Florence, Part 3 – Angel Hugs in a Bowl, Rocket Fuel in a Cup

You don’t have to be an art lover or a history buff to enjoy yourself in Florence. Sure, there’s an interesting museum every hundred yards and the buildings in the central district are so full of stories and significance you’d expect them all to be haunted by a thousand ghosts each, but Florence has other charms too. When you’ve hiked a hundred miles back and forth across the city in a single afternoon, you deserve to take a moment to relax and reflect on what you’ve seen. And by “relax and reflect” I mean, “shovel gelato into your mouth with abandon.”

My love for gelato borders on the obscene, and one of the first things I like to do when I’m finally burped out of the airplane upon arrival is find some. The variety of flavors in most shops is often astonishing, although many places sell gelato that comes from a factory. In-house, freshly made gelato is always best, and you can tell by looking at the banana flavor; gray is fresh and yellow comes from a machine. Regardless of origin, it’s all still pretty darn good, and since you’re allowed to order more than one flavor per cup you may as well try several. I can’t recommend the combination of peanut butter and lemon, which I ordered by mistake (I thought the lemon was cream), but the alarming combination didn’t stop me from stuffing it in my face. After all, it was gelato. My personal favorites are mixed berry and pear and the rather memorable rose, made with rose petals and cream. It was like eating a bowl full of angel hugs. Laugh if you will, but I think you know what I mean. You almost can’t go wrong with any gelato shop in the city.

Drinking coffee in Florence is nearly as important as seeing the David, because no one makes coffee like the Italians. The espressos are rather different than what we’re used to, much stronger and more concentrated, and many people drink them without sugar. The intensity of the espresso is often too much for me, although two of them is more than enough to propel me to the top of the Duomo at a dead run. I prefer the cappuccino, which adds steamed milk to the rocket fuel, with two sugars, giving me a nice kick to continue on to the next site. There are coffee shops on nearly every block, and I highly recommend taking the time to stop and try them out. You’ll pay more if you sit at a table than standing at the bar, but when you need a break it’s worth the price and the people-watching is free.

I wish I could provide a better analysis of Florentine cuisine, but unfortunately I’m not much of a foodie, and since I have a high tolerance for mediocre food I’m probably not the right guy to suggest anything. I can report that I have never had a bad glass of wine with any meal in Florence. Ordering the house red wine is always a safe bet, but if you’re unsure what to get, the waiter can suggest something good. You also can’t go wrong if you go to a grocery store and pick up items for a picnic on a sunny bench in one of the piazzas. Even the small shops often have their own deli and butcher and the quality and prices are pretty fantastic.

If shopping is your thing, you’ve come to the right city. Every major Italian designer (and many minor ones) has a flagship store in Florence. You can easily spend your retirement funds on this season’s hottest leather jacket with matching dog carrier and horse saddle, but window shopping is much cheaper. Also cheaper are the San Lorenzo markets, where you can find some beautiful items as well as wonderfully tacky souvenirs. Sharpen your bargaining skills, because many of the prices are fairly soft and you’ll save a bundle. Sadly, many items are made in China, regardless of what the label says, so if you’re looking for something made locally, you’ll need to venture out of the tourist areas to the smaller shops that are sprinkled all over the city. There are a lot of resources available online to help you find the best places and the vendors usually speak English. Often when you’re looking for a specific address, a challenge all its own, you’ll come across a shop selling all sorts of things you can’t live without and you’ll end up with something you’ll love and enjoy for years. I absolutely love my handmade leather laptop case, which I bargained for and bought in a shop off the beaten path.

After you’ve spent enough money to make the people at Visa build a shrine in your honor, celebrate with a gelato. Honestly, don’t you deserve one?

Matt Grigsby is a Redding native who has learned how to tell the difference between fresh gelato and machine-made. He owns a beautiful imaginary six-room villa in the hills above Florence, as well as a very real cottage on the west side of town. By day he’s a computer analyst toiling for the public good and he dreams of one day owning a robot servant. Matt only uses the fancy ketchup.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Matt Grigsby
Matt Grigsby was born and raised in Redding but has often felt he should have been born in Italy. By day he's a computer analyst toiling for the public good and by night he searches airline websites for great travel deals. His interests include books, movies, prowling thrift shops for treasure and tricking his friends into cooking for him. One day he hopes to complete his quest in finding the best gelato shop in Italy.
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18 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Not forgetting the amazing meringue gelato – like eating clouds in whipped cream.

    Now I want to just run to the airport and get on the next flight!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      If I tried every flavor of gelato, I'd have to start wearing sweatpants because they'd be the only thing I could fit into.

      I'm right behind you, running to the airport.

  2. Avatar Anne Gibbons says:

    I added 10 pounds just salivating over your descriptions!

  3. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    Imaginary pounds are always the easiest to lose!

  4. Avatar jacki g. says:

    Food for the imagination…delicious!

  5. Buon compleano (happy birthday), Matt! We so appreciate how beautifully you share your love of Italy with us on anewscafe.com. As always, your most recent article about Florence makes me feel as if I'm there with you.

    Grazie!

    🙂

  6. Avatar sunny says:

    Again, such a wonderfully written article, you made me laugh out loud several times and pine for the place that I miss like a person…can I just leave now?

    Great article, keep them coming!

  7. Avatar D. Nethery says:

    Oh dear! All of sudden my life seems boring……….and I am really hungry!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Believe me, my non-Italian life is pretty dull. But Italy is just sitting across the pond waiting for you…

      And I'm with you on the hunger. I'd kill for a gelato right about now!

  8. Avatar Jeff says:

    Ah, this reminds me of standing at the coffee bar with the locals early in the morning, sipping a cup of Cappucino and soaking it all in. Sound familiar? Thanks Matt for the reminder. I can't wait to return . Don't stop the writing, its more interesting than Bill Bryson.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      You flatter me!

      And there's nothing like absorbing the atmosphere while drinking a coffee and watching the locals.

  9. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    of course, you realize that each family gelato shop has it's own version of every recipe . . . . therefore it is INCUMBENT on the researcher (read: gourmand or inquisitive tourist . . . your choice) to try as many as possible in order to make a fair comparison.

    Then I also learned that no self-respecting Italian would drink cappuccino before 10:00 a.m. It's macciato until then . . . however, I, like you, much prefer the cappuccino any time of day. They tolerate us and try not to look askance at our wimpy tastes.

    Thanks again, for taking me back to my days in Italy. . . almost makes we wish my son and his family would move back there again!!!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I consider myself honor-bound to try every single gelato flavor in every single shop when I'm in Italy. If I don't, then I'm setting a terrible example for my country.

      I used to be a little nervous about ordering a cappucino after noon, afraid of looking like the worst kind of American who is so ignorant he can't grasp the finer aspects of the culture, but I got over that pretty quickly when I found how much I love them any time of day. Now I order my drink with my head held high, and let the locals sneer if they will.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  10. Avatar Laurie says:

    All you fellow gelato fanatics had better hurry on over to Sweet Spot over on upper Hilltop (near that Sports Ltd. mall north of Trader Joes) — they'll think they'd died and gone to heaven — er, Florence again!

    Truly authentic, fresh, DELICIOUS gelato in a decent range of flavors. My favorite: pina colada and forest berries.

    The cupcakes are also to die for. Recommended: Almond Joy, Diva and "Thinking of Elvis."