The Uffizi Gallery and Tuscan Pizza
On the first Sunday of the month, museums were free, but you needed a voucher to get a ticket. I was last in a mile-long line waiting for the voucher to the Uffizi Gallery.
There was nothing to do but people-watch.
Shaded from the afternoon sun, our line wrapped under the gallery’s overhang. Artists worked on the gallery steps, in between the columns of the building. Most created watercolor paintings of Florence’s famous monuments. One artist painted detailed birds. An older man inked caricatures.
The groups who already received their voucher sat on the steps, waiting to be called. Other tourists took photographs of the sculptures nestled within the length of the gallery. Armored security vehicles and soldiers with guns stood nearby the artists and observed the crowds.
About an hour and a half later, I finally reached the front of the building. I received a thin paper voucher which told me to come back at 4:30.
Airport Style Security
At 4:30, after wandering back over to the San Niccolò District, I received a real paper ticket, and entered the security line. We had our bags scanned and walked through metal detectors, looping around the room. Past the audio narration desk, we climbed several flights of wide, stone stairs to the top of the gallery.
The first half of the gallery was like any other museum. It had one grand room and several numbered archways leading to smaller galleries of work.
I viewed charcoal sketches and maps. I moved into the smaller rooms with oil paintings of Mary and Jesus, the seven virtues, and other religious works.
My photographs don’t do the artwork justice. They were vibrant and detailed. Their frames and wall mountings focused your attention on each piece throughout the room. The signs nearby helped provide context for the artist, era, and scene.
My Favorites from the Uffizi Gallery
I was thrilled to have seen The Birth of Venus in person. I cannot get over how gigantic these pieces were. Each of these famous works were set within their own wall, creating a double framing effect. Large groups swarmed these paintings, so I had to stand on my tippy-toes for a photo.
I don’t know the official name, but one section of the museum was an ornate hallway stretching on forever.
The main hallway featured sculptures and statues. Stepping through each archway brought you into elaborate rooms with gold ceilings and molding. Collections of paintings and portraits hung throughout the rooms.
At the very end of the hallway, the ceiling was painted like the sky — with vines and birds intertwined into the dome architecture. The visual illusion was unbelievable.
The Lower Level
I viewed most of the artwork on the upper floor. I followed the crowds down to the lower levels of the gallery. A voice over the loud-speaker told us we had 30-minutes until the museum closed.
30-minutes was barely enough time to exit the museum, let alone look at the galleries on the way out. Our group power-walked through the rooms, stopping only to read the descriptions of paintings that caught our eye.
These were two of the most memorable paintings for me. I loved the lighting in the first, which featured a dinner scene. The second, which I hadn’t seen before, is the famous painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes. It is an amazing piece. If you’d like to read more about the painting’s context and the artist click here.
I exited the museum onto a side street. It was dark outside. The street lights and open restaurant doorways lit the sidewalks. Other museum-goers sat on decorative, concrete orbs cemented in the sidewalk. They were waiting for their friends to exit the museum.
I sat down on an empty spot and pulled out my phone to see my dinner options. Unfortunately, my phone was not working. I could not access the internet or ping my location and check out some menus.
I was a bit panicked about how to find my way back towards the apartment. Luckily, all I had to do was look up over the roof-line and find the Duomo. I followed the streets until the Duomo was closer and closer. Then, I was in the plaza, where I had dinner the previous night.
I decided to wander the side streets here, looking for authentic dinner options.
Restaurants Near the Duomo
I was walking the streets, pausing to review the menus outside of the restaurants. An older waiter, who looked like a classic, Italian Maître d' came out to speak with me.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” He asked. I was considering homemade pasta, but their menu didn’t actually say “homemade.”
“Do you have homemade pasta?”
“Yes, we offer delicious pasta dishes.”
Not handmade or homemade pasta though... I thought. The waiter continued listing steak dishes and other Italian names I wasn’t familiar with, until he said pizza.
“Pizza?” He had my attention now. “Is your pizza too large for one person?” I made a shape of a normal NJ pizza with my hands.
“No, no — like this.” He indicated to a personal-sized pizza.
What the hell. It was dark outside and I was hungry. He had persuaded me to dine at his restaurant.
Gustavino Duomo Firenze
I entered the restaurant and was led through an archway, into a smaller dining room. I was seated at a two-top table against the wall that looked out the large front window.
A table of three was in the back left-hand side of this small room. A four-top table was across from me. The same waiter I talked to outside brought me a bottle of sparkling water and handed me a menu.
I flipped to the back page to pick a glass of red wine. Several pages of expensive bottles were available but I didn’t see any individual glass prices. When my waiter came back I asked him for a glass of whatever red wine Gustavino was known for.
The Interior Design
Gustavino was surprisingly modern. The tables were wooden like butcher-block with black chairs. A grey table running went across the middle. Large, grey-slate flooring and cross-hatched, rubber material covered the walls. Another waiter lit thin, white candles on everyone’s tables.
I couldn’t decide what appetizer to order. I knew for my entree I was going to get pizza or a pasta-dish. I wasn’t sure if I could eat a seafood/protein-heavy appetizer plus an entree. So I decided to order an appetizer I repeatedly saw on menus:
I was surprised when my appetizer soup was placed in front of me. It wasn’t the consistency of soup at all — more like a stew.
The featured texture for this “soup” is bread soaked in tomatoes. Diced and cooked within the stewed bread is celery, onion, and carrots.
The bread was in crouton-sized pieces. The texture was nearly mushy (from the tomato), but the outer edges of the croutons had the chew from the bread’s crust.
The soup was steaming hot, so I took my time — taking little spoonfuls of the dense bread. I finished nearly the whole bowl. It was more filling then I was expecting, as it was all carbs, but had a delicious, hearty flavor.
The Other Guests
A younger waiter who brought me my soup cleared the near-empty bowl. I sipped my wine (which was basically grape juice mixed with water), while I observed the room.
The song, “I Shot the Sheriff” played in the background. The table in the back left-hand corner was sharing a cutting board of sliced steak. Two artists across from me at the four-top table ate ossobuco. They told the waiter that they’ve been sitting and drawing Florence’s architecture all day.
Not long after finishing my appetizer, my personal-sized pizza arrived. My first impression was that it would be up-to-par with NJ/NY-style pizza.
The crust was both sturdy and thin — but not thin enough to be soggy from the ingredients.
Of course I had several toppings on my pizza. There was thinly slice salami with crispy outer edges. Generous amounts of ham on top of a layer of shredded mozzarella (though I would’ve loved slices of fresh mozzarella instead). Roasted mushrooms were sprinkled here-and-there.
There was an extra amount of a watery sauce in the middle of the pizza (which tasted like tomato puree). The rest of the sauce (between the ingredients and crust) tasted authentic and homemade.
“Hotel California” was playing in the background now. I finished almost half of my pizza. By this point I was full, so I left my silverware on the edge of my plate and sipped my wine.
It seems to be an Italian-thing that as long as there is food on you’re plate you’re left alone. I watched the artists get served their second course (of pasta). They inked on top of their drawings rather than talking. The one kept coughing — he might’ve been sick.
The table in the back finished their steak. The waiter who convinced me to try Gustavino was talking to them.
“Do you have a Trip Adviser account?” He asked.
Here we go again, I thought back to my first meal in Florence at Le Cappelle Medicee.
The one young man answered yes.
“If you leave a five-star review, and show me, I’ll give you free limoncello cake for dessert.” The waiter offered.
“Sure!” Free was free for this table. I watched them all jump on their phones and type away. When the waiter came back with the cake, they showed him their reviews, and he gave them the cake.
As I’ve said before — maybe this is how businesses survive in touristy areas. I was skeptical of the Trip Adviser badge in front window now, if this is how Gustavino Duomo Firenze gets their positive reviews.
I suggest if you visit Florence, to take the Trip Adviser reviews with a grain of salt. My meal at Gustavino was very good and reasonably priced. However, I would not limit myself to dining only at establishments that had large Trip Adviser reviews. Otherwise you may miss out on some spectacular dining options.
The Best Gelato of my Life
Ironically enough, I was not offered cake in exchange for a positive review. Which was fine, because I planned on visiting the gelato shop down the street for dessert.
I paid for my meal and carried my bags and pizza box back out towards the Duomo. I followed the curved road around the Duomo and down the Cathedral to the end of my street.
I stood at the open window of the dessert shop. A couple in front of me ordered waffle-cones with pistachio edges and two scoops of flavored gelato.
I knew I had to wrestle with the apartment door and juggle my bags — so I ordered a small cup of gelato. I went for my two favorite flavors: caramel and coffee.
I think my cup came to €5-8. By the time I walked down the street and up to my apartment, the gelato had melted halfway — spilling on top of the pizza box. I took this as a good sign (fresh, rich ingredients). The gelato texture was luscious. The caramel flavor was savory (not sugary sweet), and the coffee was bold like a cappuccino.
The small cup I bought was more than enough and worth the price. I hoped to go back before the end of the trip to try a cone and other flavors!
Wrapping up my Adventures in Florence
Coming soon to the blog is my last full day in Florence. It has been an amazing reflection writing and sharing my photos from this trip. I am sad to finishing writing about this experience — but my last day in Florence was one of the best days of my entire trip. Stay tuned for Florence | Day 4!