buon anno!

Before I can address all the wonders of the present – new semester, new friends, upcoming travel itineraries, hopes, dreams, fears surrounding the coming months – I must FIRST share with you all some of the happenings of my last months a Firenze.

Starting wayyyyy back in November, for Thanksgiving break, the one and only Rosa P.       (aka my Mom, whom when you see the following pictures take note is practically my twin – both in looks and character) and brother John (in a nutshell: 5 years older than me, works in SOHO, lives in Brooklyn, effortlessly cool. Jealous much? Yes, yes I am…) crossed the Atlantic for a visit! Since both my Mom and brother have visited Florence before, they made it clear that they wanted to get out of town for a few days during their stay. This information obviously sent me into a tizzy of planning an itinerary that would satisfy everyone’s needs: excursions out of Florence, cultural activities (Mom’s request) while avoiding museums at all costs (ahem, John). I went with my gut and decided to plan a week based on what us Piccolo’s do best and that is EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY.*

While you know how much I love planning functioning itineraries, there is also a lot at stake – what if the bus or train that you thought would be there, doesn’t show up?! What if that trattoria that everyone has told you is amazing but is a little bit a schlep out of town happens to be closed the night you try to go and you are stranded in the middle of nowhere, hungry and tired?! What if the B&B you found online that got acceptable reviews on Tripadviser turns out to be a dump?! I mean there is just so much responsibility when trying to create a fluid, “effortless,” and stress-free trip! After scouring the internet, performing a thorough investigation of Italian travel blogs written by foreigners and locals alike, asking Fiorentini for their personal opinions on Tuscany’s best offerings, and placing multiple phone calls and writing emails in broken Italian (pause, breathe…exhale) all was finally set for their arrival! Below is a run through of our non-stop week with highlights surrounding our trip to Bologna and the Chianti region. We’re off:

Day 1: Mommy (Ro) arrives. Dinner at local trattoria, Coco Lezzone.

Day 2: Ro goes to morning mass at Chiesa Santo Spirito (I go find a farmacia that is open on Sundays to buy earplugs to battle against mother’s unavoidable (and shocking) symphony of snores in studio apartment). Afternoon dinner in Prato with my father’s Neapolitan family)

Day 3: Ro and I head to a morning yoga class followed by a stroll through Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. Lunch shown below. Evening aperitivo with friends at Sei Divino (Borgo Ognissanti, 42)

Arugula and tomato salad, pears and gorgonzola, hard boiled egg, bread with pecorino cheese (all market finds!)

Day 4: John arrives! Lunch at Cuculia Libreria (via Serragli, 3) where they offer a great 6 euro lunch that includes a primi and water or wine. For dinner we went for traditional Tuscan fare at Antico Ristoro di Cambi.

Day 5: We are off to Bologna!

John catching some zzzz's on the way to Bologna.

Bologna: We stayed at the centrally located and perfectly decent, Hotel Panorama. The first day in town we spent strolling the narrow archways of downtown Bologna and stopped for lunch at a local spot Osteria dell orsa. The atmosphere is casual as patrons eat at communal tables. The crowd is diverse from the many students who basically run the city, business men to professors all enjoying a hearty lunch at cheap prices. John had the tagliatelle al ragu – a typical dish for the area. The portions are huge and you will definitely leave feeling fulfilled and in need of a good walk (or nap).

We strolled around town stumbling upon such finds as small, beautiful churches discreetly located among apartment buildings and small alleyways.

We ate dinner at Al Sangiovese, a traditional Bolognese restaurant known for the tortellini in brodo and home made pastas. The ambiance was intimate and we enjoyed a quiet dinner at a corner table. The prices are moderate to expensive and a part of me thinks we could have ate just as well at a cheaper price point. But the food was excellent and it’s always a good thing to support a family run operation.  While dinner was quiet, afterwards my Mom had to convince my brother and I to take a post dinner drink! We obliged and found this tacky “lounge” (I put lounge in quotes because some Italians seem to think that velveteen couches and neon strobe lights is a classy idea…) near our hotel. They shockingly seated us at a table secluded from the rest of the bar crowd (quick note: many evening bars and lounges in Italy have table seating in the sense that THEY must seat you. I find this strange and counterproductive against the general reasoning for going to bars: to mingle, meet other people, not feel constricted to an assigned seat but ANYWAY…). My mother took this offensively as a possible reference to her age, and well, let’s just say: NO ONE PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER! After demanding to be moved in her oh so southern dialect Italian, our seat was switched and all was well in the world again. Phew!

Day 6: Wake up call @ 6:45 am. Off to an all-day excursion with Italian Days Food Tour. I found this tour while reading trip adviser reviews for food excursions throughout Tuscany and Emiglia Romana. I was instantly attracted to the tour because it had all the factors my family was looking for: we would be venturing to new food-based cultural sites: Parmesan cheese factory outside Bologna, private Balsamic vinegar producer in Modena, family run Prosciutto factory and lunch at an organic wine vineyard in the hills. The entire tour was guided by the wonderfully charismatic Alessandro (speaks fluent English, Italian, German) and since we were driven in a private van throughout the day, it was the type of touring that actually allowed us to sit back and relax for the day. I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

Parmesan cheese factory tour: Began at 8:30 am with an introductory video followed by a cheese tasting (including the freshest ricotta you’re ever tasted) and naturally red wine was offered as the beverage to start our day. Things were off to a lovely start!

Alessandro getting enthusiastic about the process of forming curds during the early stages of cheese production.

Master Cheese Maker whose sole job is to check the status of the curds just using the feel of his hands to determine when it is time to start consolidating the cheese with a cheese cloth. This is the most important step in the cheese making process!! Master Cheese Makers in Italy learn the skill in their early teenage years and spend their lives touching curds and giving the Ok to continue the process....

Alessandro and the factory owner talking about the shaping of Parmesan cheese into massive rounds

John posing among hundreds of thousands of Parm cheese rounds. These guys will sit for years, developing more flavor with time.

After the tour there was naturally a little cheese shop attached to the factory. We went wild buying cheeses of varying ages: 12 months matured to 18 to 24 to 36 months. The youngest cheese Grana is the cheapest and is perfect for grating over pastas or being used as “table cheese” as Italians like to call it. The more mature cheeses have a much sharper flavor as the Israeli sea salt develops deeper into their skin over time.

Off to balsamic vinegar producer in Modena!

Located in the attic of an old farmhouse are rows of barrels that contain maturing balsamic vinegar. Starting from the largest barrels in the back, as the grape mixture concentrates over time the liquid is moved forward to the smaller barrels. Making ideal Balsamic vinegar takes at least 12 years and can mature for 24+ years.

John showing off the good stuff.

After the tour we tasted different ages of Balsamic from 4 years matured to 24 years. The older it rests the thicker the consistency and more pungent the taste. The highlight was some young balsamic drizzled over vanilla gelato. Nothing like a little dolce at 10:30 am!



View of the organic vineyard

La famiglia.




Nothing better than a personal cheese plate with sliced meats.



Happy faces all around!

After eating to right before the point of explosion and drinking until we felt silly, we continued on to the Prosciutto making factory in Modena.

Tour guide Alessandro and brother John becoming "boys" in the huge refrigerator where the fresh hams were kept.

John having quiet bonding moment, showing personal affection towards a parma ham.

My mom and I snuggling up between some rows of prosciutt'. Life doesn't get much better.

*Whoops must head to my Museum Education class!

More to follow this afternoon!

*P.S. The reason my father wasn’t invited is because he came to Italy to drop me off last summer. My mom, a school teacher through and through is all about “fairness” and there was no way my father was going to make it back over the pond for a second time in one year when she had yet to visit on her own. Parents are funny people.


About Lauren Raffaela

Ciao ragazzi, mi chiamo Lauren. I am writing from Florence, Italy where I am in school for a Masters in Museum Studies. When not in school I spend my days strolling the streets, trying to look like a local. I love to people watch, go jogging before the city is awake, have small talk with old ladies and am constantly stopping to read menus in restaurant and cafe windows just to see what they're up to. My favorite gelato flavor is noccioloso and I try to control my intake to one (or two...) a week. My blog focuses on my adventures and discoveries - both about this beautiful city (and country) and about myself. If you would like to touch base or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment on my posts and I'll be sure to get in touch. Grazie and ciao!
This entry was posted in Florence, Food, Italian culture, Living abroad in Italy, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to buon anno!

  1. Mommy says:

    Lauren, Your post brought back so many memories, the wonderful dinners, our trip to Bologna , 1 euro gelato, yoga and of course just spending time with you in your cozy studio. tanti, tanti baci tua mamma

  2. mary madden says:

    Lauren, I teach with your mom and when I told her my daughter is going to take Italian in high school she sent me your link. I enjoyed it and I can picture your mom being seated at a table and being annoyed. Enjoy yourself.
    I’m takig my daughter to Ireland for her 8th grade graduation and hopefully Italy for high school. I’ll he hitting you and your mother up for tips. 🙂

  3. neighbor says:

    Lauren- fantastic post. I’ve misse your blogging. I guess I’m lucky since I have always known how cool Rosa (Ro?????) and John are!

  4. Stephanie Novick says:

    Hey Lauren,
    I was salivating while reading this post and just wrote to Italy Days Food Tour to see if they have tours starting from Sienna. I love your descriptions so much and although I am very excited to be visiting Tuscany, I am sad I won’t be seeing you and your Florence with Jess and Mer. ( If you know of another tour co that sounds similar in the Southern Tuscany region, let me know, I have not stumbled on one yet ) Love and xoxoxo to you.

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