back to the first place and picked up the jacket I wanted and got a different type of one for Diane too.

Our shopping over, we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest up. But not before getting some gelato at Grom and walking through the Piazza del Duomo, church and other spectacular sights. (Right: View of three key buildings in Piazza dell Duomo.)

After a nice, cool rest at our hotel we headed out for dinner at Il Latini. We ate at this place when we visited Florence 15 years earlier and at the time considered it one of if not the best meal we had ever eaten…and that has stood up over the years. We just had to go back.

When we arrived at the front door, it was clear that the joint was still popular as evidenced by the big crowd waiting to get in upon opening. Positioned close to the door, we didn’t anticipate any problems getting in and we didn’t.

Seated in the main room, we enjoyed course after course of goodness. Starting with prosciutto and melon, we moved on to salad, pasta, a huge platter of meat and – of course – desert. Table wine sufficed nicely to wash the feast down.

Another thing that makes Il Latini stand out is that the service is very good and very friendly – and not in a cheese ball way. A lot of restaurants in Italy roll out very indifferent waiters (they are almost always male servers) who take their own sweet time and treat you poorly. Certainly not at Il Latini, however.

Anyway, that meal FILLED US UP. We waddled around a bit after to try and feel better, ultimately catching a taxi to take us the rest of the way home.

Sleeping off our meal, we awoke the next morning with a new mission: pick up a rental car and drive out of Florence and into rural Tuscany for more fun.

NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not permitted for any use without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

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