Two weekends with Don & Madeleine

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.

Heading out for Florence.
Leaving Rome on the train.

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.

The view from the apartment window.
Street level from in front of the apartment with Ponte Vecchio on the left.

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.

It is a fairly steep uphill walk.
The old wall of Florence with country on the left and the city on the right.
Ponte Vecchio on the far left and the Duomo in the center.

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. IMG_3513 (1)

Opera di Firenze, it’s a brand new building.


Having breakfast Saturday morning at Madeleine’s favorite coffee bar while Don sleeps.

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 the entrance to the Cecchini butcher shop.  He owns the whole top of the hill with three different restaurants.

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.

Narrow streets of Panzano.


She gave us free pieces of Schiacciata con l’uva because Don was talking to her so 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.

Not sure if this is the guy who quotes the Divine Comedy.  Don is holding the book.

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. IMG_3556IMG_3552That 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.

Sunday morning run along the Arno, three miles down one side and three miles back on the other side.
Sandy is standing on Ponte Grazie with Ponte Vecchio in the background.  Don & Madeleine’s building is on the left.

We had lunch at Trattoria da Ruggero which served wonderful roast pork and chicken.

This restaurant was filled with local families having Sunday lunch when we left.
Jim’s beautiful and tasty roast pork.

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.

Base of Vittorio Emanuele I monument.
View at dusk of the coliseum as a flock of birds fly by

IMG_4292That 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. IMG_4301More 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.

Sant’Andrea della Valle.
Bernini Chapel.

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.

IMG_4315 (1)
Palazzo Farnese.
Piazza Farnese.

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. IMG_4322

“Eat it or I’ll shove it in your mouth.”  The infamous waitress of Soro Margherita.

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.

Not a beautiful or imposing building from the outside, also looks newer than 1890.
28 years of marital bliss.
The interior looks more like an old opera house.

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.

We had coffee outside at the empty table.
Standing in Piazza Dei Caprettari looking at 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.

A bus in Florence.
Florence round about sculpture.
Don took Jim to see St. Peter’s chains in Rome.

Just a note on how the blogs are formatted.  Anything in blue is a link to something that we recommend.

5 responses to “Two weekends with Don & Madeleine”

  1. […] & Don Leone who lived above us in Boston for a few years.  We have met up with them in Florence & Rome. Saturday night we hung out with two of our favorite people, David and Jill Merrill.  Jill is Bob […]

  2. Happy Anniversary ❤️
    You’re celebrating it in amazing fashion!

    1. Thank you Michelle. We are just celebrating life in a style that we love.

  3. Dear Sandy and Jim,
    You are certainly living the dream of every retiree….and you both have never looked better!
    I wish I had put you together with Jeff and Valeria while you were exploring Tuscany. They have a few out of the way places that you would enjoy!
    If it isn’t too late call them at 011 39 0577‬‬‬ 31474 or e-mail at
    Keep on enjoying. Love your Blog.
    XOX Ruthie

    1. Ruth,
      We would love to see them. We did drive right by Siena but we had too much family with us and too much to do. We will look them up again someday.

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