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Throwback: On the Ponte Vecchio

Throwback Thursday photo from 2005. A windblown Hand Crafted Tour group on the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy. Benvenuto Cellini, Florence's greatest goldsmith, looks on unperturbed.

New life for Florence's Central Market

Nestled between the main train station and the cathedral, Florence's Mercato Centrale has been a fixture of local culture and life for more than 100 years. I have always enjoyed wandering through the bustling market, filled with foreign sights, sounds and smells.

Modern hypermarkets and changes in buying habits have put pressure on the old market, and in recent years the beautiful iron and glass structure has fallen on hard times. I was very happy to see and experience the results of an initiative to breath new life back into Mercato.

The lower level still serves as a market, with dozens of individual stalls selling everything from fresh flowers and vegetables to beef tongue and calf brains

After a multi-million dollar renovation, the upper floor is now like a giant food court, only better. Think trendy food trucks, without the trucks.

Wander around, sample foods, and pick up lunch, dinner or a snack. Grab a seat at one of the tables in the middle and one of the staff will be by to take your drink order.

On a recent mid-week evening there was no problem finding a seat -- there are over 500 of them -- but by 9:00 pm the place was packed and buzzing. Most of the patrons seemed to be locals, as interested and excited by the idea as we were.

Great moments in international relations

A 14th century statue in Florence was damaged by an American tourist -- because obviously if there's no ropes around it, it's ok to touch it, right? Thanks for helping bolster the international view of American tourists. (palm to forehead)

Restaurant Review: Il Barroccio, Florence, Italy

Il Barroccio
Via della Vigna Vecchia 31/r, Firenze
Tel. 055-211-503
Open: 12:00 to 14:00 & 19:00 to 21:00
Closed: Wednesdays
Average Price: €18 per person

I visit this restaurant every time I'm in Florence, which is usually four or five times a year. It's in the heart of Florence, near the Bargello Museum and just down the street from the much more trendy restaurant Acqua al 2. While people are lined up out the door at Acqua, Il Barroccio can be virtually empty -- and the funny thing is, the food at Il Barroccio is MUCH better, and less expensive.

While the decor here is basic and the service sometimes painfully slow, the food is worth it. This is as close to home cooking as you’ll come anywhere in Italy. Try the mixed first courses, which gives you a sampling of the restaurants four best dishes. The Tagliata Chianino, thinly sliced local beef with your choice of sauce, is also very good.

Friendly, English-speaking Gianni is doing it all, from taking your order to cooking in the back, so be patient, relax and enjoy.

Tell Gianni I sent you.

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