This was a day for hurrying. We had to hurry to Antica Macelleria Cecchini and then we had to hurry from there. We were heading to Firenze (Florence), where we had only a limited time and wanted to make the most of it. I hate lines and try to avoid them at all costs. One place where I knew there would be lines, but I absolutely had to bring my son was the Cupola of Florence’s Duomo. The views from the top are outstanding and the trip both up and down an adventure. To facilitate matters, I purchased advance admission vouchers online for admission to La Cupola di Brunelleschi for admission at 4:30PM.
I drove like a demon to Florence with my GPS set for our hotel, The Hotel David, located across the Arno River from central Florence. One of the things that attracted me to the hotel was that parking is included in the price. Time was tight, especially as we closed in on the city and traffic increased. In addition, the sunshine of earlier in the day morphed into gray clouds. We made it to the hotel by 4PM. The location, which allows for parking, however, was a double-edged sword. We quickly checked in and brought our bags to the room and set out for the Duomo, officially known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori. We had a bit of a hike, but made it to the Cathedral by 4:30.
Unfortunately, it took us some time to find the entrance for the Cupola. As I had expected, there was a long long, slowly moving line, but no apparent separate entrance for vouchers. I learned a lesson here though, that would help me later on, though not at the moment. A vendor sent me to redeem my vouchers at another admission center for a related museum, which we did. What we should have done, at this point, was to simply bypass the line and go straight in to the Cupola entrance. Instead, not knowing that this was, in fact, the correct thing to do, we waited. There were vendors selling ArtFast Priority Entrance cards promising immediate admission to this and other sites for 15 Euros. With no time to waste and becoming increasingly frustrated, I bought them, even though I had already purchased tickets.
We did get immediate access. The vendor gave us our cards and simply told us to head to the front of the line. We swiped the cards and we were in to begin our climb. There are a lot of steep and narrow steps in the cupola. It is not for the acrophopic or those with heart conditions. Fortunately, there are a few interesting stops along the way including two just under the dome’s Dante-esque frescos,which happen to be the only truly interesting part of the otherwise, relatively barren interior of this cathedral.
At the top, we exited the interior to fresh air and marvelous views over Florence and its surrounding countryside. The feeling of being up there once again made the stresses of getting there worthwhile and I was once again able to finally relax.
Once we made our way back down from the dizzying heights of the cupola, we walked over to the Piazza della Signoria for a look at the replacement David (Michelangelo’s original is in the Accademia Museum) and the group of Renaissance statues featuring the Rape of the Sabines. We continued past The Uffizzi Galeries (unfortunately not on our itinerary this trip – we did not have sufficient time to do it justice) and over the Ponte Vecchio and its plethora of gold and jewelry shops before catching a cab back to the hotel to check-in and freshen up.After a quick turnaround, we took a cab back across the Arno River to the Teatro del Sale, a restaurant/theater from the mind of Fabio Picchi. This is a special membership club. To join cost me 6 Euros each for Michael and I, but then dinner cost thirty Euros for both of us.
The rooms of the Teatro are very atmospheric, reminding me a bit of Sleep No More at The McKittrick Hotel in NYC, but with one level only. We waited in an ante room that seemed to come from another era. Thanks to my friend, Peggy Markel, we had an introduction with Francesco, Fabio’s assistant, who saved a table for us right next to the open kitchen, where we had a grand view of the first theatrical production – the preparation of dinner.
I am not usually a big fan of buffets and truth be told, the way the diners handled themselves, here is one reason why. Each time new food came out, there was an anarchic rush to get it. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t enough food. There was plenty. Ordinarily, this would have ruined the evening for me, but in this place, on this night, it was simply part of the experience – and what an experience it was! The food was plentiful and most importantly quite delicious. It was just good Tuscan food done very, very well.
When items were ready, they were either handed over to a serving table for self-service or apportionment by some friendly assistants.
Other dishes, like fried bacalao, were plated and handed out directly from the kitchen pass by the Chef de Cuisine.
Whether the chef, Daniele Iorio, passed out the plates directly, or he passed a large pot to the assistants, he would chant out the dish to the diners (in Italian) to start the stampede.
Some notable dishes included stewed tripe, polenta, creamed broccoli, chick peas, arrosto of pork, lentils, roasted potatoes, a conglomeration of spit-roasted chickens, pork ribs, potatoes and sausage and dessert with straw cookies, amazing whipped cream and dense chocolate cake. Diners would bus their own plates (there were many) at a special window adjacent to the kitchen. Once dinner was over, the tables were cleared and the seats lined up in rosin front of a stage. The theater of the evening was a screening of three silent films, including Charlie Chaplin’s The Vagabond, accompanied by a live piano improvisation. This was actually quite riveting with each film taking about 20 minutes. We left quite satisfied and took a cab back to the hotel as the weather had turned into a misty rain.