Subject: Recent Trip to Italy: Secondo Piatti (Florence and Tuscany, semi- long)
My wife would probably admit that everything in our trips is either prelude or postlude to Florence and Tuscany for her. We both got verklempt (touched with emotion) when we arrived at Santa Maria Novella Station. Those who read our posts on the Old Travel-L may recall that we previously stayed at the Hotel Nizza, a modest 2* pensione that became something special because its owners, Pierro and Roberto, stopped at a leather store owned by our friend Tony Baloney, owner of Oldtown Leather just on the Oltrano side of the Ponte Vecchio, ate at the Giglio Rosso ristorante, visited the Great Synagogue, had lunch at Piazzele Michaelangelo, and spent a lot of money at Vaggi's giolleria on the Ponte Vecchio. These are now almost part of a sacred ritual. One especially nice thing about our hotel was the number of nice tourists we met, especially a group from Baltimore. We revisited all of these sites, as well as some others that just missed these august levels, primarily Nuti's Pizzeria in the San Lorenzo area. Incidentally, for those curious about nuances in Italian, when you walk into a store they may say buon giorno (good day) along with prego (a universal term literally meaning I pray but meaning can I help you in this context). You know you have spent a lot when they say buon giornato (have a good day, all day long) as you leave. We took side trips to Lucca and San Gimignano after having been to Siena previously. We had not seen Tea with Mussolini, which we did on our return, but this adding frosting to San Gimignano's cake. My wife and I agree on ranking it first, Siena second, and Lucca a somewhat distant third (though, in fairness, we were in Lucca on a Sunday when most things were closed). All are easy and inexpensive to reach. We did not include Fiesole in that wonderful triumvirate because it is so close to Florence (you take a city bus from the side of Santa Maria Novella Station). It too is an experience not to be missed. In the past, we did most of our non-jewelry shopping at the Straw Market, which is near the Ponte Vecchio. The San Lorenzo Market, while larger, primarily seemed to house duplicate stalls at similar prices. It may be our imagination, but apparently, things have been a bit difficult for the stall owners in San Lorenzo because we seemed to get better deals there this time and hardly spent time in the Straw Market. Incidentally, churches throughout Italy are being fixed up for the celebration in 2000 so at the very least have scaffolding around them. Santa Maria Novella Church is basically closed to the public, but the great Duomo is not. A few things were mildly out of the ordinary. There was a march apparently led by the local communist party (as a sign of the times, it has been a while since I have seen the hammer and sickle flag), evidently protesting America's role in the former Yugoslavia. We also saw some graffiti aimed at both the US and NATO, but we never had any personal bad experiences. Second, a selective train strike was called the day we were to leave for Milan, and it was somewhat difficult finding out which trains were to be struck. As things turned out, some trains were cancelled, but the riders were put on others. Our train left a bit late but we otherwise not inconvenienced.

Ira H. Bernstein