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Italy, Monday morning, October 5, 7:40 am-9 hours ahead of PDT

Happy Birthday Katie! It is still Sunday where you are and since I was unable to call you I wanted to give you a shout out right away.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning we went to the Uffizi gallery at 10 am for our reservation. Good thing, too, since the line was very long and we would have waited a couple of hours to get in. The Uffizi (formerly the palace offices for the Medici family, who reigned in Florence) which houses works by Signorelli, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Boticelli, and many more. You are probably familiar with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and his Primavera… both very large in size, fronted by 3 inches of glass, and surrounded by throngs of tourists listening to guides in many languages. I learned 2 things while we were there: 1) going back to revisit these masterpieces was not the thrill I thought it would be the second time around. And 2) I had hit the jetlag wall and I was not going to have the full day that I did the day before. They do not allow bottles inside and I thought I would die of thirst. I was tired, very achey, it was VERY hot inside, and the billions of people standing in my way were really annoying me. Ah yes, it was time for me to catch up on a little rest and salvage the rest of the day.

We went in search of a place to eat and found Osteria Bella Donne, which is on a street called via della Bella Donne, which is just fun to say. This was a place for locals and once again we found ourselves loving the food. House red wine, water “naturale” (not sparkling), and the food. Mom ordered a caprese salad-tomatoes, buffalo milk mozzarella (very common here), bit of olive oil and a sprig of basil. I ordered a cheese plate and it was an aged pecorino, sprinkled with pine nuts and honey (they called it Etruscan Sauce) and MMMMMMMM it was one of our favorite dishes!

Mark had chitarra (key-tar-ah)-that same pasta I had the other day: long like spaghetti, square and textured-with fresh tomato sauce; dad ordered meatballs and roasted potatoes; and I had roasted pork and roasted potatoes, and a farro soup that was thick like porrige. It was all fabulous at every turn… part of the fun of ordering the different courses like that is that they all come out one at a time and we just pass them around. I mentioned before that when you sit down at a table here it is yours for the duration and they stretch the meal out leisurely until you ask for the check. We ended, of course, with an espresso.

As we wandered back towards the apartment…we were quite a ways away… we came across a street performer like none other we had seen. She was a beautiful woman and she was singing opera. The crowd that gathered around here was mesmorized. As we passed by we realized that there was only an hour to get to the Accedemia (to see David) and we weren’t sure of where it was from there. I had decided that I was not going to join them on this trip, as I have spent some lovely time with David and I needed to rest and refresh. I came back to the apartment and had a 30 minute nap and went through my travel journal to remember what else there was that I wanted to see. It was a very good idea.

I will encourage the other three to write about their experiences with David. It is nearly undescribable, even though it seems simple. You go in knowing that he is 17 feet tall and carved from a single piece of marble… and then you see him. He takes your breath away and if you are me, his beauty makes you weep. I would have liked to visit again, though I am very glad I rested.

They got back and everyone needed a rest so the aparment was very quiet for awhile. I got hungry so we started talking and decided to have appetizers at the aparment from our market purchases, and then everyone but mom would go out to eat. It was mom’s turn to rest. We cracked open the fridge and brought out the talleggio cheese, fresh pecorino, salami of wild boar, cured lardo, bread and olive oil. Mom opened a bottle of wine and we all stood in the little galley kitchen having a lovely time. We all LOVED the lardo and it was our first time having it… Until you have tasted it you can’t understand. It was heavenly!

Dad, Mark and I set out and did not intend to go far. We went a new direction and found some great looking places and suddenly we all felt a whole lot better than we had earlier. So we set off trekking for the place that I had been wanting to take them all to: il Latini. It is a local “dive” that specializes in roasted meats. They supply the restaurant from their own farm with prosciutto and other pork; wine; olive oil; produce; and other items. The food and experience are both amazing and I really wanted to share that with them. It was, of course, clear across town and we had to stop in a hotel to ask directions once. We had not set out for that place so I had not brought my map. We arrived to find a line of probably 20-25 people and a packed restaurant. We were greeted with a small glass of house wine and when I asked we were told to just wait. It would be over an hour, we could tell, so I proposed a new plan: now that dad and Mark had seen it and they REALLY wanted to eat there, we would make reservations for our final night on the 16th and not have to wait in line. Oh and by the way it had started raining. It was a misty sprinkle that started to get heavier as we walked back so we were going to grab a cab. The hotel clerk had given us a map when we asked directions and it had taxi stands on it, so we headed for one. When we got close we realized we had gone nearly half way back so we just kept walking. The gypsies were out in force offering umbrellas to everyone for 4-7€ each. No thanks, we are from the Seattle area, we don’t need no stinkin umbrellas!! What’s a little rain?? We were headed back to our original destination when we spotted a little pizzaria/pasta place.

This is not a true pizza region and Florence only has one official Neopolitan style pizzaria in the city. All the rest-and there are many- are foccaccia type pizzas, or cracker type like we had the other night. Still very good; just different. This was a little neighborhood joint that did not have a traditional Tuscan menu and we really did not have very high expectations. Once again we were blown away! A liter of house wine to start and dad ordered a ham calzone.. this thing was huge! Mark ordered spaghetti with clam and mussel sauce and I decided to break Tuscan tradition and had spaghetti carbonara. I also ordered an appetizer for us to share: involtini (or little roll ups) of speck (a type of ham, like prosciutto, from the northern regions of Italy) wrapped around gooey cheese, laid atop a bed of arugula, and sprinkled with cherry tomatoes. Oh baby were those good! We were all very happy with what we had and still shared, though we mainly ate our own dish. Mine was a pretty orange color, due to the fresh eggs. Mark’s tasted like the sea and even had a little octopus in it. Dad’s was charred from the hot oven and piping hot… ooey gooey goodness. We ended with a shared Vin Santo e Cantuccini and walked home. We were a about 2 blocks away is all… we had certainly taken the long way to get there!

I think I have failed to mention the church bells. This is a city of churches and they all ring their bells at different times throughout the day, and it is beautiful. I don’t know why they ring when they do, though I love to listen to them. The one down our street rings around 7 am and the Duomo is close to us as well. On Saturday we heard the most bells all over the city and they rang for about 15 minutes at a time. It was really neat to hear them all.

I slept with ear plugs in last night and it was better, though still a bit fitfull. I am riddled with mosquito bites- if there was one mosquito in all the world it would find and feed on me! I killed one with glee this morning!

Today we are off to meet a woman at a local outdoor market to shop for ingredients, and then to have a private cooking lesson. In the afternoon we will try to hit both Santa Croce (Galileo and Michelangelo both have tombs there, among others) and the Duomo, Campanile, Dome and Museum of the Duomo. Later this evening we will go to the train station to figure out the schedule because tomorrow we head out to Cortona, Parco Fiorito, Doumina & Roberto, and on Wednesday we greet everyone for the start of the tour.

Ciao for now!