As we arrived in Florence, the sun was obscured and the sky was still illuminated. Outside the train station there was a swarm of birds and the ascending full moon was quite magical. If you have never taken a speedy cab ride through the narrow side streets of downtown Florence, you’ll have to trust us that it is a memorable experience and you are left wondering how the side mirrors are still attached to the vehicle. We stayed just outside the downtown area and after checking into our hotel we hurried out to meet a friend for the evening.
It was a nice walk to the bus stop and we did our best to blend with the locals, many of whom were on their evening commute. Bus #23 dropped us right near Ponte alla Grazie so we could walk across the river into the city center. We met a dear friend at the Gallery hotel and had a nice aperitif with a snack. Afterwards, we took a short walk to Osteria Del Porcellino. Their service is always relaxed, friendly and familiar. We are very happy for the proprietors who have managed to expand the dining area. Our food was memorable as always: pumpkin flan, pappardelle a cinghiale, Tagliata di manzo, topped off with biscotti and Vin Santo.
Catching the #23 bus again was no trouble. Our difficulty this time was knowing where to get off in the dark streets outside Florence. We made a mistake, got off too early and realized it was now after midnight and the buses had stopped running! So it was a LONG walk back to our hotel, a good way to work off the indulgent meal as we sang the praises of GPS on our iPhone. Crisis averted.
The next morning, we awoke to fully discover the beautiful hotel where we were staying. Barely a year old, Hotel Mulino di Firenze was once home to a flour mill. Many of the inner workings from the mill are preserved and displayed in their original setting. We wandered about the common areas observing the mechanics and the artifacts that were once part of the milling process. We settled into the grand eating area for breakfast and enjoyed our meal with a view of the river. Quite a shame that we only stayed one night but we have definitely marked this place for a return visit.
The day was glorious, with clear skies the views of the countryside were picturesque; we could not have chosen a better day for our drive to Marche. Our friend Cristina picked us up just after breakfast and we headed south on the autostrada. There is not a direct route from Tuscany to Marche, so our drive took us past Arezzo, around Lake Trasimeno, through Perugia and Assisi and then over the mountains. It was a gorgeous drive. We arrived at our first stop in the town of Fermo, near Porto San Giorgio. We went directly to visit our premier manufacturer of semi-bespoke footwear, Alberto Fasciani. In our next post, we will have details about our visit with Alberto Fasciani and his wife. They were very gracious and we were pleased to have learned so much from the experience.
Afterward, the day was getting long so we head to Civitanova Marche to stay the evening. On the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Civitanova Marche is a charming beach town and a renowned vacation resort in the summer. We decided to do a little exploring and we found some delightful boutiques and then a wonderful Italian “happy hour”, which made for a perfect end to our day.
The next morning we were up and off early with anticipation of more visits to shoe factories. We took the SS77 to Montegranaro, and headed up the hill to Monte San Giusto to visit the factory that produces Fiorentini + Baker product. We had this illusion of a big modern factory with a sort of air about it, but we were pleasantly mistaken. The facility which produces one of our most popular products was very humble with less than 25 employees and is quite inconspicuous in its surroundings. Sonia was our host and we were treated to the full tour of the factory. We’ll describe details and show pictures of the tour in a future post.
Afterward, we stopped for a coffee and some reflection. Our next stop was only a 20 minute drive. On the other side of the SuperStrada there were numerous signs pointing directions to various factories. We noticed a sharp contrast as we passed by the industrial areas, row after row of factories and then the quaint towns from the 14th century located in the hills. The MOMA shoe factory is located in those hills. We passed through the town of Morrovalle and continue up, enjoying the marvelous country side rich with agriculture. As we arrived, we are discussed the obvious; the creative inspiration for the MOMA shoes is most certainly drawn from the beauty which surrounds the facility. With 360° degree views of the valley below and the small towns built with stone, the designers and craftsmen can easily pull from nature what they need to enjoy their work. We were greeted with familiar faces at the door, like being welcomed into someone’s home.
After our factory tour came what was easily the highlight of our day. Our hosts Lucca and Ricardo from the MOMA shoe factory directed us to one of their favorite local restaurants where they treated us to a customary, multi-course Italian lunch of seafood. The unassuming restaurant was located on the third floor of an otherwise nondescript building. We were greeted by a friendly man (clearly the owner) and his staff who took us in as family. Once the meal began it just kept on coming: shrimp with calamari, shrimp in the shell, crayfish, sardines, octopus with potatoes, fried anchovies, clams, and mussels. There was a birthday involved, so of course a little Tiramisu and coffee couldn’t hurt. It was a rare delicious treat during our busy schedule and we very much enjoyed being in the moment. We shared pictures and stories of Seattle with our Italian friends and they reciprocated.
After lunch it was a long yet scenic drive back to Florence. We said goodbye to Cristina at our hotel and thanked her repeatedly for being our guide, chauffeur and teacher through Le Marche. Cristina was looking forward to being with her lovely family. We were a bit weary and opted for a low-key, small dinner and a nice long sleep.
The following day was our day off! We had no schedule, no appointments, and nowhere to be. Our hotel was strategically close to the airport but also right on the bus line. Fifteen minutes and a few Euro later, we arrived at the Duomo in Florence!
We wandered through the streets aimlessly. It was nice to have a down day. We shopped at the usual suspects: Luisa Via Roma, Raspini and Calvani and discovered some new favorites like A Piedi Nudi nel Parco. Piazza della Republica was filled with tourists and locals alike. Once again we had lucked out on the weather, and it was clear to us that everyone was enjoying the beautiful day. We found a sunny seat outside a pizzeria for lunch and a glass of wine. We wandered some more through the open markets and picked up some edible goodies for friends and family back home. We could have gone on and on but the reality was starting to present itself. We were starting to dread the 4am wake up call, our flight home was imminent. So that meant it had to be an early dinner for us. Fortunately we were able to sneak into Za Za without a reservation. They didn’t disappoint, great atmosphere and traditional Florentine – Tuscan cuisine: saffron risotto with shrimp and shaved truffles. Our last night in Italy was the perfect ending to a memorable and very productive trip.
Next in our Italy Series we will detail our visits to the shoe factories:
1) Alberto Fasciani 2) Fiorentini + Baker 3) MOMA