Thursday, October 3, 2013

Elite cyclists provide added excitment to day in Florence

It was the day of the women's road race. All the barricades were in place and the police, carabinieri and volunteers wearing bright orange vests were all in place hours before the race. We wandered around town stopping for an exorbitantly priced espresso near the Doumo. There were hordes of tourists everywhere and in fact twice I was swarmed by tour groups that I had to fight my way out of.

All the shop windows, whether the designer stores or little boutiques have embraced the World Cycling championships. Ferragamo had a beautiful golden bike in the window. Other shops had new or older racing bikes in their windows. There were some interesting photos of Gino Bartoli, a three-time winner of the Giro d'Italia before World War II. One shop even had one of his old cotton cycling shirts.

Instead of opting for a small family-run bistro at lunchtime we discovered a restaurant, off the beaten track, with mainly Italians dining. For starters we shared a lovely little cheese soufflĂ© served on a bright green sweet potato mash. It was absolutely delicious. We followed this with pasta with sauce made from  cingale or wild boar. It has a wonderful flavour and is one of my favourite dishes. We had some lemon tart with strawberries for dessert. What a meal!

We walked around searching for the perfect place from which to watch the race, finally settling on a bend, where we were sure the women would be forced to slow down. This section of the barricades were manned by two very stylish forestry police. We knew the racers were on their way when we heard the helicopters. Then several groups of motorcycle police whizzed by followed by some red official race cars, then more motorbikes. A cry went up and then the cyclists were there and gone. Amazingly, they did not slow down for the curve but went by at great speed. They were followed by the support cars from each country, the ambulances; it was over in the blink of an eye.

One of my favourite places in Florence, that we walked through many times, is the Piazza Ella Signoria with the Palazzo Vecchio at one end. Savonarola was burned at the stake here. There is a copy of Michelangelo's David and a giant statue of Neptune built to commemorate Tuscan naval victories. At one end of the square is the Loggia die Lanzi, an open air building filled with Renaissance sculpture. The square is quite beautiful, especially at night, when it is lit up.

Many of the restaurants have very similar menus with lots of meat and of course loads of pasta. Although the food is really good, there is a limit to how much pasta I can eat. Tonight we were happy to find a restaurant, up a little side street, where we enjoyed a delicious salad topped with thin slices of smoked goose. Delicious.

Walking by the river on the way back to the hotel, we stopped to admire the Ponte Vecchio, which cast a perfect reflection in the Arno. A perfect ending to a busy day.

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