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)
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!
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 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!
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!
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!
OFF TO THE GREATEST PLACE ON EARTH:
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.
*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.