Then suddenly it sweeps over me, Florence, Italy

Italy

Hey guys, so it turns out Florence is really fucking beautiful! It’s full of amazing art and lovely bars and surrounded by properly gorgeous rolling countryside that is sort of like quintessentially English countryside but somehow more sun drenched and misty and lovely. I realise this is common knowledge for the thousands of tourists who flock there every year but somehow I missed it. 

As far as commutes into town go, it certainly beats the 55 down Hackney Road

Home for my two day stay was a lovely old house up on a hill about two miles southeast of the city. A real Airbnb gem, this great lil BnB is run by Claire, her son Stefano and their lovely housekeeper Nico. After dropping my bags in my (enormous) room and admiring my lemon yellow 70s bathroom of dreams I set off on the leasurely 45 minute walk into town, down cobbled streets flanked so closely by stone walls I’m amazed a single car fits down them. In my usual way I had done absolutely no research so followed my nose around town, spending a faintly ridiculous amount of money on hand marbled postcards and trying to remember which way I had come from. I paused at the river to get my bearings and generally marvel at quite how photogenic the whole situation was. It was then that I remembered the ever knowledgeable Curious Pear had done a city guide to Florence, and after consulting it decided to head to Gurdulu for dinner to try the ‘sophisticated, seasonal gourmet cooking’. Of course I was unfashionably early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so I popped into a tiny wine bar, Langolino, next door to read my book and kill some time. Two hours, various new friends and more than my fair share of Spumante later, I found myself exiting Langolino in the opposite direction, across Piazza Santo Spirito in search of some famously indulgent gnocchi alla tartufi from Osteria Santo Spirito. Sadly they were fully booked, so my new friend Mariano and I instead found ourselves propping up another bar, drinking boulevardiers and eating olives. After a while we had to admit that fun as it was, it really wasn’t dinner so Mariano led me through town to his favourite sandwhich spot –  All’Antico Vinaio. Even at 10.30pm the queue was out the door, but Mariano snuck us to the front and ordered us two ‘sandwiches’. Huge slabs of fresh focaccia with a great smear of truffle paste, fresh soft cheese, lightly sautéed courgette and fresh rocket. Dio mio. Cheesy chips may never suffice again. Refuelled, we wandered back into the night, but only as far as the steps of the Uffizi gallery where one of Mariano’s friends was busking. Another few hours and another few bottles of wine drunk surreptitiously from plastic cups, eventually I made the slightly wobblier walk back to the house, cursing past me for agreeing to an 8am breakfast.

The Ponte Vecchio at sunset. Show off.


The next morning, my headache and I were met with a delicious breakfast of local jams and toast, before getting the bus back into town to do some culture. In a move that, in hindsight, was possibly ambitious considering the scale of my hangover, I decided to tackle the Uffizi. Home to the largest collection of renaissance art in the world, it is worth braving the crowds to see, though I would recommend drinking at last one less bottle of wine than I had to fully enjoy the experience. After two hours of staring at various enormous visualisations of innocents being slaughtered and so so many terrifying ugly baby Jesuses, I gave up and retreated to a cafe for cake and WiFi and sitting. 

When all I could think off whole looking at this picture was ‘pull my finger’, I figured I’d probably had enough art for one day

When my Airbnb host, Stefano, checked in on me that afternoon to see how I was getting on I explained that I had failed to go for dinner the night before and asked if he had any recommendations. It turned out he actually owns Gurdulu and a couple of other spots around town, so he offered to get me a reservation at any of them or, as a wildcard, to come for dinner with him and some friends in a villa on the other side of town. Never one to say to no a free dinner, I agreed and a few hours later Stefano picked me up and drove, at truly terrifying speed, through the winding roads to the west of the city. The evening that followed was a blur. About 20 people, mostly friends since they were kids, all together in this mad huge beautiful villa, chain smoking and feeding me wine and roasted vegetables and bread and shouting at each other in that uniquely Italian way that simultaneously conveys outrage anger and deep rooted love. Obviously I had less than no idea what was being said most of the time but everyone was lovely and engaging and it made me miss my mad friends back home. 

The next morning, I contemplated my time in Florence and thought about how maybe not reading the guidebooks or doing the research is necessarily the worst mistake. Wandering slightly blindly but, crucially, saying yes to the situations we stumble into often produce the most unexpected and positive results. Maybe slightly less wine next time though.

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

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A brief walk in Memphis

Memphis

Our first destination post Nashville was Memphis; the land of Elvis, B.B. King and soul food. We only had one night in town and were staying in the Cooper-Young neighbourhood, which it turns out is the area to be in for great restaurants and bars removed from the madness of the Beale Street crowds. After getting settled in our Airbnb (this time a spare room in the home of a wonderful Brazillian woman named Dalila, her sons and their pet Guinea pig and chameleon) we set off in search of dinner.

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Beauty Shop with original sinks that Priscilla Presley may or may not have been permed in (Credit: thebeautyshoprestaurant.com)

We found ourselves at Beauty Shop, formerly Priscilla Presley’s preferred spot for a dye job, now a fantastically kitsch restaurant serving food thats hard to pin down in genre but so so delicious. The whole place is so well designed; from the tables for two where you sit under hooded Belvedere hair dryers not unlike the ones your granny gets her permed under, while larger parties find themselves in booths made of glass bricks, to the original mint green hair washing sinks still in use behind the bar. I had pan roasted barramundi with sweet corn and pea succotash, almonds and a citrus garlic coconut milk broth. Neil had something with duck that looked delicious but I can’t for the life of me remember what was in it. George had a double order of kale salad, because… George. We also had great skinny fries with cayenne, sugar and spring onions. The highlight for me though had to be the avocado and white chocolate ice creams for dessert which went bizarrely well together and balanced out an otherwise worryingly healthy meal.

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Barramundi with corn, peas and citrus coconut broth. Fries with cayenne, sugar and spring onions.

The next day was spent exploring. Beale Street; essentially two miles of blues clubs, restaurants and touristy shops with some major neon sign competition between them. The vintage and antique stores back in Cooper-Young were packed so full of treasures I literally wanted to hire a shipping container and take everything with me. We also spent a truly unhealthy amount of time at the Bass Pro shop – an giant silver pyramid where you can buy anything and everything to make your Duck Dynasty/Bear Grylls (delete as culturally relevant) dreams come true. We were tempted by the adorable pink hand guns and camouflage speed boats, but alas the budget wouldn’t stretch.

“Put some South in your mouth” on Beale Street

It was a flying visit, so fleeting in fact that we didn’t even make it to Graceland, but Memphis will stick in my memory for its undeniable charm, style and soul. We would have loved to stay longer but had plenty of ground to cover before Neil flew out of New Orleans in 5 days so the road was calling..


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.