The Foodie's Journey to Florence, Italy
Part 1 | Pre-Food Review
Part of my adventures in Europe were navigating flights and taxis or cultural and language barriers. While this is a food blog, I feel it’s important to share all of these travel experiences, which help shape the dining experience.
The Foodie’s Journey to Florence explains (for context), how I traveled from Amsterdam to Florence and (more importantly) what it was like to finally fulfill my goal of traveling to Italy.
While there are some foodie moments, this post shows more of Florence as a city. The food review of my first meal in Florence comes in Part 2. You can read the food review for Part 2: Chianti and Cheese | Le Cappelle Medicee here.
The Foodie’s Journey to Florence, Italy
I was up at 4:00 am, the morning of Day 3 in Europe. I needed to get back to Schiphol Airport for my 7:00 am flight.
I was worried about the timing of the trams and trains. I’m glad I was overly cautious, as the Hoofdweg trams were not operating. My options were:
Take three different buses for a total of an hour travel time (and potentially miss my flight) or
Walk a mile or so away from the direction of Sloterdijk train station to catch a different tram
So there I was, walking the dark, empty streets trying not to catch my neon orange suitcase on the sidewalk cracks.
My GPS wanted me to take a curved route through apartment complexes and their courtyards. I peeked down the route: It was like walking into a black-hole. This is how I get murdered, I thought.
I decided to take the longer route (avoiding murder-alley) I walked parallel to the main road before turning left onto the side street. Taxi drivers slowed down behind me and shouted across the bike lane, “Airport?”
I waved to them to keep going, “I’m good.” I was sweating under my two jackets and scarf, but I wasn’t going to waste €40 on a taxi ride.
Goldilocks and the Three Tram Stops
Finally, I saw the tram stop — two metal benches under a silver overhang. Some speckled street lights warmed the wide streets. Bikes lined the sidewalk in front of the apartments. A garbage truck raced down the street.
There was a little old man already sitting on the end of the bench. He wore a button up shirt, wool hat, and khaki pants. I stood beside him, looking up at the digital tram schedule. I still had 15-minutes before my tram came, but I wanted to confirm I was in the right location.
“Excuse me, sir.” I got the man’s attention. “Are we here?” I pointed to the stop’s name on my phone screen. The man looked.
“Sorry, I can’t...” He pointed to his eyes.
“No problem!” I turned back to the app. The app’s location showed that I was near the tram stop, but not at it.
Should I continue down the road? I craned my head out into the street. A bend in the road hid any further stops from my vision.
Unsure of the tram’s direction, I crossed the street and continued down the residential road. I made it to the second tram stop. Morning bikers glided past me, the metal sound of their pedals echoing around the street. I checked the app to confirm my location and it still showed that I was far away from the final destination.
Are you kidding?! I could see one last tram stop a little while down the street. I sighed and resigned myself to get there. When I did — I checked its digital board and my phone. Finally, both locations were accurate.
Thank god. I sighed. The digital board showed that the first tram going to Sloterdijk train station was cancelled. Luckily, there was another tram 10 minutes behind it.
As I waited, people from the apartments stepped out and crossed the street. That’s convenient.
There was another girl with a suitcase who stood next to me. Most of the people at the tram stop were men of varying ages, wearing either suits or construction gear.
When in Doubt, Follow the Crowd
I managed to get on the correct tram, and Sloterdijk was the last stop. It was only a 10 minute ride before everyone got off.
It was still dark out when I stepped onto the sidewalk. I was disoriented as to which direction the train station was — since several large buildings with lack of signage were throughout the area.
I followed the majority of people diagonal across the parking lot, until I recognized the staircase that I trudged down when I first arrived in Amsterdam.
30 minutes later I was finally at the airport — where I breezed through security and spent the next hour or so writing in my journal before my flight.
KLM | Free Snacks
I settled into my window seat, which was narrower than I experienced on my Icelandair flight. A woman in her upper 50s with a white bob had the aisle seat. She read a romance novel and told me about her world travels. She had worked for a cruise line. For this vacation, she was traveling with a group of ladies who were going on a tour of Italy.
The flight attendants came around and offered us snack-sized, cardboard boxes decorated with Dutch houses. Inside were a shot-sized mineral water and a chilled Dutch pound cake.
Considering I slept straight through all of my other flights, I was happy a.) To get free food and b.) Not peanuts or pretzels.
The pound cake was delicious, which was shocking for airplane snacks. It was almondy and moist. It wasn’t frozen but it was chilled, so I wonder if it was stored in the freezer and then defrosted for serving. Since I didn’t have breakfast, this was a nice treat to hold me over.
I drank the mineral water in a shot, since the stewardess was collecting all the garbage. I didn’t want any trash left on my tray.
Thank god I drank it in one gulp because it was the most bitter, terrible water I ever had in my life. You’d think mineral water was going to be refreshing and swanky — but no, it tasted like chemicals.
As I mentioned in my other post about flying into Amsterdam, I could tell as we descended into Florence that I was going to love it.
I took a break from writing because we hit some turbulence and I was getting nauseous. I looked out the window — the sky was the brightest swatch of blue. Clouds were here-and-there in a transparent layer, but in between patches I wondered: Is that another layer of clouds too?
The woman next to me nodded to them, “That’s the Swiss Alps.”
I looked more closely. I had mistaken the sharp mountain ridges with their snow-capped tops for clouds.
I swooned: Is this real? Is this my life?
I snapped photos with my iPhone (my Canon was overhead in the storage bin), so here’s a photo that does not do it justice, but gives you an idea of the brilliant mountains,
Hills, Vineyards, and Everything Tuscany
Jamie and I watched Under the Tuscan Sun (my first time seeing it), a few months before I left for Italy. So I had a bit of an idea of what to expect from the Italian landscape.
You’d think Hollywood exaggerated the movie’s landscape to reflect the romantic plot — but they didn’t!
I was in love with Florence before the plane touched down.
We descended over the rolling hills (how cliché!) but there is no other way to describe them. The hills were waves of rich golden color with patches of green. The stucco orange-and-cream houses with their Spanish-style roofs sat high on the hills — overlooking vineyards and their own gardens.
In the distance, tall mountains framed the countryside. Ahead and to the left, the chaos of the city landscape came into view.
Outskirts of Florence
Flying closer and closer to Florence airport I noticed the grunge of the outskirts of the neighborhood. There was going to be a contrast in socioeconomic status, I expected.
We landed hard on a tiny runway. This is why we secure our luggage, I thought, as I strained forward against my seat-belt. When the plane parked, we grabbed our carry-on’s and climbed down, walking into the airport.
An Airport I could Navigate
The lower level of the airport seemed minuscule compared to Newark and Schiphol. I was already hot, since the baggage-claim had no AC and I was dressed for winter.
The baggage belt was one small loop with two flat screen TVs mounted in the middle. To keep us occupied, they played perfume ads and informed travelers of routes to other nearby cities.
We waited for 20-minutes for our luggage to appear (since our plane landed early). It was now 9:00 am and I was going to be early for my check-in.
I secured my bags earlier than most — after an Asian woman hit me with her giant suitcase, I made my way out of the airport.
“DeLuca, to Florence!”
I exited the airport and walked the length of the sidewalk to the side of the building. Another couple ahead of me claimed the parked taxi so I waited for another one to come in off the highway.
A woman who looked like Carina DeLuca from Grey’s pulled up in a small hatchback. She placed my luggage in the trunk and asked for the address. I pointed to the address on my phone, rather than butcher the Italian street name.
The driver recognized it immediately: “Oh, of course, Ricasoli.”
She didn’t use her GPS as she sped off — driving down a two-lane highway. We passed stucco hotels and gas stations. This neighborhood wasn’t the ornate or famous architecture you see when you Google “Florence, Italy.”
My taxi driver wove through traffic — almost on the shoulder — taking sharp turns while avoiding pedestrians. The closer we got to our destination (I was GPS-ing it as she drove), the narrower the streets became.
Finally, she slowed down to turn left onto a cobbled street but stopped. Metal poles blocked the entrance of the road.
“Ah, this is as far as I can go. Buildings on the left count 12, 10, 8 — Ricasoli 8.”
I paid her €23, collected my luggage, and tried to drag my suitcase down the slanted sidewalk to Ricasoli 8.
The Best Airbnb of my Travels
I could see Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore peeking through the buildings at the end of the road. I tried to avoid the tourists as I counted the building numbers.
I found Ricasoli 8, just as the taxi driver said.
The exterior door was twenty feet tall and colossal, with metal lion door knockers. I rang the doorbell for my apartment and waited for my host to greet me. Her name was Azadeh. She was short and thin with long, thick hair. She was a born and bred Florentine.
I learned about the 3 keys I needed to use to get into the apartment. Barely breathing as she strung together her sentences, I received a tour of the space — a gorgeous studio with a white kitchenette and private bathroom.
The City of Florence
Azadeh provided a binder of maps, recommendations, and transit directions. I used the several chargers she provided and I googled the restaurants she recommended. When I found one I liked, I mapped the route, locked the apartment, and stepped back out onto Ricasoli.
Ricasoli ended and the road opened into the square with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Battistero di San Giovanni, Piazza del Duomo and Giotto's Bell Tower all in one area.
I couldn’t get over the architecture.
Every inch of the cathedral and Duomo were covered in molding and details. Marble statues rested within the sides of the building and over the doorways.
The cathedral and Duomo were so large, you couldn’t take an entire photo of it unless you were standing far away.
Every time I walked past the cathedral I snapped a photo. It was unbelievable to stand in its shadow. Even now as I write this, I can’t believe I saw it in person.
Cobblestones & Street Art
I followed my GPS past storefronts of brand-name clothing, watches, and leather shoes. The intersections and roads were so angled and sharp that I found myself moving in the wrong direction — away from the restaurant.
The farther I walked, the shopping options thinned out. The buildings turned into smaller, private businesses like convenience or liquor stores. There were fewer tourists walking in this direction, due to the limited number of hotels and monuments to see.
Finally, my destination was on the right, a yellowy-cream colored stucco building. A group of three people, around my age, stood outside the restaurant talking about their meal.
I looked in the front window. The front doors were locked. Apparently the restaurant hours were 11-3 and 5-11:00. It was 3:30 and I just missed the lunchtime window.
I sighed. All I had today to eat was the pound cake and mineral water. I stood nearby the group and researched other nearby restaurants. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants closed from 3-5:00 pm.
I decided to turn left and walk towards the Arno River. Along the way, I hoped to learn the area, see some monuments, and find a restaurant for an early dinner.
A Modern Trattoria
At some point, I ended up in the Piazza di San Lorenzo. To the right was the length of open storefronts — gelato shops, stores of leather purses, souvenir shops, and other restaurants.
To my left was the Basilica di San Lorenzo and Cappelle Medicee. Built it 1419, the Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the largest churches in Florence. It is in the middle of the market district and burial place of the Medici family.
There was a restaurant that overlooked the corner lot of the Piazza di San Lorenzo. Large, black grid windows framed this view for its diners, while showcasing the restaurants elegant interior.
I read their two-page menu. Like New York City, the restaurants presented their menus from the sidewalk or buildings’ exterior.
What caught my eye about this quaint restaurant, was its unique twist on traditional Florentine dishes. They were already serving guests, which was a good sign that they would sit me for a 4:30 dinner.
I stepped up the stone step and into the tiny space. There was barely enough room for an older waiter to pass towards the kitchen and for me to stand in the foyer. He stood in front of the kitchen door and waited for me to speak.
“Hello, table for one?” I asked. I looked to my left. The dining room could probably seat 18 people, plus the long bar going the length of the room.
The older man looked out at the dining room before catching the bartender’s attention. They exchanged dialogue in Italian before the bartender answered in English, “Only tables for 3.”
I could see there were 2-top tables with couples. I assumed they didn’t want to waste their limited seating on a single diner. “Okay, thanks.”
Disappointed, I exited back into the Piazza. Are all of the restaurants going to give me a hard time as a single guest?
I walked the wide sidewalk. The road curved to the left, featuring the restaurant’s open doors and their patio seating.
I took a seat on the lip of the Piazza steps. To my left was a fenced off area with wooden boards nailed to the gate. More street art appeared on the outside of the board. I laughed as I snapped a photo before returning back to my restaurant search.
The Piazza made this a touristy area. Plus, the steps to the buildings were a popular place to rest. I found that the restaurants that looped this area had near-identical menus. The only difference was their prices and entree varieties.
My First Meal in Florence
I narrowed my dining options down to two restaurants: one yellow stucco restaurant on the corner, and a smaller stone restaurant sandwiched in between others across from the Basilica.
I studied their store fronts and interior design. I decided to visit the smaller restaurant, as it had a warm exterior, with vines and foliage hanging from the tops of the doorway — which was open…
Part 2 | Chianti and Cheese Now Available!
Day 3 in Florence is over 10 pages, so I decided to keep the food review separate from my travels. You can read Part 2, which focuses on my first meal in Florence, here.