I love the breakfasts served at European hotels. Not the typical eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy usually found at the La Quinta Inns in the States. Here it is usually a selection of cheeses, salted fatty cured meats with an assortment of breads and fruit; a perfect way to start the day. It would have been perfect, however, the hotel restaurant’s appalling lack of cappuccino was quite disturbing. The only option was brewed coffee with hot milk. Admittedly, the brewed coffee was quite good. Cappuccino addiction being what it is, I boarded the local bus for a ride into central Florence to find myself some elixir of the gods. Well, that, and to visit a few cultural icons just to make the day complete.
I have a day and a half to kill in Florence before the moto ride starts. A good way to kill some time is to visit the museums. With absolutely no preplanning or research in my part, I had convinced myself that the Galleria dell’Accademia, the museum where the statue of David lives, opened at 10:00 am. As I wanted to be first in line, I showed up promptly at 10:00 AM. The museum opens at 8:15 and by 10:00 AM the crowed waiting to get in was easily a thousand strong and counting. I did the only logical thing: I eschewed the museum and found a café overlooking the Arno river and the Ponte Vecchio and had another cappuccino and a pastry. It had been at least 30 minutes since my last cappuccino and I was getting desperate.The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge spanning the Arno River with shop space on either side of the bridge. Butchers and fishmongers initially occupied the shops. In 1565, Cosimo I de’ Medici had the Vasari Corridor built above the shops in order to connect the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s town hall) with the Palazzo Pitti (the Medici’s palace). Not caring for the smells emanating from the butcher and fish shops in the days before air conditioning and Febreze air freshener and odor remover, the Medici Grand Dukes prohibited odiferous merchants from the shops and replaced them with esthetically more pleasing gold merchants in 1593. To find the butcher and fishmongers today you have to go to the central marketplace. The fishmongers have been given their own corner of the market and you can smell them before you actually see them. I spent several hours at the market wandering the isles and taking in the sights, sounds and smells. I found zucchini with the faded blossoms still attached; the blossoms ready to be stuffed, lightly coated with flour/cornstarch and quickly fried to get a light crisp crust. Enough salted fatty cured meats and assortment of cheeses to give you a coronary just by looking at them. There were pastas, sweets and pastries of every imaginable kind. Upstairs are restaurants serving food made from the fresh meats, pasta and produce from below. Although I had recently eaten and wasn’t really hungry, I couldn’t help but get a plate of the Arugula gnocchi stuffed with prosciutto and served with an Asiago cheese sauce: Pasta balls of smoky porky goodness in cheese sauce. It really doesn’t get any better than that.