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2:21pm on Thursday, 27th July, 2006:



Prior to visiting Florence 20 years ago, I asked a friend (Simon Dally, who had lived there for a year) what the best ice cream shop was. He said it was Vivoli, which is down a small street near Santa Croce (one of the very large churches in the city).

We searched all over for Vivoli, mounting several expeditions. We easily found Perchè No, the second-best ice cream shop in Florence, but Vivoli proved a stiffer challenge. Finally, on our last full day, we wandered down a seedy side-street and there it was: Vivoli!

It was closed. The owners took the whole of August off to go on holiday.

So, this time round we were determined to find Vivoli and actually buy some ice cream from it. It's still July, so if the owners continue to throw away potential tourist money by closing in August, well ha! We came early!

Santa Croce was not covered in tarpaulin or anything, so the beautiful facade would probably have looked perfect to anyone able to negotiate entry to one of the several thousand seats raised on scaffolding in the sqaure in front of it. As it was all closed off, though, and as I wouldn't want to sit through several hours of an opera in the evening just to get a clear picture of the front of a church, our photos from 20 years ago will have to suffice.

Sadly, back then the facade was covered in tarpaulin.

Anyway, starting from the church I took daughter #1 and set off to find Vivoli (leaving wife and daughter #2 on the steps, as this was likely to take a while and they were complaining about achy feet). All I could remember was that it was down a seedy side street, so small that it didn't register on any of our maps.

There are three roads leaving the piazza from the end opposite the church (ie. west), and I seemed to recall that Vivoli was somewhere in that area. Either that, or we'd spent ages looking there and it was down a street to the north instead. So, we took the seediest-looking street, the third (northernmost) of the three, and walked along it. It curved left at the point where a little side-street reached it, down which was ... Vivoli! And it was open! Yes!

We returned excitedly to the church steps and surprised wife and daughter #2, who hadn't been expecting to see us for at least another 30 minutes. Back we went to Vivoli, which was still there and still open. They only do cups, not cones, but we only wanted cups anyway. They were normal price, too, 3.20 Euros for a 3-scooper (not like the — gasp — 8 Euros charged by the Very Good chain, a misnomer if ever I heard one).

The ice cream at Vivoli really was absolutely excellent. If you're ever in Florence, go there.

Except, if you insist that every cup contains at least one scoop of pistacchio (as does my wife) or one scoop of fior di latte (as does daughter #2), don't go as they don't do either and you'll be accused of an anti-climax 20 years in the making.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).