September 9 - 23, 2006
TIP: The Coop in Borgo San Lorezo is great! The produce and baked goods in the supermarkets are incredible. Just a mile or so from the Villa was a small organic market which I purchased our desserts and cheeses. They must have 50 or so Pecorinos and the Tiramisu was so light and creamy, even as a chef, I could not have made it that good.
Every afternoon, one brother brought back wine from the winery he visited that day and I made crostinis for happy hour. The eight of us together as a family is what my mom wanted for this trip and Casa dei Frati was just perfect for that. The Coop has Toscana Spread which was chicken liver based and the local tomatoes were so incredible, that simply chopped and seasoned with a bit of olive oil, S&P and some garlic was just perfect with fresh toasted bread for afternoon nibbling.
Once you get used to the twisting roads and the motorcycles, driving can be a lot of fun. One day, we went up into the mountains and came across the tiny town of Skia where had the best meal of the trip in a little cafe on the main square. I had the lasagna and my husband had the gnocchi and for 10 Euros, it was absolute best meal we ever experienced.
When we left it was around 1:30 and the entire town was closed. It was almost eerie walking around, middle of the week, middle of the afternoon and the only souls to be found were the men at a another cafe smoking cigars drinking espressos. I personally can't imagine taking three hours off in the middle of the day for lunch and a nap, but when you see how genuinely peaceful and happy the Italians are, it makes you wonder.
We spent a few days going into Florence and I found the best shopping at the Straw Market off the Piazza de Republica. I can't stress enough that Florence must be experienced on foot. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is a city where everywhere you look is beautiful architecture and art. Plus the scooters everywhere make driving hellish. TIP: Take the train from Dicamano, which is about 3 miles from the Villa into Florence. Trains run every half hour or so and takes you right into downtown.
One restaurant we did go to in Florence which you must go to and I can believe I don't remember the name, but it is right next to Trattoria Z (A?-Z? at the Mercato di San Lorenzo (Mercato Centrale). Our waiter was from Hungary and made the best recommendations. Outstanding dinner. This piazza is off the beaten path so most of the diners where natives. There is an underground parking lot here so if you did decide to drive into Florence, this would be a great place to park and explore the surrounding areas. TIP: At the Galleria dell'Accademia is the statue of David and on Tuesday nights after 7pm, admission is FREE. People line up at 6, but the Gallery is open until 10, so if you go around 8, you'll have no wait.
The market off the Duomo was great for chotchke shopping and gifts to bring home. One regret is that I didn't buy anything for the ceramica vendor in that market. I drove all over Tuscany looking for a deal as I was hoping to buy a complete dinner set, and oddly enough, the shop in the marketplace was the best deal.
One thing that Tuscany, or I guess all of Italy is known for are the open air markets. Saturday was market day in Dicamano. The vendors are only there in the mornings and this is where Tuscans do their shopping. Clothes, housewares, everything can be found there. Imagine the stores your local mega-mall and that is basically what is there, just on a smaller, more quaint scale.
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