Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Photography in Florence

One of Europe’s most majestic cities in terms of art, architecture and culture, Florence boasts an infinitive wealth of photographic opportunities. This blog aims to point visitors in the right direction with regards to making the most out of these opportunities with some basic tips.
The first part of this blog will mention the “must-see” attractions while in the future I aim to offer suggestions on some places that are off the tourist map. With a wealth of Florence rentals in the city centre it is possible to find rooftop views that are not as common as those taken from buildings with entry to the public.

The following examples are some of the must-see attractions in Florence:

Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio bridge is without doubt one of the most photographed landmarks in Florence. Some of the best views towards it are from along the river bank or from one of its neighbouring bridges.
The Ponte Santa Trinita is closer to the Ponte Vecchio than the Ponte Alle Grazie and is more favoured among photographers for this reason. It is well worth making two trips; both in the day or early morning and at night. In high season the early bird really does catch the worm, as by midday tourist numbers are so high that photographing the bridge can be difficult. The reflection of the buildings along the River Arno can be an enchanting sight and evening photo excursions are a must.

Il Duomo

The Basililica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the catedral of Florence. The building took over 400 hundred years to complete and was designed by architect Arnolfo di Cambio. The exterior façades of the building are faced in marble of and the octagonal dome is the largest masonry dome in the world. On a clear day it is worthwhile spending time to see how the light behaves at various times throughout the day. Due to the rich marble textures it is possible to achieve some impressive contrasts between light and dark with a fantastic blue sky backdrop. From the plaza of the Battistero di San Giovanni it is possible to achieve a composition that contains the Baptistery, Campanile and the Dome in the same photo. It is still possible to photograph inside the cathedral and the frescoes in the dome make an impressive composition though attention must be made to sunlight. Please note all photography within the building s must be carried out without the use of a flash.

Santa Croce

The Basilica de Santa Croce houses some of Florence’s most impressive frescoe paintings and contains the tombs of some of the most influential people from European history. The tombs of and monuments of Santa Croce include those to: Vittorio Alfieri, Charlotte Bonaparte, Dante, Galileo and Michaelangelo Buonarroti among others. The elaborately decorated tomb of Michaelangelo was decorated by Giorgio Vasari and is worth seeing at midday when it is illuminated at its best. The impressive facade of the building is also worth capturing, though an early morning visit is imperative to avoid snapping the hoards of tourist who are present on its large piazza from around mid morning.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Finding the perfect cappuccino in Florence

Cappuccino for breakfast in Italy can be equated with the British love for tea, as a means of starting the day. A popular drink the world over that arouses the senses through its aroma and flavor, the cappuccino is said to have been invented by a Franciscan monk in the 17th century. The love of espresso-based coffee is now so popular that the majority of apartments in Florence have their own espresso maker.
The basic formula for the cappuccino involves a shot of espresso that has steamed milk and foam added to it. The exact measures of each and the temperature of the milk play an important role in the final flavor, as does the type of coffee used, the origin and the roasting process that is involved.

The Italians have various preferences when ordering their cappuccino and the following translations should aid you when making your decision:
Un cappuccino con schiuma – Espresso with foam, often ordered with chocolate sprinkled on top
Un cappuccino senza schiuma- Espresso without foam
Un cappuccino caldo – Hot
Un cappuccino freddo – Cold
Un cappuccino tiepedo – Not cold, not hot, just right or quite literally tepid

It is likely that foreign visitors to Florence will be impressed by the standard of coffee in the many cafes and trattorias as it differs so greatly in comparison to generic high street franchises. The following suggestions offer some great stops to recharge your batteries with a well-deserved authentic caffeine hit during your day of activities.

Giubbe Rosse Gran Café Ristorante
This café was founded by the Reininghaus brothers, two German brothers who quickly established the café as a meeting point for Florence’s large German community. The café was popular as it supplied newspapers from all over the world to its clientele. Important writers and artists frequented the café and Alberto Viviani defines the Giubbe Rosse as the birthplace of the Futurist movement, which had an important impact on Italian culture. An impressive and good value brunch is on offer and the cappuccino is said to be one of the best in the centre, both of which can be enjoyed on the ample terrace
Piazza della Repubblica 13r-14r, Firenze

Café Gilli
Another popular Florence café for enjoying both a quick coffee or an authentic Florentine slow dining experience. The Gillia is one of Florence’s oldest coffee institutions with a traditional style interior and also boasts an atmospheric terrace space in Piazza della Republica. There are an impressive range of pastries on offer that form the perfect Florentine breakfast or midmorning snack when washed down with a quality cappuccino in a historic and ambient setting.
Piazza Della Repubblica, Firenze (FI)

This is a smaller and slightly more modern café in comparison to the previous two and is particularly popular for its vast range of hot drinks. Their clientele is around 60% tourists and 40 % locals which is a fairly high percentage of locals for a centrally located café, which is a good indicator of the quality. For Northern European and American tourists,the “aperi cena” which is a free buffet of light snacks that can be consumed when the client buys a drink, is a great way of filling up on an early meal if eating late is not your thing.
Via del Corso, Firenze

Monday, May 25, 2009

Gruesome gongs on in Florence

The monster of Florence has become a legendary tale that bore its ugly head around summertime all over Italy from the latter part of the sixties until the mid eighties. The story has enticed numerous travel writers to rent apartments in Florence in search of new material. The most famous of these was the author Thomas Harris of Silence of the Lambs fame. He was so inspired by a trial he attended and by the mystery in general that he based the sequel Hannibal in Florence.

The serial killer that has been tagged the Monster of Florence is believed to have begun his killing spree in the summer of 1968, when a young couple that were carrying out an adulterous relationship, were killed while parked in a car in the outlying Florence countryside while the woman’s son lay sleeping in the back of the car. The woman’s husband was subsequently jailed for the crime although he was later found innocent.

The next murder was carried out in 1981 in a similar rural beauty spot and involved the killing of a young couple using the same Beretta .22 pistol that had been used in the 1968 killing. Ballistic experts traced the ammunition as Winchester bullets that had been bought in Australia in the 1950’s.

From this point on, the killings occurred every year until 1985 and all followed the same pattern bar one. The killer targeted courting couples that were parked in quiet lanes around rural Florence. The only time that there was a marked difference in the pattern of killing was when two German tourists were killed in their van that was parked in a country lane. Police commented that the killer may have mistaken one of the men for a woman on account of his long hair.

Various trials have been carried out in search of the killer with countless people being taken into custody and investigated. While two men (Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti) remain incarcerated for the crimes committed in rural Florence there still remains a great air of mystery surrounding the story.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fine Florentine dining that won’t break the bank

Food lies at the heart of Italian culture and is one of the many enticing factors that attract the massive volume of tourists to its cities every year. The Tuscan kitchen is known as “cucina povera”, which literally translates as poor kitchen. The ethos of traditional Tuscan cooking is the use of fresh ingredients to create basic dishes that are wholesome and tasty, where preparation and process are fundamental to the outcome of each dish. It is essential to try some of the local cuisine during any trip to the Tuscan capital and this blog aims to offer a few suggestions for trying authentic and reasonably priced Florentine cuisine that will inspire you to try some cooking in your own Florence apartment.

Il Rifrullo
Situated in a charming and tranquil setting on the left side of the River Arno, Il Rufrullo boasts a picturesque garden that overlooks Florence’s medieval walls. The lunch menu offers an array of pasta dishes, traditional Tuscan soups, salads, hot and cold plates and a range of Tuscan specialties that are defined by the seasons. A popular favourite among locals is the Sunday brunch. It is still quite a novelty for a restaurant to open on Sunday in Florence and Il Rufrullo has catered for that market with its Sunday all you can eat buffet, which offers a vast range of foods both traditional and modern (5-15 € main course).
Il Rufrullo is located at via San Niccolò, 55, Florence.

Ristorante del Fagioli
This is a traditional family run restaurant that offers only traditional Tuscan fare. It is considered by many to be one of the best places in Florence to try the famous bistecca fiorentina. In traditional Tuscan style the menu is heavily influenced by the foods that are in season at that particular time. Other specialties include, arista di maiale al forno—very thinly cut slices of pork loin, seasoned with fried garlic and sage and involtini di Gigi—thin slices of beef stuffed with cheese, ham and artichokes, rolled, and braised in butter and olive oil. Antonio, the restaurant manager will be happy to offer you his suggestions and the whole family of staff are very friendly and eager to converse with the diners. For the quality of food and service provided, Ristorante del Faglioli offers some of the most reasonable prices in Florence. (5-15€ main course)
Corso Dei Tintori, 47/R Florence.
Check this video.

Osteria de' Benci
Another favourite among locals and regular visitors alike, the Osteria de´Benci features on the list of many gastronomy tourist’s itinerary. The menu selection is diverse while preserving a strong Tuscan influence. This is a particularly good choice for tourists that don’t speak much English as the friendly staff are on hand to help and offer their own personal suggestions. Marco Meneghini, creates a welcoming and authentic atmosphere and the surroundings are in a typical Florentine style. The grilled meats are of a very high standard as are the pasta dishes, which come highly recommended in many popular guides and online reviews. If you have room for desert after your meal then it is definitively worth trying, though due to the size of the portions here it is often impossible to even manage a coffee after the main meal! Very reasonably priced for the amount of food and very friendly staff ( main courses from 5-15€).
Via de' Benci 13r, Florence
Review of the Osteria.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Taste of the Tuscan Countryside in Florence - Le Cascine

Blending a love of the countryside with Florentine history and prestige dating back to the Medici era, the wonderful Le Cascine park is a favourite for Florence families and citizens. Pack your picnic in your Florence apartment and head over towards the Porta al Prato neighbourhood, to spend a day in the Le Cascine park along the river Arno.

Le Cascine, literally meaning “The Farmsteads” had its beginnings in Medici times, when the first Duke of Florence commissioned the land for cattle farming and a farm house in around 1530. This plan was to change after his death, when Cosimo I de Medici turned the vast area into private woodlands for the Medici family, turning the farmhouse into a mansion, creating boulevards and covering the area with new oak groves, pine, elm and maple trees. After the end of the Medici line in 1737, Le Cascine park was granted to the city of Florence and its public by the new Grand Duke of Tuscany.

In the last two centuries there have been many beautiful additions to the park. There are several squares and avenues, somel Neo-classical fountains, such as the Fonte di Narciso which was made famous by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and more modern features for enjoyment.

During the summer, the outdoor swimming pool and Pavionere bar makes a great spot for cooling off. Le Cascine is popular for joggers, horse-riding and biking. There’s also a hippodrome and ampitheatre space, which host events and productions over the milder months.
Florence’s biggest market also takes place in Le Cascine park every Tuesday morning, where you can buy fresh products, flowers, as well as clothing, shoes, jewellery and antiques.
Whatever your interests, the best thing to recommend in Le Cascine park is a relaxing day with a picnic and good company. The beauty of Tuscany can be found here in Florence’s finest park.

Friday, May 15, 2009

An alternative way to see Florence

There is a new way to see Florence that causing quite a stir of interest among the streets of the Centro Storico. Rather than a conventional walking tour, Segway tours have embraced cutting edge technology and offer a tour where visitors maneuver their way around the city on a self balancing electric vehicle. Segway Tours provide a totally unique adventure around the historic city centre which boasts an abundance of Florence apartments that are available for short term rentals.

The Segway PT was invented by Dean Kamen and is produced by Segway Inc who are based in New Hampshire, United States. The word Segway is derived from the Italian verb segue, which means to follow, the PT part stands for Personal Transporter.

In order to make the Segway move forward the user simply leans forward and to go backwards, leans back. The design incorporates a “lean steer” handlebar which enables the user to turn. It is driven by an electric motor and travels at a maximum speed of 12.5 miles per hour (20.1 km/h). In order to deal with the issue of tilting the designers have incorporated Gyroscopic sensors which cause the motors to respond and return the handle and foot plate to an upright position.

The Segway tours are given by professional guides who have been educated in Art, History and Languages. Users are given a 30 minute “orientation session” so that they can become acquainted with the functions of the Segway before embarking on the tour.

This is a totally unforgettable way to see Florence’s highlights and you will have enough energy after the tour to carry on your holiday activities. The tours can be booked online at the official website here:

Further Information
The Morning Tour Starts at 10:00 am *
The Afternoon Tour Starts at 3:00 pm *
*Given in English
From Monday to Saturday
15th of January - 31st of March: Available only the morning tours
1st of April - 31st of October: Available the morning and the afternoon tours
1st of November - 15th of December: Available only the morning tours
16th of December - 15th January: Not Available

Friday, May 8, 2009

Florentine Cuisine: Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Many restaurants in Florence specialise in this typical steak, Bistecca a la Fiorentina, also known as Porterhouse steak. If you want to cook at home in your Florence apartment and want to impress, here’s an easy guide to preparing your own Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Firstly you’ll need the right cuts at the macellaio (butchers). Bistecca alla Fiorentina uses local Chianina beef. These are huge white oxen raised in the Val di Chiana; their meat is tender and full of flavour.

You’ll need about 10 minutes to prepare the steaks and roughly half an hour to cook, depending on how rare or well-done you require the steaks.

Ingredients: Thick Chianina steaks, fresh cracked pepper and salt to taste.

Firstly, place the steaks in a hot grilled frying pan (if you do not have a charcoal grill) and let them sear briefly, then reduce the heat and cook slowly for a few minutes.

As soon as the steak will come off the grill easily, turn it and sprinkle salt over the grilled surface. After a few minutes on the other side, turn it again and apply salt on the surface. The seared surface will act as a barrier against the salt drawing moisture from the steak.

The next two turns of the steak should be for applying the fresh cracked pepper.

What’s important in cooking the steak is the first few minutes on high heat, to seal the exterior, followed by a constant medium heat to allow the steak to cook to your liking.

A 1-inch steak , for example, needs about 10 minutes if you want it rare, or medium about 15 minutes.

A 2-inch steak needs about 20 minutes rare and just over 25 minutes to become medium-cooked.

Bear in mind also that the steak will continue to cook a couple of minutes after you have removed it from the heat, so add a minute or two onto the estimated time for each steak. Also, if the meat has been kept at room temperature, it will cook a little faster.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina is best served in your Florence apartment, on the terrace or balcony, with a lemon wedge, a fresh green salad and a fine bottle of Chianti wine from your nearby enoteca (wine shop).