This week is Husbear's Spring Break - time to get out of Florence and see a little something! Since we're in full-on saving money for Southeast Asia mode (yes, we are going to Southeast Asia for a month in May/June!) we decided to stay pretty close to home.
So, Leghorn and Elba it is!
Firstly, let me address the silliest Anglicized name I've heard so far in Italy. Apparently, we have the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to blame for the conversion of Livorno to Leghorn. Personally, I can't say "we went to Leghorn" without giggling, so, if you don't mind, Livorno it is.
We left Firenze on a warm Spring day. Monday. When we arrived in Livorno, it was obviously still December - probably 30 degrees colder outside and drizzling. We were woefully unprepared for the weather and immediately broke our umbrella.
We didn't have too much trouble finding our 40 euro/night pensione, the Pensione Dante. Luckily, we had no plans to go to the Museo di Storia Naturale del Mediterraneo, since we might still be searching for it.
The pensione itself was fine, a traditional bathroom-down-the-hall dealie run by a friendly older lady. Signage on the outside was a little off-putting, though.
That handwritten sign hanging under the window says "Pensione Open," though if I didn't know better I might have guessed it said "Danger: Ax Murderer."
A nice lady at a tourist information kiosk gave us some very slick promotional materials, including six different walking itineraries we could take around Livorno. Now, Livorno isn't considered one of Tuscany's prettier towns - it's not its fault, though, since the town was all-but leveled by bombing during World War Two. It had been one of the main Fascist naval bases, which is perhaps why it's now one of Italy's most left-leaning cities?
Anyway, we found the beginning of the "Historic Livorno" walk, the Ponte di Marmo (or Marble Bridge). It became a little clear that Livorno was having to reach pretty far to find tourist attractions.
The bridge is actually more interesting than it appears at first glance, though - there are etchings on the top, left by the Livornese as tributes to fallen comrades. They are now pretty much impossible to decipher, though.
At this point, it was well on towards lunchtime. The place we had wanted to go appeared closed, so we walked back to a little establishment Husbear had noticed nearby. His eye was caught by the name - "Enostuzzicheria dal Capino." This appeared to be a mash-up of Enoteca, or wine store, with Stuzzicheria, or buffet-style snack place. We went in and were immediately warmed by the sight of a large display case with several different dishes set out for our perusal. We made our choices, ordered a bottle of house wine, and sat down.
Things got off to a really good start with a great bread basket. This particular Tuscan bread, though saltless according to tradition, was delicious with a nice soft center. The schiacciata, another traditional bread that's flatter and salty, was also quite good. We felt ourselves begin to warm up.
The Zuppa Toscana (Tuscan soup) banished the remaining cold.
Like Husbear says, you can tell a traditional Tuscan soup by the way it can be eaten with a fork. Thickened with bread, this vegetable soup really hit the spot.
Our other choice for primi was something that honestly didn't look all that great in the case, but was more than inviting when it made it onto the table.
I suppose you could call this an eggplant napoleon, grilled eggplant layered with meat and bechamel sauce. Oh my god - so simple, so easy to prepare ahead of time, but so good. Husbear is going to recreate this at home if I have any say in the matter.
For our secondi, we ordered a plate of marinated anchovies and some sliced meats and cheeses. The plate was extra generous - so large that the two types of pecorino didn't make it into the picture. Oops. The prosciutto and pancetta and other sausages did, though.
Definitely warmed, and really full, we decided to skip dessert in favor of asking about an after-dinner drink mentioned in the tourist brochures. Ponce alla Livornese, or Livorno Punch, was not what we were thinking it would be...
Turned out, rather than something like Planter's Punch (a sweet, bright red New Orleans concoction), Ponce alla Livornese is coffee with liquor in it. Rum and Italian cognac, to be precise. Again, perfect for a cold day.
This enormous meal was really quite reasonably priced. And everything was so good! It's truly one of the nicest things about a town that doesn't get a lot of tourists - it's much easier to find good restaurants just by chance than it is in Florence or Rome or Venice or Paris, for that matter.
Well and thoroughly warmed, we left dal Capino to see a little more of Livorno. This church was bombed during World War Two - only the center nave remains of the original structure.
The church of Santa Caterina was a bit of a surprise. Lately, I've been noticing more and more churches here built in the round - I'm not sure if I just hadn't been seeing them before, or what? The literature was silent over whether this Church ever had a decorated facade.
We went by the Fortezza Vecchia, or Old Fortress, left by the Medici after they took over. Now, it looks like it might break apart any second and tumble into the sea.
Another of the walks we wanted to do sent us along the waterfront for a good ways. We saw a large statue dedicated to Ferdinando I de'Medici. Around the base are arrayed four men in chains who are supposed to be Turks.
Honestly, we didn't make it very far into the 6-kilometer waterfront walk before we just got too cold and covered with sea spray. We did see the Scoglio della Regina, or the Queen's Bathing House. Doesn't look like much today, but I guess in the latter half of the 19th century it was quite the fashionable place to go for a swim.
I have to say, our first reaction on seeing it was "We froze our butts off for THIS?"
At this point, it was obviously time for another ponce. Seriously, it had been really warm all week in Florence - we weren't ready to deal with this cold again!
We walked along one of Livorno's main shopping streets, admiring the stores and the graffiti.
(Mouse over or click on the picture for a translation.)
At this point, it was definitely time to go back to the hotel to change for dinner. Livorno's main contribution to Italian food is a spicy tomatoey fish stew called Cacciucco, and we were determined to search some out for dinner. (Actually, we had been meaning to come to Livorno since the first time we heard about this soup.)
We ended up at a restaurant called L'Ancora, where we had been promised a solid and yummy rendition of cacciucco.
Our waiter recommended we start off with their Antipasti di Mare. This ended up being several tiny plates, including fried crab croquettes, sauteed tiny clams, puff pastry filled with salt cod paste, stuffed mussels, and polenta topped with a crab ragu. And a nice big bowl of steamed mussels in a garlicky wine broth, not too salty for sopping, for once.
We preferred some things over others (I don't think Husbear has ever met a stuffed mussel he liked), but all in all a solid start.
Then, things started to get tentacly. Our order of grilled seppia (cuttlefish) was done perfectly, served with a lemon wedge, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar for flavoring. Very good, though certainly a lot of squid. Note to self - balsamic vinegar + squid = YUMMY.
When our cacciucco arrived, we were surprised to find that it was pretty heavy on the tentacly bits, too. There were some octopus legs, along with a couple of enormous cuttlefish steaks and some assorted fish meats. The broth was rich and thick, with a nice spice.
We really enjoyed the cacciucco, and the fact that all of the tables around us seemed to be locals and everyone was ordering it really confirmed our choice of venue. We do wish the stew had been a bit heavier on fish and lighter on octopus and squid, but with a price point much lower than we saw elsewhere, that's probably just what you get.
Completely stuffed, we ordered limoncino for dessert. (That's limoncello, by a different name.)
The next morning, we woke up to find that it was sleeting. Yay! How fun! So, we put on all the clothes we had brought with us and went to check out Livorno's Mercato Centrale, in a large 19th century covered structure similar to the one here in Firenze.
The differences between Livorno's Mercato and Firenze's were telling. Firstly, Livorno's was a little more dilapidated... not as much tourist money changing hands in here. Also, there were a lot of dry good stores, selling boring everyday things like detergent and cereal - the kinds of things people living around there actually need, not the kinds of things tourists want to buy in an Italian market.
There were a couple of deli counters, one of which was selling what we can only describe as an octopus sausage.
One area in which Livorno really beat Firenze was in eggs. There were at least two stands in Livorno's market dedicated to eggs and eggs alone - and they had lots of different varieties. These guys sold goose eggs, quail eggs, and ostrich eggs! We haven't seen these here at all, though I hear they are possible to get.
We bought some pears and mandarins and gorgonzola and dark bread and yogurt for the train and ferry to Elba (after our meals the previous day, we were a bit meated out for the time being). Unfortunately, we then had to go back outside, where the sleet had redoubled its efforts to freeze the Livornese. We took a bus to the train station and got on a train to Piombino, the ferry terminus for Elba.
Thank god the train was heated.
Not that Piombino was any warmer than Livorno... but at least it wasn't sleeting.
Livorno did make a very nice stop on the way down to Elba, but I couldn't see spending more than a day there, at least this time of year. We are thrilled to have tried cacciucco, though.
Tomorrow, look for a post about how we tore Elba apart, yo! Or at least saw the main town and took a bus to another one. And it was cold. But we saw Napoleon's house!
Enostuzzicheria dal Capino, Via Carraia 18, Livorno. 388.180.6469
Ristorante L'Ancora, Scali delle Ancore 10, Livorno. 0586.881.401