Subject: Florence Finds
Kirk and I recently returned from a wonderful couple of weeks in Florence. We had visited the city several times before, but this time was different - we planned to stay in an apartment, really LIVE in the city, and soak it in. We couldn't have been more pleased with our accommodations, and loved it so much that we want to return next year! Here are some of our favorite finds:

Palazzo Manaioni Residence Via Maffia 9 50125 Firenze tel +39.055.271741 fax +39.055.2717402 http://www.florenceresidence.it/

The great things about our little studio apartment?

Plenty of hot water and water pressure in the enclosed shower in the shiny new spacious bathroom. More electrical outlets than we've ever had in a place in Europe. Plenty of light, and two big windows, high ceilings, and old architectural treasures, such as a stone doorway, incorporated into the modern rooms. Good beds, nice linens (I always notice the sheets - Kirk calls me the princess and the pea). Good and warm - radiators in the rooms, and they kept offering us extra heaters (it was the coldest Christmas time in 20 years) but we didn't need them. The rooms have A/C available for warm months too. Next time we'll ask for a room on the garden side, overlooking the cloister of Santo Spirito Church. Luca Antonucci and his staff are all warm, welcoming, and so helpful. LOCATION - in the wonderful artisan-filled Oltrarno neighborhood, a block from the Arno. We walked everywhere (thrilled to get home and find that, although we ate so well, we didn't gain a pound - even lost a little!).

Restaurants-

Trattoria Mario, an old favorite near Mercato Centrale. We became regulars and they always found a spot for us at a crowded table. If you go, try to get there as close to noon as possible cause the tables fill fast. Read the menu posted by the kitchen - first courses in green, main in red. After enjoying your meal, tell the guy at the cash register behind the bar what you ate and drank, and he'll tell you what you owe. Great traditional Tuscan food, such as ribollita, tripe, pasta with a lemony artichoke sauce, and osso bucco on Saturdays -they're a member of Slow Food, yet their hearty ,delicious, and authentic dishes come to the table faster than you'd believe.Via Rosina 2r. Tel 055 21 85 50. Lunch only, closed Sunday

Rosticcería della Spada

We'd stop here after 7 pm (they open then for dinner) and pick up roasted chicken and vegetables, lasagne, or something else to take home . The smells wafting from our carryout bag made it hard to wait til we got home to eat.. Via della Spada is filled with wonderful little foodie places - we got to know the friendly, always busy fruit and vegetable vendors, bought crispy croccatini crackers across the street, and bread and pastries from the bakery. Via della Spada, Tel 055 21 87 57. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Osteria dei Pazzi

Another favorite that we returned to this visit. It's always a party at Paulo's place - he's singing, friends come in for New Years hugs and kisses, locals claim their favorite tables. Paolo offers a bargain 2 course Menu Turistico for 11 euros that includes delicious traditional specialties such as crostini toscana (with a flavorful chicken liver paté), and the best gnocchi a la gorgonzola we've ever tasted. Via dei Lavatoi 3r (on the corner of Via Verdi near Teatro Verdi) Te. 055 23 44 880. Closed Monday

La Martinicca

I like to take a different route back to the apartment every time to see different streets, and we noticed this restaurant one evening, and came back to try it out. Quiet and nicely decorated , this pretty place offers another bargain set menu - 3 delicious courses (including vegetables with the main course) and beverage for 25 euros. A consortium of three, Pino, Claudio, and chef Marco proudly La Martinicca. We enjoyed a delicious risotto with spring-fresh asparagus from Sicily, grilled fresh salmon, and a wonderful veal scallopini with white wine/wild mushroom sauce. Via del Sole 27r Tel 055 21 89 28. Lunch and Dinner, closed Sat. noon and Sunday, but open Sunday from March to September.

And for CHOCOLATE: Hemingway's, a hopping place on a quiet corner near the Brancacci Chapel with its breathtaking frescoes. Famous for the award winning Sette Velle Cake, a mouthwatering confection of seven layers of chocolate - each a different texture and intensity. Any beverage marked Hemingway comes with a perfect little stirring spoon of chocolate coated with cocoa that melts as you stir. I'm getting faint just remembering this place.Expensive, but worth every centéssimo. Piazza Piatellina 9r. Tel 055 28 47 81. Closed Monday

I can't continue without mentioning my personal chef, Kirk, who doesn't cook at home, but, inspired by Mario Eats Italy on the food network, and the fabulous choices at the market, concocted delicious pastas almost every day in the tiny kitchen corner of our apartment, spoiling me terribly. Now, home again, it's back to me in the kitchenJ

Gotta go cook dinner, but I will write about our cultural Florence Finds soon.

Anne in VA