Of course I've heard that Florence is beautiful and golden and known for leather, but to be honest, I didn't know much else. My mom informed me that it's where the Uffizi and David live. She's the art person. My younger sister, Jackie, knew that Ponte Vecchio was the bridge, and also known for selling gold jewelry. And the Duomo- oh the Duomo! (Where this just happened).
I knew that I needed as much Tuscan food as my stretchy pants could allow.
Since Jackie and I can only handle so much back-to-back artsy stuff, we subsequently plastered the map with gelato places. After doing some serious research, this is what was necessary to make it into our bellies:
- If the sign says artigianale, that's a step in the right direction but not a guarantee. Look for seasonal flavors.
- Can you tell if it's made on site? Look for the words produzione propria.
- Always check the pistachio. Pistachios aren't neon green. Mint should be white.
- Temperature is key. The places that serve in covered metal containers are usually the most promising.
I don't admit that we were "borderline ridiculous" in our quest and averaged two gelato rests per day. And on one day, three. That put us at about 7 stops in Florence alone. That's not a big deal.
Disoriented and on our way to Vestri (deemed the winner of the nation), an Italian man, mid-twenties shouted:
"PUT DOWN YOUR MAP AND FOLLOW YOUR HEART!"
What a line. We laughed and asked for directions.
Back in April, at the Big Traveling Potluck, I was chatting with another blogger about this trip and she suggested that we take a cooking class in Florence. I immediately scoffed at the idea.
"I took two years of cooking classes at culinary school."
About a week later, my mom informed me that she signed us up for a cooking class in Florence. My immediate reaction was meh. Thinking back to my previous conversation, I had already dismissed the idea.
But then I thought about it...what's wrong with me? It's not like the time she signed us up for trash pick-up at school. I actually love to cook. And like any craft, there's always something new to be learned.
The bridge where I snapped the pic below was just right across the river from the in Tavola, the cooking school. My mom asked a man standing at the end of it to take our picture. His name was Romano and Romano was a local. The very first thing the three of us noticed were his eyes, which bounced off his navy suit. They were striking. Like that girl from National Geographic. My sister and I immediately hounded him for gelato recommendations.
He was very friendly- in the leather industry- and asked where we're from. He has a mailing list in Los Angeles of 45,000.
I asked again about the gelato and he marked a spot across the river and then questioned if we had checked out any of the leather.
"Right here. Forty percent off. You go to the 7th floor showroom."
Cool, we thought.
"How about jewelry? Here: wholesale prices. Not like on the bridge."
Then he got back onto leather.
"See that place right there. Don't talk to the man with the stomach standing there, he's grumpy. Some of the best purses in Florence. I can show you."
We started walking over and then it clicked. What a salesman.
He pointed out the fresca on the ceiling (the building was a former nunery), and then proceeded to tell my sister that the leather purse she had was gorgeous.
"The Spanish make some beautiful leather."
I didn't mention that I got it for her at a Barcelona subway stop.
The next evening was our four course cooking class at in Tavola. I honestly can't recommend it more.
There were five separate stations divided into about 4-5 people each. On the menu was: Vegetable Millefoglie (stacked eggplant, tomato and fontina baked), Turkey Crepes w/ Bechamel, Turkey with Herbs and Saffron and Tiramisu.
I'm not kidding you when I say that I was blown away by the quality of everything, soup to nuts. Francesco, our instructor, was a riot as well. I don't think many Italians realize how funny they are without trying. In a great way, of course.
Watching my mom cook is special.
We had the absolutely most fun group of people at our table that night. All girls and Stanley from Geoooooorgia. He, his wife, sister-in-law and niece were also in the middle of their trip, on their way to Naples that next morning. It was his very first time visiting Europe and we all discussed the towns and travel hurdles we've come across.
Stanley, with his draaaaawl, announced that he had a story:
"We were talking to this local guy about leather the other afternoon. He has a showroom not too far from here that makes beautiful goods."
We sat listening.
"On the same bridge we walked across to get here, we were taking pictures of Ponte Vecchio and he came over and asked if we'd like our picture taken. He was super friendly and started to write on our map of the shops we can get wholesale prices at."
We listened some more.
"Before I knew it. We were walking over to his shop."
His niece interjected: "Noooo, YOU walked over to his shop and we followed."
My mom, sister and I instantly freaked out.
"YOU MET ROMANO FROM JOHN F?! WE WENT TO JOHN F! "
We all BURSTED out laughing when we connected the dots. The other table thought we were nuts.
"And he showed you the fresca??? And the deer skin? 45,000 subscriptions??? Don't talk to the grumpy man in front!! But what stunning eyes!!"
It was the absolute best night and funniest moment of our trip.
Stanley and family: if you happen to stumble upon this post for whatever reason, send an email. We'd happily like to relive a dinner like that again.
Everyone: If you're ever in Florence, go to John F, ask for Romano and tell him the American suckers sent you.