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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Gelato Anyone?

It’s the beginning of October and so comes the annual heat wave to California’s central coast.  I sit here, in my concrete architecture studio prison, trying to work on my thesis and sweating in today’s 99 degree dry heat, dreaming of gelato

23-27 May 2012.  Florence Gelato Festival.

The last week in Florence, while I was trying to study and write papers, my tastebuds were constantly tempted by the knowledge that an amazing festival was taking place just blocks away.  This was the third time that the gelato festival descended upon Florence, inviting the best gelato craftsmen from all over the world.  For 10 euro, I got a cool bag, a coupon allowing me to taste 6 different artesian gelati (plural of gelato), and a demonstration on how gelato is made.  Over the five days, I tasted so many different gelato and got many free samples.  In the end, I got to vote on which one was the best.

Gelato’s roots date back to 16th century Florence.  Did you know an architect, Bernardo Buontalenti, is said to have invented gelato?  And it was Catherine de’Medici, whose family is also from Florence, that brought gelato to France and then the rest of the world.

The flavors ranged from sweet to savory, fruit to chocolate.  I will always remember a Parmesan cheese flavored gelato that was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar and a piece of dried prosciutto.  It was — interesting.  But my favorite was the winning gelato.  Canadian Gelato craftsman created a simple gelato flavored with maple syrup.  It was awesome.

Since this festival does not happen every day, the least I can to, after living in Florence (the birthplace of gelato) for a year, is give you a brief review of the top five, must taste, gelaterias (gelato shops).

1.  Antica Gelateria Fiorentina
Via Faenza, 2  (located just around the corner from San Lorenzo)
Small cone (2 flavors): 1 euro
This small gelato shop provides some different, yet tasty flavors.  Try some of their “Gelati Gourmet” like Matcha (Green Tea) or Cuor di Pardula (orange, lemon, and saffron).

2.  Le Parlgine
Via Dei Servi, 41-red (between the Duomo and Piazza Santissima Annunziata)
Small cone (2flavors): 1.50 euro
They have lots of fresh fruit flavors like pear and banana and yummy flavors like After 8 (mint cookies).  My favorite combination was canella (cinnamon) with cafe.

3.  Gelateria La Carraia
Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25-red
Small cone (1 flavor): 1 euro
Located on the south bank of the Arno river, just across Ponte alla Carraia, is this hidden gelato shop.  My roommate Han found it and she recommends Yogurt with Nutella.  But I enjoy Torta di Limone (lemon cake).

4. Il Procopio
Via Pietrapiana 60-red
Small cone (2 flavors): 2.50 euro
A bit more expensive, but totally worth the extra cost.  They also have different flavors like Limone e Basilico (Lemon and Basil).  I sounds strange but it is so refreshing on a hot day.  Also try Fogli di Procopio (translates to Layers of Procopio) and so many delicious flavors are folded into this delicious gelato.

5. Gelateria Ermini
Via Vicenzo Gioberti, 123-red
Small cone (2 flavors): 1.50 euro
Located right between my school and COOP (my grocery store).  I often stopped at this historic Gelateria on the way home, and slowly it became my favorite gelato joint.  And I like to think that the cute Italian boy behind the counter (and I think the owner’s son) began to recognize me after a while.  The usual:  Neve di Riso and Baccio  (translates to Snow of Rice and a kiss).  Neve di Riso is a simple, milk based flavor that has bits of rice and it was the best.  Baccio is a blend of rich chocolate and hazelnut with huge chunks of hazelnut mixed inside.  The combination of these two flavors always made me happy as I slowly walked home from school.

Why is Gelato better than ice cream?  It’s creamier, it’s smoother, and, following the Italian tradition of using local products, it is just so flavorful and fresh.  Gelato anyone?

The End. But not really.

14-31 May 2012. The last three weeks.

The last three weeks in Italy flew by in a second.  It felt as though I closed my eyes after getting back from Ascoli and, when I opened them, I was on the train to Germany.

The first two days back from Ascoli, Art, Noah, and I spent most of our time in studio making last minute adjustment to our gastronomy center.

Wed.  16 May.
I was so happy with how our project turned out.  It was definitely not what I would have designed, but through a combination of ideas, our project was awesome! I think one of the best. And the professors were sure happy!  Achille was smiling through our entire presentation.

Noah and I were on opposite ends of the design spectrum. Noah created the forms of the building and designed the skin while I organized the program and made sure that everything worked out.  Art was the glue that held us all together; fixing the disagreements between Noah and I and just keeping the moral at an enthusiastic high while also designing a great interior courtyard and entrance.

the dream team. art, me, noah.

The gastronomy center evolved into a stadium for experiencing international foods.  It was a very introverted building (meaning that the exterior was low in profile and blended in with the surrounding city and all of the action happened once a visitor descended into the building’s center) that encouraged people to step down into the excitement within and taste the great things that the earth provides for us.

Thurs. 17 May.
Thursday I had my last Italian class and evening was filled with the last school dinner.  Some how the school arranged an amazing venue that was practically under the Ponte Vecchio.  The Società Canottieri Firenze is Florence’s rowing club.  Their clubhouse is located under the Uffizi Gallery and has a great lawn overlooking the Arno River.  We all dressed up in our finest and enjoyed a buffet while watching the sunset.

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People in above photos (from top left to bottom right):  1. the venue. 2. the roommates: Alex, me, Kat, JC, Han, Sar, Sta.  3. JC & me.  4. EMM & me. 5. Sar, Kat, Gabe, me, JC.  6. with two of my Italian architecture professors: Marco Brizzi and Achille Michelizzi.

We had a little awards ceremony and a student compiled a cute video using footage shot by different students.  It’s kinda long… and my face does not make an appearance, but at least you can see lots of my classmates, teachers, places, and silly-ness.

Finals Week.  21-25 May.
A paper on Italian Cinema, a few exams and school was over.  The last event to look forward to was the arrival of the Florentine Gelato Festival.  Be patient, special post on just gelato comes next.  Let me just say. AMAZING.

The end of this week also brought the arrival of our yearbooks.  I am very proud to say that I worked and designed most of it, with the help of many other people.  It looked great!

Friday.  25 May.
One last day trip to San Gimignano.  I can’t believe I had not visited this beautiful hill town yet!  JC, Kat, Han, and I enjoyed the stone streets and the amazing view!  Everything about this town is picturesque and I think I got a little artsy with my photos.  I could see a fashion show taking place here.  We wandered through some cute boutiques and I found some locally crafted necklaces.


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Friday night we had a final gathering at our apartment, with almost everyone from the school, to sign yearbooks and say goodbye to everyone.

Alex and Han enjoyed the cleaning supplies a little too much.

Over the next few days, I made many hikes up to Piazzale Michelangelo and had to say goodbye again and again to my favorite people as I helped them to the train station.

Kat and Sar left on Sunday, JC on Monday, Alex on Tuesday, Han on Wednesday.

Monday.  28 May.
I went with JC to Rome to help with her bags and to spend one last day together–even though we would see each other again in California, it would not be the same.  We took an early train, dropped her things at her hostel, and wandered past our favorite places in Rome.  We had gelato, sat on the Spanish steps, had un cafe, visited the Coliseum, and enjoyed a final dinner together before I got on the last train back to Florence.  I cried my eyes out.

Tuesday. 29 May.
To take a break from cleaning the apartment, I took some architecture friends to see my Butcher in Chianti.  It was a beautiful day in Tuscany and we all laughed so much as the guys made lots of meat themed puns.  We had a “flesh fest.”  Sitting next to us was an American woman who had worked for Dario the Butcher several years ago and she told us the best way to order and introduced us to the butcher.  Our waiter also took a liking to us and gave us samples of other cuts of meat, shots of grappa, and also some of the tasty olive oil cake.  He let us try on his meat goggles and also had us hold him!?!  Another food coma.

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Wednesday. 30 May.
Final cleaning, packing, errands, goodbye to Madi.

Thursday.  31 May.
My train to Germany was to leave at 11 and Fabio, our landlord, met me at the door at 10.  I was the last one to leave and handed over the keys.  It was a long walk to the train station.

I was sad that the program was over, but in a way I felt like I was just going on another trip.

– – – – –

“The best part about this whole thing is that you always carry a little of it with you.  Italy, your travels, your friends; this is all a part of you now.  Look at what you did in a year.  This is a beautiful thing.  Florence.” -Marco Cianchi, History of Florentine Architecture Professor

Day Trips from Florence: Lucca + Bologna

29-30 March: Thursday & Friday.

A great thing about living in Florence is that it is located in the very center of beautiful Tuscany. It is so easy to travel to the near by hill towns or to travel north to some of Italy’s great motor-sport factories.

 

Lucca.

Located near the sea just north of Pisa, Lucca is a delicate little town that is perfect for a day trip from the warm, low-land Florence. Around the ancient center there is the original walled fortification that is shaped like a pentagon, with lookout points at each corner. This barricade has been turned into a walking path and park.

 

Jacy and I took the noon train from Florence and spent a lazy afternoon exploring and shopping. We walk along the wall, peering into gardens and enjoying the towers of the many churches. We peeked into a circular piazza that was a Roman coliseum. We enjoyed afternoon tea at a nice hotel and people-watched. It was a beautiful day and we soaked in the Tuscan sun. Inside the walls, the town was picturesque and we had so much fun wandering the streets and peeking into shops. I even bought a very cute pair of red, leather flats, and I love them!

We left Lucca around 7pm and were home in time for dinner!

 

Bologna’s Ducati Factory.

Ducati motorcycles are some of the most revered bikes in motorcycle racing. I joined Fran, Gabe, and JC on a tour of their factory and history museum. For a small donation to charity, we got to go inside the actual factory and see every step of construction that one of their bikes goes through. From engine assembly to body to testing, everything is hand done. The only step we did not see was their top secret product development lab. The factory in Bologna is very unique and assembles 6 types of production bikes that are street safe and can be sold to the public. Each worker is trained to complete and entire bike and follows each bike through all of its stages of assembly – this keeps the Ducati workers more alert because they are not doing the same, repetitive movements.

The historical museum was also very interesting, taking us through each bike created by the Ducati brand and through its racing success.

The Butcher of Panzano

31 March 2012: Saturday

“This is Antica Macelleria Cecchini. It’s a butcher shop, but not really. In the words of Bill Buford, writing about it in his best selling book Heat: “It’s a museum of Tuscan cooking.” And this man, Dario Cecchini, is the most famous and respected butchers in Italy, and maybe the world. But just as a Macelleria is not simply a butcher shop, Dario is not just a butcher, he is something else entirely. He is a repository of knowledge for all things Tuscan. Be it food ways, historical arcania, literature, or poetry. He is a huge defender of traditional methods of preparation and original Medici era recipes. ” -Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations: Tuscany

Located in the small town of Panzano in Chianti, this butcher shop, the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, has been passed down from father to son over the past 250 years. Every ingredient he uses is local and fresh, from the meat to the glass of Chianti wine served to me as I walked in the door.

Panzano in Chianti is an easy hour bus ride from Florence, and we arrived just in time for lunch. I was joined by my friends JC, Fran, Gabe, Kat, and Kat’s friend Ling who was visiting from home. We pushed ourselves into the small shop, there were lots of people there buying meats, the walls were covered with antiques and memorabilia, the fridge was hung full of waiting carcasses, and there was Dario himself, pouring me a glass of wine and handing out samples of wonderful Salami Toscana.

Just across the narrow, cobblestone street, is Dario’s restaurant. There are only two items on the simple Menu. We all shared orders of the Dario Doc, a half pound, crumb crusted burger, and Accoglienza, which included samples of steak tartar (yes, I tried it, and yes, I knew it was raw), Chianti tuna (pork with herbs and garlic), and meatloaf with a sweet bell pepper sauce (my favorite). Everything was so tender and fantastically flavored that we were all in a carnivorous heaven. We had to be rolled out the door and down the hill to the bus.

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Before leaving, Fran (who was just as excited to meet Dario as I was) and I got to stand behind the counter with Dario for a photo! Dario was so excited to hear that we were from California. In a combination of English and Italian, he told us that his wife is from California and that they were heading there in a few weeks to do some cooking for the LA restaurant Valentino. This is a great butcher, in the tiny town, and he was so great.

Fava Beans

I guess I have been on a bit of a food kick lately, but some of the food is so different than what we have in the United States.  Food is always so fresh that I can’t help but try it.

Fava beans were something I had always heard of,


“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”   -Dr. Hannibal Lecter

but never seen at the markets before.  With the onset of spring, the beans were ripe and Italian Grandmas were buying them by the bag load.  So, I bought a few.

The beans themselves had to be removed from two shells.  First, the thick outer pod, with its fuzzy inner lining.  Then, I quickly boiled them in some salt water and the bean slipped out of their individual shell.  For the size of the pod, the actual beans are really tiny.

I mashed them together with some lentils, olive oil, and salt and spread them on a piece of baguette and then added a slice of fresh mozzarella.  It was so fantastic and fresh.  Perfect for a warm spring day in Toscana!

 

a little snow in Florence + the end of fall semester.

01 February 2011: Wednesday

It is finally cold enough! On the walk home last night, we were greeted with a light snow fall. Snow! In Tuscany! I can’t believe it was 90F just a few months ago. How quickly the weather changes here.

The small flakes wafted through the air and dusted my black coat with sparkling, white flecks. This morning, the rooftops had a light dusting. We have had some snow falling all day, but all of the architecture students were stuck inside with the final project looming in front of us. Nothing stayed for long, but it was a nice surprise!

One more week till finals…

06-09 February 2011: Finals Week

Finals is over! This was one of the busiest weeks ever; I am surprised that I got everything finished and was able to get sleep every night! The thought of being in London on Friday kept me going.

Over three days, I had three tests to take, a paper to write, and an architecture project to finished, and I am very happy with how they all went.

For my History of the Italian Renaissance class, I got to write a interesting paper on Savonarola, the crazy Dominican priest that took the Florentine rule form the Medici family and became one of the first protestants against the Roman Catholic church (Martin Luther studied his speeches). It was very interesting to research and analyze how his persuasive speeches of condemnation persuaded all of Florence to follow him.

For studio, we were given 4.5 weeks to design a Museum of Industrial Italian Design. The design for this project was inspired by the river and the idea that the Florentines are afraid of it. Florence has experienced many floods throughout its history, most recently in 1966. In the center, many of the buildings turn their backs on the river and don’t really interact with it. I wanted this museum to become the bridge between the people and the river. By keeping the museum on columns the river is allowed to flow below the museum while also keeping the art protected.

Why I’m in Florence: Studying.

2-3 November 2011: Wednesday + Thursday

Real school started Wednesday. We had a full day of architecture studio and presentations. Before leaving for the PLP break, we were assigned a small case study project to explore the beautiful architecture in Firenze. I was assigned the bridge of Ponte Santa Trinita, one bridge to the right of the Ponte Vecchio. Originally I thought this bridge would have no information, but I discovered it to have a very long and interesting history. The first bridge was built in the early 1200s, it was destroyed a total of 4 times and rebuilt 5 times. After the 3rd wooden bridge collapsed after the Arno River flooded, Florentine architect, Bartolomeo Ammannati, constructed a stone and geometrically stronger renaissance bridge in the 1500s. It stood for 500 years before being destroyed by the Nazi army during WWII, and has since been reconstructed from the original stones that were dredged from the Arno. I had so much fun researching this bridge. I discovered that the local library of Florence (which I now have a library card for) has a huge archive of ancient reference books. I was able to skim through an engineering book that gave the statics analysis for the bridge that was published in the late 1700s! It was so cool!

My studio project for the fall (due 21 Dec) is a new exit to the Uffizi Gallery. It will be cool to see what we design and how we interact with the interesting site and the context of this old city.

My Italian conversation class will be different then the last class because it is more of a cultural class in Italian. We are to discuss major figures in today’s culture, architecture, food, holidays, etc.

History of the Italian Renaissance will also be fun. My professor is a real kick. He is very funny and knows some of the strangest facts about people in Florence’s history.

04 November 2011: Friday
Gelato: Cinnamon + Café (really good combination!)

05 November 2011: Saturday
Gelato: Amaretto + Persimmon

We found out today that a TEDtalk was taking place in Florence, so on a whim JC, Sar, and I tried to attend. Our attempt was successful! We got some cool tote bags and official badges and got to listen to some very interesting lectures – however they were all in Italian… and I could only understand about 30% of what they were talking about, but it was still really cool!

One was partially in English. An Italian born professor at UC San Diego has developed some very cool software that can scan artwork and show the layers hidden behind the paintings. They have applied this technique to Botticelli’s Primavera and da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi. Through this software they can see the touchups made on paintings and see what is hidden beneath, including da Vinci’s beautiful sketches that lie below the sepia paint. So cool!

11 November 2011: Friday

It is nice going to school here in Florence. There are two things that really stick out in my mind: 1. No school on Friday; I know this may be insignificant to some college students, but Cal Poly Architecture requires school 5 days a week! 2. When we learn about someone or something in history, we can take the train a few hours and visit where they lived.

This week in History of the Renaissance, we learned of St. Francis of Assisi. Did you know that he was a poet? And was one of the first people to use modern Italian in its written form? So, JC and I took the train three hours south to the town of Assisi.

This small hill town is picturesque. The view over Umbria was breath-taking. JC and I enjoyed wandering the perfect streets and visiting the many churches that perch on the hillside. The most important one is the basilica of San Francesco (St. Francis) which includes two churches stacked on top of each other. The upper was the oldest, dating back to early Christian style architecture, while the lower church was more gothic in style and covered in frescoes depicting the life of San Francesco. Below the lower chapel is the tomb of San Francesco. It was really cool to be down in the tomb and to see how admired this saint is and how his life has influenced so many people. This tomb is a pilgrimage spot for so many people, including monks and nuns of the Franciscan order and I can now see why my Tante Elk wanted me to visit.

10 November 2011: Thursday
Gelato: Lemon Pudding + Almond cookie

13 November 2011: Sunday
Gelato: After Eight + Opera Italiana

15 November 2011: Tuesday

My friend from Cal Poly, Mic, is visiting us from his study in Copenhagen this weekend. On his last night here, we decided to climb Brunelleschi’s dome! The venture up the dome was quite the experience. We hiked up the spiral towers to the terrace of the dome where we could look into the eyes of the giant frescoes that grace the ceiling. Then we hike through the double layer dome to the lantern. On the journey up, we could see the pattern of brick used to construct the dome. The size of this dome forced Brunelleschi to develop a new type of construction. Instead of using wooden framework, they built the dome in rows with a herringbone pattern.

From the top, we had a beautiful view of the city. Each monument was lit up. We could even see our apartment!

18 November 2011: Friday

Yesterday, 17 November, was my 22nd birthday. After a long day of classes, I came home to an amazing meal prepared by my great roommates. Sar and JC slaved over the stove and made lasagna and tiramisu! We had a bunch of friends over and enjoyed each others company and lots of laughter!

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!

Exploring Firenze and Toscana

02 Sep 2011: Friday
Gelato: Wine (and it is amazing!)

It is finally Friday! My first Italian test is finished and we get to meet up with my CP Architecture friend Miche. Miche just finished a summer study class in Switzerland and is now traveling through Europe. Miche will be crashing with us for the next few days. Our first houseguest! We did some sight seeing: Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and the south side of the Arno River. We hiked outside of the city center and up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the most amazing views of central Firenze! A must see!

On the way home, we stumbled upon a great pizzaria! Gusta Pizza (via Maggio 46R) had great pizza, a great atmosphere, and a good price. We got to share one of the large tables with two police officers.

04 Sep 2011: Sunday
Gelato: Matcha (green tea) + Cuor di Pardula (orange, lemon, + saffron) in one cone!


Today was the day of double mass! and it was so great! We went to high mass at Duomo! This was so cool! The average tourist must stand behind a fence half way down the nave. But since we were going for mass (Sar calls it the “Catholic Special”) we got to sit directly under Brunelleschi’s amazing dome, listen to mass in Italian, and smell the incense.

This evening we hiked back up to Piazzale Michelangelo to visit the church of San Miniato al Monte (St. Minias on the Mountain). This church has an adjoining monastery and every evening at 5:30 the monks hold mass. The best part though, is that the monks sing their mass. Their singing radiates through the crypt, below the alter, as the monks sing their prayers. But before entering into the church for mass, we got to witness the end of an Italian wedding. It was very cool to see all of the stylish Italians dressed in their Giorgio Armani suits.

05 Sep 2011: Monday

After class today, Sar, JC, Miche and I visited the Ospedale degli Innocenti, another great building designed by the great Brunelleschi. The Ospedale degli Innocenti, or the Hospital of the Innocent, was an orphanage and a nunnery. Mothers could place their babies on a rotating door and give their child to the nuns to care for. The nuns would teach the child a trade so that when they grow up, they could have an occupation. I first learned about this building in my architecture history class and it was great to see it first hand!

07 Sep 2011: Wednesday

We started our figure drawing class today. All of the architecture students are required to take this class. Now, when I heard figure drawing, I knew we would be drawing people. But guess what they were wearing… nothing! I was slightly shocked when we first started, but I have taken it upon myself to be mature in this situation. I am very happy with how my first pencil sketch turned out and my drawing teacher is very enthusiastic and supportive!

Today was the Festa della Rificolona (festival of the paper lanterns). Tomorrow is the birthday of the Virgin Mary and this festival is thrown to celebrate the eve of her birth and to remember the farmers who would travel out of the hills by lantern light to sell their goods. There was live Tuscan dancing and folk music and each of the young children were holding colorful lanterns (store bought and home made). I noticed one of the first differences between the US and Italy. Let me set the picture: the small children are carrying paper lanterns that had candles on the inside. The kids that are 8-12 years old walk around with pea-shooters and have one intention this night, to shoot down the lanterns and make them catch fire! This would not happen in America! But the combination of the glittering lights and the fun music made for a great atmosphere.

08 Sep 2011: Thursday

Happy Birthday to the Virgin Mary! The terrace of the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) was open to the public once a year to honor this day. JC, Sar, Alex and I got to climb up to the base of the dome, have panoramic view of Florence, and even walk inside the church along the balcony next to the rose window. It was very cool! From this position on the dome, you can really see how the Duomo is the center of Florence. All of the major streets radiate off of the plaza.

09 Sep 2011: Friday

Our first class field trip was today. We visited the small hill town of Monteriggioni, Siena, and ended the day with dinner at Machiavelli’s house.


Monteriggioni is a walled hill town one hour outside of Florence. This medieval town was build by the city of Siena to be a fort against the attacking Florentines. Monteriggioni is preserved very well. Except for the modern shops and cars, you would think you had just traveled back into the dark ages.

Still within Toscana, Siena was the opposing super power to Firenze. It has a beautiful town hall, duomo, and is home to Il Palio (a horse
race around the sea shell shaped plaza). Even though Il Palio is during the summer, you can still see the rivalries of each district (17 in total) because each area of Siena is decorated differently and sport their colors and flags. My friend Arl and I tasted a traditional Sienanise desert. Ricciarelli are soft almond cookies are they are so good!

To end the day, we went to the house of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was born in Florence and became a rival of the ruling Medici family. Machiavelli eventually took over the political scene of Florence for many years before being exiled by the Medici family. Machiavelli was exiled to this house just outside of Florence where he wrote his political masterpiece The Prince. His house has now been turned into an upscale restaurant and produces wine from the same grapes as when Machiavelli lived here 500 years ago. We got to eat some great traditional Tuscan foods including Crostini (toasted bread with yummy toppings), Ribollita alla Toscana (a thick bread and vegetable stew – so good), Tiramisu and the house wine!

JC sampeling the Machiavelli wine!


Bella Toscana!