After a walking tour of Florence I often suggested to my guests to try the second floor of the Mercato centrale that was inaugurated a couple of years ago. It was the new foodies paradise for a while but I have to say that things changed in the last year. In peak season, basically 9 months a year, it became quite a challenge to find a table even for 2 and the service for the drinks became pretty chaotic. A lot of people push from every angle and the confusion reigns over the market.
But one might think that it worth the effort considering the delicious Tuscan products that can be admired first and then ordered. Well, for a self service, the prices are quite high, considering that you have to stay in line, order and then wait until your dish is ready and somebody yells your number. And that’s one of the negative points that I found. You might think that you pay for the high quality. Hmm, not really, unfortunately I found some of the stands touristy and lacking in the quality that I remember from the first year. I do find interesting and fun visiting also this second floor and in case you love cheese, mozzarella and burrata, you will definitely be tempted by the Puglia stand dedicated to her majesty mozzarella that is really yummy.
Making a treccia and a burrata at the Centro della mozzarella at the second floor of the Mercato Centrale in Florence.
If you are curious and willing to try the food in a modern context, you can give it a chance, but remember that in the area there are many traditional trattorias where you can sit comfortably and enjoy a real Tuscan meal with the locals. If you are a foodie and you want to learn about the Tuscan cooking traditions and products, try my Food and Culture Tour of Florence, mixing art, history, places not to miss and the food spots that the locals love.
Yesterday in Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence I was sipping a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo relaxing and enjoying a lovely late afternoon, after having finished a walking tour of Florence with a visit at the Accademia Gallery.
There was a lot of people and especially local journalists preparing all their cameras and some local personalities.
It was a nice surprise to see that the Bianchi of Santo Spirito were ready to fill the square with the sounds of their tambours and the fascinating parade wearing the traditional costumes for the Calcio Storico Fiorentino. They are preparing the great match for June… I look forward to seeing the final.
During my tours of Florence, while I’m showing to my guests a detail on a Renaissance building or a gorgeous statue in Piazza della Signoria, I’m often interrupted by gypsies and other beggars that sometimes can be really pushy. They pretend they are hungry but if you want to offer them a sandwich they will refuse it and ask you for money. I’ll tell you why. These people are taken every day in the city center of Florence and forced to beg for somebody else that doesn’t really live in poverty. They get food and a place to sleep and all day long they have to gather the money that their “bosses” take away from them at the end of the day. Many of them come from Romania, Bulgaria or other Eastern countries, but they are not Romanians or Bulgarians, they have a different citizenship and a different culture that has nothing to do with the country of origin. Many people make the mistake of considering gypsies Romanian citizens and for this reason they think that all Romanians are thieves, pickpockets etc… Well, this is far from the truth, the gypsy population in Romania is considered an Ethnic minority with a specific social, cultural and economic situation. Anyway, even if I feel sorry for them, I prefer to ignore them and not support the criminals behind them who take advantage of their situation.
The street sellers instead are originally from Africa or Asia and even if they don’t pay taxes for the items they are selling, at least they try to make a living in a decent way instead of begging or stealing. Many times the authorities suggest us to denounce this type of illegal commerce, but they don’t offer an alternative to these people who left their countries because of civil wars or real poverty state.
About a month ago, after a tour of Florence with a lovely family and a guided visit of the Uffizi, I went to the Pitti Palace to visit the new exhibition that started on March 10th , Sweet triumphs and fine folds, dedicated to the refined decorations created for a famous wedding banquet. In October 1600 Mary de’ Medici became the Queen of France by marrying Henri IV of the House of Bourbon.
The exhibition is held in some of the rooms inside the Palatine Gallery. Once you enter the first room, it feels like going back in time and you will have the impression of participating at the Medici banquet held in Palazzo Vecchio on the 5th of October. Precious pottery, elegant portraits, but above all, the stars of the exhibition: the sugar sculptures that amazed me as I believe they did more than 400 years ago.
The artists at the Medici court took on the challenge of creating real works of art made of sugar, “foods decorative” to impress the snob guests from the Royal court of France. And they proved extraordinary skills in playing with sugar as if it was clay, plaster. Venus, Hercules, even the King of France on horse were some of the subjects made of sugar, chosen for this memorable event on the mouth of all Florentines and French.
For the exhibition, the Foundry del Giudice created the same statues, trying to bring to life a key event in the history of the city of Florence and its great dynasty, the Medici.
Besides the sugar sculptures, there were other fantastic decorations on the banquet table, napkins folded in the forms of all kinds of animals and birds recreated for the exhibition by the artisan Joan Sallas who carefully studied many documents from the Florentine archives in order to remake the same fine folds. Even if food was missing from the head table recreated for the exhibition, the fine decorations proved the opulence that characterized the entire reign of the Medici family in every single aspect.
If you want to visit the last residence of the Medici where also their successors, the Lorena family lived, and later the palace of the Savoia royal family, you can contact me and I will make a customized tour of Florence and a guided visit of the Palatine Gallery and the Royal Apartments.
During the last 15 years, I tried so many dishes all over Italy, but when it comes to Easter holidays, the tradition wins on every single Tuscan table. During my food tours of Florence I often tell my guests the menu list that my boyfriend’s mom, as a real Tuscan casalinga( housewife) carefully prepares for her guests.
As the Italian tradition requires, lunch starts at noon or at least is supposed to, but we all know that punctuality is not really part of the Italian culture.
Let’s start with the appetizers:
– the Easter stuffed eggs cannot miss, at least one per person, filled with cheese and aromatic herbs or other types of fillings
– mixed crostini – small slices of bread with different spreads from white beans and Tuscan extra virgin olive oil to mushrooms, but the traditional Tuscan crostini have chicken liver pate on top
– a variety of cold cuts: prosciutto, Tuscan salami, finocchiona( fennel salami), wild boar salami, soppressata( made up from the left over parts of the pig)
– different cheeses and among the best, the traditional Tuscan pecorino
It’s time for the first course:
– the lasagna, that’s what my “foster” mother usually prepares, but there are other options, part of the Easter traditional first courses
– pasta with rabbit sauce
– tortellini in brodo( ring-shaped pasta stuffed with mixed meats in broth) used also for Christmas feasts. For Easter grandmas used to take the hard boiled eggs to the church so the priest would bless them and after that, they added the blessed eggs to the broth
– pappardelle al cinghiale – fresh made pasta with wild boar ragù
If there is any space left, it’s time for desert
– the classic colomba( a dove shaped cake similar in taste to the panettone, the traditional Christmas cake)
– the Easter chocolate eggs cannot miss especially those with a surprise inside
If the menu is accompanied by a Chianti Classico or a Nobile di Montepulciano, well, how can we not say that Italy means la dolce vita, especially during these family events.
During my food tours in Florence, there are many other fascinating stories to discover as well as mouthwatering Tuscan products to taste.
Last year I was in the middle of a private tour of Florence inside the Palatine Gallery and suddenly one of my guests, a sweet lady interrupted me telling me that she didn’t feel that well. I helped her sit down and I ran to get a bottle of water from the bar downstairs. She felt like everything was spinning around, all the paintings on the walls were twisting and she felt like she couldn’t breathe.
The first thing that came into my mind was the Stendhal syndrome, I couldn’t believe it was happening during one of my tours in Florence, but I was pretty sure that the lady got overwhelmed by the rich and beautiful paintings on the walls.
The Stendhal or the Florence syndrome hits about 100 tourists a year who are not used to visit so many museums or to see so many beautiful churches in just some days. The brain gets overloaded with beauty and the person hit simply has to stay outside, take some fresh air and eventually have a walk in a garden rather than an art gallery.
The name of the syndrome was given by a French writer, Stendhal, who visited Florence in the 1800. While he was admiring the ceiling of the Niccolini Chapel inside the Santa Croce Church, he got hit by the syndrome and after this experience in Florence, he wrote in one of his books:
“As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground,”
The staff from Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence noticed that people visiting Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery and some other artistic treasures in Florence are the ones who suffer of dizziness and disorientation.
Despite the Florence syndrome, a tour of the Uffizi Gallery with a private tour guide of Florence or a guided visit of the Accademia Gallery is the perfect way to really understand and appreciate the Renaissance.
Every year, on March 25th our guided tours of Florence are interrupted by the sound of trumpets announcing an important religious celebration, the Annunciation, the moment when the Madonna received the news that she would have become the mother of Jesus. All Catholics know about this date, but something that not all of them know is that March 25th coincided with the New Year in Florence and Pisa. For centuries, in some parts of Italy but also elsewhere in Europe, people celebrated the Annunciation as the beginning of a new year.
This tradition was interrupted in 1528 by Pope Gregory XIII who changed the date to January 1st to create order in the chaotic calendar used until that year. But the Florentines didn’t give up that easily to their traditions and continued celebrating New Year on March 25th until 1750 when Grand Duke Francesco Stefano de Lorena, the successor to the Medici family, imposed the Gregorian calendar.
Every year, on March 25th the city of Florence remembers the old Florentine New Year with a historical parade that cross the city’s squares and finishes in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, the Holy Annunciation Square. Inside the Church of the Santissima Annunziata, there is a special image of the Virgin Mary considered miraculous. Legend has it that in 1252, an artist received the commission of painting the Annunciation, but after completing the Archangel Gabriel, he couldn’t find inspiration for the image of the Virgin. He fell asleep one night with the brush in his hand and when he woke up, he found a marvelous image of Mary next to his Archangel Gabriel. By night, an angel created the purest face of the Madonna that could be found in Florence. All Florentines rushed to see the miracle and since then, the image was worshiped by all pilgrims reaching Florence.
There is another tradition related to the Madonna’s miraculous painting. After the wedding ceremony, many Florentine brides used to leave their bouquet in front of the chapel housing Mary’s angelic portrait for good luck and healthy babies.
There are many other legends and Florentine ancient traditions you will discover during a private tour of Florence with your tour guide, Eliza D.
During my private tours in Florence, I often see bored tourists with whispers at their neck following a tour guide and absorbing the information that the Florence’s guide decides to offer them. I do sometimes group tours in Florence but I have to be honest, I prefer to work as a private tour guide, as for me, a tour of Florence dedicated entirely to a couple, a family or a group of friends is way more enthusiastic and enjoyable for the tour guide but first of all for the travelers.
To really comprehend the spirit of Florence in all its various aspects and above all, to get to know the things you’re most interested in, you need a private tour guide who can unveil the secrets of this amazing city and make you want to come back and see more.
Florence is like Pandora’s box, but instead of containing all the evils in the world, it contains all the treasures a traveler might dream of: magnificent Renaissance buildings, famous paintings and statues, breathtaking views, unforgettable food and wine experiences, hidden artistic gems and fascinating cobble stone streets where the Medici, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and other glorious personalities walked on. We can follow their steps and discover the best that Florence has to offer during a pleasant stroll throughout the city, enjoying it in slow motion and learning about its great past and present.
Almost every day I wonder on Florence’s streets and I realize how lucky I am to work here. That’s why I do my best to offer to all of my guests a unique experience that will make them decide to come back for another Florence tour with me, not only as their tour guide, but as a new friend in Florence.