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Yellow Bar

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Yellow Bar, Florence

I had intended to write about a modest restaurant where we had two of our three Florence dinners last month, but perhaps the moment has come and gone. Let me give it a shot. I’ll take the opportunity, while at it, to comment more generally on our Florence stay.

We arrived in Florence around 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, one month ago, on the train from Rome. We would depart less than 72 hours later by train for Milan. You’ll recall from previous posts that our departure day, Tuesday, was Gail’s birthday, and our plan for that day was to spend some of her birthday in Milan, seeing The Last Supper and eating at Trattoria Milanese, before boarding the night train to Paris. (A very brief account was given here.) One consequence of our decision to leave Florence at noontime on Tuesday was that we didn’t have nearly enough time to visit all the museums and churches we wished to, especially because on Monday the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries would be closed. This meant we had to visit them on Sunday, and we had made reservations accordingly. It also meant that we wanted to make good use of our time Saturday afternoon upon our arrival. As a result, we did something we did nowhere else — we made arrangements for a private tour guide to walk us around the city.

We got to our hotel, the Hotel Savoy and were in our room by 3:00. And what a view we had out the window, over the rooftops, of the Duomo and the Campanile:

After unpacking, we went down to the lobby, looked out on Piazza della Repubblica, then went back in the lobby and met Anna, our guide. She’s a Florence native, about our age, and she proved extremely knowledgeable (as we had hoped) about history, art, and architecture. We would spend a little less than 3 hours together, walking first through the Piazza (with a discussion of its construction in the late 1800s and the destruction of much of old Florence to accommodate it) and on to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. We were just in time to see the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella before it closed for the day. As became evident to us with each church visit in Florence, one could spend hours in each of them, if only one had allowed enough time. (If you haven’t been to this church, you can get a quick idea of how richly filled it is with important art by scanning the wikipedia entry.)

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

Once we exited the church, we spent some time looking at its exterior and around the Piazza, but it was already getting dark, and a little rainy, so soon we moved on, walking around the central part of the city until we arrived at Piazza della Signoria. If you’ve been to Florence, there’s really not much I need to say. And if you haven’t, I wouldn’t know where to begin. The Piazza is dominated by Palazzo Vecchio, one of the most familiar sights of Florence, and by the many sculptures in front of it, including a replica of the David that once stood there. After Anna talked to us about many of the piazza’s highlights, we walked on past the adjacent Uffizi to the Arno, looked out at Ponte Vecchio, got advice from her about where to go early the next morning with our Uffizi reservation and voucher in order to get in quickly, and then got tips about what else to do. At this point, I asked if she had time to give us additional guidance on Monday morning and she readily agreed. We then parted.

Another tip Anna had given us was to eat at Yellow Bar. She described it as a place that locals go to for pizza and pasta, and she suggested we arrive early, at 7:00, which suited us, since we were plenty hungry and tired at that point and would be happy with an early dinner. Yellow Bar is on via del Proconsolo, a short street that runs from the back end of the Duomo south a few blocks to Piazza San Firenze. We weren’t oriented too well at this point, but we soon realized that it was hardly more than a 2-minute walk from Piazza della Signoria. We arrived around 7:00 and as we examined the menu on the outside, at least 5 groups of people rushed past us. As we understood better on our return visit two nights later, the way the restaurant is set up, the staff has a very early dinner at a long table near the rear at around 6:30. As they finish, they begin to set up the restaurant, from the front rearwards. When you walk in, there’s a narrow passage with booths on both sides, maybe 5 booths long, beyond which the restaurant opens up more widely, with a variety of seating options, including that long table the staff uses. The narrowness of the front is due in part to the space to its side being devoted to the fresh pasta making station, as pictured in the photo above beyond a small, intimate eating area. At around 7:00, diners start to pour in, and are seated from the tables right by the front door on back to the rear. In parallel, the staff begins to set the tables, from front to rear.

An older local-looking couple was amongst the groups pouring in ahead of us, and in contrast to everyone else, they took seats in the rear. This convinced me that the rear was the better place to sit. Plus, with the door constantly opening, and temperatures in the high 40s, it was pretty cool and drafty in front. We were put in front, but I soon asked if we could go in the rear. The fellow seating everyone, perhaps one of the owners, gave me a look like I was a little nutty, but shrugged his shoulders as if to say sure. We moved back, right next to that older couple. And that’s when I realized that while we were welcome to sit anywhere we wanted, we weren’t going to get served until everyone who took seats in front of us was served, regardless of when they came in. Because that’s simply how the place operates. We eventually got table settings and menus, around the time a table to the front got its pizza.

But no matter. We had nowhere to go, other than back to the hotel. The place was soon packed and noisy, and the staff turned out to be quite efficient, once things got going.

If only I could now tell you exactly what we ordered. I had a pasta dish, carbonara I’m pretty sure, to start. Whatever it was, it was fantastic, just maybe the best pasta I had on the trip, except for the pasta I had there two nights later. And then I had a veal dish. We didn’t have dessert. Instead, after dinner, we strolled up and down via dei Cerchi, as Anna told us to do. This is the street that runs north-south between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. As part of our walk with Anna, we went south on it, around 6:00 PM, and it was absolutely filled with people, as it was from 8:30 to 9:00. We stopped at a crowded gelateria for dessert, walked some more, then returned to our hotel.

Let me sketch the rest of our Florence stay.

Sunday we were up early, had breakfast at 8:00, and reported to the Uffizi at 8:45 to exchange our voucher for tickets. We spent 3 1/2 hours there. Hardly enough. How could it be? And how can anything be better than Room 2, where we started, with the Giotto and Cimabue and Duccio alterpieces? We were due at the Accademia at 4:00, and hoped to go to the Bargello in-between, but we made the miscalculation of putting it off, having no idea that it would close at 1:50 (and be closed Monday too). Instead, on leaving the Uffizi, we walked over to Ponte Vecchio, went into some of the jewelry stores on the bridge, returned to Piazza della Repubblica by our hotel, and sat down at Gilli, the historic cafe just across from our hotel, for a simple but expensive lunch. (We foolishly ignored Anna’s advice from the day before to eat standing at the counter when at cafes, like the locals. Tourists sit, and they pay extra for it. Locals stand and socialize. Of course, after over 4 hours on our feet, we kind of needed to sit.)

After a short rest in our room, we walked over to the Bargello, just across from Yellow Bar, and that’s when we discovered that it was closed for the day. So we walked back to the Duomo and explored inside. The Baptistry was closed, so we couldn’t enter there. And we had no time for the Duomo’s museu, since we had our Accademia reservations. We headed up toward the Accademia, discovering as we entered Piazza della SS Annunziata on its back side that there was a street market. We later learned from Anna that it’s the weekly organic food market. We explored it in full before going around the block to the Accademia.

Organic cheeses at the street market

And then we spent two hours in the Accademia. The crowds were only moderate, allowing for instance for full appreciation of Michelangelo’s David without huge crowds of people in front having their picture taken. (In fact, photos aren’t allowed, but this didn’t stop a constant stream of people from taking them.) One could walk around David or sit and have unobstructed views. In addition to the permanent collection — which of course is extraordinary — the Gallery had a special Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit. And as tired as we were at the end, we still took the time to go through it, a good decision, because it was excellent. In addition to the special exhibit rooms, some of Mapplethorpe’s photos were also set up next to Michelangelo sculptures, to bring out analogies and the sculptural influences on Mapplethorpe’s photography. This was well done. The only problem is that the way the four photos around the David were set up, they partially obstructed views of it from certain angles.

What a day. We were thoroughly exhausted. We rested up for 2 hours in the hotel before venturing out at 8:30 for a simple dinner. It was probably the cheapest dinner of our entire trip. Not by design. We just got tired of walking around and settled on a place that looked pleasant. It had a modest fixed price dinner, and that’s what we chose. Except for the meat, everything was excellent, and the meat was tasty enough, just a little tough. Good pasta. Decent wine. Good dessert.

Monday. We met Anna at 10:00 and headed out for a little over 3 hours with her. First stop, Basilica de Santa Croce. So many wonders. What can one say? The Giotto frescoes. The tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo and Rossini and so many more. We spent an hour and a half there, then walked across the city to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, with its own list of treasures. Anna left us there, and we soon departed for the Central Market, where we had lunch. (See my post from earlier today regarding lunch.)

We rested back at the hotel, but time was getting short, so at 3:30 we headed out again, across the Arno to the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine so we could see the Brancacci Chapel before it closed for the day, with its paintings by Masolino, Masaccio, and Lippi. What a treat. Then back over the river and over to the Baptistry, which like everything else in Florence, keeps the strangest hours, but now it was open, just before 5:00. We took our time studying each scene in the wondrous mosaic ceiling.

Baptistry ceiling, Florence

And then we headed around the back side of the Duomo to its museum, where we saw still more treasures until closing time, including Michelangelo’s late Pietà and three of Ghiberti’s panels from the Baptistry north doors. Plus, we studied each of the panels from the Campanile — the originals are in the museum, with replicas on the tower.

By 6:30, after another full day, we headed out and found ourselves at the foot of via del Proconsolo. What to do? We headed down the street to Yellow Bar. But it was early yet, and the staff could be seen eating at the long table. We wandered around the neighborhood, returned at 7:00, and when the proprietor offered to seat us at a table in front, I pointed to the rear. His face showed a sign of recognition from two nights earlier and he waved us back, where once again we waited a long time to get our table set and be served. But it was worth it. I had a different pasta dish this time, the best. Gail started with a pizza, which I was allowed a tiny taste of. Also amazingly good. I can’t remember our second dishes. I know I liked mine. And this time we stayed for excellent desserts. I wish I took notes

Tuesday we got up early and headed over to the Bargello, since we were determined to see it before leaving Florence. We got in around 8:30, saw the Donatello and Michelangelo sculptures and a lot more, then split up so Gail could do a little shopping and I could see Piazza della Signoria and its sculptures in daytime without heavy rain. I also saw tour group after tour group, huge ones, pouring in and perhaps on to the Uffizi. I was thankful that we hadn’t run into them on Sunday morning. Back to the hotel to pack, check out, go to the train station, and head to Milan.

So much still to see in Florence. We’ll need to go back.

Categories: Food, Restaurants, Travel
  1. December 7, 2009 at 11:28 PM

    I liked most of all that last photo. It is so nice.

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