A Walk in the Park (or: Ciao Florence!)
Two and half days came and went far too quickly. Florence is a place one can easily spend 3-4 days in, if not a week depending on how much of a history/art aficionado you may be. Since my train left in the late afternoon, I used the morning to walk around the green areas on the city’s left bank. I got a relatively early start and traipsed along north side of the Arno river before crossing at the famed Ponte Vecchio to make my way to the Boboli Gardens. After an hour of admiring the green mazes and quiet spaces I wound my way through small side streets to take in the quality of day-to-day Italian life. I stopped for a coffee at a small brasserie and checked out the smaller galleries and independent jewelry/clothing establishments that were open for business. It may be seen as mundane to not stop at every big museum and monument, but I found there was plenty to see. I’m the kind of traveller that likes to (as you can tell) travel on foot and feel a city; breathe it in. For me, discovering a place is about:
- Finding out what goodness there is to eat and drink;
- Striking up at least one conversation with a person/people that inhabit the place you’re in; and,
- Checking out non-touristic sites that are largely off the beaten path, are free to visit and you’d never read about in the average guidebook. This includes window shopping mind you.
Anyhow, it was shortly before noon when I started the climb towards Piazzale Michelangelo (note: it’s especially tricky in 35+ degrees heat and poor footwear. For the record, I will admit: gladiator sandals ARE NOT proper walking shoes) to get a look at Florence from above. At the risk of sounding cliched, the panoramic view is as breathtaking as any guidebook or tourist brochure claims it to be. I spent about 30 minutes at the top just marveling at the view (ok, 15 minutes of that was spent catching my breath) and enjoyed taking my time ambling down the hill and stopping periodically to photograph organic mazes, graffiti, cherub statues, lotus flowers and other interesting finds along the way.
By the time I finished touring the left bank, it was almost 14:00 and I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before getting my things and heading to the train station. I decided to take the advice of my host and hit up a small eatery almost adjacent to where he lived called La Raccolta on Via Giacomo Leopardi. Open exclusively for lunch, La Raccolta is found at the back of a natural/whole foods type grocery store through a whimsical curtain.
Poking my head around the fabric shroud the first thing that struck me was the decor: dazzling, vibrant and warming. I scurried to a corner near the back of the room and immediately felt at home as I let my eyes dart around the interior. Soft music played over the sound system as I perused the menu, which was host to a variety of macrobiotic, vegan + vegetarian inspired foods. The focus at La Raccolta is on making dishes with fresh vegetables and a wide array of legumes, cereals, raw foods and…tofu, all of which are organic. Every day a different menu is put together and a substantial number of dishes are included for people suffering from Celiac disease and/or are gluten intolerant.
I started off with a fresh pressed carrot juice – most welcome in the oppressive heat – and was surprised when it came in a glass as big as my face. After finishing only half of the juice I had a moment to reflect and was quite glad I restricted myself to a light breakfast. This truth was reinforced at least three-fold when the salad I ordered arrived alongside a serving of miso soup.
Yes, that is a serving. Yes, those have to be the biggest bowls of miso and salad. EVER. The salad came first and I could barely get half of it down before the miso came and at that point I knew there was no way I would finish my meal. This came as a disappointment for several reasons, the main one being the quality of the food. The salad – comprised 3 different types of lettuce, shredded carrots, cabbage and zucchini – was simple, yet good (due in part to the smooth and savory biological olive oil and pungent balsamic on hand). The miso soup was macrobiotic in orient so there weren’t any sharp or resonant flavours, but the moderately warm broth went down easily and was pleasing nonetheless.
As with many other of the café-type restaurants I had been to in Florence, take-away was the norm for student or business types who nipped in to grab their food on the go. It was also great to see the number of solo diners who came in, secured a table and took the better part of an hour to lunch and savour their food. Sometimes they had a book or a phone, often times they didn’t and unabashedly gave into their people watching desires, just like myself. As a North American I was amused that this way of eating could still surprise and delight me, as I still recall the days when I worked the good old ‘9-5’ in Canada when lunch meant scarfing down a meal in 20 minutes or less and going to a restaurant meant you were meeting someone because eating alone in public was – and still is last time I checked – widely perceived as haram (forbidden).
After getting through 3/4 of the soup I didn’t have room for much of anything else so I paid a modest 24 Euros (for a lunch meant for two remember) and slipped under the magical curtain, through the supermarket towards my next destination.
Well…I almost made it through the supermarket unscathed. I picked up two rice-flour “shortbread” cookies for good measure before heading towards the train station fully satiated.
And with Mona Lisa’s smile on my face.