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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Best Kept Secrets of Florence

When i looked up things to do in Florence, i ended up reading lots of warnings about the place. I even found a site of 101 Tourist Traps of Florence. There should be 102, that website is one.

Yes, we ought to use our better sense when travelling, but Florence is misrepresented online.

The Best of Florence in 48 Hours
1. Slow Food
We wandered into an alley, decided to settle for this quaint tiny restaurant in front of us and discovered we hit jackpot with Imangiarino . There was one old lady taking orders and serving, 2 chefs in the kitchen and the tiny place sits about 20.  I was amused with the disclaimer on the placemat 'slow food'.
It was so worth the wait. It's the best meal i ate in Florence. There are only 13 "slow food" restaurants in Florence and we actually accidentally walk into one! I later found out that "slow food" didn't mean the service but it means that the restaurant uses recipes passed down from generations and the best and possibly organic ingredients from the region.
Best to make reservations because shortly after we entered, a queue started snaking!

Address: Via dello Studio, 5/r-50122 Firenze
Tel: 055 216 208

2. Aline Hotel
rated badly online. People said it was dirty, a pain to be fighting to use the common bathroom etc. I decided to take a chance with Aline because it was centrally located and cheap. For a one star hotel and costing only 64 euros a night for 2, we hit jackpot again! It was clean, cute and safe. Shower is within the room, tiny as an in-flight toilet, but if you don't mind peeing in the shower, you hardly need to use the common bathroom outside. Even if you do, it is clean, odourless and I didn't have to queue.I had to take a dump.Our room even had a cute little balcony that looked above apartment roofs into the Tuscan hills in the distance.
That's me on the balcony with a 4kg leg of prosciutto ham.

3. The Oldest Infirmary in the World
is not found within a church, like i expected it to be.
Behind me is the Santa Maria Novella, but the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, the oldest still-operating pharmacy in the world (and oldest in Italy) is found somewhere else. It is located in one of those stone buildings, obscure and undetected. Ask the Tourist Information outside and opposite of Firenze train station, that's how we found it. When you reach the street, follow the crowd because that's probably where everyone's going. The over-powering smells of sweet scent like Victoria Secrets will also be an indication. 

Having read online that it was established in 1221, when the Dominican monks grew herbs to make balms and medicines, i was expecting to walk into some sort of tomb looking ancient pharmacy, 

Alas, it looks very modern, fancy and like a New York departmental store.Albeit, the pharmacy itself is housed in the original building, the rooms have vaulted ceilings, marble floors, glass-stained windows with walnut cabinetry and glass-stoppered decanters full of colorful potions.
The superior quality of the monks' products became widely known, and in the 17th century, the pharmacy opened its doors to the public.
Today the pharmacy still uses the traditional preparation methods and carries products using the original recipes of the monks. AtlasObscura highlights the Aceto dei Sette Ladri, or Seven Thieves Vinegar, where these smelling salts got their unusual name from a band of seven men who robbed corpses during a plague. They were said to have doused themselves in the strong vinegar to protect themselves from the plague. However, this was nowhere to be found on the order menu. Instead, there is an extensive list of dietary supplements for the mental and physical health, herbal teas, hydroalcholic extracts, syrups or accessories. Prices are only revealed upon query.  
4. Trattoria ZaZa
is also recommended on Tripadvisor. The interior design is more notable than its food. However, it is a popular favourite for whipping up delicious authentic Italian pastas. I need to get used to the Italian pastas not having much ingredients like the Japanese ramen. The oomph is all in the sauce. 

However, next door is Trattoria Mario, which came highly recommended by a local friend and twice we didn't make it in time or that there was a 2 hour waiting time.
Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale 26r

5. Shopping in Florence
 I did all my shopping in 2 places. One was Central Market, the other was at The Mall.
Because competition is tough at Central Market where the stalls mostly hawk the same ware, the prices are the best around Florence. I found the Indian stall owners easier to negotiate prices, however, they are also probably the ones who sell leather goods that may not be authentic material. Nonetheless, i bought this Prada -inspired bag in a cheery sunshine colour for 35 euros (supposedly calf leather) bargained down from 55. There are tons of leather products to be found, some could be utterly fake, some could be the leftovers of good leather. Only an expert hand can discern the real and the fakes but i say if the price is reasonable and the design is pretty, go for it! I also bought 3 soft leather belts in dirty green, brown and fuchsia (8 euro each) as well as 3 leather cuffs (2 euro each). 
I didn't quite encounter many Asians in Florence but no prizes for guessing where i saw majority of them.

In the queue waiting to go The Mall, factory outlet featuring high-end brands like Ferragamo, Prada, Christian Dior, Gucci and more. 
It feels like i'm in Asia again!
The Sita bus station is to the right of Firenze station and costs 5 euro one way. Buses start at 8.50 am and run every 20 mins to and 30 mins fro. The entire bus ride takes slightly more than an hour. The Mall opens at 10am, and it is a mad house particularly in the Prada store. The only brand that is two-storey with an escalator within, the brand conscious Asians (Chinese and Koreans mainly) start grabbing. Best is to visit The Mall with caution and a shopping list of what you need so you stay focused. DO NOT feel pressured when you see fellow Asians in a shopping frenzy. But who am i to give advice? I went needing a new wallet, a sling satchel and card holder but left with 3 items more that were not in the list. The Devil really wears Prada! The brands offer good discount, starting from 30%. Burberry has an extensive range of winter wear while Christian Dior had a 50% further off factory outlet price. The Mall is the ONLY place in Florence that i see so many Chinese salesgirls and there was even an Italian gent in Dior who spoke fluent Mandarin.

6. Michael Angelo Hill
Florence is small enough to go everywhere on foot. 
 I'm not lying.
It is indeed nice to walk around by foot, working off that pizza then putting it on with a gelato. Through walking, you can take in the bustling city's sights, the tourist spots and discover new areas.
Hanging out with horses.
 Take a sandwich, hike up the Michael Angelo hill for a panoramic view of Florence.
7. Florence at Night
When dusk falls, Florence becomes romantic. 
The most photographed bridge in Florence is Ponte Veccchio, where jewellery shops are built into the bridge.
We sat on the bridge, enjoying the romantic view and listening to the groovy husky voice of an Italian busker.
A local culture of the clubbers at night is to also sniff out the secret bakeries of Florence. These bakeries start baking late at night for the next morning and very often will sell inconspicuously to those who seek at night. A hot bun oozing with Nutella for 1 euro, unfortunately we didn't stay out late enough to go treasure hunting.  If you're gungho enough, here're some addresses you can try.

8. Day trip to Pisa
Because Florence is small enough to finish walking in a day (without too much stopping for Italian coffee which btw, is mugnificant), take a train to Pisa just an hour away!Costing 7 euros one way, the ticket machines at Firenze is simple to use and does not return change in the form of vouchers (as some websites warned).
Most shops are closed on Sundays but otherwise if you had gone on a weekday, Pisa is a lovely town (less crowded than Florence) to spend time in.
Get drunk on Simpson's beer, 
 and start seeing things leaning!
We're not that great photographers so it hardly looks leaning. It's an amazing piece of architecture because it looks leaning but it's actually not!

We thought we were early at 10am but no, almost everyone is early.
 Had to get my 2948 worth of leaning pictures.
Travelling to Pisa is really just for the tower which you can do funny things with.
Florence, my first taste of Italy (ok, maybe Venice was first).


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