Before my art workshop in the countryside began, I had a few Fun Days in Florence.
Back in college, I spent a semester of my junior year in Florence, and then stayed on for the summer. And since then, I've been back to Florence 3-4 times... but somehow - out of the blue - Florence completely blew me away this time around. I fell in love all over again, and more so than ever before. The non-stop BEAUTY, the art, the history, the walkability, the food... the whole damn thing. I was having some sort of magical experience.
Before I left, I did some searching online and found a few great (and recent) vegan blogger reports from Florence. I especially loved this series of posts from Farmers Market Vegan (1, 2, 3). They were so helpful, that I didn't really feel the need to recreate them. If you're headed to Florence soon, definitely check out her posts. What follows here is less thorough and more personal:
Day one in Florence.
I had 3 main objectives: High-Class Art, High-Class Bread Products, long beautiful walks.
First things first: a giant slab of schiaciatta for breakfast, in the company of the Palazzo Vecchio. I had 10 am tickets to visit the Uffizi Art Museum, and so I wanted to fuel up first.
Schiaciatta is a very special bread native to Tuscany, a lighter sort of focaccia, and the traditional variety is just with olive oil and salt. It is so insanely perfect and good. I did a bunch of searching online (in Italian) before leaving, to discover the recommended schiaciatta spots in town, and also asked a few people where to find the best schiaciatta.
After about 3 1/2 hours of art-intake at the Uffizi, I was ready to have some lunch. I followed Farmers Market Vegan's suggestion and headed across the river to 5 & Cinque for lunch. I knew I would like this spot, because "cinque and cinque" is one of my favorite treats. You probably know it as farinata, or cecina. In fact, I have a whole post coming up about this excellent treat...
Anyhow, this restaurant is super cute, very friendly, and is located in a charming little mini-piazza near the Boboli Palace. I had a plate of grilled veggies, hummus and crackers, plus a side salad.
And, naturally, I also had an order of cecina. Not surprisingly, this place makes a totally delicious and perfect cecina. So good.
Finish off the meal with a nice little espresso!I'll just come clean and admit that I actually really like watered-down American coffee. Back in my "cool" days, I liked espresso, or at least pretended to. But it had been years since I'd actually just had a straight-up espresso. Well, with a little sugar, I was pretty into it! And it helped stave off any trace jetleg - so that I could go for a nice long two-hour walk through the outer skirts of Florence. So pretty!
In Piazza Signoria (which is really central, near the Ponte Vecchio), there are two little spigots where you can fill your water bottle with either normal or sparkly water! Somehow, I never knew about this before this trip, but it is SO COOL. I am a 100% Sparkly Water Fan, so this was great news for me. I arranged my walking route to pass through the piazza multiple times, so that I could refill as often as I needed.
Using Farmers Market Vegan's tips, I visited a couple of natural foods stores in Florence. I especially had fun at La Raccolta. I had hoped to have dinner at the restaurant there, but they were closed in preparation for a remodel. That was a bummer, but on the other hand all the stuff in their store was on big discount. I stocked up on various goodies to take with me on my art workshop... and a croissant for breakfast the next day. Yum!
That said, I also found that the large Conad grocery store right by the train station had quite a fair selection of vegan products - including soy milks, soy yogurts, etc. Conad is a regular grocery store, but they also have a few stores around town called "Sapori & Ditorni Conad," which have all the basics plus more fancy stuff and regional treats. A great place to buy little foodie gifts to bring home. There's the one right by the train station, there's one near Ponte Vecchio, and another near the Duomo.
Perche No' for some vegan Hazelnut (made with rice milk) and Dark Chocolate Sorbet.
It's so nice for me that chocolate-hazelnut has always been my favorite two-flavor combo, and that hazelnut is a relatively easy flavor to find veganized. This was pure happiness. Walking the streets of Florence, on a warm summer night, happily alone but with loads of tourists and Florentines also out walking, enjoying my gelato and taking in the sights. Ahhh...
Another day, more delicious schiaciatta options - this time from Pugi Sciaciatteria. One plain (always my fave), one with tomatoes, and one with onions. This served as breakfast and lunch (along with a bunch of fruit from the main market).
One night I met up with some friends at a new spot called Ditta Artiginale. The ambiance was super chic and fun, with big open-air windows and a very contemporary interior design. All my pals ordered wine, and I just got sparkly water (beverage of choice!). I didn't really know the drill, but when they brought the drinks, they also brought each person a plate with three special tapas treats on it. Alas, none of them were vegan, so I offered mine to my pals.
Well, I didn't realize it, but my friend who had suggested the place snuck off and told them I was vegan, and before long they returned with a whole plate of 100% vegan tapas treats for me! How cool is that? Ditta Artiginale is super vegan-friendly actually. They have a tofu dish on the regular menu, and I noticed they offered soy or almond milk lattes too (not so easy to find in Italy!). Also, the proprietor who owns and runs the place is a real gem. Super friendly and enthusiastic about his new place - rightfully so!
In fact, the next morning, I headed back over there for a soy cappuccino. Ahhhh. Italians are better at making cappuccinos than other people. It's just a fact. It was a such a peaceful way to start my day, and I knew it would be my last shot at a soy cappuccino for a while. I savored every little bit and enjoyed the quiet of the Florence streets in the morning... before another busy day of art, bread, and walking.
Vecchio Forno Firenze. Look how bright and puffy that bread is!! And they had one that was covered in veggies: potatoes, onions, zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant. I had the plain one for breakfast and the veggie slice for lunch. Ahhh. Carby perfection. I went back to this place a few times - including on the very last day of my trip.