DayTripQuip: Pensione Bencista – Fiesole From Piazza San Marco By Bus (Florence, Italy)

We have spent quite a bit of time in Florence over the years, most recently staying the month of July in an apartment near Mercato San’Ambrogio (don’t miss it) in addition to other trips ranging from a few days to over a month.

The ATAF Bus – Line 7 – travels between Piazza San Marco – Via La Pira and Fiesole – Vinandro Osteria about every 20-30 minutes between 5am and 1am. Bus stop: FM0373 (REDRESS) is on the main road to/from Fiesole and a short 10 minute stroll from Pensione Bencista. You can purchase tickets at any tabaccaio (tobacco shop – look for a dark blue sign with a big “T”) and the hotel may have some for sale. The stop going to Florence is across the road close to the top of the big bend and the one going toward Fiesole is up the road (to your right) 100 or so feet.

Piazza San Marco is close to the historical center (centro storico) of Florence, very close to Galleria dell’Accademia where Michelangelo’s “David” resides and short walk to the Duomo, central Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi and the train station (Santa Maria Novella).

From Santa Maria Novella, you can go pretty much anywhere in Italy or Europe for that matter. Nice, short day trips available via rail are to Prato, Lucca, Pisa, Arezzo, Siena and Bologna, all of which leave you close to the city center.

You can read my numerous reviews of Florence restaurants, hotels, museums, and attractions here on TripAdvisor and on my popular blog where there is much more detailed information, including my patented and popular DayTripQuips.

Enjoy Firenze and buon viaggio!


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Tabelog – Official Judge (Silver)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic
View my food journey on Zomato!

Title: DayTripQuip: Pensione Bencista – Fiesole From Piazza San Marco By Bus (Florence, Italy)

Key Words: Fiesole Pensione Bencista, Florence, Firenze, pensione, Bencista, Piazza San Marco, CombatCritic, TravelValue, DayTripQuip, day, trip, quip, travel, value, review, Yelp

Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort

Little Florentine Retreat
Via di Pilastri 36, Firenze, Italia
Web: Airbnb
Prices:  €  € € 

Accommodations: Apartment

Via Pilastri and Chiesa Sant’Ambrogio (Far Right)

We spent two months in Florence, one month in July 2012 and the other this past July (2015), staying in apartments both times. The first apartment was small, but nice in the Santa Croce/Sant’Ambrogio area and the cost a very reasonable $1000 a month or a little over $33 per day. It had a small kitchen and bath, living room, loft (open) bedroom, air conditioning, wireless internet, and a clothes washer.

Living Room

We tried to rent the same apartment this year, but the owner was not cooperative, so we found another place in the same area, our favorite, and are we happy we did!

Main Bedroom

This apartment, just around the corner from the Jewish Temple and down the street from Chiesa and Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, is on the top floor of a historic villa. With no elevator, the 54 steps (no elevator) to the apartment became tedious over the month, particularly with heavy bags and 100 degree temperatures practically every day, so we limited are exits and entries as much as possible. After all, who wants to spend most of the day in an apartment when in one of the most beautiful and culturally abundant cities in the world?

Main Bedroom and Wardrobe


The owner greeted us warmly upon arrival, explaining the intricacies of the small, but very functional two-bedroom apartment. One decent size bedroom with queen size bed and wardrobe and one smaller bedroom with a pullout bed, desk, and chair were all we needed for the two of us and the occasional guest. Entering into the small kitchen-living room area, the bedrooms and bath were readily accessible. The small bathroom has a shower and bidet as well as a skylight providing ample natural light. The bedrooms both have air conditioning, but the kitchen, living room, and bath do not. However, with the bedroom AC units on and doors open, which we used sparingly, the main living area’s temperature was tolerable in the 100 degree heat. The apartment has a TV with limited English language broadcasts, fast (cable optic) wireless internet, a dishwasher and clothes washer. The furniture was modern and functional, and everything necessary to live comfortably (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, toaster, microwave, etc.) was provided.

Entry and Kitchen

The apartment has been renovated inside, but still retains some of the charm of a historic building with exposed wood beams and terra cotta tile roof. The floors were also terra cotta tile. There are windows in each room, medium sized in the main bedroom and living room with views of the pallazzo across the street and a small window with no view in the smaller bedroom. The windows have wooden shutters which can be closed to provide darkness for those who may be sensitive to light when sleeping.

There are two supermarkets (Conad and Carrefour) within a five minute walk as well as shops, restaurants, bars, hardware stores or pretty much anything else you could find elsewhere in Italy. Santa Croce is a ten minute walk, and the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the train station are just fifteen to 20 minutes away by foot. The best pizzeria in Florence, Il Pizzaiuolo, is close by, serving delicious Neopolitan-style pizza at fairly reasonable prices. Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (open 7:30am – 2:30 pm Monday thru Saturday) is also a short stroll away where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, salami, cheese, bread or anything else you might need in the kitchen. They also have a small restaurant where you can get an inexpensive lunch for less than €10 per person. It is much smaller than the touristy Mercato San Lorenzo (a ten minute walk away), but has everything you need, is frequented mostly by locals, and has better prices.


The owner has recently listed the apartment on Airbnb at $106 per night, but if you plan on staying for a length of time, contact the owner to see about getting a reduced rate. As I mentioned earlier, we paid $1100 for the month of July, about 1/3 of the published daily rate, so it is worth a try!

Bedroom 2

At $106 per night, you may find better values in Florence ($75-$80 per night would probably be a more appropriate price), but for the $1100 per month that we paid, this was an exceptional value and I highly recommend it for long-term stays.

CombatCritic gives  8 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Read more reviews of Florence restaurants, attractions and day trips as well as ways to save money in CombatCritic’s “Definitive Florence (Italy)” …

Wood Beam and Terra Cotta Celing
Main Entry

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15”
TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)
Zomato – “Super Foodie”
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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Title: Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A “Little Florentine Retreat” For Your Best Value And Comfort

Key Words: Florentine, retreat, apartment, hotel, accommodation, Pilastri, Santa Croce, mercato, Sant’Ambrogio, Duomo, restaurant, Airbnb, Italy, Florence, Firenze, travel, value, definitive, review, guide, 

Il Pizzaiuolo: This "Pizza Maker" Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!

Il Pizzaiuolo
Via dei Macci 113R
50122 Florence, Italy
Near Mercato San’Ambrogio
Phone: +39 055 241171

I wrote an extensive review in 2012 on Il Pizzaiuolo, so I will not bore you with too many details or flowery prose. Leave it to say that in parts of Italy, Rome and northward, good pizza is hard to come by. Most visitors do not realize that this is authentic pizza napoletana (not “Napolean”, he was the squirt of a French dictator), equaling some of the best pizzerias in Naples (Napoli), the home of pizza and the best in the world.

Just around the corner from the wonderful Mercato Sant’Ambrogio and a five minute walk from Santa Croce, Il Pizzaiuolo has only around 15 tables, so the place is small and hard to find a seat after 8pm. Beside pizza, they have starters, pasta, meat, and fish dishes, but pizza is their specialty. On this visit, one of many in the past, we decided to try their frittura (€8 – fried things), including arancini di riso (rice balls), croquette di patate (potato corquettes), and montanare (fried pizza dough with a little tomato sauce). Their were just two of each (six pieces total) and a disappointment compared to what you would get in a Naples pizzeria for the same price (€8 gets you 25 pieces of the same). They were good, but there should have been more or it should have been much cheaper (€3 to €4).
I had a Neapolitan classic, pizza con salsiccia e friarielli (fior di latte cheese, sausage, and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic – €10) and it was wonderful. My wife’s pizza quattro formaggio (four cheeses – €8) was also excellent with loads of mozzarella, gorgonzola, ricotta, and provola cheese. As is usual in pizza napoletana, the dough was thin and chewy, only crisp enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy and with little splotches of burnt crust from the fiery wood-fired oven. Perfetto!

My only complaints, other than the women’s toilet being rather filthy on this visit (my wife told me, I did not see for myself) are the fact that you can only get wine by the glass or bottle, no liters or half-liters and that the prices are a little steep compared to Naples, but those are small discrepancies when you are eating un’oltima pizza napoletana (excellent Neapolitan pizza) in Northern Italy!

CombatCritic Il Pizzaiuolo 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!


Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15”
TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)”
Zomato – “Super Foodie”
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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!
Title: Il Pizzaiuolo: This “Pizza Maker” Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!

Key Words: Il Pizzaiuolo, pizzaiuolo, pizza, pizzeria, Naples, napoletana, Neopolitan, Florence, Italy, Firenze, restaurant, ristorante, menu, Sant’Ambrogio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, guide

Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Pensione Bencistá
Guest House And Restaurant
Via Benedetto DA Maiano, 4
50014 Fiesole, Italy
Phone: +39 055 59163
Prices: €€€
This review is on the restaurant only.
Recommended by the Michelin Guide (no Michelin stars) and with rave reviews on TripAdvisor (this was their first review on Yelp), we were eagerly anticipating our 11th Anniversary dinner at Pensione Bencistá’s restaurant. Arriving by bus (€1.20/person each way) from our apartment in Florence, it was a short walk down the road from Bus #7’s stop “Regresso” following the signs.

The pensione is a beautiful 14th Century villa, overlooking the valley and Florence below. The Duomo and other landmarks are clearly evident from the terrace where we were taken and our reserved table awaited us. The tables were a bit too close to one another and the back of a chair from the table next to us made it awkward to sit comfortably. One of the owners finally moved the table when the guests arrived and it became clear that it was not going to work very well for either party. A nice young lady took our order from the fixed-price (€25 per person) menu with just four primi (pasta) selections and three choices of secondi (meat), including the tagliata (sliced steak – €40/kilo with one kilo minimum).

The wine list was reasonable and we ordered a Syrah (€32) from northern Tuscany which was very good. Wine is extra, but water, dessert, service, and coperto are all included in the fixed-price. The Syrah was good, a robust, deep red with hints of berry, complimenting the meal very nicely.

For our primi (first course), my wife had the penne con zucchini and I had the penne al ragu (meat sauce). They boast about serving only De Cecco pasta on their website which I found a bit odd because De Cecco is good pasta, but it is mass produced, not locally produced or handmade. My wife’s pasta with zucchini was swimming in olive oil, a bit off-putting, but otherwise the dish was fair, nothing special, with small chunks of zucchini, onion, and little else. She had to add grated cheese to the dish to give it flavor, something she almost never does at her mother’s house in Napoli or in restaurants. My ragu was very good, but like my wife’s dish, there was very little pasta and it took little time to consume. Not overly impressive, after all De Cecco is not expensive pasta.

While eating our pasta, the French family next to us received their secondi (main courses), porchetta, which is one of my favorites and not offered to us an as an option by our server. They were also served their contorni individually by the waiter whereas ours would later arrive on our plates from the kitchen. Maybe they were French celebrities we had never heard of, the King of France perhaps? I am joking obviously, but I thought it a bit odd in any case.

When our secondi arrived, there were the potatoes, peperoni (sauteed red bell peppers), and a small portion of melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana) even though I had specified in my reservation that my wife was allergic to tomatoes. We pointed out the faux pas, they apologized, and her plate was removed. My tacchino rollatini arrived shortly thereafter, but we waited and waited, seemingly forever, until her veal sans tomato finally arrived. The owner also asked if we were having the porchetta, but I told him that the server had not given us that option, so he promised to bring a few slices as a courtesy.

The tacchino (turkey breast) was rolled with ham and cheese inside, then lightly pan-fried. It was delicious, but extremely small once again with just one little rolled breast. The potatoes, melanzane, and peppers were all very good as you would expect at any decent restaurant in Italy. The scaloppine was also quite delicious, a reasonable portion, not small, not huge, white and tender as real veal should be. It is just a shame that we could not enjoy our anniversary main courses together.

For dessert we were offered a choice of plum cake, torta di mele (apple pie), or biscotti (hard cookies with almonds) and a small glass of Vin Santo. We shared the torta di mele and biscotti con Vin Santo. The apple pie was simple and tasty, an Italian version slightly similar to American apple pie but drier. The biscotti were good, looking store-bought, and the glass of Vin Santo, a sweet white wine famous in this region, was very small, but big enough to dip the three cookies in as is the tradition. Again, the French family received dessert and something we were not offered by our server, fruit and cheese. Why our server failed to tell us about the additional options for secondi and dolce (dessert) is still a mystery.

For the price, the meal was good and a fair value in Florence where comparable fixed-price meals start in the €30 to €40 range (including wine however). The setting idyllic, a beautiful ancient villa with an incredible view, the experience was better than the meal alone. The food was very average, with very few basic selections and small portions. The service was very friendly and punctual, but the numerous mistakes detracted greatly from our overall experience, particularly being our wedding anniversary.

Recommendations for a better experience:
1)      Handmade pasta or a least a top-quality, local pasta like Pastificio Chelucci for example
2)     Much less olive oil in pasta dishes
3)     Better consistency in the treatment of guests, making sure all options are available to everyone, not a select few
4)     Slightly larger portions
5)     Attention-to-detail. When someone has a food allergy, it is critical that they are not served the food in question

Keep in mind I am comparing this dining experience to establishments with similar formats and prices in Italy, for example, Incontro in Ariano Irpino where the same €25 fixed-price meal has five abundant, delicious courses (choice of meat or fish, two antipasti, primo, secondo, contorni, and dessert – pastas are made in-house), including all the wine/water you require, coffee, limoncello, service, and coperto. When comparing Pensione Bencistá to Hotel Incontro’s superb restaurant (10 Bombs Out Of 10) and other excellent restaurants we have tried around the world, we enjoyed our meal well enough with the result being …
CombatCritic Gives Pensione Bencistá 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Key Words: Michelin, Pensione Bencistá, pensione, Bencistá, Fiesole, Florence, Firenze, Tuscany, Toscana, Italy, restaurant, villa, anniversary, fixed, price, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor, star

A Wonderful Pasta Factory Tour In A Historic Villa Seized By The Nazis During WWII

Pastificio Chelucci
Food Tours, Pasta Factory
Via di Valente, 7
51100 Pistoia, Italy
Phone: +39 0573 42011
Prices: € € € € 
Hand-crafted pasta since 1912, the owner Giuseppe has been in the family business since 1950, is extremely friendly and informative, and made us feel welcome for our free, private tour.
During World War II, the Nazis took over the building, a villa, making it their headquarters in 1942. The family had to walk for two days to Florence while the Germans occupied their home. Once the Nazis fled from Allied Forces in December 1942, they returned home to Pistoia and were the first pastificio (pasta factory) of 36 in the area to resume operations after the war. They are the only remaining pastificio of the original 36 in Pistoia.
The factory has been automated since 1950, but the pastas are still dried the old fashion way and hand packed. In fact, Giuseppe’s sweet 94-year-old mother Dina still processes and packs the maccheroni by hand from time to time. The same machine from 1950 is still being used today. They have numerous varieties of pasta, including their signature pastas like “Quasimodi”, made with only Tuscan flour from the Pisa area and their secret ingredient, pure local spring water. They recently unveiled a pasta in the shape of Pinocchio characters called “Le Bugie” (“the lies”), the result of a scholarship competition in the local schools.
The factory employs only six people, but they produce a wide variety of pastas using old family recipes and processes. The small river behind the factory once spun the turbines beneath the building which allowed them to resume operations so quickly after the war. Special drying units maintain constant temperatures between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius (90-95 Fahrenheit), ensuring that the pasta does not break, reducing waste, and resulting in quality products. Pastas take from 24 hours to six days to dry depending on the shape (versus two hours for mass produced brands).
The bronze pasta forms used to give the pastas their various shapes result in a special consistency not found in mass produced brands (De Cecco, Barilla). Their pastas take much less time to cook (5 minutes versus 12-15 minutes for comparable mass produced pasta) because the pasta from the brass forms allow the boiling water to saturate the pasta instead of cooking it from the outside. The water they are boiled in also has much more starch then that of the mass produced brands, allowing the water to be used to better thicken sauces before serving.
The valley in which the villa sits is quiet, green, lush, and much cooler than smoldering Florence, so it was a breath of fresh air, literally, after a month in 100 degree Florence and its wall-to-wall tourists. The temperature and humidity in the protected valley setting creates the perfect environment for making top-quality pastas. Giuseppe is working on adding a small gift shop and cafe, culinary demonstrations, and possibly pasta making and cooking classes in the near future, but in the meantime a tour of their operation is a must if visiting Tuscany (I have also included it in my article: Top 19 FREE THINGS TO DO In And Around Florence) and tell him CombatCritic sent you!
CombatCritic Gives Pastaficio Chelucci Tour The Coveted 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … IT’S THE BOMB … More Bombs Are Better!
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: A Wonderful Pasta Factory Tour In A Historic Villa Seized By The Nazis During WWII
Key Words: Pastificio Chelucci, pastificio, Giuseppe, Chelucci, Pistoia, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Toscana, Tuscany, pasta, factory, tour, travel, value, review, guide, Yelp, TripAdvisor

An Outstanding Lunch Value, Possibly Overpriced As A Dinner Option

Osteria dei Centopoveri 
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Palazzuolo, 31r, 50123 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39 055 218846
Prices: $$$$

Air conditioning on a 100+ degree day in sweltering Florence, Italy … HOOAH!

Tortellini Panna Prosciutto Con Piselli

Reasonably priced at €10 for a two course lunch, including wine, water, service and tip, this osteria (it is not spelled “ostaria”, just like pizzeria is not spelled “pizzaria”) and pizzeria is one of many value options near train station Santa Maria Novella in Florence. There are better and worse, but the food and service were pretty good and the price excellent.

Insalata Caprese

The restaurant is large and our group of six were quickly seated even though they were pretty busy. Five adults ordered off of the fixed price menu and the lone, very hungry child ordered a Margherita pizza, what else. Four of us had the tortellini panna prosciutto con piselli (ham, cream, and peas) for our first course and one had the pasta alla Sorrentina. The tortellini were mass produced, but very good, and plentiful served in a creamy, garlicky sauce with diced ham and peas. The sauce was so good that I ignored my wife’s pleas and performed “scarpetta”, cleaning my plate with the fresh, local bread and happily consuming it. The pasta all Sorrentina did not look all that appetizing, but what could we expect in Florence? There was no sauce, only a small amount of crushed tomato and a little mozzarella mixed with a lot of store-bought pasta.

Frittata di Patate

The very hungry child did not receive his pizza until after our second courses were served, but he was very patient nonetheless. A pizza lover, he was not impressed by his pizza although it looked good from where I was sitting, so 3/4 of it went uneaten. Our main courses were the Caprese salad, frittata de patate (potato omelette), and scallopine ai funghi (pork cutlets in mushroom sauce). The Caprese was decent with fresh fior di latte (cow’s milk), not mozzarella di bufala (made with water buffalo milk in the region of Campania) as you would get in and around the Island of Capri, its namesake. The dish’s signature fresh basil leaves were notably missing and replaced with lettuce, something you would never see in Southern Italy, but it was not bad at all. The frittata di patate was pretty good, although my wife did not think it was good as her friend Giovanna (from Naples) mother’s version. Giovanna had the scallopine, which she said was “so-so”, coming in a thick, creamy mushroom sauce along with green beans on the side. It looked good, but I did not taste it, so I cannot corroborate her evaluation.
Scallopine ai Funghi

We received a liter of local red wine for the five of us, five bottles of water (we had been walking in the 100 degree heat for four hours), and five after-meal espressos with the bill coming to a very reasonable €60.50 for six people, a relative bargain in Florence. The menu is basic, nothing fancy, but the food good and the value exceptional. They are quite a bit pricier for dinner, in the €25 to €40 range per person, so lunch is a major value.

My only complaints were: 1) the child did not get his pizza as fast as he should have; 2) the sparsely adorned pasta alla Sorrentina; and 3) the lack of basil on the Caprese Salad, otherwise we were quite pleased with our meal.

CombatCritic Gives Osteria dei Centopoveri 7 Bombs Out Of 10 (3.5/5 Stars) … BOMBS ARE GOOD IN THIS CASE!

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: An Outstanding Lunch Value, Possibly Overpriced As A Dinner Option

Key Words: Osteria dei Centopoveri, osteria, centopoveri, restaurant, pizzeria, Via Palazzuolo, Firenze, Florence, Santa Maria Novella, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, pasta, wine, pizza, CombatCritic, Yelp, TripAdvisor, tourist

Summer 2015 Florence Crime Spree And The Tale Of A Seasoned Traveler

Florence, Italy: Out of 15 individuals associated with a major university’s Study Abroad Program in Florence, 4 (27%) have had their ATM cards skimmed or pockets picked on public transportation with over $1,000 stolen during the month of July alone.

A couple of days ago, I told you about two students in the Study Abroad Program who recently had their bank accounts drained after using the ATM machine at the Chiantibanca located in Piazza del Duomo (Florence), Italy. The ATM machine in question is next to the bank at #58.

Then this past Sunday (July 19th), another student had her wallet stolen out of her purse on a Florence bus. She did not leave her purse open or unattended, it was secured around her neck in front of her and the thief had the nerve to unzip it, grab the wallet from inside, and scurry off when the bus reached the next stop. These guys are good and their out in full force!

I, on the other hand, am a seasoned traveler, having visited 41 countries so far and countless large, theft-ridden cities (Naples, Paris, Venice, Sofia, Budapest, New Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Los Angeles, New York, London, Rome, Ljubljana, Kotor, Dubai, Riyadh … you get the picture) without ever having been robbed, pick-pocketed, or the like. I am always aware of my surroundings and take the necessary precautions, keeping my wallet in my front pocket and so on … until yesterday.

I feel like such a fool, never having thought it would happen to me because of my experience, my diligence … my naïveté. We were on our way to meet friends for dinner, catching the #17 bus from Piazza San Marco in central Florence. The area has several bus stops and was quite busy around 7pm, so as the bus arrived a man carrying two large painter’s canvases (100cm x 100cm) was making it difficult to board the bus. Looking back, he was likely an accomplice causing a choke-point at the door while his comrades slipped their hands into open bags. 

I sometimes carry a borsello, a leather bag (some might call a purse, BUT IT’S NOT, I SWEAR) commonly carried by men in Italy and on this day I did not have it zipped, but my hand was securely clasping the top in anticipation of such an event. But this time I must have been distracted for just a moment, leaving a window open for the thief to dip his hand in, nab my wallet (that I often have trouble locating myself), and slip off into the evening without me even noticing.

It was only when my wife and I started talking about the poor student who had her wallet stolen the day before that I reached into my bag to find … MY WALLET WAS GONE! I knew that I had brought it with me, but could I have left it on the table at home instead? Surely I could not be pick-pocketed. Wrong!

Fortunately, there were only €10 in my wallet and I cancelled my credit and debit cards before they could use them, so it was an inexpensive lesson as well as a poor “take” for the crooks who likely snatched the €10 and threw the rest in the nearest trash can.

The morales to this story are:

1) When in Florence, or anywhere else for that matter, be vigilant. Times are tough and people are desperate FOR YOUR VALUABLES – purses, wallets, cameras, phones, tablets, sunglasses, etc.
2) Avoid crowded places where pickpockets often lurk (buses, trains, stations, popular tourist areas)
3) Diversions are common place among thieves, so if someone bumps into you, trips in front of you, spills something on you, or otherwise creates havoc around you, clutch your valuables and keep your eyes open.
4) If carrying a small wallet, keep it in your front pocket and if carrying a purse (or borsello), wrap the strap around your neck, clutch it in front of you or securely under your arm, zip the zippers, and keep any external pockets next to your body. 
5) Do not think “it can’t happen to me” because it can!


You Can Read Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title:  Summer 2015 Florence Crime Spree And The Tale Of A Seasoned Traveler

Key Words: crime, bank, banca, bus, pickpocket, pick, pocket, Florence, Firenze, skimming, skimmer, ATM, scam, criminals, tourist, tourists, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, thief, steal, stolen, police

DayTripQuip™ – Beautiful And Historic Siena From Florence By Train Or Bus

Piazza del Campo

DayTripQuip™: Take the train (Regionale: 1 hour 28 minutes – €8.80/person each way) from Santa Maria Novella Station to Siena. Trains leave throughout the day from S.M. Novella at 10 minutes after the hour. Another option is the bus (Corse Rapido: 1 hour 15 minutes – bus station is just south of the train station – bus schedules below – €7.60/person each way) which is a little faster than the train, cheaper, and leaves you closer to the center of Siena. The Siena train station is a little over a mile and a 25 minute walk to the historical center of Siena where you will want to go. The Siena bus station is very close to the center (centro storico) and its fabulous piazza, ancient churches, beautiful cathedral, and historic buildings. Siena has restaurants, cafes, bars, and shopping galore if you would like a break from the frenzy of Florence for a few hours.

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

 Bus Schedule

More Photos

Title: DayTripQuip™ – Beautiful And Historic Siena From Florence By Train Or Bus

Key Words: Siena, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, train, piazza, Piazza del Campo, campo, duomo, cathedral, fresco, church, antique, antiques, travel, value, Firenze, Florence, bus, schedule, SITA

Florence, Italy: Good Versus Bad Equates To Average Value

  • Trattoria Il Contadino
  • Via del Palazzuolo 69-71R
  • Florence, Italy
  • South of Santa Maria Novella Station
  • Phone: +39 055 2382673
 Prices: $$$$

Trattoria Da Giorgo, just down the street, is closed on Sunday and was not an option after our return to the train station from a day trip in Siena, so we decided to try Il Contadino. They have decent food and lots of it with cheap prices compared to the rest of the overpriced tourist traps in Florence. Unlike many restaurants in Italy, they are open seven days a week from noon (12:00) until 10:30pm (22:30), so you can get a meal anytime you like. Arriving around 7:00pm on a Sunday night after a long day in the Tuscan sun, we were quickly seated and shortly thereafter our waiter arrived. 

That was the most efficient service we received the rest of the night because as he and his female counterpart hovered around our table in the nearly empty restaurant, making for a rather uncomfortable experience, they chatted with each other and their friends at the next table. However, when we needed something, we had to try to catch their eye rather than counting on them to notice when they were needed instead of socializing with each other.

Tagliatelle alla Boscaiola

The menu is fixed price, €9 to €12 for lunch, and €13.50 to €14.50 for dinner, a decent value for what you receive in return and there is also an “ala carte” menu if you so choose. For €14.50 (€12 at lunch) you are entitled to a ½ liter of water, ¼ liter of wine (per person/ red or white), primo (first course from the day’s menu – pasta, soup, etc), secondo (second course from the day’s menu – meat dish), and contorno (vegetable – salad, potatoes, artichokes, broccoli, etc). 


Tagiatelle alla Boscailola, a long, thin pasta in a tomato-based sauce with ground beef, mushrooms, and black olives was my choice as a primo. The tagliatelle were good with rich, earthy tones from the mushrooms and unlike more than a few Tuscan restaurants we have been to recently, perfectly cooked “al dente”. My wife decided to forgo the meat dish, so she ordered the prosciutto e melone (cured ham and and honeydew melon) for her primo. Being difficult to improve on sliced ham and melon, her first course was as good a most places and a fair size portion.

For secondi I had the scaloppine ai funghi (pork cutlets in a white wine and mushroom sauce). The meat was very dry and had obviously been sitting around much of the day waiting for a customer to arrive. The sauce was good and there was plenty of it, but a few more mushrooms would have been nice. My wife had the risotto with zucchini and gorgonzola, creamy with a bit of zing from the aged cheese, it could have cooked a minute or two longer to reach the desired consistency of a classic risotto. Our contorni were patate fritte (French fries), crispy but not very hot, and patate arrosto (roasted potatoes) which, like the pork, had also been sitting in a chafing dish for far too long.

We had to remind the waiter two times to bring our wine, a local red, which was decent, lightly chilled and fruity. Instead of bringing a half-liter for the two of us, he brought a single one-quarter liter carafe five to ten minutes after our primi had arrived and another carafe, having to ask him once again, after our second courses had arrived. With so few people in the restaurant, there is really no excuse for such inattentive service.

The restaurant is clean and bright even though it is in a rather seedy part of town, but we were somewhat disappointed by the food and very disappointed by the service. When I gave the waiter my card, telling him that I would post a review on my blog, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, he said “So what? I can post a review on TripAdvisor, so what makes you different from me?” I told him that I am Yelp

“Elite”, a TripAdvisor “Top Contributor”, and have a blog averaging 40,000 views a year. Enough said.

You will have a better meal in Italy for €30 or less, several places come to mind, but in Florence, with its dearth of reasonably priced restaurants, you will not find many inexpensive options. Although our experience was somewhat disappointing, the food was not bad overall and the prices fair. So if Trattoria da Giorgio just down the street is closed or too full, Trattoria il Contadino would be a decent second choice.

CombatCritic Gives Trattoria Il Contadino 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

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Fixed Price Menu (Italian)

Fixed Price Menu (English)

Special Menu (Dinner)

Menu of the Day (Italian)

Menu of the Day (English)

Title: Good Versus Bad Equates To Average Value

Key Words: Trattoria il Contadino, trattoria, Contadino, Firenze, Florence, Santa Maria Novella, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, pasta, wine, meat, dessert, CombatCritic, Yelp, TripAdvisor, tourist

CombatCritic Q&A: Florence 1-Day Itinerary Feedback Please?

CombatCritic Q&A
One-Day Itinerary Feedback

Fairywren61 from Perth, Australia wrote:

Jul 18, 2015, 3:36 AM

We are staying in a villa between Florence and sienna and are travelling into Florence for the day. We want to enjoy the day and not be rushed, we enjoy walking and looking but also taking in some main areas. Here is my initial itinerary: 

San Lorenzo Market 

Piazza del Duomo (Climb to the top… possibly do the bell tower and baptistery 

Vivoli Gelato – Gelato 

Piazza Santa Croce – Eat Gelato here on stone benches, free entertainment and buskers 

Uffizi Gallery – undecided on this, not sure if we will be to rushed to really enjoy it 

Ponte Vecchio 

Any feed back would be appreciated.


Well, Fairywren, here are my two cents worth:

San Lorenzo Market 

– The actual Mercato di San Lorenzo (the building) has dozens of food stalls, butchers, and other vendors, so you should at least see it, but the main reason to go there is to buy food. The streets around the nearby Basilica di San Lorenzo are filled with outdoor stalls selling Chinese (leather goods, “Murano” glass, etc) knock-offs if that’s what you are interested in. If you want to see a “real” market, I recommend Mercato San’Ambrogio east of the center and just northeast of Basilica di Santa Croce and its wonderful piazza which has now returned to its previous, uncluttered glory.

Piazza del Duomo (Climb to the top… possibly do the bell tower and baptistery 

– Climb away if your heart is up for it (463 steps to the top of the dome), but you will get better views from Piazzale Michelangelo, a short taxi or bus ride away … AND IT’S FREE! Instead, I would recommend visiting the cathedral (Duomo) itself which is also free. The entrance is through the north door of the front of the massive building with the line hugging the north side. The painting of the Apostles by Giorgo Vasari (16th C) on the inside of the dome with their legs dangling over the sides is one of my favorite frescoes in the world. Tickets are only needed to see the tower, dome, and the excavations below the Duomo.

Vivoli Gelato – Gelato 

– If you like expensive gelato, by all means!

Piazza Santa Croce – Eat Gelato here on stone benches, free entertainment and buskers

– I would recommend getting a gelato at half the price of places like Vivoli at Gelateria Il Gallo Ghiottone after having a cheap lunch at nearby Mercato San’Ambrogio’s small restaurant, then strolling to Santa Croce (5 minute walk). I’m not sure what entertainment or “buskers” you are referring to as I have spent a fair amount of time in Piazza Santa Croce and was never entertained other than by the droves of tourists. And there are a couple benches in the piazza, but good luck finding a seat. Sit on the steps of Santa Croce, taking-in the square and the tourists, but not during mid-day when the sun bakes the steps and anybody near them.

Uffizi Gallery – undecided on this, not sure if we will be to rushed to really enjoy it

– The Uffizi should not be missed if you are an art lover, particularly if you love Renaissance art, but you will need 2-3 hours at the very minimum.

Ponte Vecchio

– Don’t miss it and snap a few photos, but if you are buying jewelry, be prepared to spend more than you need to.

Buon Viaggio!


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Title: CombatCritic Q&A: Florence 1-Day Itinerary Feedback Please?

Key Words: ComabtCritic, question and answer, question, answer, Florence, Firenze, itinerary, piazza, santa, croce, duomo, Michelangelo, piazzale, one, day, 1-day, ponte, vecchio, Uffizi, Accademia



Piazza del Duomo, 57R
50122 Firenze, Italia


Two students in a major U.S. university’s Study Abroad Program recently had their bank accounts drained after using the ATM machine at the Chiantibanca located Piazza del Duomo, 57r, 50122 Firenze (Florence), Italy. The ATM machine in question is next to the bank at #58.

The director of the program inspected the ATM after the second student who had used that very machine (and only that machine) noticed $800 missing from his account, noting that the face of the ATM and the camera were suspiciously loose. Florence Police were notified and concurred that the ATM looked questionable, but when the bank’s director was notified by police, she became defensive and claimed that “our bank is not at fault”. This has likely been going on for weeks while the bank failed to notice the discrepancy with their own machine and dozens of tourists have likely been scammed as well, possibly hundreds. In such a busy location, it is possible that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars have been stolen by these thieves.

The illegal transactions are being made from Florence (Firenze), Naples (Napoli), and Milan (Milano), so it is impossible that the students withdrew the cash, having been in Florence the entire time and never having traveled to those locations. This is likely a large ring based on the numerous locations of the illegal transactions. The students are now penniless and in distress while they try to recover the funds from their institutions, which will likely not happen before their program ends late next week. The program director is working with the students to ensure they have emergency funds, but their month abroad will likely be a painful memory rather than a treasured experience.

Police said that it is highly unlikely that the criminals will be caught because of the technology used in this skimming scam, allowing these animals to get everything they need electronically from a remote device.


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Key Words: Chiantibanca, Chianti, bank, banca, Florence, Firenze, skimming, skimmer, ATM, scam, criminals, tourist, tourists, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, food, definitive, review, guide