FLORENCE FILE #012: MOTHERLAND ADVENTURES IN IRELAND

Florence Files, Uncategorized

This one actually picks up right where FF011 left off- on a plane from Paris to Dublin. When we learned that we would have time to travel after our academic trip, Dublin was my first thought, but I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to sell my friends on the idea since it was the weekend everyone was going to Oktoberfest. Luckily enough, we opted to go to Oktoberfest a weekend early, leaving us wide open to go to Ireland. I was thrilled, because Ireland is the very first place I ever visited in Europe and the reason for the intense travel bug I caught when I was fifteen. That school trip to Ireland, Wales, and England is the reason I decided to study abroad in the first place, so as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to revisit Dublin and explore more of the place where half of my heritage comes from.

We landed in Dublin around 6 pm, which was actually around the time that we took off, because Ireland is an hour behind Paris and the flight was a little over an hour long. It was so awesome to see the miles and miles of green meeting the sea as we landed after being away for five years. For this trip we chose an Airbnb, which was a new experience for both of us. With Airbnb you can book either a whole space or a room, but since there were only two of us, we chose to stay in our host Laura’s spare room which was right off of the front of the house. Since we were basically staying in someone’s home, we were skeptical, but I really liked it, since we had a room to ourselves but were not paying hotel prices. We were pretty busy as well, so it wasn’t like we were hanging out in the room all day. Our host was even kind enough to leave us breakfast food out in the mornings and to lend us two Dublin bus passes, which were very helpful since we were staying about a fifteen minute drive from Dublin city center.

We freshened up after traveling all day and headed into the city center to grab a late dinner and check out the Temple Bar district. We both had awesome meals and blonde brews at Elephant & Castle, and as anyone who travels knows, all it takes is a little bit of good food to bring you back to life after a long day. For those unfamiliar, Temple Bar is the neighborhood of bars and restaurants on cobblestone streets surrounding the legendary Temple Bar, one of the most historic bars in all of Ireland. There’s tons of live Irish music, great food, and all around good vibes. We, of course, had to start our night at Temple Bar itself, and wound up staying there for quite a bit, enjoying the band, dancing, and making new friends.

The next morning we headed across the country to Galway, which was, in a word, adorable. Galway is everything you picture when you think of a seaside Irish town, complete with a huge port, little cobblestone streets, Irish music everywhere, and quaint little shops. The bus ride was pretty long, so we didn’t have a ton of time in Galway, but we spent about five or six hours there, which honestly was all we needed to just have a peek around. I got the most amazing fish and chips in Galway, which wasn’t a surprise because there were so many great little spots with really fresh fish. I love seafood, and since Tuscany is a landlocked region, I don’t get to have it very often back in Florence, so I was loving all the options in Ireland. We walked around and just soaked it all in, popping into little shops and seeing what the city had to offer. Galway is known for the claddagh ring and Irish wool, so there was lots to see. If I had the luggage space, I would’ve bought a sweater, but since I was packed for eight days and two very different climates out of a backpack, I opted for a pair of amazing wool socks. They were put to good use, since Ireland was freezing! My family collects Christmas tree ornaments from our travels, so I got a really beautiful hand-sewn claddagh ornament for our tree as well.

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A lot of people only know Galway from the Ed Sheeran song “Galway Girl”, and while that’s not the only reason I went to Galway, I just HAD to visit the bar where the music video was shot, since I love both Ed Sheeran and the star of the video, Saoirse Ronan. When we arrived at O’Connell’s, fully intent on hanging around for a pint, we were incredibly disappointed to learn that they didn’t admit anyone under 23! This was most likely to keep out crazed Ed Sheeran fans, but stung all the same. We headed back to Dublin on what felt like a VERY long bus ride, got a quick dinner in Dublin town and then headed home for the night.

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The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn for our 6:30 departure to Belfast, but the wake-up was nothing compared to our excitement for the day. We weren’t going north of the border (and, for me, behind enemy lines) just to check out the city, we were on our way to a nine hour comprehensive Game of Thrones shooting location tour, with a detour to the Giant’s Causeway. Game of Thrones is my favorite show of all time, and I read all of the books before beginning the show, so to see real-life Westeros was so special to me. I tried to keep it cool, but I was geeking out the whole way. Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones have a very special relationship, since the Game of Thrones soundstage and home base is in Belfast, and 80% of footage is shot in Northern Ireland. All production crew, including hair, makeup, cameramen, and extras, must have a home address in Northern Ireland, so Game of Thrones has done wonders for the Northern Irish economy. This also means that nearly everyone in Belfast has been a Game of Thrones extra at some point in their life, even our awesome tour guide. She was a wight during the Hardhome episode; those who watch Game of Thrones will know just how awesome that is.

Our first stop was the quarry just outside of Belfast used as The Wall and Castle Black. There wasn’t much to see here, partly because all of the snow and ice is CGI and partly because HBO keeps huge fences around the whole location. We moved up the coast to a tiny little marina in Carnlough, whose stone steps were used by Arya to pull herself out of the Braavosi canal after being stabbed. The next stop was one of my favorites, a tiny cave in Cushendun that was used in one of the weirdest Game of Thrones scenes ever. This was the cave in the Stormlands where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow assassin, as Davos watched on in horror. The cave itself was really beautiful, and actually offered great views of the Scottish coastline, which, at that point, is only fourteen miles away.

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We drove quite a bit to arrive at the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site formed 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. Much of this stretch of coastline consists of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns with flat tops, giving the appearance of stepping stones. The Giant’s Causeway is also the subject of an Irish fairytale I grew up reading about, the story of the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, who, long story short, used the bridge to get to the Scottish giants on the other side, and after a particular instance, the Scottish giant Benandonner destroyed the bridge while fleeing Ireland. This was the only non-Game of Thrones site on the tour, and will likely never be used on the show because of how instantly recognizable the site is, but simply couldn’t be missed. We arrived here around lunchtime, so after taking in the beauty of the coastline, we headed up to the top of the cliff to have lunch at the adorable Causeway Hotel. This is where I had what was probably my favorite meal of the whole trip, seafood chowder with Irish brown bread and Kerrygold butter.

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After warming up with our lunch, we took a pit stop at Dulunce Castle, which isn’t the exact castle used for Pyke, but looks pretty close, considering it’s a deteriorating castle by the sea. The castle had already reached its max visitors for the day, so we didn’t have the chance to go inside. About half an hour later, we arrived at our next stop, and by far my favorite stop, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, built in 1755 by salmon fisherman looking to connect Carrick-a-Rede island to the mainland about 100 feet above the water. Not only is this rope bridge used as the bridge inside of Pyke where Euron Greyjoy kills his brother Balon, but the beach below is the site of the duel where Brienne of Tarth joins Renly Baratheon’s Kingsguard as well as pretty much every scene where someone comes ashore at either Dragonstone or Pyke, considering there’s tons of unique little coves and bluffs that all look different, but equally breathtaking. The island was hands-down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my entire life, and just made me feel really lucky to be able to travel like I do and visit these places, especially Ireland where so much of my family history resides. We finished up the tour at the Dark Hedges of Ballymoney, used in the very first season for the iconic shot of Arya on the Kingsroad fleeing King’s Landing. After this, we headed back to Belfast, where we caught the bus back to Dublin and headed into Dublin town for the night.

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Sunday was our last day in Dublin, so we checked out of our Airbnb and saw the town for what we had of the day. Grafton Street is, as always, a must, so we shopped and walked around the area, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then set off on our walk towards the day’s main event; the Guinness Factory Tour. The last time I was in Dublin, I toured the in’s and out’s of the city, but the one thing I really didn’t get to do was the famous Guinness tour, because, well, I was 15 and with my school group. Now that it’s five years later and I’m well over the legal drinking age in Ireland, I finally had to experience one of Ireland’s greatest exports. For anyone who’s ever been to Hershey Park’s Chocolate World Tour, I would definitely say they’re similar, except instead of singing cows and a chocolate river, it’s walls of hops and fountains of fresh water. The building is designed so you begin at ground level and work in a circular motion upward, finishing at the upper two levels, which are bars. Before you’re even allowed into the bars, you first learn how to taste a Guinness; upon first sip, you must hold the beer in your mouth and hold your breath to allow the foam to dissolve. This came in handy as we ascended to the final level, the Guinness Sky Bar, offering 360 degree panoramic views of Dublin. Included with your ticket to the experience is a complimentary pint of either Guinness or a soft drink, which we happily took them up on. I got ID’ed for the first time in weeks, so lucky for me, I had my passport on me, because after finishing our pints, we got in a cab to the airport to head back to Florence for the first time in what felt like forever.

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Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Ireland, so this, of course, was one of my favorite trips by far. The people, the food, the scenery, it’s all so worth the visit. So much so that I’ll be back in January with my sister in tow for her very first visit to one of my favorite cities in the world, immediately followed by a trip to London before I head back to Florence for the spring semester and she heads home.

Thanks for sticking through this long one!! I really do appreciate it, and to all my mom’s friends who want more pictures out of me, here you go!!

xx

 

FLORENCE FILE #011: MOST EXTRAVAGANT FIELD TRIP EVER IN PARIS

Florence Files

This is the story of the craziest week of my life. Buckle up, it’s a lot.

On Sunday, October 30th, I woke up at 3am, grabbed my expertly packed backpack… and walked to school. I was going on a field trip. This was never my idea of what happened on a field trip either, but when you go to fashion school, especially fashion school in Europe, Paris Fashion Week qualifies as a field trip, so we departed Polimoda at 4:30 for the completely empty Florence airport, where we departed for France. After arriving in Paris and dropping our bags at our hotel in the 9th arrondissement, we were handed our Paris metro passes and the schoolwork began. We started with two guided retail visits to Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, two of the first department stores to ever exist, legendary retail locations, and meccas of hyperluxury. Think of them like malls, if malls only sold $500 baby booties and had three-story Louis Vuitton stores.

As a broke college student, these stores were torture, but as a fashion major, I was in heaven. Two and a half years of professors encouraging me to “use my retail eye” on store visits led up to this moment, as I went around from section to section salivating over all of my favorite designers in one place. I probably spent about an hour just in Saint Laurent, The Kooples, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, and Marc Jacobs, but due to our group’s time constraints, I had to move on. Both Printemps and Galleries Lafayette have gorgeous stained glass domes to let light in, since they were built before stores even had electric lights, and Galleries Lafayette had a roof deck which offered sweeping views of Paris. This was the first time I got to see the Eiffel Tower, and it was incredible.

 

I got even closer to the Eiffel Tower that night, during our boat tour of the city from the Seine, after a stop inside Notre Dame and a very Parisian dinner of…Chipotle. Listen, we were craving Mexican food and for two girls from New York, a month and a half is a long time to go without a burrito! Regardless, the boat tour was stunning, and we got to the Eiffel Tower just as the lights went on for the 9pm show. Exhausted, we headed back to our hotel and settled in for the night.

 

Monday was probably our busiest day. The first part of our day was dedicated to the main reason for our visit, Tranoï. For my non-fashionistas, Tranoï is an incredible showcase of the innovation, talent, and art coming out of the fashion world and puts these creatives in touch with the global buyers looking for these fresh ideas. The collections shown are in accordance with Paris Fashion Week, so all collections on display were for Spring/Summer 2019. Tranoï is split up between two venues, Palais de la Bourse and Carrousel du Louvre, so we visited both. Standing outside of Palais de la Bourse, I was really nervous. We had several big assignments that centered around observations and interviews conducted within Tranoï, and we were the only students allowed to be there. We were instructed to be flies on the wall, not interfering with the buyers and sellers, and if interviews had to be conducted, they had to be done efficiently, not irritating the vendor and not intruding on a business deal. Absolutely NO photos were to be taken. I walked inside, white-knuckled, with my Muji pen in one hand and my little black notebook in the other, taking it all in and observing everything I could, taking note of anything that jumped out at me. We continued on to our second venue at Carrousel du Louvre, where I was less nervous, but just as intent on getting as much information as I could. 

 

 

Since we ended near the Louvre, we were given a quick lunch break and then headed to the art museum for the remainder of the afternoon. As someone who has always had such a deep interest in art and history, the Louvre was like a lifetime achievement for me. I tried to see as much as I could, but just like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s impossible to see everything. I did get to see the Mona Lisa, but alongside the Mona Lisa I actually saw Shia LaBoeuf and FKA Twigs on a date! 

 

 

After going back to the hotel to throw on sneakers, sweaters, scarves, and our newly purchased 5 euro berets, a few of my friends and I headed to the Eiffel Tower to grab some crepes for dinner, some wine, and hang out on the lawn to watch the sun go down and the light show sparkle every hour. It’s something so cliché that everyone does while visiting France, but it’s so worth it, and it was definitely one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-here moments.

 

 

On Tuesday morning, we headed to the neighborhood of Marais, which is like if the Upper West Side and SoHo had a baby, to visit Merci, a concept store founded by two retired industry super-execs who wanted to say thank you to the industry and city they loved. It was a merchandising student’s dream, a feast for the eyes. Carrying everything from luggage to clothing to books to homewares, Merci was really my dream store. While it was pricey, it was stunning, and every piece left me wanting to take it home. I soon fell just in love with Marais as I was with Merci, as the neighborhood had everything I adore about New York. As we strolled around on our way to lunch, I couldn’t help myself from stopping inside every boutique and thrift store. Upon the recommendation of our professor, we got falafel for lunch from a place that she said has the, “Best falafel in the WORLD!” I was a skeptic, but she was so, so right, it might have actually been my favorite meal that I ate in Paris. Sheer perfection. Perhaps Marais tugs at my heartstrings so much because it was a Jewish neighborhood for much of the early 20th century, becoming an LGBT hotspot in the 1980s, and is now a grungy-hip neighborhood, much like a lot of New York.

 

 

Full of falafel, we headed to Li Edelkoort’s offices, the headquarters of Trend Union, for a lecture and presentation. For those not as literate in fashion, Lidewij Edelkoort is a Dutch trend forecaster who dictates pretty much everything you see. No, seriously. She founded Trend Union, one of the world’s top trend consulting agencies, and releases bi-annual forecasts to her clients for color, design, and lifestyle. We were privileged enough to spend two and a half hours in a big white room sitting on very chic, uncomfortable benches watching one of her right-hand men teach us about how exactly she came up with this trends and how trend prediction works exactly. It was probably my favorite fashion thing that we did on this trip because I find Li Edelkoort so fascinating and really believe that she’s one of the greatest minds in fashion that no one really knows about.

After my awesome afternoon at Li’s office, we took a trip up into the hills to the highest point in the city to visit La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, a massive neo-Byzantine cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Heart that watches over all of Paris. The inside is stunning, and we were lucky enough to visit while mass was going on, so we explored the outer chapels while listening to the organs echo throughout the cavernous vaults. We didn’t stay for long, because we had dinner plans back near the hotel, where I had probably my best dinner during our time in Paris. I tried escargot for the first time and loved it, probably because I love seafood, and had some amazing salmon as an entree. We had grand plans of exploring Paris’s nightlife while we were there, but with our early wake-up times for our school visits and jam-packed exhausting days, we really didn’t have any choice but to have drinks with dinner, maybe pop into a bar for a bit, and then go to sleep as soon as possible.

 

 

Wednesday was our last full day in Paris, and we started the day at Fondation Louis Vuitton, LVMH’s art museum/concert hall/event space hybrid just outside of the city. The building itself, designed by one of my favorite architects Frank Gehry, was a piece of art, and we were fortunate enough to get a tour of the structure and get the views of Paris from the roof deck. Downstairs, we saw the collection that they had on display, which featured the works of the brilliant Jean-Michel Basquiat.

 

 

Continuing on with our luxury-themed day, we headed to the Champs Élyseés where we first stopped at the iconic Arc de Triomphe before arriving at the Louis Vuitton flagship store for the tour. The store was, of course, gorgeous, but it was so interesting to see the mix of people, from tourists looking to splurge a little on a small wallet to billionaires being ushered into private rooms where they purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. After leaving Louis Vuitton, we continued on shopping down the street and exploring the neighborhood, grabbed some lunch, and happened upon the Princess Diana memorial at the exact spot that she was killed. It was really unexpected, but really beautiful. Our final appointment of our trip was at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which I was SO excited about because YSL is one of my favorite designers of all time. The museum is his former residence and office, but most of the exhibit focused on his body of work, specifically his use of Asian inspiration. The top floor featured his working space where he produced his collections, and to see his desk with the ashtrays and pencils still intact was really special. Afterwards, we decided to grab some of Laudrée’s iconic macarons, which were so adorable and so delicious!

 

 

 

Our very last day in Paris was spent at a place that I’ve dreamed of visiting for as long as I can remember, the Palace of Versailles. We caught the hour-long train ride out of the city to get there when it opened so that we could squeeze it in before our flight later in the day. It was so magical! I love history, art, and architecture, so it was the perfect combination of all three. While the interior of the palace was amazing, the gardens were by far my favorite part. We spent what felt like forever exploring the miles and miles of trees, ponds, fountains, and flowers. Even though we didn’t get a ton of time to explore Versailles, I was really glad that we got it in before we departed.

 

 

Thursday night we finally ended our marathon Paris trip to begin another jam-packed trip in Ireland!! I’d promise that you’ll hear about that soon but at this point, who knows. Thanks for sticking through almost 2,000 words, I really do appreciate it. Have you ever been to Paris? If so, what was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments below!!

xx

FLORENCE FILE #010: ÜBERKAMPING AT OKTOBERFEST

Florence Files

Yep. I did it. I went to Oktoberfest. The hallmark fall semester study abroad trip. And I loved every minute of it.

On Friday, October 21st, I arrived to my classes looking like a vagrant turtle, carrying a giant backpack in anticipation of my journey later that day. When class ended at 4pm, Gabby and I made our way to the train station and set our for Bologna, where we would catch our flight to Munich (for those who don’t know- when traveling in and out of Florence, many opt for the Bologna or Pisa airports instead of Florence Peretola because they are cheaper and generally well-connected to Florence by bus and train). We departed Italy on Air Dolomiti that evening (a Lufthansa partner and a lovely little airline!) and landed in Munich around 9pm. After what felt like years trying to understand the Munich U-Bahn subway system and taking a total of three separate trains over about two and a half hours, we arrived at our accommodations- a campground.

When we were searching for accommodations way back in early September, Oktoberfest seemed like a black hole of expenses, considering prices are astronomical around their busiest tourism period of the year. This is when we found Stoke Travel, a Barcelona-based company that organizes campsites for some of the biggest parties and festivals in Europe. We chose to go with their glamping package; a two-person tent with beds, sleeping bags, and an outlet, along with breakfast, dinner, and all-you-can-drink beer and sangria from 8am-10pm.

We didn’t exactly know what we were getting ourselves into, and this feeling grew tenfold when we arrived at the campsite in the dead of night. We were greeted with beers and pretzels by the very Australian Stoke employees, who then directed us to the considerable check-in line. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us; arrive Friday night, leave Sunday night. As we waited on line, the staff continued to keep the drinks and pretzels coming to placate the masses, and after a few minutes, I felt like I was standing inside a pub rather than on a winding line to a check-in desk. We made conversation with those around us, learning about how they got here, why they were in Europe, and what brought them to Oktoberfest. The time seemed to be going by quickly, but it was pretty late by the time we got in our tent, so we promptly rested up in anticipation for the next day’s shenanigans.

Saturday was the very first day of Oktoberfest, so the beer halls in town didn’t open until noon, when the parade of kegs finished and the mayor of Munich poured the very first beer. We wanted to be in town before the festivities began to get a look around, and I’m really glad I did. One thing I definitely didn’t know going in was that Oktoberfest isn’t just beer halls and gardens, it’s also a huge carnival and fair, with an entire amusement park and tons of food booths and mini shops. Traditional Bavarian food was served alongside fair classics like french fries and ice cream. After surveying the fair grounds, we looked around for a place to settle in for the day. We didn’t have reservations at a beer hall, which would’ve had to have been made months and months in advance, so our only options were to wait on a massive line for a table or drink elsewhere. We wandered into the Hofbräu Festzelt, one of the biggest tents, where the line was already astronomical an hour before drinks began flowing, so we walked outside where there were tons of empty tables. After asking a waitress, we found out that the tables actually weren’t reserved, so we found ourselves a table in the garden and ordered waters in anticipation of the beers coming within the hour. We sat down at the perfect time, because after twenty minutes, the entire garden area was essentially full.

When noon rolled around, dozens of waitresses poured out of one door, each fisting about a dozen steins. For the next few hours, the beers just kept coming out of that door as the thousands of people kept ordering. When inside a beer tent, you cannot consume outside food, but one of the nice things about being in the beer garden outside is that you can get your beers from the tent’s waitresses but bring in whatever outside food you want, so when we started to get hungry, Gabby ran out to the booths along the street to grab us some pretzels. After a few hours, we decided to put the beers down and check out the fairgrounds some more. We headed back to the campsite for dinner and continued the party there, as everyone slowly arrived back from their day in the city. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip, since Stoke had hired a bunch of bands from Australia to come and play little sets while everyone hung out and partied in their sweats, exhausted from the day.

The next morning, we packed up our things, checked out of the campground, and headed into Munich to sightsee. This was a little difficult, since Munich adheres very strongly to the concept of using Sunday as a day of rest. Very few shops are open, and many attractions have limited hours. We lucked out though, because the first Sunday of Oktoberfest is always the costume parade, where the people of Munich dress up in their traditional dirndls and lederhosen and watch the parade of floats, horses, and marching bands in the city center. It was so cool to watch and definitely something that not a lot of people get to see, which made me really grateful to be there. After watching the parade for a bit, we traveled into the heart of the city to check out sights like the Rathaus Glockenspiel, Munich Cathedral, and the Court Garden before heading back to the Munich airport on the U-Bahn. I wish we could’ve done more museums or walking tours, but due to time and our huge backpacks it was a bit impossible.

I left Munich feeling exhausted, but really excited for the trips to come, as our first weekend voyage came to an end. I got to watch the sun set over Germany as we flew away, and was actually able to see the lights of Oktoberfest from the plane window. I probably know the least about the 25% of me that is German, so it was really special to be able to visit not only the country, but the region that a big chunk of my lineage is from and engage in a culture and tradition that is really happy and beautiful.

xx

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

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

FLORENCE FILE #002: Murphy’s Law

Florence Files, Uncategorized

Yes, you’re reading this, which means I’m alive, but just know that that was not a guarantee after the events of the first few days.

I left New York on Monday night, equipped with nothing but three bags worth of personal belongings, a passport, a four-year-old learner’s permit, an emergency replacement debit card, and a handful of euros. Some might say that this arsenal is less than sufficient, and I’d agree. Never would I ever leave for another country with no credit card, had it not been for the events of Saturday night. Due to a series of unfortunate events, I, who has never misplaced a single credit card or ID in her life, lost my whole wallet during a goodbye dinner with a friend. Before you ask, yes, I retraced my steps, turned my room upside down, cancelled the cards, and ordered replacements.

This left me a bit rattled, but I still boarded that Air France flight with three of my friends and a sense of excitement. As I landed in Florence and saw my first view of the city, I had completely come to terms with the hand I was dealt, and the long overnight flight and chaotic layover instantly seemed worth it. The plane flew over the green mountains and down into the valley, revealing the sight of the sun coming up, illuminating the Duomo peeking out of the thick layer of fog. A next road bump came in the form of a missing fleet of suitcases, our checked bags lost in the scuffle of our layover. Had this come at any other time, I probably wouldn’t have cared so much, but anyone who has been awake for far too long and has dealt with human beings in airports will probably understand just how poorly I took this information. Nevertheless, we left the Amerigo Vespucci airport ready to catch up on some sleep and explore our new city. Our bags arrived at the hostel in the midst of our deep nap, and we instantly freed ourselves from our black leggings and comfy tees in exchange for our featherweight sundresses, since the blazing heat was brand new for us.

The next few days consisted of orientation all day, sleep all night. Temperatures were in the high 90s every day, with frequent thunderstorms due to the ridiculous humidity. According to fitbit, we walked an average of around 15,000 steps a day, collapsing as soon as we got back to the hostel. We began apartment hunting on Thursday, coincidentally the hottest day of them all, and after a long, hard day, we found a great little three bedroom apartment, within spitting distance of the Arno River and the Palazzo Vecchio. We’ve since had the chance to get our bearings, check out our local restaurants, and partake in the Florentine nightlife, which is, funnily enough, saturated with American college students.

Photos from my first week will be in a photo diary that I’ll post in a bit, as well as my San Gimignano and Siena visit this weekend.

xx