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25 Things Women Should Know About Florence...

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American Journeywoman Rebecca Bricker is the author of Tales from Tavanti: An American Woman's Mid-Life Adventure in Italy, the funny, poignant, romantic story of her year in Florence, after her only child left for college. For more about the book and Rebecca's travels, visit her website and blog: www.rebeccabricker.com

We asked Rebecca to tell us about some of her favorite spots in Florence. This is what she said ...

There's so much to love about Florence. During the year I lived there, I was awed by its beauty, history and art. How could you not feel inspired when walking on ancient cobbles in the sandal steps of Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Salvatore Ferragamo (whose flagship store at Palazzo Spini Feroni, Via Tornabuoni 2, has a shoe museum, fyi). Which brings me to my first tip if you're planning a visit.

Wear sensible footwear. The pavers and cobbles of Florence were laid by Romans drunk on grappa at least that's my theory. If your heart is set on stillettos, you'll enjoy shopping for them in Florence, famous for its leather goods. I severely sprained my ankle on those cobbles during my early weeks in Florence, consequently elegant Italian shoes and boots weren't high on my shopping list. Instead, I was on a mission to find the Perfect Purse (= handbag, to those of you who think of a 'purse' as a wallet). Buying a purse/handbag in Florence is like a courtship. The courtship is more of a hustle if you shop at the market stalls. But if you're in a store, it's more languorous and often starts with an espresso or a cappuccino.

 

Bargains abound in Florence's bustling San Lorenzo street market. But be wary of inferior quality (and pickpockets). Handbags sold in the markets may be imported (mostly from China) and made of vinyl, not leather. The way to tell vinyl from leather is to briefly heat the bag with a match or a lighter. Vinyl will melt instantly. If you have doubts, ask the vendor to do the flame test.

 

I learned about the trick above at one of my favorite handbag shops, Linea 91, at Via del Proconsolo 91/r,* two blocks south of the Duomo. The owner, Tito, and his brothers are charming and their handbag selection offers high-quality and style. It was brother Alex who playfully torched a bag I was looking at, to prove it was leather and then offered me a cappuccino as we had a good laugh. It was the beginning of a wonderful Perfect Purse relationship. That torched bag (unscathed by the flame) brings me happy memories of funny Alex.

 

Another handbag shop I like is Flavio Pelletterie, ( www.florence.ala.it/flavio ) Piazza Duomo 37/r. When I made my first purchase there, Flavio proudly told me that the bag I had chosen had been made by his father. The store has a wide range of leather merchandise, from briefcases to small packable gift items, and is popular with tourists.

 

My favorite Florence gift items are scarves, linens, journals and stationery all easy to tuck into your suitcase. You can buy inexpensive scarves and shawls in the markets or off vendors' street carts. There's a lovely scarf shop called BIVA, at Via Dell'Ariento 8-10/r, in the San Lorenzo market district. Keep a scarf handy if you're wearing a sleeveless top and are planning to visit a church. Many Italian churches require women to cover their shoulders (and knees). Btw, you rarely see Italian women in shorts. In warm weather, capris or below-the-knee cotton skirts or dresses are good choices.

 

Gorgeous Italian linens are made by Tessitura Pardi near the Umbrian village of Montefalco. In Florence, you'll find an extensive selection of Pardi linens at Johnsons & Relatives, ( www.ilpapirofirenze.it/JR/ ) Via del Proconsolo 26/r, (across the street from Tito's Linea 91). Pardi's bath and hand towels, tablecloths, runners, placemats and napkins are made of finely woven cotton, linen or a blend of both, with patterns ranging from floral garlands to intricate geometrics to griffins among palmettos.

 

As a writer, I'm drawn to Florence's artisan stationery shops. The proprietor of Johnsons & Relatives, Francesco Giannini (a wonderful gentleman), also owns the Il Papiro ( bit.ly/zKnACp ) paper shops around Florence. One is located at Piazza Del Duomo 24/r (near Flavio's leather store). Il Papiro has a beautiful collection of journals and stationery (marbleized paper is a specialty).

 

Signum, ( www.signumfirenze.it/en ) is known for its exquisite leather-bound journals. Of the several Signum shops in Florence, my favorite is at Borgo degli Albizi 54/r, which has an Old World-style bindery in the back of the store.

 

For more contemporary paper products, check out the Fabriano Boutique ( bit.ly/yXfuRd ) Via del Corso 59/r. Although Fabriano embraces modern graphic design, it has been in the paper business since 1264!

 

At the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo gift shop, on Piazza del Duomo, I stock up on lovely, reasonably priced notecard sets imbued with Italian elegance. I give them to friends (a big hit) and stash a few sets away. When I send out a gift copy of my book, I include a note decorated with a gilded Florentine fleur-de-lis.

 

I highly recommend The Civilized Shopper's Guide to Florence ( http://amzn.to/wFQBy1 ) by Louise Fili (The Little Bookroom, 2007), a chunky little book chocked full of specialty shops, some that have been family-run businesses for centuries. The guide is organized by area, with walking-tour maps and suggested cafes, wine bars and gelaterias to sustain you. This book was often my compass for my wanderings around Florence.

 

It led me to Scriptorium, Via dei Servi 5/r, which specializes in handmade books, inks, calligraphy items, sealing stamps and fine leather-covered boxes,

 

And to Officina Profuma Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella ( http://bit.ly/ySGNPL ) at Via della Scala 16, one of the world's oldest pharmacies where herbal essences and perfumes are prepared according to original formulas that date back to the 1500s.

 


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