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Monday, November 17, 2008

Florence and Prato: A Day in Tuscany

Wine is an important part of Italian life. In Tuscany, it's religion. If you doubt it for an instant, visiting the Duomo in Florence will prove the point.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore was built between 1296 and 1436. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the church's massive dome dominates the Florence skyline and its green and pink marble exterior speaks of the region's wealth and power that existed hundreds of years ago. If you are in good shape you can climb the tower next to the church, but I'd recommend spending your time wandering the church. During my visit I was admiring the carvings on one of the massive wood doors when I noticed that a key component woven around the exterior was grapes. For Tuscans, God and grapes coexist quite nicely.

We took a fairly packed high speed train on a Saturday morning run from Rome to Florence. From there, Sandy and Brhea went east in search of Gucci at something called "The Mall," which is a set of designer outlets, I went east in search of a quieter part of Tuscany.

Prato is a quick 25 minute train ride from Florence. Prato grew as a major center of textiles in the region. Like its bigger neighbor, it has a church as its central focus, which features recently restored frescoes from Filippo Lippi. Unlike Florence, where the streets were clogged with thousands of shoppers and tourists, it felt like I had Prato much to myself.

I wandered around for a couple of hours, admiring the Prato Duomo, and searching fruitlessly for some famous fresh Prato Biscotti. I did, however, find a small restaurant behind the Duomo that gave me a feel for authentic Tuscan food and drink. The Aroma di Vino was open when most of the rest of the town was shut for siesta. I had a bowl of ribollita, a vegetable and bread soup where just about all of the broth has been soaked up, and a pasta dish with a ground pork sauce. A glass of house red washed the meal down nicely. The purple liquid had nice hints of plum skins and berries throughout.

I went back to Florence after lunch and did some site seeing and shopping, stopping in the Mercato Centrale square to find a place to meet back up with the girls for dinner. We settled on Trattoria Za-Za at just about the same time that at least 100 other tourists tired from a day of walking Florence made the same decision. This meant that, while we had about two and a half hours before our train headed back to Rome, we barely made it out of the place in time because the restaurant appeared to have more hostesses than waiters. We sat outside in an enclosed tent and the food at Za-Za was nice, as was the wine. The restaurant was priced decently, especially compared to what we had been experiencing in Rome.

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