Last week I was in Florence. More of this another time, perhaps, though it already seems so long ago that I might as well never have been there.
I didn’t take a guidebook, but on this occasion just asked some friends who’d been there before for tips. Then I wrote everyone’s recommendations down in a pocketbook, and tried to visit them all, adding my own observations, scrawly sketches and finds over the course of the short five days I spent wandering the old city.
Next time I hear of someone going to Florence, I will lend them the notebook, and they can scribble all over it themselves, and so on. If you’re heading over there, ask me for it. In the meantime, here are a few things I stumbled across outside of the classics…
A friend of the family works in a glove shop in Vienna, and among my favourite items of clothing is a pair of cashmere-lined black leather gloves that she gave my dad some years ago. I use them pretty much every day through the winter months, to the point that before long I will start to wear them out, but I’ve never found anything to compare to them at a reasonable price.
Featured some moons ago on Gentleman’s Gazette, Madova gloves is just at the Pitti Palace end of the Ponte Vecchio, and is pretty difficult to miss. Their selection varies depending on what they’ve made recently, what’s been selling and suchlike, so you just go in, hold your hand up and they’ll hunt around and see what they’ve got in your size.
There are a few different styles, various linings and loads of colours, and because they’re all handmade you’ll find that, if one pair doesn’t quite fit perfectly, another might just have one finger a fraction longer or shorter, and might suit you better.
I ended up with a light brown unlined pair, and a blue grey wool-lined set. Best of all, they were 40-something euros a pair, which, while not exactly cheap, is pretty good when you consider that a far inferior pair from Zara or M&S or whatever is usually 20-odd quid.
There are many wonderful things about being away from Britain, but local beer is not often one of them. This is awful nationalistic snobbery, I am aware, but I have encountered very few countries in which such a varied range of good beer is so readily available. Also, the environment of the public house – a home from home with fewer complications – is close to my heart.
On Via Nazionale, just near the station, this microbrewery feels like a pub without trying to be one. Lots of dark corners, a bit of rock over the speakers (when you walk in and they’re playing The Black Keys you know someone is operating at your frequency), and glorious, award-winning beers. Not freezing fizzy lager (though of course that has its place in life), but pints of ale.
Pretty strong ones too. Even the weakest was kicking round five per cent, while the ‘Morgana’ American pale ale that I had on an empty stomach on my first night was a bit of a pickaxe to the temple at over seven.
If you ever find yourself there, my favourite was the ‘Volpe’, a tasty ruby one. I spent a couple of evenings skulking at a corner table with a pint and a spy novel.
The flea market
Clearly you’re never going to buy anything, but you can play a nice Kim’s game strolling around this little flea market in the slightly more run-down (by Florentine standards, not by London ones) district above Santa Croce.
It was over a week ago now, but I remember seeing:
Stacks of old postcards; tables covered in vintage lamps and light fittings; crystal champagne buckets; sheet music for popular 1930s tunes; horribly twee ornaments of dogs; Victorian nighties; paintings, some on frames, some rolled up; novelty ashtrays; bone-handled steak knives; dented dressing tables; ancient mountaineering boots; beer-branded bottle openers; a flute (there’s always a flute); Little die-cast aeroplanes; a box of rusty screwdrivers; a pot rack made out of old antlers; mountains of dated jewellery.
There was also a chair with a pile of rope on it, so presumably it could be a literal opportunity to give someone money for old rope. Anyway, it was all much more interesting than Portobello.