Shoe shopping in Florence and other Italian delights

Florence in Italy is fabled as the cradle of the Renaissance. But there is more fun to be had in the city as well from fabulous shoe shopping to truffle sandwiches.

Amod Chopra June 15, 2011 15:41:12 IST
Shoe shopping in Florence and other Italian delights

Ah smoking! A glamourous but thoroughly disgusting habit. It invades my right to breathe fresh air. But is there anything sexier than a tall, thin woman smoking? On my last trip to Italy I was sitting in a train checking out a beautiful woman on the platform, smoking. She is walking over towards me! As she gets closer she pushes her designer sunglasses to her forehead, hocks a juicy one and spits it on the tracks. I am shocked and Vicky, watching this action, is rolling with laughter. Yet I flock to Europe, this smoke-filled paradise, every chance I get to experience culture and history.

Cradle of the Renaissance
The history here in Florence is remarkable. It was the cradle of the Italian renaissance. Our last trip here was spent in a drunken haze pretending to be Italian and celebrating Italy’s win in the world cup. Museums were far from our mind then. As the years passed the masters beckoned us. All right, I can’t lie it was the shoe shopping.

Shoe shopping in Florence and other Italian delights

David by Michelangelo. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Florence is Michelangelo’s hometown. His 17-foot statue of David with its strength and sense of confidence tempered with trepidation to his Pieta where the Madonna and Nicodemus are taking down Christ from the cross are awe-inspiring. I have spent the last half hour with Michelangelo’s sarcophagus for Lorenzo the great. The serenity of the Madonna and the lovingness of her gaze reach out to the inner child in all of us offering us shelter.

The works of the great masters: Donatello, Rafaello, Giambologna, Leonardo da Vinci, Gallileo inspire the artist within. I promise myself that I will live my life with an artist’s passion. It dawns on me that I have one skill that sustains me and another that invigorates me. I promise to write on a regular basis.

If the shoe fits

Then there are the leather merchants. Both sides of the street are lined up with them for almost four blocks. The unmistakable stench of tanned cow is overpowering. Behind them, right next to the sign that says it is a crime to buy or sell fake goods, the illegal African immigrants are selling fake goods. You can buy Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other designer bags on the cheap from them. Every so often you will see a pack of illegal vendors thundering down the street escaping the uniformed police officers. I imagine the consequences of being arrested are downright scary. I see an officer standing over confiscated fake purses speaking into his radio. Wait a minute he is a plain-clothes officer. A sense of relief comes over me noticing that the vendor has escaped. The cat and mouse game continues.

Blood and truffle

The best meal I had in Florence was at Da Mario’s. It is a small packed joint. The wait was over an hour, but well worth it. Everybody shares tables here. We shared ours with a couple of Swedes enjoying their steak Florentine. What makes it Florentine, is it’s rareness. Did they even cook this thing? It was oozing blood, like really oozing. I had to eat looking the other way so as not to pass out. My meat with meat sauce was legendary. I could only handle a piccolo portion. The food here was so good that we waited for an hour a different day.

We stopped in at a local favourite, Procaacci, on designer row. They are famous for their wine and truffle sandwiches. We walk in with our Zara bags and cozy up between the lady with her Gucci bags and the mother with her $1,000 Stokke stroller. There goes the neighbourhood. Even the 7 month old was enjoying his truffle
sandwich.

Shoe shopping in Florence and other Italian delights

Pieta. Image by Amod Chopra

Where do you drink your coffee?

My favourite was Bar Ginori. Florence is dotted with small independent coffee shops. You pick your favourite or the one that’s on your path and stop in for a pick me up. Mind you, if you take your cup of coffee and sit at a table, pulling out your tourist guidebook, you will be charged three times the price. At Bar Ginori, you pick your Dolci: croissant or a tart, or a pannini and then walk over to the coffee counter. You rub shoulders with painters, construction workers, leather vendors or business people and order your coffee. By the third day, our order would be waiting for us as soon as we picked up our Dolci. This was true for all most all the places we visited multiple times. I yearn for this intimate setting back home.

This is a far cry from Starbucks. I have heard friends say that they like Starbucks because the sofas remind them of home. My favourite reasoning, I like having a clean bathroom. Where are you going to drink that coffee? We have let these business giants squeeze out the little places, the ones with a soul, and have settled for a mediocre product. The giants squeeze their vendors and get barely passable coffee at a profit maximizing point. If you want to enjoy a smaller warmer setting and a better cup of coffee, walk into a local joint instead of a chain. This model is true across many industries.

When in Rome…

There is one question that I have been asked regularly that comes to mind. Do Italians eat Italian food everyday? (In case you are wondering, I am asked if Indians…) There is a serious dearth of ethnic cuisine here. I attacked the Chicken Tikka Masala at London Airport. Yes, I know it is not really Indian. I am hoping since I ate it in London, its country of origin, it will not be held against me.

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