Garden of Olives
Do you want to hold my hand?
Elle was enjoying my discomfort a bit too much. It was a bumpy decent in a little plane. I gazed out the window braced strongly to my seat.
She faux marveled- It's just like in the Olive Garden commercials..
About a week before she had shown up on my little street in Gracía while I was embarrassingly enjoying an orange juice around the corner, in what was a quickly planned, short notice, and delightfully welcome last minute visit. She amused herself herself with some tours of Barcelona and a trip to Madrid, but this weekend was really her coup de gras. We had a spectacularly romantic weekend lined up, joking (mostly) that it was to celebrate our four year friendiverssary. A three day weekend for two in Florence, Florencía, Firenze.
In front of us lay an itinerary to rival the best of honeymooners- a tour of the romantic renaissance museos, a pasta making cooking course, and wine tour of the Chianti region before jetting back in time for work Monday morning. Oh plus the sweet consultant perks of staying in the St. Regis on the canal. I had to hand it to Elle.
We very nearly missed our flight to Florence. I mean really though, no one wants to be the first on the plane. And I guess that long line waiting to board wasn't for our flight. We were scolded in Spanish by the air crew and bussed to the runway.
As our plane tumultuously descended, I was glued to the window. Looking at the Italy I had dreamed of seeing since watching Only You with Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Junior as a kid. (Yea I admitted that)
This was museum day, featuring the Uffizi and Galleria dell'Accademia.
Museums are fine, and I appreciate art as much as the next person, but I didn't anticipate the first sighting of David. You see the magnets, the postcards, and hear about the personification of the perfect form of man. But the sheer exactness of his lifelikeness of perfection made from stone- I couldn't tear my eyes away. Fixed from the veins in his arm, neck, anticipating a pulse. What a long time to be standing still.
I waiting too long to write this blog and don't really remember what we did for dinner.
Ah. Yes. The St. Regis Florence tried to convince me via a fancy meal (Chicken 9 ways) to drink warm chicken broth with beer foam on top. Chicken Beer they called it. Phooey I call it.
I don't think these are inherently set up to be a competition- but leave no doubt, Elle and I totally won. It was us, some Australian family, and a couple of couples.
Our Ravioli was not only the highest quality, but finished first. Not to mention the egg pasta wasn't too dry, or too wet. Right on the first try.
Of course we sampled our wares at the end of class. Our instructor whose name by this point I don't remember served us with a Bon Apetit! He asked us around the table what we say in each of our countries. Most didn't know, and Elle insisted in the US we say Bon Apetit as well.
'DIG IN' was my contribution. Good ol 'Merica
After our wandering and my brief interception with an elderly aisian woman, Elle took a rest back at the hotel and I went for an evening stroll around Florence. In memory this also blends in with my solo breakfast walkabout the next morning.
I preferred the other Florence on the far side of the Canal- there were less tourist shops and stands and open air markets. It would still be a stretch to say this was a glimpse of original Florence, but something about a girl gabbing at the retro music themed bar counter and enjoying a smoke between customers, or an old Italian man proudly introducing me to his chihuahua, Arturo, felt authentically anywhere.
The sun went down on Florence as I headed back to the St. Regis on the water. I
That evening Elle and I grabbed dinner with some of her friends from Chicago who also happened to be in Florence (it has actually amazed me how frequently people seem to find each other in the least obvious corners of the world while traveling). We met in a busy square to go to a trendy restaurant called Tamero'. The handmade pasta was delicious and I accidentally made our waiter uncomfortable and after dinner I fell through a front window display trying to make a joke to Elle. All in all a success
Elle and I were to meet the rest of the wine tour and our guide that morning in one of the less central plazas. The walk was a bit longer than expected, so we had to be almost late to stop for a couple croissants and bottles of water. The key to a successful wine tour is water. Always be prepared.
As was expected, we were the only non-couple in the big Van. And we were also the only ones that actively forced ourselves to the front seats so we wouldn't get carsick (in hindsight we should have saved that card for the end of the day).
Our very first stop was the Piazzale Michelangelo for views of Florence. Once all photos from the view were taken to death, we all packed back into the Van to get on to the wine
The first Vineyard was owned by a man with Royal Italian heritage and a penchant for flattery. Aside from his stunning Villa the highlight of this stop was the fresh pressed olive oil- Elle and I buckled and had a case of wine and olive oil shipped back home from here...we weren't starting with iron wills here.
The highlight of the wine tour was undoubtedly the third and final vineyard. A big friendly Bernese mountain dog came ambling to the hot and half drunken crowd unloading from the van and patiently presented herself for pets. Agata.
The son of the owner and head winemaker took us through the vines for a tour of the grapes and explanation of varieties. It was hot and we climbed pitifully back up the hillside to the table set with chocolate, salami, and crackers.
By now I was hot and headaching and accidentally drunk, so aside from the bathroom full of kittens, one memory from this spot stands especially vivid. We had made our way through the whites and lighter reds and were watching #5 fill glasses around the table. A cabernet blend.
Curled over his glass at the end of the table, swirling and lost in his own world, the wine master took in his own creation. As our guide explained to us the flavors and grapes, she began to say something about how the wine was really quite nice when he utters a "Fantastico" and sips, unaware of the eyes on him. It was just him and that glass of wine in that moment. Hearing the fervor of his Fantastico, I felt almost as if I were intruding.
After the winding drive back to the city center, I was more than ready to be out of our crowded van- and Elle and I had lost shotgun privileges.
We had a couple hours left before our flight back to Barcelona, but after our scolding on the way here I was nervous and insisted we get there with a bit of time to spare.
It was the wrong decision- let the record show.
The Florence airport smells like a port-a-potty and is crowded to the gills, with the only waiting area the greasy food court filled with screaming kids. My wine headache was very real now, so in the corner I found a place to put my head down and wait for death to find me. Fortunately first, Elle found me with a slice of greasy airport pizza.