Saturday, May 23, 2009

Florence - a great city!

We've spent the last two days exploring Firenze as the locals call it. The Japanese call it Firenze as well...

We have enjoyed this city immensely for the rich sites, people, food and general atmosphere. It's also a shopping haven with rows of high end stores lining the streets along with street vendors, musicians and entertainers. Firenze is definitely worth visiting again.

One of the amusing street vendors....
There were several street artists drawing their masterpieces on the streets...Yesterday, we decided to rent mountain bikes for our ride up into the hills. The Florence by Bike store has lots of bikes, equipment and clothing in addition to friendly, helpful staff.
We rode the streets of Firenze and uphill to the town of Fiesole. It was an hour ride uphill into the mountains. We had a nice lunch and then another hour to the small town of Olmo. And then, it was all downhill back to the city. We had a nice 4 hr ride.

We rode mostly on the streets, but we found a nice pathway, surrounded by lush scenery.
Biking in Firenze is easy ~ you just need a good map and be cautious about traffic.
It was biking day in Firenze with the Giro d' Italia ending one of its stages there in the afternoon. We literally ran to the park to see the finish and although we missed seeing the end, we found Lance Armstrong's tour bus and lined up to get photos and an original autograph on my pink Giro cap! How cool was that!
Lance came out for only a few minutes to sign some autographs. Russ was right there to say "good job" and take some close up photos.
The race covered 178 km that day and the day before that, they rode 100km time trials.
The Arno river, which is close to our hotel.
For our anniversary dinner #2, we made reservations at Cantina della Giostra which was recommended by the American educators we had met in Cinque Terre. Now, this was a fine dining experience.
The restaurant used to house old carousels and today, the shelves are lined with bottles of wine. I was never a big wine drinker, but in Italy, I've had some wine every day! As they say, "when in Rome...". We had a superb 5 course dinner and the waitress was especially helpful as she had recommended all of the dishes for us.
The beef carpaccio came on a platter covered with rucola, tomato and thin slices of reggiano cheese. It was served with olive oil, salt & pepper. We then had fresh ravioli with artichokes & brie cheese, followed by our main courses: fillet of beef with porcini mushroom sauce and chicken breast with orange sauce. All were delicious!
We not only plan the museums and adventures of the day, but the restaurants at night. We've eaten so well here and it's been a delight savoring all the food.
This morning, on our way to get some coffee, we took photos from the street of the "Serial Killer" museum. There's a model of Hannibal Lechter. Very strange....
We also saw an old wooden bike!
Italy is full of statues.
The statues are on the sides of the buildings or churches and adorn many facets of the architecture. Most are intricately carved.
Sometimes, we see so many that they become benign.
So, guess where we had our 2nd cup of coffee this morning? This familiar place serves caffe & brioche for only euro 1.40.
There may be a worldwide recession ongoing, however, the streets are full of tourists. And, it's not even peak season yet.

Street artists drawing "The Last Supper"
There was a big parade this morning at the Piazza della Signoria, where we're staying.
Entertainers were dressed up, played music and a choir sang at the square.

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