FLORENCE FILE #008: PIT STOP IN PISA

Florence Files

Let’s make this quick.

The Monday after we hit Cinque Terre, we made the voyage to the home of one of Italy’s biggest architectural blunders turned tourist traps, Pisa. The company that we had booked through, Smart Trips, which consists of younger guides who hit all the important historical notes and then let you explore on your own, wound up booking us with another guide group due to lack of enrollment. This would’ve been fine, had we not been literally the only people under 55 in the group.

Nevertheless, we stayed with our tour group as we visited the beautiful duomo and baptistery that accompany the infamous bell tower. You may be a little confused, since Florence is the home of the duomo, but actually it’s time for the most earth-shattering fact of all time; duomo doesn’t mean dome. The term duomo actually comes from the latin word domum, meaning home, since a duomo is simply the home, or seat, of a bishop. The dome is the cupola. So with that out of the way, we went inside their duomo, which looked suspiciously Florentine. This could be attributed to the fact that the entire inside of the church was refinished by the Medici after a fire, or to the fact that many of the designs can be attributed to Francisco Pisano, a Pisan (obviously) whose renaissance works are all over Florence. We finished our tour at the one and only leaning tower of Pisa, where we rushed to get our pictures in while grabbing some pizza before heading home.

How’s that for speed? I should be able to get another rapid-fire blog post out tonight before covering Oktoberfest over the weekend. If anyone has any recommendations on how to spend a little free time in Paris, let me know in the comments!!

Xx

FLORENCE FILE #007 (KINDA): FOOD HEAVEN IN MODENA

Florence Files

This is piggybacking off of 006’s apology, but in my haste to document my perfect day in Cinque Terre, I failed to cover my awesome day trip the weekend before!

Two Saturdays ago, my school ran an extracurricular trip to Emilia Romagna for tours and tastings at a caseficio and an acetaia outside of Modena to explore the process of producing the region’s world-famous parmigiano reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar. Between the two site visits, we stopped in the city of Modena to walk around and grab some lunch.

After about an hour and a half ride outside of Florence, we started at the 4 Madonne caseficio dell’Emilia to learn about the production of parmigiano reggiano. 4 Madonne actually produces about 2% of the world’s parmigiano reggiano with just 30 employees. The only parmigiano reggiano I’d ever had was grated and prepackaged, so to learn about the entire process start to finish was pretty special. It was so incredible to see the workers manipulating the cheese at every step in the 12-38 month process, pouring all of their care and attention into the process. At the end of the tour, we tasted 12, 24, and 36 month cheese. The age changes the cheese drastically, and while all three were delicious, I opted to buy the 18-month-old cheese- a perfect blend of the crumbliness of the 24-month cheese with the smoothness of the 12-month cheese.

For lunch, we drove a few minutes to the city of Modena, one of the most famous cities in the gastronomy giant that is Emilia Romagna. When ordering food in Modena, you really can’t go wrong, since they follow heavily in the Italian tradition of heavily regional menus- nothing will be on the menu that isn’t a specialty of wherever you are. In this case, nearly everything is a specialty, especially at Trattoria Il Fantino, where I opted for ricotta and spinach tortelloni with a butter sage sauce and a glass of gutturnio, a sparkling red wine that is a crowd favorite among Emilians. The food was incredible, as expected, although I feel like you’d be hard-pressed to find bad food in Modena.

We finished our afternoon at Acetaia Malpighi, one of the only certified producers of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar) in the entire world. I didn’t know this before the tour, but apparently the balsamic we all buy in the grocery store is sadly pretty artificial. Most balsamic vinegar is classified as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which may sound official, but is actually a product made with lots of sugar and additives and made in China but bottled in Modena so that they may use Modena’s name to market. The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale made in Acetaia Malpighi uses only one ingredient; cooked grape juice. This cooked grape juice is left to reduce and ferment in wooden barrels that are passed down from generation to generation, containing flavor from the batches that came before them. As the balsamic reduces, it changes barrels, and the different wood used to make each barrel adds a new layer to the flavor. After learning about the process, we tasted the difference between several types of balsamic vinegar. The older the balsamic is, the sweeter and thicker it gets, so I chose to pick up a bottle of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar for my parents, since I knew my dad would flip out over just how good it tasted. For myself, I got a bottle of white balsamic vinegar, made from white grapes and cured for a shorter period of time. It’s the only salad dressing I use now and I have no idea what I’m going to do when I run out!!

One of the reasons I was so excited to come to Italy in the first place was to try out all the amazing homegrown food, and this was such an awesome experience. I was amazed at the amount of care and attention put into every single aspect of the process, and I think especially nowadays it’s so important to care about what you eat. I definitely am motivated to go check out more tours like this!!

I know I said to expect more blog posts this week but I’m serious this time! I have to fill you in on ziplining/paddleboarding in Lucca and Oktoberfest before I head to Paris, Galway, Belfast, and Dublin this week.

xx

SEPTEMBER 2018 JAMS

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From now on, I’ll be plopping a playlist on here every month to keep you updated on what I’ve been listening to. I haven’t had a ton of time to get into new stuff due to the crazy whirlwind of the past month, but I’ve been really loving the chance I’ve gotten to revisit old favorites. Only really new song on here is the new Dua Lipa song because come on, it’s just SO good. Comment below if any of my favorites are your favorites, and if you find a new song that you like from here, let me know!!!!

xx

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/dufffs/playlist/1JvHr162JHdW58FEoEILNu

FLORENCE FILE #006 (sort of): CINQUE TERRE

Florence Files

Today’s Florence file comes with an apology on my end. Chronologically speaking, I’ve missed a post on my day trip to Modena, but that will be coming later this week, along with my Pisa and Lucca canyon posts. But I really couldn’t pass up writing about this trip first.

This past Sunday, a group of friends and I woke up at an ungodly hour to venture to the legendary Instagram goldmine of a beach destination that is Cinque Terre. We arrived bright and early at 6:15 am to our bus stop, where we met our Smart Trip tour group who, unbeknownst to us, was full of our friends! As students in Florence, we book so many weekend trips that we often don’t coordinate schedules with some of our other friends, and due to the beautiful weather and popularity of Cinque Terre, we gladly joined up to explore together for the day.

Cinque Terre is a particularly rugged portion of the Italian Riviera coastline consisting of five remote sister villages, connected mainly by train. These colorful little villages are notorious for their stunning beaches, colorful little hillside houses, and their reputation as the birthplace of pesto.

Our bus arrived about two hours after leaving Florence in the only village with a parking lot, Manarola. Although it is tiny, Manarola really set the tone for what was to come; technicolor buildings stacked along cobblestone paths, boats strewn about on the sidewalk as if they were parked bikes, and the unmistakable smell of fresh seafood. We continued down the path to the waterfront, only to find several rock formations in the shallows with ledges carved out for sunbathing locals. A little launch assisted many tiny boats in making their way into the calm Mediterranean, as many younger boys headed out for the day to work and play on the sea. Since Manarola is so tiny, we continued on to the next village shortly after our arrival.

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A 5-minute train ride took us to the slightly bigger village of Riomaggiore, where our tour guide was eager to show us his favorite place to eat; a Mamma Mia! themed seafood restaurant that apparently was home to the best pesto pizza and fried calamari around. I wasn’t hungry enough to buy anything, but I did have a bite of Kelly’s pesto pizza and gladly relieved Oliver of a giant calamari he was too squeamish to eat, and I can attest that it was definitely worth the hype. Once again, the rocky shoreline proved to be ideal for jumping off rocks into the crystal clear water, and after some swimming and basking in the sun, we headed off to our final destination, Monterosso al Mare.

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Monterosso is the largest village in Cinque Terre and attracts the most tourists due to its stunning beach, which is where we spent the bulk of our day. Our tour guide insisted we follow him to a great spot, and since he wasn’t wrong about the pesto pizza place, we were inclined to follow him. After about a thirty second walk from the train station, we arrived at a bar that looked like it would fit in better in Hawaii, not Italy, but still, we continued. The bar, Colpi di Timone, was famous for its drunk buckets- huge frozen mixed drinks that came in big plastic buckets, perfect for when you want a cold drink on the beach that will last you all day so you don’t have to keep going back. The crowd favorite drink was the Miami Vice, a bucket that was half strawberry daiquiri, half piƱa colada, but I opted for the margarona, a frozen lemon-lime margarita topped off with an ice cold Corona.

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We hauled our giant buckets down to the crowded beach and squeezed our towels together into a tiny piece of unclaimed beach, dropping our belongings and making a beeline for the water. While the beach is rocky and a bit painful to walk on, the water makes it well worth it. The water was so unbelievably warm and clear that it was impossible to get us to leave. The extra salinity of the Mediterranean came in handy by allowing us to simply float all afternoon long, laughing, talking, and taking in the stunning mountains and colorful buildings around us. A few people in our group wanted to stay on the shore and tan, which was definitely a relief because the New Yorker in me was not about to just let my bag sit out unguarded on a busy beach!

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After about three hours of enjoying the beach, it was time for us to head back home, but first, we changed out of our suits and grabbed some food for our drive home. I opted for the focaccia with goat cheese, arugula, and tomato, which was so pretty but was devoured before I could even think to get a picture. Unfortunately, while trying to juggle all of my sandy belongings while paying for my food, I dropped my phone, shattering the bottom part of the screen. My little black case from the Apple store has protected me countless times in the past, but was just no match for the Tuscan cobblestone. Regardless, it was an awesome day and definitely one of my new favorite places. Now I’m doing whatever it takes to get back onto a beach, including telling my dad to look into sailboat charter places on the Italian Riviera.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve totally been slacking on getting these up on time, so expect a ton of posts this week as I get ready to head to Oktoberfest this Friday, and then Paris and Ireland the following week.

xx

FLORENCE FILE #004: SAN GIMIGNANO AND SIENA

Florence Files

Let the weekend trips begin!!

This past Sunday, I went with a group of my friends and classmates on a day trip to the Tuscan hillside cities of San Gimignano and Siena. I was very excited to explore more of Tuscany and see what they had to offer. San Gimignano is about an hour outside of Florence by bus, and the drive itself was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I’m so accustomed to cities like New York and Los Angeles, where the suburbs sprawl far beyond the city limits, a model that does not hold true in Florence. After crossing the bridge and getting through the other side of the city, there really were not many towns to speak of, save for the occasional villa or group of homes.

Upon arrival in San Gimignano, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I couldn’t see into the city because it is completely surrounded by a 13th-century wall and lies at the very top of a particularly steep hill. Nearly every building in San Gimignano seems as though it has not been altered since its creation centuries ago. Our professors, who served as tour guides for the day, led us up the hill and through the town to a tower in the castle courtyard, where we got our first true panoramic glimpse of the Tuscan countryside. After taking in the views, we were given some time to explore the small artisan shops and beautiful little streets. San Gim is also home to Gelateria Dondoli, one of the most critically acclaimed gelaterias in the world. I, of course, had to have some for breakfast, and after taking a good fifteen minutes to decide, settled for the venere nera, a blend of summer blackberry and Tuscan lavender. It was definitely worth the hype and I think I got about half of the other students on the tour to also try the flavor.

The little shops of San Gimignano were also a definite highlight. I couldn’t help myself from going into nearly every store on the street, including the Tuscan lavender stores, wineries, and leather workshops. There are many similar stores in Florence, but instead of seeming like tourist traps, the off-the-beaten-path nature of San Gim made everything seem so much more approachable.

An hour long bus ride through countless vineyards took us to our next stop, Siena. Siena is much larger than San Gimgnano, but still smaller than Florence. As soon as we left the bus, we entered the Basilica of San Domenico, home of the shrine of St. Catherine of Siena. The shrine is beautiful and incredibly ornate, but the centerpiece was not really something I was expecting; the real, disembodied, 600-year-old head of St. Catherine of Siena, complete with her Dominican habit. Not far from the basilica was the home of St. Catherine herself, now transformed into a sanctuary and tribute to the city’s beloved patron saint. The chapel was small but extravagant, housing the crucifix from which St. Catherine of Siena received her stigmata.

Walking in Siena was a workout all on its own, so if you’re going to visit, your shoes should be able to withstand something like the Appalachian Trail or an Everest summit attempt. I kid, but there was a girl in heels in our group and she was constantly behind everyone. Perhaps the most treacherous segment of Siena is the stunning Piazza Del Campo, a shell shaped Piazza that funneled downwards towards the Palazzo Publico, a giant town hall with a medieval tower. Our professors educated us about the Palio di Siena, an event that occurs at the beginning and the end of every summer in which the seventeen wards/neighborhoods of Siena race horses around the perimeter of the Piazza del Campo. If that’s not medieval tradition, I don’t know what is.

At this point, we were getting pretty hungry, so we stopped at an osteria on a side street for some classic Tuscan food. What I’ve come to admire about Italy is that food remains very regional; Italian restaurants will only serve what they’re good at, if you’re in the mountains, you’ll never be served seafood. I chose the pici al ragu Toscano, a pasta dish consisting of pici (a thicker variation of spaghetti native to Siena) with a Tuscan pork and veal meat sauce. It definitely paid off to get the local classic, because it was so flavorful and fresh.

After lunch, we headed to our final stop, the Siena Cathedral. Due to our time crunch we were unable to go inside, but the outside was definitely beautiful enough to keep us interested. Completed in the 14th century, the black-and-white striped cathedral is like nothing I’d seen before, completely different from its high Renaissance Italian counterparts. When you think of a medieval cathedral, you don’t necessarily think of a beautiful facade, but the Siena red embellishments really make the front stand out.

Both San Gimignano and Siena are great day trips for someone looking to venture outside of Florence, especially if you have any interest in history or food!! This is going up a little late so my post on pecorino romano and balsamic vinegar in Modena should be up within the next few days, and then it’s off to Cinque Terre and Pisa on the ninth and the tenth.

Since I haven’t been able to successfully get my very Italian wifi to work as fast as I’d like in my apartment, I’ll once again include all photos in a separate photo diary. Ciao!!

xx