The past couple of days have been just what I had dreamed about what a sabbatical in Italy would be like—only better.

It is that last lazy but antsy week of summer. Jenny’s Uncle Sy and Aunt Roberta are visiting us and raved about a restaurant they enjoyed in Florence. So we decided to make an impromptu visit to the city. It was unbelievably easy. Trenitalia has hourly train service between Rome and Florence, and for the month of August children travel free. We got a great last minute “Big 10” discount at the Westin Excelsior. And so the four us threw a few items in Eli’s school backpack—our only luggage item—and headed off to Florence the next day. (This marked a new transition for our family: the kids are now big enough that this was the first time we needed to get two hotel rooms instead of squeezing into one!. . .travel just got a bit more expensive for us).

The train ride was easy and extremely comfortable. We hadn’t expected the cabin to be so comfortable, nor had we known that there would be a snack and beverage service during the trip. Eli said that he really enjoyed traveling by train and it really was relaxing not to have to deal with the hassles of an airport.

Waiting to go into the Uffizi Gallery, Nell was reading up on the art she was about to see.

We usually enjoy planning our trips. But it was fun to head off with no real plan or even a map. We knew we wanted to see some of the Uffizi and used Trip Advisor to book a tour. We had great luck with our museum tour in Bilbao and none of us know very much about Renaissance art. The operator, ArtViva, was fantastic. And one of my most delighted moments of the summer was watching Nell go through the museum. She listened to the guide with rapt attention, pushed her way to the front to stare at the paintings, asked the guide great questions, and after two and a half ours—when we were all exhausted—was disappointed that the tour was ending and felt the time had gone too fast. “This is my sort of thing,” she said about the museum. While looking at Botticelli’s “Primavera” Nell came up and whispered to me that she thought it was strange that Venus was clothed, because she had learned earlier that Venus was always painted naked. It seemed a good observation. And the guide went on to explain later that there was some thought among art historians that the figure in the painting might not be Venus because the character is clothed. So Nell may, indeed, have found her “thing.”

Ordinarily, I never would venture into a restaurant near the Duomo in Florence, where the food is inevitably mediocre and overpriced.   But Jenny had a great foodie app, where the reviewer began:  “. . .     Ordinarily, I never would venture into a restaurant near the Duomo, but. . . “ So we decided to give it a try. And it was fabulous. We began with an item listed on the menu as “Fresh Home Made (really!) Mozzarella with Fantasy Salad.” How could we resist a menu item that had the words “really” and “fantasy” in it? It was truly the very best mozzarella that we had ever tasted, on a bed of flavorful, spicy arugula and succulent bright red cherry tomatoes. I had green potato dumplings with truffles in a parmesan crème. The dumplings were light pillows that were packed with flavor that highlighted the rich truffles floating on top. And the parmesan crème wasn’t really a cream, but a light sauce that tasted like pure, silky, nutty parmesan cheese. The meal was perfect, the service charming and casual. . . it was one of our best all-around meals in months.

Try it:

Osteria CipollaRossa

Via dei Conti, 53

Heading off to climb the Duomo.

After climbing to the top of the duomo, which afforded a fantastic view of the city, we still felt full from lunch. But we walked past Carapina– reputed to be one of the finest gelato shops in all of Italy. We had to try it, and although we’ve become quite judgmental about our gelato, the stuff here really blew us away. One of the first things that we noticed was a display on the wall, showing each month of the year and what fruit flavors of gelato are offered during each month based upon what is in season. . .a very good sign. We sampled the Brazilian chocolate, the sour cherry chocolate, the peach, the plum, yogurt, and the milk and fresh mint flavors. Each flavor was the best we had ever had (the next day Eli went back and requested two scoops of the peach!). A good sign: the mint gelato was nearly white. . .as it should be (avoid the places with artificial bright green!). The gelato didn’t last long, but we walked for a few blocks sampling each others flavors and simply repeating to each other that we couldn’t believe how delicious it was.

If you are in Florence, it is a real treat:

Carapina

Via Lambertesca, 18r

I’m still pinching myself that we could make a trip like this so easily. We all had such a lovely time that walking back to the train station we were already making plans to return.

— Seth

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