Cenci and Cappuccinos

Today, after buying rice pudding instead of Greek yogurt for lunch (my Italian isn’t very good yet) I headed to the city center because my history class was meeting at a café! I love being able to take learning outside the classroom and go on site visits. It’s so much more fun this way!

We went to a café called the red jacket. My professor informed us that many Italian government officials met in the back room of this very café when discussing the need for a leader of their country back in the 1860s. After a short lecture, our professor encouraged us to talk and get to know other people in our class, for we are a community just as the newly unified Italy was a community. We all enjoyed a free drink at the café while talking amongst ourselves for the next hour. I’ll take a free cappuccino any day!

Upon returning home after classes I headed out for a run. I have really been enjoying my runs this week for not only do they feel great after all the Italian food I have been eating, but they give me time alone with my thoughts as I explore my new environment.

I came home just in time for dinner. Tonight Ali’s friend from school, Julie, was visiting from London where she is studying abroad. My host parents were happy to invite her over for dinner. On tonight’s menu was pumpkin ravioli, salmon, salad, and fresh tomatoes. For dessert, Cristina made homemade cookies called “cenci” which are fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are very similar to the Croatian dessert I have had before. These were served with a dessert wine that is meant for dipping the cookies. Although I was not a huge fan of the very strong wine, the cookies slowly disappeared as Ali, Julie and I sat around the table.

Markets > Museums

Yesterday, Wednesday January 25, was another adventurous day in Florence. First of all, I decided to drop my drawing class. I ended up not enjoying it as much as I had hoped, and didn’t need it for my curriculum. At school, I always pack my schedule to the fullest taking the most credits possible. I do this to get my money’s worth out of the tuition, increase my academic rigor and enroll in classes I find interesting and are not solely necessary for my major. But I’ve come to realize this semester is different, especially academically speaking. For the majority of the learning is not in the classroom, but rather through our new environment of Italy. I am learning to adapt to a different culture, speak a different language, and coordinate travel – which I have learned takes as much time as a class itself! Anyway, I am now enrolled in the lowest possible credits in order to allow time to experience the city, travel, learn the language, and spend time with my host family.

After deciding to drop this class, my Mondays and Wednesday are completely free after 11:00am! Luckily, Tiffany, a friend of mine has the same schedule, which leaves plenty of time to embark on new Florentine adventures together! Today we planned to go to the Galleria Uffizi where famous paintings are held such as the Primavera and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, The Annunciation by Leonardo Da Vini, and The Ognissanti Madonna by Giotto, along with many others.

Veiw from the Uffizi window!

Tiffany and I, not being art history or museum buffs in the least bit, looked around the museum a bit when we realize we have no idea which paintings are famous or what we are looking at. At one point we jumped on an English speaking tour of students in hopes of finding out some information. We learned about a few paintings before getting weird looks from the students on the tour, realizing we weren’t in their program. Luckily my roommate (an art history major and intern of the Uffizi) texted me the must see paintings, and we happily took her suggestions.

After having enough of the museum, Tiffany and I headed out to the San Lorenzo market in search of some lunch. The market was awesome! I’m pretty sure we spent more time here than at the Uffizi – ok by me. There were many stands filled with fresh produce, cheese, pastries, meat, olive oils, vinegars or dried fruit. So much to explore! After tasting some samples of cheese and balsamic vinegar, Tiffany and I headed to the dried fruit stand. I had to try a one of each! I got raisins, pears, peaches, pineapple, melon, coconut, mandarin oranges, cherries, and a fig. Delish!


After a fun day in the center, we walked back enjoying our newly purchased dried fruit. Upon arriving home I set out on a run, finding a route around the stadium I really enjoy. Tonight for dinner, Ali and I were invited over to Rita’s, a friend of Christina’s who also hosts students. It was fun to have a different Italian mother cook for us and meet the other students, but there was so much food! To start we had pasta with spinach and cheese. Then four different entrees were brought out including artichokes, a frittata with tomato sauce, a potato dish with olives, and a cannellini bean dish that apparently was very native to Florence. I loved the artichokes and the beans were my favorite! For dessert Rita brought out warm stewed fruit including apples, raisins, and prunes. All was delicious, but it was so much food! Rita kept telling us to eat more, and to finish it all because it would make her happy. I ended the night with a huge stomach ache after too much food. At least it was delicious.


Over breakfast this morning, our host mother asked Ali and I if we would like to learn how to make ravioli later in the day. Of course we were immediately excited. I was not going to be late for this lesson!

When we arrived home this evening, Cristina had everything ready to go. She started by rolling out the pasta dough really thin by using a electric pasta rolling machine. She then laid out the sheets for us, and showed us how to put little dollops of filling onto the sheets of pasta, fold the pasta over the filling and seal up the little pouches by pressing lightly on the dough. As she rolled the pasta sheets, Ali and I made the raviolis, cutting them with what looked like a mini pizza cutter.

Alas the raviolis were done and I was counting down the minutes to dinner. Cristina cooked the spinach and ricotta filled raviolis in a light butter and sage sauce and grated fresh parmesan cheese on top once she had put them on our plates. They were so good and fresh that they just might have been the best raviolis I’ve ever had! And I helped make them! To follow the pasta we had cooked spinach and Brussels sprouts – two of my favorite vegetables. As we finished our meals Cristina offered us gelato cones. As good as they sounded, I was way too full and had to decline. There will always be other times for gelato. Cooking lesson number two with Cristina was a great success!

Clean Sheets

It was to school for me on Monday. After a long day of classes and homework, I arrived home to find fresh, clean sheets on my bed! After being used to doing all my shores on my own while I’m at school it so nice to be taken care of by my host family. My host mother does the laundry for us, prepares delicious meals every night, doesn’t let us help with the dishes, and even gives us clean sheets after only being here a week. What a life!

Ali and I share a room here in the Brandigi home, and also share a bathroom. The living arrangements are great, as Ali and I get along very well and enjoy each others company. We have plenty of closet space, a small desk, and each have a twin bed. I must say my bed it so comfortable! Although the house is sometimes cold, my comforter keeps me at the perfect temperature every night.


After coming home to a clean room, I set out on a run around the nearby soccer stadium. It was lovely as many people were out for a run, or on their bikes. Soon after I returned dinner was served. Tonight started with one of my favorites, minestrone soup. This version had collard greens, beans, and bread right in the soup. We were then served sautéed fish and tomato slices with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The meal was fresh, delicious and packed with vegetables just how I like it. We all finished the tiramisu for dessert.

The Tiramisu Dilemma

After two days of day trips, I was ready for a relaxed Sunday. I slept in until 9:30am which felt glorious after getting up before the sun for my day trips this weekend. My roommate and I awoke to breakfast on the table waking for us… its nice to have a host family!

Breakfast was followed a lovely run around my neighborhood. Later I met with friends to go shopping in the city center. We all had difficulties packing when coming here and needed a few alterations to our wardrobe. Before we knew it, it was 4’o’clock and I needed to head home as my host mother had offered to show Ali and I how to make tiramisu! I did not want to be late for this.

We all headed towards home, walking quickly, but were pressed for time so we decided to take the bus to cut down on the travel time. This was my first time taking the bus, and maybe the last. As my friend and I got on the bus we double checked with the driver that it was going the right place. Unfortunately, it was not going the right way. Maria and I rode the bus for an entire hour as it went its full route to finally arrive at our stop – a trip that would’ve taken a mere five minutes had we gotten on the right way. We were tired, and hungry and miserable the whole way, kicking ourselves for getting on the wrong way.

When I finally arrived home, an hour late for my tiramisu lesson with Cristina, I felt so bad and apologized again and again. Luckily, she was very nice about it and said she was more sorry for me because I rode the bus for an hour. I was able to catch the tail end of her making tiramisu, but she said she would show me next time.

Dinner tonight, merely the precursor to the dessert to come, started with bell peppers sautéed in vinegar and sugar which were surprisingly delicious. Then we had lasagna! A different lasagna than I’ve ever tasted with different types of cheese, onions, and artichokes. And then of course was the tiramisu for dessert. My first time trying it! What better way than homemade by an authentic Italian cook? I had missed my homemade dinners over the weekend and this dinner was the perfect meal to come back to.

Ravenna - Land of Mosaics and Cold

After a full day in Assisi the day before, on Saturday, January 21, my roommate and I were up before the sun at 6am to catch the 7:30am bus to Ravenna. This was another school sponsored field trip that I signed up for, and again I embarked on the day trip knowing nothing about Ravenna or what the day had in store. I was just hoping it would be as good of a surprise as our trip to Assisi!

Unfortunately it was not. After about a two and a half hour bus ride, we arrived in Ravenna and toured about four different churches and monuments. Just as Assisi was known for the fresco paintings, Ravenna is known for mosaic art. We went to each location, which are all about a ten minute walk from each other, looking at the mosaics and learning about the history. This would have made for a fine time except the fact that it was freezing! And if you thought just the walks in between each location were cold you thought wrong, for the churches themselves were even colder than the weather outside thus giving us no break from the cold. Many of the other students and I were miserable throughout the tours due to the weather and unfortunately I could barely appreciate the beautiful history that surrounded me.

By the time the tours ended it was past one in the afternoon, our feet were numb, and we were all overly hungry for lunch. After seeing our final church, some friends and I stopped in the gift shop to ask for a lunch recommendation – something cheap and simple. We got directions and headed out, desperately seeking warmth.

We arrived at the suggested eatery, looked at the menu and happily ordered. We all got different types of grilled wraps which are very typical of the area. I got the very traditional wrap of grilled vegetables and cheese. As we were waiting for our food I was able to watch the woman make our lunch over an open grill. I always love watching people prepare food, especially the food I am about to eat. While watching I hung my head close to the open grill to catch the heat it was giving off. It definitely warmed me up!

Friends and I hung out at the restaurant until it was time to go, as none of us wanted to venture back out into the cold. We then headed back on the bus. Although I was planning on getting some sleep on the bus as I usually do on these trips, the bus driver put in a movie and I got sucked into Inception!

Upon returning home and telling our host mom how cold it had been in Ravenna, Cristina prepared tea and hot water bottles for Ali and me. What a lovely thought! It was perfect, and about the only that could have warmed me up after such a cold day.

After some rest, I headed back out to the much warmer Florence for a night out with friends J

Assisi - An Unexpected Gem

On Friday, January 20, 2012, I went to Assissi! It was an all school field trip and my first trip since arriving in Florence a little over a week ago. Since it was a school sponsored trip, the travel and tours were taken care of for the students…so all I had to do was sign up! I’d say a trip with no planning is a good way to ease into right?

We all met at the school at 8:00am, boarded the busses and headed out for the two hour drive. Of course after a bunch of college students woke up at 6:30am, the entire bus was asleep within minutes of departure.

Upon signing up for this trip, I had no idea what Assisi had in store. All I assumed is that St. Francis of Assisi was from there, and there’d probably be a church. I must say I wasn’t too excited for a day of tours, churches and history, but Assisi surprised me! As I expected, we toured a church, learned about St. Francis’s life from a tour guide provided by the school and viewed the various fresco paintings on the walls. After about an hour of touring, we were set free to explore the small city on our own and find lunch.

The city of Assisi is beautifully quaint with cobble stone roads, small boutique shops, and stone buildings with flower pots along the window sills and colored shutters lining the windows. It is located on the top of the hill making the roads steep but the views gorgeous. Some other students and I ventured up the roads in search of something hot for lunch, as it was cold outside and even colder in the church! With limited choices we decided on a small restaurant where I got a most delicious barley soup! It was perfect for the chilly day – warm and hearty.

After we were all nourished and warmer we set out to hike up to the top of the hill of Assisi, as suggested by our tour guide. I must say, this was my favorite part of the day as the view from the top of the hill was amazing. As we reached the top, the sun came out and made for the most beautiful view of the surrounding hilly landscape. We spent lots of time their exploring the stone fort that sat atop the hill, enjoying the scenery and taking pictures.

On out way back down the hill, and back to the bus we stopped for huge meringues that we eyed on our way up the hill.

After a nap on the bus ride back to Florence and a little relaxation at home, I met friends Maria and Jess for dinner. We were all exhausted from our long day, and knew we had another early morning ahead of us so we opted for a low key dinner at Pizza place near our houses. I shared Pizza and beer with friends to end the night. My first pizza in Florence!