Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Open House at the Synagogue

Every year in September (this year it was on the 5th) the Synagogue in Florence holds an Open House for the general public. This year it was a chance for everyone, Florentine and tourist, alike, to enjoy the exquisite restoration of one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, while munching on great food, listening to interesting speakers and music, as well as poking into parts of the grand edifice that are not usually open.

The Open House is part of a Europe-wide Day of Hebraic Culture, which included 62 locations across Italy: Giornata Europea della Cultura Ebraica.… Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Having a Bardini Kind of Day!

A couple of days every week a phenomenon overwhelms even the most hardened Florentine.  It is know to some as the “boat people” scrooge. It happens on the days when gigantic cruise ships dock at Livorno. Thousands of pastel-clad tourists shod in flip-flops are unloaded and stuffed into dozens of buses, which transport them to Florence for eight hours of hot, humid sightseeing. They are herded from the Academia to the Uffizi to the Duomo, then through Piazza Signoria and across the Ponte Vecchio.

To escape the armies of sweating, sore-footed deck-crawlers, the wise visitor to Florence will decide on … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – It’s a Sunflower Year in Tuscany

“A Sunflower Year?” asked Francesca as we drove through the rolling Tuscan hills southwest of Siena. I pointed out to this Florentine that some years there were no sunflowers to be found in Tuscany, but in others the golden flowers created the Tuscan landscape of movies and postcards and tourists’ fantasies. 2010 is a Sunflower Year.

Twelve years ago, the first Italian film I saw was Il Ciclone. I’ve seen it about three times because as a failing beginning Italian language student, I’ve taken a lot of classes. It seems to be the film-of-choice for first-level Italian language teachers. … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Graffiti, Then and Now

Graffiti is known worldwide, but word itself has nothing to do with scrawls on walls. In Italy, the words sgraffito and sgraffiti come from the Italian word sgraffiare (“to scratch”), ultimately from the Greek γράφειν (gráphein), meaning “to write”.

Graffiti, the bane of all modern cities in the form of spray paint, in its original sense refers to marks scratched onto a surface with a tapered point. The graffito technique has been used since prehistoric times. Decades ago, my father showed me graffito animals, birds and people carved on the tufa cave walls in northern New Mexico. But … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Gelato, the Good, the Bad, and the Festival

I’m not a big “no-global” proponent; so if someone in, say, Vermont, is making great ice cream, I think it should be shared with the rest of the world. Therefore, when Ben & Jerry’s (full disclosure: I have eaten hundreds of pints of B&J’s in my lifetime) was scheduled to open a store in Florence that wasn’t a major issue for me.

But when that storefront is just a few feet from the façade of the Duomo and my favorite flavors (Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch and Triple Caramel Chunk,) of the Vermont ice cream have turned in to a frozen … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tale – Vasari Corridor is Open to All (Not!)

After three days, the reservation line reports all of the spots on the Percorso del Principe tours have been filled.  Tuscan Traveler suggests that such popularity calls for more tours on more days…

The Vasari Corridor, also known as the Percorso del Principe (Path of the Prince), is open to the general public until July 2010 on a limited schedule. A special part of the city’s historical heritage that has been under the control of few select guides and museum officials (often costing the visitor more than 100 euro for a short tour) has been declared open to all by … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Historical Scavenger Hunt Through Florence

One thing that continues to fascinate me about Florence, despite all of its many frustrating aspects, is how nuggets of historical gold can be found once you learn one little fact – kind of a Medieval/Renaissance version of “Six Degrees of Separation.”

For example:  I visited the Chapter Library in Piazza del Capitolo. Across the piazza was a tabernacle on the wall. I took an arty reflective photo of it because the glass was too dirty to get a good shot of the fresco inside.

As I was researching the history of the Biblioteca Capitolare, the ancient library, … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Searching for the Sasso di Dante

I had been looking for Dante’s Stone for years. Not every day mind you, but off and on … for years. The story of the Sasso di Dante has been talked about for centuries. Seven centuries to be exact, because the last time Dante could have sat on his rock was 1302; that year he was banished from Florence, never to return.

Guidebooks told me that the stone was gone. No big surprise. But it was repeatedly reported that a plaque had been placed on a wall where the rock sat and where Dante sat on the rock. It was … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Dark Water, a story of the 1966 flood

As the November 4th anniversary of the 1966 flood that devastated Florence approaches, it’s the perfect time to read Robert Clark’s Dark Water: Art Disaster and Redemption in Florence, which was just released in paperback.

As Angela Leeper writes in her concise review in bookpage.com:History and art criticism, with a dash of memoir thrown in, Robert Clark’s Dark Water chronicles how the flood of November 4, 1966—in which four million books, 14,000 works of art and 16 miles of documents were either damaged or destroyed—came to define the Italian city of Florence. Clark begins with a … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Beach Life Italian Style

Only death or divorce will get you a spot in the coveted first row on an Italian beach. In a country where there is a socialistic equality in most things – health care, long lines at the post office, job security, good food – the beach is not one of them. In the U.S., if you get up early enough, you can stake out the best piece of sand on almost any shore and you can usually have a couple of yards between you and your nearest neighbor.

In Italy, the best spot is already taken – everywhere.  This prime … Read More