Feasting in Florence with my Mama.

21-26 June 2012.  Thursday to Tuesday.

Thursday.
Gelato: Coffee Crunch + Cream

It was strange to arrive in Florence but not go directly to my little apartment on Via Giraldi.  Instead, my mama and I went to the B&B we had reserved, directly across from Mercato Centrale.  This was going to be more a tourist experience than a student/resident experience–having to live out of a suitcase and explore all of the most famous sights like I had never been here before.

We had dinner across the Arno at Gusta Pizza and gelato at a little Gelateria called “Perché No?” (meaning Why Not?).

Friday.
The B&B provided us with breakfast at a cute bar down on the street corner.  A bar in Italy is not like a bar in the states.  Yes, it does serve alcohol, but also cafe and pastries in the morning.  Mom, especially, enjoyed sitting at the outdoor tables, before the leather market opened.  The weather still cool, before the day’s heat would set in, we enjoyed our cappuccinos and people watched before starting out for the day.  After breakfast, we crossed the street to the Mercato Centrale to explore the various food vendors.  The fresh fish was particularly interesting, with a pot full of octopus tentacles boiling next to the case of iced shrimp.

Around 11:00, we met up with my friend Krist, who had stayed in Florence for a month to kill time before joining the next group of students to participate in CalPoly’s summer Switzerland program.  We met at the SITA bus station to visit my dear Antica Marcelleria Cecchini in Chianti, one last time.  After raving about it the first two times, I was so excited to show Dario off to my mama.  He was there, working behind the counter.  We enjoyed our little glasses of chianti classico and crustini con lardo (toast topped with lard and Dario’s secret season salt–simply divine). We headed upstairs and enjoyed the outdoor tables, summer Tuscan sun, and vineyard views.  There is something picturesque about the Tuscan countryside; the landscape seems almost too accidentally perfect to be real.  Mom, Krist, and I dined on the usual meats and fresh vegetables.  This time of year, the Tuscan fennel was in season and was so tasty to dip into olive oil mixed with the season salt–so refreshing.

On the way out, mama and I got to stand behind the counter with Dario for a photo and he treated us to digestive shots of Grapa.  While behind the counter, with his huge arms squeezing us together as we posed for the picture, he announced in his deep voice: “To Beef, or not to Beef?!”

That evening, to counter all of the meat we had eaten earlier, we enjoyed a very local restaurant, Il Vegetariano (The Vegetarian).  Located near the train station at Via delle Ruote 30r, the crowd of visitors is young and Italian.  We enjoyed Lasagna and a delicious salad.  This was one of my favorite restaurants in Florence, excellent and healthy food for a good price.

Saturday.
Gelato: Pineapple

We met up with my roommate Alex, who had just returned from visiting her family in Greece for a month, to take the train to the Cinque Terre.  By 10:00, we had arrived in Riomaggiore, the southern most of the five towns.  We slowly walked up the hill to the great view overlooking the sea, wandered through a few shops and down to the harbor.  Next we walked along La Via del’Amore (The Walk of Love) to the next town of Manarola.  We enjoyed lunch at a little seaside restaurant before hopping on the train to Vernazza.  The previous fall, a massive rain storm had caused a huge mud slide, covering much of this town.  Over the year, the town was slowly excavated from the mud and many repairs had to be done.  I was very impressed by how much work had been accomplished since the devastating flood, and it was still possible to see the height of damage caused by the mud and water.  We really enjoyed the little beach and soaked in the sun.

The entire train ride home was quite entertaining.  The peddlers who usually pester visitors, selling silly items to tourists at places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, must have just gotten off work.  As our train stopped in Pisa, tons of these men got on the train, with their bags of souvenirs and counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags.  They all seemed very nervous, as though they were trying to be sneaky by constantly changing seats and avoiding the conductor.

Hot and tired from a long day in the sun, we just crashed when we got back.

Sunday.
Gelato: Green Tea (while doing laundry)
Fogli di Procopio + Lemon and Basil (post dinner)

Today was the feast day of San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist) the patron saint of Florence.  This is a big day for the Florentines, full of activities.  After breakfast, mama and I headed over to the Duomo to see the festivities taking place at the 10:00 mass.  A choir was singing in the Baptistry and then a huge procession made its way into the cathedral for the grand, feast day mass to be held by the once Archbishop of Florence who had recently been appointed to Cardinal.  He was all decked out in new red robes.  Mama got a little teary eyed and said “I just love it here.” awwww….

We enjoyed sandwiches at Il Due Fratellini (The Two Little Brothers) before hopping on the bus to gather my huge suitcase and a box I had left with Krist, and brought it back to the B&B.  They were both so heavy!  We did some much needed laundry before meeting up with Krist to peek in on the Calco Storico.  This Historic Soccer is a brutal combination of Soccer and Rugby, with no rules and dates back to the ancient Florentines. It now takes place once a year, on the feast of San Giovanni.

Pizza dinner at A Casa Mia (My Home), a favorite of CSU Firenze students and locals alike.  Located near Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, the students usually congregated here for birthday dinners.

The feast day fireworks started at 10pm.  Shot from Piazzale Michelangelo, the best vantage point was the banks of the Arno.  The fireworks were themed with red, white, and green and after about half an hour of them, people started clapping, expecting the end.  But no, they lasted an entire hour.  The intensity of the fireworks kept the streets alive and vibrant as we walked home.

Monday.
Gelato: Neve di Riso + Baccio

We spend the morning weeding through my suitcases and boxes, trying to fit everything into two 50 pound bags and two carry-ons.  I like to save everything, so it was tough to throw away my old Italian homework.  We walked to school to take some clothes to donate and to visit Connie and Ref in the office.  They were like our parents, always holding our hands as we slowly learned how to navigate in this foreign land.  We visited my old front door on Via Giraldi.  From the corner, we watched as some blond girl entered my home for the past year.  *tear*  Mama had visited Florence with my Oma 30 years ago, when she was my age.  She brought with her some of the photos she had taken and we tried to discover the locations.  We recreated some of the old pictures with my mom posing in the same spots.  It is amazing how little both my mama and Florence have changed in 30 years.

Lunch was at my favorite Panino shop.  Ke Ci Metto?, located at Borgo La Croce 52r, is one of the best places to grab a quick yet delicious panino.  I will go in and say to the owner “Qualcosa ti piace” (something you like) and he will quickly choose one of the many homemade focaccia breads (flavors range from spinach to corn, tomato to beet) and create the best sandwich.  But this is not just a sandwich, he chooses from a special spread, Tuscan meat, and accompanying cheese, all of which go perfectly with each other, and then pops it on the little grill so it is piping hot.  Aw man, so good! yummmmmmm…….

We took the bus up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo to meet Alex.  We enjoyed the view and I did a little shopping at the Benedictine Monk’s craft shop outside of the church San Miniato al Monte.  On the way down, mom and I enjoyed a sit-down dinner before heading back across the Arno to Santo Spirito, to see my friends one last time before we all headed our separate ways.

Tuesday.
A final Italian breakfast, last minute packing.  We slowly dragged our bags to the station to catch the bus to the airport.  It was the same hot weather and crowds of people that had greeted me when I had arrived in Florence 10 months before.  We made it to the airport, our bags met the weight requirement, and we were on the plane.  I was sad, but mama and I still had one last adventure to enjoy before heading back to reality.  Ciao Firenze.

Next, and last, stop: London.

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Life in Tuscany. Florence + Cinque Terre + Chianti + Bologna

10 September 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Tiramisu

My friend Meg is visiting Florence this week. She is traveling for the semester through Europe with her art class from university. She has already spent a week in London, another in Venice, and is now in Florence before going off to Rome, Vienna, and Paris!

For the weekend, Meg, JC, Sar and I decided to take a day trip to the five coastal towns of the Cinque Terre. Any visit to Italy must include the Cinque Terre! It is so beautiful and the water is calm and warm. We took an early train to Riomaggiore (the southern most town of the 5) and explored the small town that was built into the hillside. We walked past the colorful houses and to a great view looking over the Mediterranean Sea and the other four towns: Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.

After lunch, we walked the Via dell’Amore (Walk of Love) to Manarola. Along the Via dell’Amore couples have attached locks to commemorate their love and then toss their keys into the sea. We discovered a path down the cliffs with a small ramp into the water. We swam for a few hours and soaked in the Mediterranean sun.

11 September 2011: Sunday

architecture students enjoying their wine

This afternoon we took the bus to the small town of Grieve in Chianti. Grieve in Chianti hosts a wine festival to showcase the local red wine: Chianti. Traveling with a bunch of fellow architecture students, we had a blast sampling all of the different, local, wines including the red Chianti, Vin Santo (a sweet dessert wine; translates to “holy wine”), and Grappa (the moonshine of the Italian wine world).

12-16 September 2011: Monday-Friday
Gelato: Tiramisu + Crem de Grom (vanilla cream with gram cracker bits)
This is officially the best gelato I have had to date! The gelato is so creamy and they even mix chunks of lady-finger into the tiramisu! So so so so so good!

This week was very easy going with lots of studying and cooking. I did some laundry and hung it out the window to dry, I bought some fresh pasta from the Sant’Ambrogio Market and Sar made home-made Tiramisu in honor of JC’s 21st Birthday!

17-18 September 2011: Saturday + Sunday

It’s the weekend! A group of us took a morning train to the city of Bologna. It was an interesting weekend that taught me to anticipate the

Sar, JC, Jes, Fran, Gabe, & Al

unexpected. I had planned a trip to the Ferrari car factory, but our plans were interrupted by an unplanned train strike. Strikes have become frequent across the TrainItalia system in order to reject the cuts in wages. With that said, I will now plan my trips much more carefully and be open to a change in schedule. We will have to return to Bologna again!

Other then the previously stated disappointment, I had a very nice time in Bologna. Bologna is the food capital of Italy and is the birthplace of Pasta Bolognese and the modern university. I enjoyed walking along the arcades that line the streets and visiting the Basilica, leaning tower of Bologona, and an ancient university of science and medicine. Inside of the university are the many crests of the professors and students that worked at and attended the university. We also were able to peak inside an ancient operating theater. The archaic style of teaching was made known by the wood-carvings of the skinned human body and an giant marble slab (for operating). Class was only taught here during the winter months, to keep the operating room cool.

I enjoyed the good food, good company, and the rain!

19 September 2011: Monday
Gelato: Tiramisu + Crem de Grom… again.

School. Eating. Loving Life!

21 September 2011: Wednesday

This evening, after our Wednesday art class, JC, Sar, and I attended a short lecture on student travels in Europe. I was super excited because the lecture was given by the son of one of my favorite travel writers… any guesses?

Andy Steves, son of Rick Steves, gave us tips on how to best take advantage of our time abroad in Europe. It kind of turned into an advertisement for this new student travel business, but I got free food and a drink, and now I’m one degree closer to a famous travel writer!

22 September 2011: Thursday

I visited the Palazzo Vecchio today, not to take a tour, but to attend student welcome day. American students become a large part of central Florence’s population during the fall. The meeting was held in the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the 500) which used to hold the meetings of the 500 person council under the rule of Duke Cosimo Medici I. At the end, we were greeted with an appearance by Matteo Renzi, the Mayor of Florence. He gave a very nice and inviting speech. Matteo Renzi is very popular among the Florentines because he is young and has ideas for modernizing Florence.

24 September 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Chocolate with Sicilian Orange

Happy European Heritage Day! I was able to visit the Laurentian Library for free today! The Laurentian Library is located within Basilica San Lorenzo. Commissioned by the Medici Family, the library was designed by Michelangelo to house the Medici’s large literary collection and to show off their interest in the arts. The library is a long reading hall with high windows that give off a very soft light quality. The benches use to have chains that locked the rare books to their shelf.

In the afternoon, a wine parade, called Bacco Artigiano, took place. The Tuscan town of Rufina travels the 20km to Florence with their “Carro Matto” (crazy cart). The parade walkers all wear medieval Florentine outfits and are followed by the cart, stacked high with 1500 bottles of Chianti Classico and pulled by two oxen. This symbolic parade blesses the new wine at the Duomo (Santa Maria de Fiore) and then presents it to the government at the Palazzo Vecchio.

25 September 2011: Sunday

Corri La Vita – The Life Race

Today was Corri La Vita, a city wide race/walk-a-thon to raise money for breast cancer. All of CSU Firenze was encouraged to join the entire city of Florence to walk for the cause! We started early, sporting our bright green shirts, Sta and Han chose to run the race while the rest of us walked. JC, Sar, and I wanted to take advantage off all of the free museums we could visit with our participation in the walk.

The race began at the Piazza della Signoria (where the Palazzo Vecchio is) and headed to the Duomo. We visited the Bargello, the old prison turned sculpture gallery, to see Donatello’s bronze sculpture of David (he is not as buff as Michaelangelo’s). We then headed across the garden to Palazzo Pitti and the Giardini di Boboli (Gardens of Boboli). After a water break, we explored the gardens and enjoyed the many paths and hidden sculptures. The gardens use a Renaissance style of forced perspective, making them look longer then they really are.

We ended the afternoon at the Museo Ferragamo. Salvatore Ferragamo was a famous shoe designer who’s company sponsors the race. The Florence based designer crafted shoes for celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. His shoes are quite extravagant and use many different materials including fish scales! For each of his clients he created a wooden foot model to design the shoes around. The celebrities had such tiny feet!

Tonight we visited Palazzo Strozzi for a very cool exhibit on Money and Beauty. It reviewed the evolution of Florentine trade, and the rise of industry, guilds, the Medici family, and the arts. Did you know that most countries used silver for their coins while Florence used 24kt gold for their Florins?

26 September 2011: Monday

We hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo this afternoon to work on our landscape drawings for figure drawing.
But this evening was exciting because it was the grand opening of the new Gucci Museum in Piazza della Signoria. This was a very high profile event and Jennifer Lopez and Madonna were invited! Many people (including me) waited around to see if they would show up, There were many famous Italians there, including the grandson of the founder of FIAT and Franca Sozzani ,the editor and chief of Vogue Italia (who I recognized from “America’s Next Top Model”).

27 September 2011: Tuesday

It’s the last Tuesday of the month so it is free state museum evening! We went to visit the Uffizi Gallery and the Medici Chapel.
The Uffizi is best known for holding the art collection of the Medici family and for Botticelli’s masterpiece “The Birth of Venus.” I really enjoyed a temporary exhibition on the architect of the Uffizi, Georgio Vassari. The exhibit contained many of his original sketches and plans of the Uffizi (offices to the Dukes of Florence). It is so cool that these scribbles were created 500 years ago!
The Medici Chapel is located in Basilica San Lorenzo and was designed by Michelangelo to house remains of the grand dukes of Tuscany – mainly the Medici. The chapel was covered with dark stone and contained many sculptures by Michelangelo.

Florence is so old! I am actually seeing the buildings I learned about in my Arch history class and that my professors worship! I just can’t get over it!