Don & Madeleine Leone moved into Beacon Street in March of 2016 when our upstairs neighbors Dick and Andrew moved to Berlin and rented out their condominium. We lived below them until we moved out in March of 2017 and became quite close friends during that one year. They are expats who moved back to the USA after living and working for most of their lives in Europe, Malaysia and India. Prior to moving to Boston, to be closer to their daughter, they had lived in Florence Italy for 20+ years. Dick and Andrew put their condo on the market earlier this year and the Leone’s moved out and they are now back in Florence for three months and will be flying back to Boston December 20th on the same flight out of Rome that we are taking. Since we are living just an hour and a half train ride from each other we decided to reconnect. We spent one weekend in Florence with them and they came to Rome for the weekend of our 28th anniversary which coincided with Don’s 79th birthday on November 17.
On October 19 we took the train to Florence and Madeleine then met us as we got off the bus in front of their beautiful apartment overlooking the Arno River just a few steps from the famous Ponte Vecchio.
We went to lunch at Zeb Gastronomia. Zeb stands for Zuppa e Bollito, which translates to soup & stews. This is a longtime favorite of the Leone’s and we were not disappointed. After lunch Don walked us up a hill to Piazzale Michelangelo which gives spectacular views of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
We also stopped into the church of San Maniato al Monte which is a Basilica described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany. That evening we had a very light meal of Italian tapas at Le volpi e l’uva a wine bar with outdoor seating which we took advantage of before attending a concert at Opera di Firenze.
Saturday morning Don rented a car and took us on a tour of northern Tuscany. Madeleine and Sandy went to the market in Greve while Don took Jim to Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano.
This is a small empire run by Dario Cecchini who is an eighth generation butcher, showman and entrepreneur with all sorts of products sold out of his small butcher shop and online, multiple restaurants and classes. Unfortunately Dario was away for the weekend and Jim did not get to meet him. Don and Jim did wander the streets of tiny Panzano and had free tastings of lardo and schiacciata con l’uva which Jim enjoyed very much.
Lardo is a type of salumi and schiacciata con l’uva is a traditional flatbread focaccia made with sweet ripe harvest grapes seasoned with rosemary. We then had lunch at Ristorante da Padellina in Strada which is known for its meat and the owner who loves Dante Alighieri and can reportedly quote the Divine Comedy by heart.
Jim had rabbit here which was the best that he has ever had. Don then drove us to his former golf club Firenze Circolo Golf Ugolino where we enjoyed the views, met a lot of Don’s old friends and had coffee on the large veranda. That evening Don and Madeleine introduced us to Burraco which is a card game popular in Italy. Sunday morning we took a wonderful 10K run along the Arno River.
We had lunch at Trattoria da Ruggero which served wonderful roast pork and chicken.
We left Florence Sunday evening a few pounds heavier than on arrival but we had a great experience and saw a side of Florence that few tourists are able to experience. On November 16 Don and Madeleine took the train to Rome and we were able to return the hosting favor and show them bits of Rome that they had not experienced previously. They arrived mid afternoon and we walked to Piazza Venezia which is the central hub of Rome. This is where The Vittorio Emanuele I monument is which is also known as the wedding cake or typewriter by locals. This impressive all white marble structure was built in honor of the 1st king of unified Rome and houses museums, mostly free, and the tomb of the unknown soldier. We took them up to the viewing deck on the roof to enjoy the spectacular city of Rome laid out below.
That evening we dined at La Matriciana which has been around since 1870 and is a very traditional old time Roman restaurant with friendly waiters and reasonable prices. Don and Madeleine were quite impressed and really liked this place. More Burraco on Friday night with the women’s team dominating. Saturday November 17 was a birthday, anniversary and Tosca day as we had tickets to see Puccini’s opera Tosca that night at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma where it premiered on 14 January 1900. The opera is in three acts which are set in three different locations in Rome and our goal was to visit at least two of the locations. Act I is set in the Barberini Chapel of the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle which we have run and walked by numerous times. This church is a quiet haven in the midst of the racket of central Rome and the chapel is tucked away in a dark corner.
We all did a 10 minute audio tour of the church before proceeding on to the scene of Act II, Palazzo Farnese. This Renaissance villa was built in the 16th century by the rich and powerful Farnese family. Alessandro Farnese went on to become Pope Paul III. Today this building is the French Embassy and we were unable to go inside.
Scene III takes place at Castel Sant’Angelo which the Leone’s have already been to so we will go see that another day. We took Don & Madeleine to our favorite lunch spot, Soro Margherita, in the Jewish Ghetto.
The Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is only a three block walk from our apartment, Tosca is Madeleine’s favorite opera and it was our best opera ever as we knew the story and had seen the sights.
Since the opera began at six we had time for another game of Burraco and the men were able to avenge their loss of the previous night. We did a 3.5 mile run Sunday enjoying the quietness of early morning Rome. Don then took us to Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffé where he had coffee with his niece many years ago and he found it quite memorable as they roast their beans on site and blend them with water from an ancient aqueduct. We sat outside and just enjoyed good coffee in the quaint little Piazza di Sant’ Eustachio.
As we were all hungry for breakfast/lunch Don went exploring and found Ristorante Archimede on the adjacent Piazza Dei Caprettari where we had a memorable final meal in Rome with Don and Madeleine.
Thank you Madeleine and Don. We enjoyed celebrating with you this weekend and look forward to seeing you on Alitalia next month when we all return home to Boston. Wonder if we could all play Burraco on the plane. That would surely make the time fly by.
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