Are you still out there, dear, gentle reader? I know I’ve been neglectful over the last couple of weeks, but typing has been very difficult for me. I have a sad and sorry tale about that and I’ll tell all further down on the page, but first let me share a little of our time in gorgeous Florence with you.
Our Christmas in Florence was as wonderful as I’d hoped for and just about as different from our traditional Australian Christmas as we could get. As in Rome, we stayed in an apartment. This one was a three bedroom, two bathroom serviced apartment in the heart of the city. One of a group of apartments in a fourteenth century Florence residence, the Palazzo Belfiore is just a two minute walk from the Pitti Palace and the Ponte Vecchio on one side and and the residential area around Santo Spirito on the other. The apartment was recently renovated and delightfully decorated, came well equipped with everything that a family could need and the manager of the property, Federico, is one of the most helpful and engaging hosts I have come across.
The weather was deliciously cold (although not snowy, which disappointed us just a little) and our Christmas began with a family dinner on Christmas eve, chocolate on Christmas morning (some things don’t change) and a slow start, lying in bed listening the the bells joyfully pealing out across the city. Once again, we enjoyed plenty of fabulous food and wine in Florence, but for Christmas dinner I kept things simple – mostly because I had no intention of working in the kitchen all day. I had bought a special bottle of prosecco and we picnicked on fresh, crusty bread, cheeses, cured meats, olives and more chocolate – which seemed to suit everyone.
Perhaps the most remarkable meal of this trip was the evening spent at Buca Lapi when The Bloke and our son enthusiastically indulged in the quintessential Florentine speciality and ultimate meat-lovers fantasy (vegans, now is probably a good time for you to go and rinse your beans sprouts or check to see if your cashew cheese is setting) – bistecca.
A classic dish that reflects the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine, bistecca is a huge slab of thickly cut T bone steak which is barely char-grilled to medium-rare, generally served with nothing more than salt, pepper and some good olive oil and not for the faint-hearted. It takes commitment to get through these big boys. Bistecca is generally sourced from the beautiful, snowy Chianina cattle which hale from a valley near Siena called val di Chiana and which are one of the largest and oldest cattle breeds in the world. Founded in 1880, Buca Lapi is the oldest restaurant in Florence, so they definitely know what they are doing with their bistecca, which sits proudly out on a marble slab in their open kitchen. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get a shot of the cooked product before my boys dived in, knives slashing and flashing. The Bloke flagged a little towards the end, but his son was there to pick up the slack and that meal has been deemed the culinary high point for both of them in Florence.
On Boxing day we waved off our two elder kids as they headed for their own adventures and we caught the train to Pisa to check out that famous leaning tower before catching a flight to Spain – and this is where my story gets very sad. We taxied to the tower and in almost movie-star fashion (except, you know, plainer, fatter, older and with an astonishing lack of grace or co-ordination) I spectacularly exited the cab – face-first onto the slippery, rain slicked Pisa pavement.
The resultant broken and damaged face, teeth, arm and knee were not something I had factored into my carefully-laid holiday plans. Nor were the subsequent ambulance ride, seven hour hospital stay, x rays, heavy and cumbersome shoulder-to-finger plaster of Paris cast on my right arm, GP visits in Spain and London, costly London orthopaedic surgeon visit and the extensive schedule of doctor, dentist, physiotherapist and more orthopaedic surgeon visits I have now to fit into my diary when I get home. There is a salutory lesson for all potential tourists in this painful saga, contained in just two words – travel insurance. Don’t leave home without it.
And I never got to see that bloody tower.