Monthly Archives: March 2011

Museum Passes in Florence: Part Two – Firenze Card, finalmente!

June 14, 2011 — Tuscan Traveler has compared the two museum passes available in Florence. Check this link.

The new mayor announced last year a “big deal” he had hammered out with Rome’s state museum authority – Florence, like every other major city in the world, was going to offer a museum pass. After the big press conference, nothing happened. Then, in the middle of January, Mayor Renzi said, “It’s on its way.” Nothing happened.

Yesterday, March 25, the 72 hour Firenze Card arrived at selected points (mostly museum ticket offices and official Tourist Information offices) and you, too, can benefit – mostly by skipping the queue/line – for the hefty price of 50 euro. Now will begin the debate over which is the best museum card in Florence – the Amici degli Uffizi Card or the Firenze Card. (Watch Tuscan Traveler for Museum Passes in Florence: Part Three – What’s the Best Deal?)

presentazione_ficardThe following comes directly off the very fine web site developed to support the card  where you can also buy the Firenze Card online (the emphasis is mine):

Firenze Card grants access to the major museums, villas and historical gardens in Florence.

Firenze Card is a 72 hours (sic) card that gives you admission to 33 of the most important museums in Florence. You will have access not only to permanent collections, but also to exhibitions and all other activities held in that museum without further costs. You have just to show your card at the entrance to the museum’s personnel, who will record your entry and let you in. The card can be used just once in each museum, and it will provide free access also to a EU citizen under-eighteens (sic) accompanying you To use your card for public transport, just swipe it against the validation machines located on every bus or tram.

Firenze Card is activated on the first visit to a museum or first use of public transport. Since then you have 72 hours to visit the city and its historical and artistic heritage. The card’s validity is therefore independent from the purchasing time. Remember to write your name and surname on the back of your card before using it. Some museums can offer free access on special occasions. Please, consult the “News” page (online) to check updated timetables and find out access benefits and all the other information about museums.

ficard_acquistaFirenze Card is valid for 3 consecutive days from its first use. The card will expire at the end of the validity period and also your free access to museums and public transport with it. The card is strictly personal and not transferable, and it has to be showed with a proof of identity on request by the museum’s personnel.

In addition to free admission, Firenze Card allows you to avoid long queues at the ticket offices of main museums. Just look for the signs “Firenze Card” in your chosen museums and show your card to the personnel, who will record your entry and let you in.

It is promoted by the Municipality of Florence, the Ministry for the Arts and Cultural Activities, the Regional Direction of Cultural Heritage, the Special Superintendence for Historical, Artistic and Ethnic-anthropological Heritage and for the Museum Circuit of the city of Florence, the Province of Florence and the Chamber of Commerce of Florence, in collaboration with ATAF.

With the Firenze Card you get a lanyard with a handy pocket for the card and the accompanying booklet that describes all of the museums that qualify for “free” entry.

The following are the museums, gardens, villas and churches included in the Firenze Card Program:

Museo di Palazzo Vecchio – piazza della Signoria Firenze

Museo Stefano Bardini – via dei Renai 37 Firenze

Palazzo Medici Riccardi – via Cavour 3 Firenze

Museo di Santa Maria Novella – piazza Santa Maria Novella Firenze

Cappella Brancacci – piazza del Carmine 14 Firenze

Fondazione Salvatore Romano – piazza Santo Spirito 29 Firenze

Cappelle Medicee – piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini 6 Firenze

Galleria degli Uffizi – Piazzale degli Uffizi 6 Firenze

Galleria dell’Accademia – Via Ricasoli 58/60 Firenze

Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti Monumentali – Piazza Pitti 1 Firenze

110204_FirenzeCard_EmbeddedGalleria d’arte moderna – Piazza Pitti 1 Firenze

Museo Giardino di Boboli – Piazza Pitti 1 Firenze

Museo degli Argenti – Piazza Pitti 1 Firenze

Museo delle Porcellane – Piazza Pitti 1 Firenze

Galleria del Costume – Piazza Pitti 1 Firenze

Museo Archeologico Nazionale – Piazza Santissima Annunziata 9b Firenze

Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure – Via degli Alfani 78 Firenze

Museo di Palazzo Davanzati – Via Porta Rossa 13 Firenze

Museo di San Marco – Piazza San Marco 3 Firenze

Museo Nazionale del Bargello – Via del Proconsolo 4 Firenze

Cenacolo Andrea del Sarto – Via di San Salvi 16 Firenze

Cenacolo del Ghirlandaio – Borgo Ognissanti 42 Firenze

Cenacolo del Fuligno – via Faenza 42 Firenze

Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia – Via XXVII Aprile 1 Firenze

Chiostro dello Scalzo – Via Cavour 69 Firenze

Complesso Monumentale Orsanmichele – via Arte della Lana 1 Firenze

Villa Medicea di Cerreto Guidi e Museo storico della caccia e del territorio – Via dei Ponti Medicei 7 Cerreto Guidi

Villa Medicea della Petraia – Via della Petraia 40 Firenze

Giardino della Villa Medicea di Castello – Via di Castello 47 Firenze

Museo di Casa Martelli – Via Zannetti 8 Firenze

Collezione Contini Bonacossi – Via Lambertesca 6 Firenze

Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano – Piazza de Medici 14 Poggio a Caiano

Villa Corsini a Castello – Via della Petraia 38 Firenze

Firenze Card Web Site

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Artusi at 100, Italy Honors its Culinary Father

Pellegrino Artusi, author of the famous Italian cookbook La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), is the father of Italian cuisine. This year – the 100th anniversary of his death – will be remembered with special events and celebrations, especially in Forlimpopoli, Artusi’s birth place, and Florence, the city where Artusi spent his life.

Pellegrino Artusi was 71 when he wrote his iconic book on the art of eating
Pellegrino Artusi was 71 when he wrote and published his iconic book

Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant, but after retiring he devoted himself to fine dining. In 1891, at the age of 71, he completed the 600+ page tome in which he included amusing anecdotes and menus, as well as recipes. He couldn’t find a publisher and so self-published the large volume. It took him four years to sell a thousand copies. The self-published second edition sold faster, so he increased the print-run of the third. Then, all the hard work paid off – the book was discovered by the middle class.

Pellegrino Artusi self-published the 1st Edition in 1891
Self-published First Edition 1891

One of the reasons for its popularity is that Artusi wrote his book entirely in Italian – this at a time when most professional chefs were French-trained, and their books were so sprinkled with French terminology that they were hard for the uninitiated to follow. Also, Artusi was a bon-vivant, a noted raconteur, and a celebrated host; he knew many of the leading figures of his day and read widely in the arts and sciences. Almost half his recipes contain anecdotes or snippets of advice on subjects as varied as regional dialects and public health: while you may open the book to find out how to make Minestrone or a German cake, you will probably read on to find out how Artusi escaped cholera, or what the Austrian troops who occupied Northern Italy in the 1840’s were like.

He also created an appendix of menus: “As it frequently occurs that one finds himself unsure of what dishes to select when one has to offer a dinner” Artusi wrote, “I thought it well to provide this appendix, which gives the menus for an elegant dinner for each month of the year, as well as several menus tailored for specific holidays. I’ve omitted desserts because the seasons, with their various fruits, will council you better than I could. Even if you can’t follow these menus to the letter, they’ll at least give you some ideas that will make your selections easier.”

Artusi's photo superimosed on the XIII edition (1909)
Artusi's photo superimposed on the XIII edition (1909)

Artusi’s book stands with Manzoni’s great novel, I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), and the music of Verdi as works that not only are great unto themselves but represented a sense of identity and self-worth to a nascent country with no nationalistic feeling … Artusi chose to give Italians their definition by telling them how they ate … Anyone who seeks to know Italian food avoids Artusi at his or her peril. He is the fountainhead of modern Italian cookery,” wrote Fred Plotkin in Gastronomica.

Before Artusi died in Florence in 1911, more than 200,000 copies had been already sold. Today, the book is a perennial best seller in Italy and the recipes are still used. It has been translated in Spanish, Dutch, German and English. In 2003, the University of Toronto Press, published a new English translation that is still  in print.

The most recent English translation
The most recent English translation

L’Artusi, as the book is called in Italy, went on to become one of the most read books of the time, a household icon, and a source of inspiration for generations of cooks. There is even an Italian language iPhone app that contains all of Artusi’s 790 recipes.

Although he became famous for his first book, Artusi wrote another – a practical manual for the kitchen – in 1904, with over 3,000 recipes, simply entitled Ecco il Tuo Libro di Cucina (Here is Your Cookbook). Last month, Artusi became a fictional amateur detective in a popular murder mystery written by Pisan Marco Malvaldi – Odore di Chiuso (Smells Stuffy).

Cartton by Sergio Staino for Casa Artusi
Sergio Staino for Casa Artusi - Impossible to eat 'lite' with Artusi

The 100th anniversary events and initiatives to celebrate Artusi include conferences in Florence and Folimpopoli about Artusi and his work, Artusi-themed dinners held in different Italian cities on the 17th of March, Italy’s new national holiday to celebrate Italy’s unification, theatrical performances, various demonstrations and videos, and a national competition.

In Florence, on 31 March, an exhibition, entitled Pellegrino Artusi: il tempo e le opere, will open at the National Central Library. The exhibition will show original work and documents in the life of Artusi and his relationship with the world of publishing. The ‘Artusian’ celebrations will continue in June with a week of culinary stands in Piazza d’Azeglio; in November there will be an Artusi Week, involving catering schools in Florence, as well as restaurant and hotel owners.

Dove Vai? – Sketches by Leonardo and Michelangelo at the Uffizi

The Uffizi’s new exhibition, Figures, Memory, Space. Drawings from Fra Angelico to Leonardo, displays over 100 works by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna, Michelangelo and Titian. It shows how drawings were used to prepare for major paintings and frescoes and, later in the 15th century, how they became works of art in their own right, particularly with the arrival of print-making from northern Europe.

Labyrinth design heightens the experience
Labyrinth design heightens the experience

The Florence show, divided between two Uffizi locations, combines works from the British Museum’s collection and from that of the Uffizi. Last year it opened to rave reviews in London.

Fifty prints are on view in a free exhibit in the Reali Poste exhibition space off of the Uffizi courtyard. A simple labiranth was created so that each of the sketches can be viewed in its own space and also offers a sense of privacy to the viewer.

Sketches from the 15th century - practice makes perfect
Sketches from the 15th century - practice makes perfect

Alexandra M. Korey best describes the emotional experience of seeing the original sketches of Leonardo da Vinci for the first time and enumerates three reasons you must visit the Reali Poste exhibit. Read her post on arttrav.com.

Not Leonardo, but his teacher Verrocchio, sketched in 1475
Not Leonardo, but his teacher Verrocchio, sketched in 1475

In addition to the detailed and exquisite pictures of figures, limbs and drapery, there are fast, rough sketches by the likes of da Vinci who used pen and ink drawings as a way of brainstorming and arriving at ideas for major works, some of which you will remember from past visits to the Uffizi. “One can sense the excitement as their quills raced over the paper to keep pace with the flow of ideas,” said British Museum director Neil MacGregor about the London exhibition.

Leonardo Di Vinci's sketches of a baby and a cat
Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of a baby and a cat

Brian Sewell, British art critic and media personality, who analyzed the drawings and sketches that made up the British Museum exhibit in the ThisIsLondon blog of the London Evening Standard, wrote, “It is drawing that gives first substance to the idea in the mind’s eye.” A Leonardo da Vinci series of quick rough sketches caught his fancy – two of these, Baby with Cat and Woman, Baby and Cat, can be seen at the Reali Poste exhibit:

Consider Leonardo’s studies of The Virgin and Child with a Cat. A cat? Where did that come from? A cat had no emblematic place in the traditional iconography of such a votive subject — a lamb perhaps, a bullfinch too, even two cherries on a bifurcated stalk to symbolise Christ’s testicles and his wholeness as a mortal man — but not a cat. Leonardo must have seen a cat squirming in the arms of a child, in turn in the arms of a kneeling girl, and recognised in the complication of the momentary torsions of three very different bodies a subject as difficult to pin down as the swirling waters of a whitewater river. The pen cannot move as rapidly as the model, nor record as swiftly as the eye and memory, and everywhere there are overdrawings and corrections. We cannot determine which of the five studies was first to develop on the sheet — they were probably all preceded by eight studies on another double-sided sheet — for it is only with the introduction of the Virgin that we sense the composition of a painting forming in Leonardo’s mind, a composition that in still other sheets developed into an arch-topped panel that in closely confining the energy of the group enhances it. The painting, alas, was never executed, and the drawings now act as records of what might have been. In the beginning was the line and in this case that must be enough.

Michelangelo 1495 pen and ink drawing - The Philosopher
Michelangelo 1495 ink drawing - The Philosopher

Most of the works on display were never intended for public exhibition although today they would be considered masterpieces. A drawing by Raphael for a work commissioned by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, sold in December 2009 for $47.9 million at Christie’s, a world record for any work on paper.

The excellent signage of Figures, Memory, Space. Drawings from Fra Angelico to Leonardo, both Italian and English, describes how the invention of paper, a cheaper alternative to vellum, was key to drawing’s development and distribution. The ever-expanding trade with the Far East is said to have changed the tools and colors of inks, the black, gray, red and white lead, silverpoint, metalpoint, the stylus, chalks, charcoal, and watercolors.

The Reali Poste opens into the courtyard of the Uffizi
The Reali Poste opens into the courtyard of the Uffizi

Once you have enjoyed the free view of 50 incredible designs dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, you can pay 15 euro for a reserved ticket to the Uffizi. Half-way up the arduous stairs to the main gallery, you can pause for breath and view more than 50 more in the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe on the Uffizi’s first floor, including prints that the Londoners did not get too see because they are deemed too precious to leave the gallery.

Mangia! Mangia! – Ora d’Aria, a breath of fresh air

Ora d’Aria has been part for the Florentine restaurant scene for a few years, but was inconveniently located and mostly a secret of locals. Now relocated to the historic center in a modern but cozy space, the word is getting out and rave reviews are coming back.

The name, Ora d’Aria, refers to the “hour of air” or time spent by inmates exercising outdoors while serving a term in prison. But, perhaps, it also refers to the breath of fresh air this restaurant brings to the oft-stuffy Florentine insistence on how to cook and present traditional Tuscan recipes.

Ora d'Aria selection of breads
Ora d'Aria selection of breads

Chef-owner Marco Stabile was born in Tuscany and is in his mid-30s. Ora d’Aria is a labor of love that follows a rocketing career through a number of well-known Tuscan restaurants, including Arnolfo (two Michelin-starred establishment in Colle Val d’Elsa), where he backed chef/owner Gaetano Trovato,one of Italy’s best chefs.

Stabile is a visiting teacher at some of Italy’s renowned culinary accademies, like those in Jesi, Montecatini Terme and Arezzo (Accademia del Gusto), as well as working in collaboration with the prestigious Les Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe.

View from the dining room
View from the dining room

The reason for the name Ora d’Aria was because it was initially located outside the former Renaissance women’s prison, Le Murate. But in 2010, Stabile obtained an exciting new space behind the west corridor of the Uffizi in Via dei Georgofili. This centrally-located premises, with its glass wall to the open kitchen and simple décor keeps your attention on the food through all the steps of the process: selection of dishes from the ever-changing menu; preparation and cooking; service by the chef with an explanation of the ingredients; on to the last morsel of a superb dessert.

Poached egg in broccoli sauce with pancetta (tapas size)
Poached egg in broccoli sauce with pancetta (tapas size)

The dishes are executed with real skill and imagination. Stabile’s menus acknowledge his Tuscan roots, but he plays around in an intelligent, carefully calculated way with the best fresh seasonal ingredients and interesting taste combinations and textures. Dishes are as exciting to the eye as they are on the palate. The color choices and presentation are perfect, using plates and bowls of interesting shapes, but always white so as not to distract from the main event.

Tapas of salt cod braised in browned butter with a pick chickpea sauce
Tapas of salt cod braised in browned butter with a pink chickpea sauce

Imaginative starters, such as a poached egg, centered in a broccoli sauce with slivers of pancetta (could that be a play on green eggs and ham?) lead into tasty pasta combinations. Meat and game play a major role, (pigeon cooked in three ways is a classic Stabile dish), but there are fish and seafood choices, too; for instance baccalà (salt cod) braised in browned butter with creamed pink chickpeas. And for Americans who moan about saltless Tuscan bread: rejoice — the bread basket is full of crispy rosemary cracker bread, salty olive oil schiacciata, walnut rolls, and more — all made in-house.

Save room for dessert. Of course there is the chocolate tort with a warm melting heart graced with cold gelato. But if you can pass that up, you can pick tiramisu espresso or caramelized pineapple with a cream of Vin Santo, before moving on to the cheese selection with brioche marmalade and honey.

Three-bite hamburger with apple garnish and finger of mashed potato
Three-bite hamburger with apple garnish and finger of mashed potato

You can order à la carte, but the set menus (one Tuscan, the other fish) are good value. The lunchtime menu, which offers a choice of dishes in either tapas version or a full portion, is a particular bargain. The tapas version of a hamburger with an apple slice standing in for lettuce and tomato gets raves for presentation and is only three bites big, but they are the best three bites in town.

The wine list features some 600 labels, but it’s the list of artisan beers that is especially unique in Florence. Only one quibble: there should be more wines offered by the glass, the present selection of three is uninspired.

Chocolate torte with chocolate heart and gelato
Chocolate torte with liquid chocolate heart and gelato

Finally, service: in a tourist city where the restaurants are frequently staffed by inexperience to inattentive to downright rude waiters, it is a joy to spend an hour or two in the fresh air of Ora d’Aria’s friendly, responsive service, both in the dining room and from the kitchen.

Where:  Via dei Georgofili, 11r
When:  Lunch and Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, Monday dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday lunch.
Phone:  055 200 1699 Reservations recommended.
Web: www.oradariaristorante.com
How Much:  Lunch — 25 to 35 euro per person. Dinner — 40 to 60 euro per person.