Sun Kissed Delight

Knowing we wouldn't be traveling this weekend, Maria and I wanted to at least go on a day trip. After looking at our options, we decided a trip to the beach was the most enticing. Viareggio it was!

Being a beach town of the Western coast of Italy, Viareggio is a Simple 90 minute train ride from Florence. We were up early this morning to catch a train to be in Viareggio by lunch time. It was another yogurt picnic lunch, but this time on the beach! With sun on my skin, my toes in the sand, and nothing but blue sea and sail boats in the distance, I’d say I was enjoying my day at the beach. Although it was warm enough to work on our tans for a little bit, the cool breezes forced our jackets make an early appearance.

After some napping and reading on the beach, and walking up and down the boardwalk a couple times all while soaking up the sun, it was time to head home. This day trip was not full of tours and museums like others, but chock-full of relaxation – and I loved every minute of it! Upon returning home we were in need of some dinner. Maria had a hankering for pizza and beer – sounded good to me! Upon recommendation from the roomie (Ali), we headed to Mostodolce pizzeria known for their homebrews. Maria and I split a mushroom pizza and veggie calzone and each tried a different specialty beer.

And how did we top off our night? We may or may not have stopped at Badiani on the way home for some of the best gelato in Florence


What to do with a free Friday in Florence? Bike of course! After telling Maria of the great fun I had biking around Florence with Sean, she was eager to jump on the bike riding bandwagon. With picnic supplies in tow, we got our bikes and embarked on a carefree ride through the city, along the river, and across the Ponte Vecchio. It's amazing how much more of the city you can see in a short amount of time with bikes as opposed to walking. We arrived at what seemed like the perfect picnic location: outside the Palazzo Pitti. There were so many people there soaking up the sun and the incredible weather. We plopped down with the masses and enjoyed our Greek yogurts, strawberries and blackberries while working on our tans – or rather her tan and my freckles.

When our bellies were full and skin sun kissed, it was back on our bikes for more sightseeing and exercise. I must say biking on cobblestone was a real pain in my butt, literally! Between the sun and the biking we were both tired by late afternoon and headed home for before-dinner-naps.

After an active day we had no desire to walk far for dinner so we went to a local restaurant called Giugolo. Although my host father says they've got great pizza, I was craving a salad and had to go with my palate. I must say it hit the spot! With arugula, tomatoes, ricotta, baby shrimp, and pecorino cheese my mouth and my stomach were both equally satisfied. After dinner we both had gelato on the mind! After looking at two different locations, they were both closed... I guess Italians like their gelato in the afternoon? Our taste slightly disappointed, we both headed home to get to bed early in preparation for a day trip tomorrow!

Picnic in Fashion

For me, Thursday's mean I get to fill a void in my life - cooking! Today I headed to the kitchen after Italian class to help prepare the meal for Sharing Thursday where students and teachers come together to share a meal with the homeless people of Florence. On the lunch menu was minestrone soup which had been previously prepared by Vittoria, the volunteer coordinator and creator of the Sharing Thursday program. Vittoria added lots of veggies to her soup and prepared it without oil. She said the healthy meal was in honor of me and my Healthy Mondays - how nice! For dessert I helped prepare an apple cake with our school’s cook Maibritt.

Everything was a big hit and serving was morally rewarding as always. We are even starting to have “regulars” for our lunches as one man sat in the piazza for an hour, waiting for us to arrive with a hot meal. Besides getting my cooking fix, I love how sharing Thursdays provide me the opportunity to connect with the Florentine community while practicing my Italian. It is truly a great program!

After lunch in the piazza, I got to continue enjoying the wonderful weather we are having by walking to the center with my history class. Today my teacher brought us all to the Gucci museum! For in the midst of old buildings, renaissance history, and art in Florence, there is the history of fashion! We were guided through rooms filled with Gucci jewelry, luggage, dresses and even cars! I think my favorite room was the one with Gucci dresses worn by Hollywood stars…or the room with the Gucci picnic set - who knew you could picnic in fashion?


Puzzle Pieces

Today, Wednesday March 21, my Italian class had another field trip! Most of the other students here are enrolled in some kind of Art history class and often have site visits to museums or piazzas. Since I am not taking such a course, I get so excited when my Italian class has “site visits” of our own!

This morning we met at Piazza Santa Croce to walk to our final destination together – an art studio where people make mosaic art! Upon arriving, an artist gave us a tutorial on how they make their mosaics. He first showed us the various types of stone they use, describing each one as he wiped off the rock with a damp sponge, revealing their true beauty. The stones were all from different places such as Sicily, Fiesole, and the bottom of the Arno River in Florence.

He then demonstrated how they cut pieces of the colorful rocks.  Using a bow-and-arrow-looking contraption made of a wood and wire, and a mixture of water and sand, the artists carve tiny pieces of stone into the precise shape they need to fit their current work of art.

Through trial and error they fit the puzzle like pieces together to reveal a beautiful picture! It was really neat to see! Their gallery ranged from mosaics of simple flowers to intricate replicas of the Duomo. Their largest pieces take as much time as three years! Upon curiosity, I looked at the price of a small mosaic of a flower – 2500 €! Sorry mom, I did not get one for the house…

Let them Wear Shorts

Today, March 20, is the start of spring and, my, what gorgeous weather it brings! As cold and awful it was in the beginning of the semester, the weather is equally as wonderful now! Sunny and 70s all week! It’s amazing how many more people are out when the sun is shining…

I celebrated the warm weather by running in the afternoon, basking in the sun during lunch, and breaking out my shorts! I LOVE SHORTS. If given the choice I might never wear pants again. Pants are so constricting and uncomfortable, where as in my shorts my legs can be free. Although I love the fall, I despise the day when it is just too cold to wear shorts any longer and the days of easily slipping on some shorts are taken over by squeezing into pants day after day.

Unfortunately the Italians do not feel the same way. For despite the 75 degree weather, they are still sporting their scarves, jackets, and even their puffy down coats. Are they not sweating in there? Despite my thinking that warm weather is an obvious excuse for shorts, I have gotten some strange looks from the locals that I know translate to their thoughts “She doesn’t belong.” When I walked into Italian class one day sporting my summer bottoms, my professor informed me I look very, “American.” Do Italians not like their legs to be free? Despite the looks, the shorts have been broken out of the closet, and once they’re out, they don’t go back in until that sad, sad day in fall.

(Not so) Healthy Monday

After an active week showing Sean around Florence, I woke up on Monday March 19, feeling…well…not so healthy. My head was aching, throat sore, and sinuses about to combust at any moment – or so it felt like. It was really no surprise to me for Ali had had the same symptoms yesterday and living in such tight quarters, there’s not much we don’t share. At least we can suffer together!

Despite our host mother’s suggestion, Ali and I went to school and attempted to carry on our normal Mondays which means Healthy Monday events for me and Uffizi internship for her. Unfortunately after handing out fruit and taking in some Vitamin C myself, I did not feel any better. On top of this our scheduled Tai Chi instructor for tonight’s “Move-it-Monday” class canceled on me. Luckily, we have a student Zumba instructor that can be ready at a moments notice!  A big thank you to Alex for saving the day with Zumba!

After making sure the class would go off without a hitch, I could not bear the thought of staying at school for the next five hours to workout, so I went home. Upon arriving home early, my host mom took great care of me making me green tea with honey and asking if I would like something special for dinner. I of course requested soup, as everyone knows that is quite possibly the best meal when you are feeling under the weather. So it was vegetable soup and salad for dinner – light, healthy and exactly what I needed. I hope these sickies don’t stick for long, but if means dinners like these, maybe I wouldn’t mind them staying a few more days…

Movie worthy Ending

Today, Sunday March 19, I was up early to meet Sean and say our final goodbyes, as he had an early flight to catch. I walked him to the bus stop near his hostel, and before we knew it the bus pulled up and he was swept away all too quickly. When the bus was out of site, I sadly turned back to head home when I looked down and saw that I was still holding Sean’s bag of snacks! As I started to leave thinking “That’s such a bummer” other thoughts started going through my head like “It’s too bad he won’t have any snacks…wait he didn’t even eat breakfast…he has 15 hours of travel…he’s going to need snacks…he’s going to have to buy snacks…he’s going to have to spend at least 20 Euro on expensive airport food…”. At that point I knew I had to try and catch him before he got to the airport. I had to at least try. On instinct I started running in the direction of his only to realize it was completely pointless because the bus was way too far ahead. So I impatiently waited at the bus stop for the next bus.

When it finally came, I hopped on, with 2 euro in hand to buy my ticket onboard. When the bus driver told me he ran out of tickets, I knew I did not have the time to find the nearest tabacchi, buy a ticket, and wait for the next bus to come. So I stayed on the bus, deciding to “risk it”. The bus pulled out and I started to head to the train station, ticketless, nervous and ready to jump off the bus at the first sight of a patrol man. My nerves were eased as we arrived at the station, and no one had come to check my lack of bus ticket. I thought of my chances of finding Sean through the see of people at the train station, before his bus to the airport departed – not likely. Miraculously, upon stepping off the bus, my eyes immediately went to the word “aeropuerto” printed on the front of a bus. As I made my way toward it my heart sank for it appeared it was empty, but as I got closer my eyes were able to make out a lone person in the front of the bus – it was my Sean!

As I reached the door, Sean came out to meet me, surprised at why I was there but happy to see me at the same time. “You forgot your snacks,” I said to him simply, holding up the bag he had left behind. He responded with a big hug for as much as he was happy to have food for the long hours of travel ahead of him, I think he was happier to see me, as we both agreed the first bus came far too quickly for a real goodbye. As bus driver started the engine, I gave him one last squeeze before he had to resume his seat on the bus. With a final wave, the bus was off and Sean was gone – this time for good. Finding myself standing alone at the train station, this time with no snacks in hand, I headed home reflecting on the wonderful week I had spent with Sean.

See you in 8 weeks ragazzo!

Guest Post: Italian Goodbyes

I thought it’d be cool to hear Sean’s take on our last day together, so here he goes! -

With today being the last full day in Florence, a fun and active day was necessary. It was saddening to wake up and think that this was my last day with Ellen but those thoughts were quickly wiped away with a sweet treat in the afternoon. Ellen and I decided to indulge in a McDonalds McFlurry. Normally, McDonalds is the last place you would find Ellen and I, but knowing they served a pistachio flavored McFlurries it was a necessary stop. With the pleasant weather of Florence we sat in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella enjoying our afternoon treat and some street performer music. His new spin on “Your Song,” by Elton John really made the moment somewhat magical.

After scraping the sides of the container to get the last of our delicious snack it was off to the leather booths of San Lorenzo’s market in search of a new belt for myself. After some bargaining I left happy with a nice dark brown leather belt – a wonderful memento of my trip to Florence.

With the evening quickly approaching my stomach was in search of a snack. To make the most of the wonderful Italian food it was back to San Lorenzo’s indoor food market that I loved so much on Tuesday. This time a sample of cheese and pesto was purchased and consumed along the Arno River. I must say, the river is one of my favorite parts of Florence. After soaking up the last of the day’s sun we were off for an evening stroll on the streets near the Duomo. The city really came alive after sun set. The weekend crowds were out enjoying the shops and sites of central Florence. It was really enjoyable to see the city at night, all lit up, and full with people.

As we walked, we kept our eyes open for a place to enjoy our last dinner together in Florence. Sharing meals is one of our favorite things to do together. With our busy days back in Syracuse having dinner together was the perfect time to catch up and unwind.  After our extensive evening walk we arrived to a popular restaurant right off of San Lorenzo’s market. We always seem to find ourselves beck in that area… guess we are foodies at heart. With the theme of food being “food I can’t get in the states,” it was prosciutto and melon to start, Tuscan mushroom soup for Ellen and gorgonzola walnut gnocchi for me. The soup was the hands down winner. The reduced tomato flavor and barley made the soup very hearty, and very delicious. I even put some on my gnocchi to increase the flavor… Full and satisfied, we took our time to absorb every last minute of our last dinner in each other’s company.

Well, I cannot think of a better way to spend my last college spring break! The week went by too fast and I wish I was staying longer. During my stay in Florence, I especially enjoyed seeing Ellen’s everyday environment and getting to share her study abroad experience even if just for a week. Host family dinners, biking through Florence, and the Healthy Monday & Sharing Thursday events are a few of my highlights. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my time in Italy. Experiencing Florence while spending some quality time with someone I am very thankful to have in my life was the perfect combination to make this trip a trip of a life time. I know I will remember it forever!

She was a Day Tripper

Today’s events involved a day trip! Sean and I met up at the train station early in the morning to catch a train to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre (literally meaning “five grounds”) is made of five small cities along the eastern coast of Italy. Upon planning our trip, Sean and I had looked at gorgeous pictures of beautiful mountains, sandy beaches, and clear blue ocean waters.

We were excited for a day of hiking and laying on the beach taking in the gorgeous views. Unfortunately our ambitions were ruined by one uncontrollable, minor detail: the weather. Although nothing terrible, when we arrived, the weather in Cinque Terre was not the hot and sunny day we had imagined as the sky was cloudy and breezes were chilly. There would be no tanning on the beach for us today.

So in stead of soaking up the sun we heading on an adventure hike! – An old favorite thing to do together from our high school days. We followed a trail that winding up the side of one of the town many large mountains.  It’s so fun to be outdoorsy! Towards the top, we were welcomed by some amazing views of the ocean.

After our hike we bopped around between the five cities exploring their small towns, but ultimately got slightly bored. We decided that this would be the perfect destination if it was sunny and hot, but for our day trip it was more than slightly disappointing. At least our dinner salad was not! With arugula, tomatoes, mozzarella and olives our dinner salads made our experience a little better, but only a little.

Chianti Trips and Red Wine Sips

Along with helping out with Healthy Monday, Sean was eager to help me cook lunch for Sharing Thursday. Wow, there’s really something for everyday of the week here huh? On the menu today was baked penne with broccoli and béchamel sauce and a strawberry Crostata. Sean and I love cooking together so this was a real treat!

After serving and sharing lunch with the Florentines, we were quickly off to catch a bus to Chianti, for we had wine tasting plans today! On the hour bus ride there, the winding roads and small stuffy bus did not bode well for this one (who has discovered this semester she gets car sick easily). I was relieved when we finally arrived at the winery. We started out exploring the castle grounds and checking out the amazing view of vineyard covered hillsides.

After a tour of the premises, learning how they produce and store their wine, we were presented with our tasting. We got to try to three different wines: Chianti classic, aged Chianti, and a dessert wine. The reds were served with snacks of cheese, bruschetta, and bread with olive oil while we got biscotti to nibble on with the dessert wine – it tasted like caramel!

Back in Florence, we had dinner reservations at “Pizzaiuolo” to get to! With their pizza man from Naples, this is one of the best pizzerias in town! Along with some house wine, we shared two entrees: a pizza with artichokes, mushrooms, mozzarella and parmesan, and an arugula salad. The pizza crust was so doughy and delicious. They are not lying when they say this pizza is the best!

One Day?

Looking back on it, so many things happened Wednesday, March 14, I can't believe it was only one day! It started bright an early with a field trip in Italian class. Our professor informed us early in the week that we were going chocolate tasting! Wasn't ideal timing at 10:30 in the morning, but when am I ever to deny chocolate? At a chocolate shop in the centre called “Vestri”, we started by sampling a variety chocolate truffles with different flavor infusions - even one with lavender. I must say they were some of the best chocolates I have ever tasted! After the truffles, we were presents with a cup of gelato with three flavors to taste- yogurt, Nutella and crème. Although not my favorite flavors it was darn good gelato. And just when I thought the tasting had concluded there was more chocolate to be had as we were presented with a small sip of hot chocolate! We had chocolate three different ways today! And what made the field trip better? Sean was able to tag along on this class excursion! What a good day to be in Italian class!

After our taste buds were happy, Sean and I said goodbye to my classmates and embarked on our day exploring Florence! We started by visiting the academia gallery to see the ever famous David by Michelangelo. Although we both aren't big on museums or art, I told Sean he has to see this particular work of art while he's here - its kind of a big deal. Plus I got to see it for the first time! Isn't it funny how you never see the sites of your own city until you have a visitor to show around?

After we checked that off both our lists, we we're off to tour the city - by bike! Florence has a great bike rental service for only one euro per hour. It’s so easy, so cheap, and so fun! It made getting from place to place so fast allowing us to cover a lot of ground.

We biked through the city, stopping at a grocery store to pick up some lunch ingredients – a baguette, pesto, ricotta, prosciutto, and wine. It all made for the perfect picnic by the Arno! And...

I tasted meat for the first time in over three years of being a vegetarian! I thought about trying it for a while, just because it is suppose to be so good here, and finally decided to today! I sometimes feel as if I am missing out on some of the food and cultural experiences of Italy because I don’t eat meat, like prosciutto. I was surprised that I liked it, although not good enough to make me want to go back to meat full time. Over all a good one time experience – and a lovely picnic!

Tonight was Sean’s last night eating dinner at my home stay – can you believe my host parents invited him over three different nights?! They are so generous. At our previous dinner Cristina had asked Sean his preferences because she wanted to make his favorites for dinner tonight. After some suggestions from Sean, the menu came out to be pesto linguine, salmon, and salad. He loved it!

 As dinner concluded my host father had plans of his own for the four of us for dessert, for Ali, Sean, my host father, and I were about to embark on the Tour of Gelato! Marco gave us the run down of events earlier in the week as he explained the plan to us many times over dinner with excitement. We would get in his car and go to three different gelaterias in the area, getting a small gelato at each one: the Tour of Gelato! (as he named it). So we all piled into small Italian car after dinner, executing the plan to perfection. Marco helped us all pick out the best flavors at each destination, and told us his favorites – he’s a dark chocolate lover. Although I hate to say I could not finish my last gelato, the whole night was great fun. Thanks to my host father for the Tour of Gelato!