The distant view of Florence is iconic, its ancient Duomo towering high above the tangle of terracotta. Even through the frozen mist and hesitant snow of midday, which in summer would otherwise have been a pleasant Italian riposo, the view from Piazzale Michaelangelo was breath-taking.
I have been lucky enough to visit Florence three times in my life and all have been accompanied by varieties of severe weather. Hit by a deluge of rain in 2011 my interrailing companions and I sheltered in many gelaterie and bookshops before scurrying into Galleria dell’Accademia, admiring the sheer grandeur of Michelangelo’s David and its enormous feet. A couple of years later, my friend and I were caught in the boiling heat of Florence in August and, thanks to my deathly pale skin, we once again needed to spend most of our time inside. Instead, we climbed Giotto’s Campanile, the magnificent marble bell tower positioned beside the Duomo. With hindsight I’m aware this was utter madness climbing over 400 steps in the searing heat but the views, and my photographs, were spectacular.
This time it was snowing. The cold blast of wind stung down to the bone meaning my boyfriend, Calum, and I couldn’t leave our hotel without at least four layers, gloves and scarves. Even so this wearisome weather was a blessing in disguise. In the summer, the last thing many people want to do is consume large portions of pasta and pizza, but because you’re in Italy and the food is delicious you don’t want to miss out by opting for lighter dishes. Pizza and pasta are the reason you’re there! The British equivalent of bolognese sauce is a poor relation to the slowly simmered rich ragu with which you are presented in Italy. It’s a dilemma as before you’ve finished your spaghetti pomodoro you’re sweating and dreading what you’ll look like in your bikini when you reach Nice. Therefore, thanks to the bitter cold, Calum and I knew we should eat our fill with stodge and carbohydrates, for the innocent reason of staying warm.
It all began with the pizza. Il Pizzaiuolo is a tiny pizzeria, barely noticeable along the dark cobbled alleyway, hidden amidst the row of buildings either side. Once immersed in the steamy warmth inside, however, the surprising number of patrons defied logic, revealing this pizza haven is not so much a hidden gem but a haunt for locals. Provided with a table and two tankards of beer thanks to our painful attempts at Italian we ponderously perused the menu and our fellow diners as they devoured hefty slabs of pizza each sagging under the weight of its fresh and juicy toppings. My eye was drawn to the ‘Diavola’ pizza, unfortunately named after the devil, maybe because it’s so devilishly tasty. The pizza was swamped in tomato sauce and rounds of stringy mozzarella, then studded with pieces of spicy salami and black olives. Calum opted for the much more saintly ham pizza scattered with torn prosciutto. Straight from the wood oven, the pizzas were piping hot with a crisply blackened bases. Carving out wedges, we advanced on our unassuming dinners, scooping up the fillings by folding the dough like a soft and sloppy sandwich. Long ago I lost the shame of eating enthusiastically in front of Calum and for that I am grateful.
In record time we had licked the plates clean. Groaning under the weight of our full bellies we stumbled along to the Duomo in the icy cold. Even through my frozen smarting eyes I was once again overwhelmed by its enormity and grandeur. Satisfied with the delicious food and excited by the prospect of the next few days, I couldn’t wait for the following day and, most importantly, the next meal I would be eating.