Travel Journal

Florence, Italy, Week 2, 10/26-11/1

(Wednesday 3 November 2010) by Joanne Chang
Statue at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
Statue at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
Week 2 in Florence is more active than week 1. My foot's healing slowly and I manage to avoid infection with a little home surgery, but it's wearing on me. I have a lot of restless, pent-up energy and I want to run around in circles but I'm reduced to limping. I'm trying not to feel sorry for myself. Trying, trying.

Catherine leaves for Naples on a Tuesday morning and Lisa and I hop a train to Siena, an hour south of Florence. Siena is beautiful and charming, larger than I expected, and cold! Winter is coming. Old winding cobblestone streets, specialty stores and delis with perfect storefronts, and views of itself from various vantage points. A baby Florence. After lunch and coffee (the priorities in Italy), we seek refuge from the cold in the Duomo (Cathedral Santa Maria dell'Assunta), known as one of the world's most handsome Gothic churches. It's huge (though a fraction of what is was intended to be), built with massive amounts of marble, with inlaid mosaic artwork in the floor and statues by Michelangelo before he left for the David in Florence. Possibly the most beautiful church I've seen, despite the sculptures of saints' heads staring down at me from the ceiling. Creepy. We wander as much as we can with my foot, rent a car to explore wine country the next day and settle into a cozy bar in the Medicean Fortress. Sipping on Brunello, a Super Tuscan, and an old Barbaresco with an ridiculous plate of Pecorino cheese (and bread and olive oil!), we talk about the wine bar I'm going to open someday and appreciate life in Tuscany.
Vineyards in Montalcino, Italy
Vineyards in Montalcino, Italy


The next morning we drive south to Montalcino where Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino (made from Sangiovese) come from, two wines I now love. Montalcino is an old and adorable little town perched up on a hill with a castle and wine shops and trattorias, and we lunch on spaghetti with fresh truffles, and drink Brunello. Does it get better? By luck and a little research we'd managed to arrange a visit at Poggio Antico winery, so we get a tour and taste delicious (and expensive) wines, and I'm reminded that in addition to a wine bar I want to own a winery (Shane, we did say Tuscany, right?). The day ends quickly and Lisa flies out the next morning so we have to get back to Florence. I decide I'm not done here and will have to return, adding Chianti and Montulpulciano to the list.



Jo and her new wine book, Florence
Jo and her new wine book, Florence
The rest of the week I'm on my own, and with nobody to tell me to rest (hee hee) I do all the things I wanted to. I go to the Uffizi (not as mind-blowing as I expected), the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David (more mind-blowing than I expected), the Boboli and Bardini gardens, the food market at San Lorenzo, and run across a small but extensive wine shop called FamousVini near San Marco, where I spend an hour talking to Leonardo, the shop owner of 20 years. He exudes passion and knowledge, educating me on Sangiovese, how the western market has changed Italian wines, and introduces me to small producers creating wines with true Italian expression. His passion inspires me. I go back the next day and tell him so, and he sends me home with an Italian wine book by Veronelli that I have to learn to read (in Italian). There may be no better way to learn a new language!

View from Boboli Gardens, Florence
View from Boboli Gardens, Florence
My last excursion is to Lucca, a small, walled-in culinary town that I've always been curious about. My book says it's a respite from the city which is exactly what I need. When I get there it's a madhouse! Hordes of people dressed in Halloween costumes attending the weekend's International Games and Comics festival. In Lucca! The little town's piazzas are filled with tents selling medieval costumes, comics and paraphernalia, and it's completely chaotic, and I'm trying to appreciate everyone's enthusiasm but it hurts my head. After an obligatory wander around town I find a hiding spot in the botanical gardens, which isn't much but it's peaceful and uncrowded, and ahhhh...exactly what I'm looking for. I take an overstuffed train back to Florence in the evening, happy to go back to a quiet apartment. Funny how sometimes what you're looking for is something you already have.

Next, a week in Siracusa , Sicily, to meet up with Catherine and soak in the last bit of warm weather before winter makes its way south. Afterwards I'll head back north to Rome then Florence, and finish Italy in the vineyards. Life is good, I know it's good, and this time I have is ridiculous, these experiences so rich and colorful, but there is something closing in on me. I'm finding it hard to breathe.

  • Siena is a world apart by Judy Chang
    • Cheese taster! by Joanne Chang
  • I knew you would love Italy! by Rose McGuire
    • Thanks Rosie! by Joanne Chang


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