April 27, Florence
While Bud and Gingy visited the Uffizi art gallery, Leslie and I headed the opposite direction down via del Corso at the suggestion of our host, Raffaella. We stopped in at the Florence Museum of Illusions - the optical and physical kind, not magic tricks - where visitors are encouraged to touch and put themselves into the illusions. Some I was familiar with but there were some I was not. Perhaps our favorite illusion was the simplest - a wooden frame with a grid of wire fencing mounted inside. You place your hands on either side of the grid, touching lightly, and slide your hands back and forth. It feels silky smooth, as if you were sliding on a plastic sheet.
There were holograms, various tricks with polarized light, and a lot of optical illusions that played tricks with your mind. A small room was furnished in a way that looked like it was rotated 90 degrees. You could lean against the "floor" and, with a picture similarly rotated, have it look as if you were standing on your head. I didn't quite do this convincingly, but it was fun nonetheless.
Afterward we did some grocery shopping - fruits are quite expensive, but bread and wine is not. We then bought some delicious "street food" sandwiches to take back to the apartment for lunch, accompanied by some quite-decent boxed wine from the grocery store.
April 28, Florence
In the morning, we strolled across the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry.
Continuing, we visited the Boboli Gardens at Pitti Palace (we didn't tour the palace itself.) The gardens were mostly hedges, with very few flowers in view.
Partway up the hill there is Neptune's Fountain, a sculpture in the middle of a fountain pond (the fountain was not running). The pond did have a family of ducks, with mom, dad and eight ducklings, of which several were following dad around.
There was also a "grotto" which had some exquisite carvings, but they would have been easier to see if there had not been construction barriers nearby.
Leaving the gardens, we walked back to Le Volpi e L'Uva (The foxes and the grapes), which Toni of the food tour had recommended. Their specialty is warm crostini, and we got several kinds, all delicious. By this time the tour groups were out in full force, making crowded streets even busier. A bit more grocery shopping, then back to the apartment.
April 29, Florence
Having heard the frequent bell-ringing of the nearby Cattedrale di Santa Maria Del Fiore, or "Duomo" as it is generally referred, we went to visit it today. It's a typical Roman Catholic cathedral with over-the-top busywork sculptures and architectural features. The design of the dome, which for hundreds of years was the largest in the world (so says Wikipedia), was the result of a competition between two engineers, and involves some clever and unusual techniques.
One can go up into the dome and walk on an outside catwalk (we could see people doing this from our apartment), but we were not going to do that. The basilica was typical, and even a bit understated compared to some we have seen. Every time I go into one of these cathedrals, with its elaborate artwork, gold and silver, I am reminded at how much money was siphoned off from the local economy to build and decorate these structures.
Leaving the Duomo for now, we returned to Osteria del Porcellino, the restaurant Leslie and I had been directed to during our brief visit to Florence last September. It was busier than it had been then, but we got a table right away and had another delicious meal. Leslie again had "Spaghetti with clams, garlic and parsley", which she had been looking forward to. I had a beef entrecôte (steak) with seasoned and crispy potato wedges. For dessert three of us had Cantucci - a Tuscan specialty with almond biscuits you dip in a glass of Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine. I first had this here last year and made sure to order it wherever I could afterward, but this Florence version was the best.
April 30, Florence
The only thing on our agenda today was to return to Osteria del Porcellino for lunch. As appetizer we had fried Brie with seasame (which we had the day before), a salad of Feta, mango and basil, and a Florentine steak which more than served all four of us, It was all delicious, accompanied by the house Tuscan Chianti. For dessert each of us had the Cantucci. One thing we observed was that locals tended to eat inside the dining room (as Leslie and I had done the previous year), while the outside tables (semi-enclosed) were where tourists tended to sit. Inside there were families with young children, and even a dog, all enjoying the food, service and ambience.
Afterward we returned to Perché No!, the Gelateria that Toni had brought us to the first day. The line was out the door with locals, but it moved quickly, and the gelato was just as good as it was before.