Restaurant Review: Dario’s in Panzano, Italy (Chianti Region)

It wasn’t until after my (life changing) meal at Dario’s in Panzano (small town in the Chianti region of Tuscany), upon doing a quick google search back at my apartment that I realized the man running the show, Dario Cecchini, is pretty much a legend in the contemporary food world. His website does a great job reflecting the empire he has created in this off the beaten path, small Tuscan town. The man does it all: runs a world renown meat shop, restaurant, lunch spot, is clearly loved by locals, has been interviewed by international food magazines and foodies including one of my crushes: Anthony Bourdain.

This clip shows heart-throb Bourdain and another Italian/New York restaurant playboy, Cesare Casella visiting Cecchini at his meat shop. If you watch the clip, notice around the fourth minute, how effortlessly Cecchini scoops up an alarming amount of lard to slab on to some crostini. Have you ever seen anything sexier??

These connections may not be that exciting to you, but as I have spent many hours of my life scouring the internet reading restaurant reviews and trying to keep up with my father, brother and cousin, Christian Petroni talking about New York restaurants, chefs, cooking and ingredients, markets, what’s in what’s out, who’s closing and opening, etc etc, I was psyched by this epiphany of the greatness that is Dario Cecchini.

I have felt like a sponge over the past year, between my friends living in New York like Leandra who also lives to talk about food. Sometimes we’ve found ourselves acting like giggling school children over pupusa’s at the Brooklyn flea market or cupcakes in the West Village. There are just some of us who LIVE TO EAT. And I, for better or for worse, am one of those people, and clearly surround myself with other food junkies who feel the same way.

So, now let’s get down to business. Two weeks ago, knowing that Robert was coming to visit for a few days, I thought I should plan a little something special for us to do. We already decided on an overnight trip to Bologna so I wanted to come up with an easy day trip – maybe a wine tour, hike, bike ride. The great thing about Tuscany is that there are SO many options for places to explore outside the city centers and with a little effort (you’ll see below) such excursions could be easy to plan. So anyway, my school sends us a monthly email from the Director with updates on events such as soccer games, festivals, and suggestions for excursions. It was here I read about day trips to the Chianti region and a cute lunch spot in Panzano.

In the email provided, I noticed that lunch at this place only included two options, with the first one being:

10, 00 €

half pound burger in a crisp crumb crust
garlic and sage roasted potatoes
vegetables and sliced onions
our sauces
Tuscan bread
water with or without bubbles

For those of you who don’t know, Robert is German, born and raised in a small town outside Stuttgart, (whose dear father eats questionable pale greyish/pinkish sliced meat for breakfast…guten morgan!), and when I read that this place was a Macellaria-restaurant serving half pound burgers, the decision was made! There’s only one way to a German’s heart and that is through the promise of a delicious meal centered around meat! Andremo a Panzano!

Since Robert is effortlessly cool about getting us to and fro on our Euro trips, I wanted to show him that I was a functioning human being who could plan a “last minute” casual excursion for us. The email I received about Panzano mentioned that SITA buses headed to Panzano. After visiting SITA’s (useless) website I realized I needed to get out on the town and search for this rogue bus station. Since the only thing I knew was that it was near the Florence train station it took me a good forty minutes to finally find the SITA bus terminal tucked away discreetly behind a cafe. Obviously, the guy in the Information Booth was on his lunch break (which could last up to 2 hours in this part of the world), so I tried to get some information from the Ticket guy. But the Ticket guy said that he would only sell me tickets, not tell me about schedules because it is the Information Guy’s job to tell me about schedules. DO YOU SEE WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS? It is nearly impossible to get information out of anyone in this town without poking and prodding and getting aggressive (and turning into the obnoxious American that everyone knows and loves). In this instance, I gave up on my hope to have some human contact with a SITA employee, and found the schedule of Departures and Returns on the wall. Just using this resource always makes me a little nervous since it seems like every day, the schedule is a little different. But anyway, such is life and it was a start.

Finally, on the day of the proposed excursion, (an excited) Robert and I headed to the bus station, bought our tickets (only 6 euros roundtrip) and confirmed our return time (which WAS actually different than what was written on the schedule board, so there ya go).The ride was a little over an hour and besides the fact that we happened to be on a bus full of screaming hormonal tweens after they were let out of school, it was an easy ride though through the Tuscan hills.

We passed the larger town, Greve, of Chianti and then arrived at Panzano. On the way out of the bus we asked the driver if he knew of Dario’s, he pointed to a street and mumbled incoherently before closing the door. So we followed the direction he pointed towards and within 2 minutes found the front of the Macelleria. I wish I had a picture of the entrance but I have to admit, I was so HUNGRY and EXCITED and couldn’t wait to get inside. We enterd the Macelleria and at that moment there was no one around. To be honest, my first impression was simply, “well, they have lots of meat!” Then a small boy (probably 12 in an apron) came by and motioned to the back, opened a secret door that led to a flight of stairs. He said something like “su le scale” or “up the stairs.” At this point my heart was pounding as I thought how cool this secret passage was! (I guess I’m entertained easily?)

We get upstairs and find a small, brightly lit room with some people sitting around. Standing sheepishly at the top of the stairs for a moment we had a chance to take it all in. The decor was simple and clean with a long communal wooden table down the center, some kitsch lights and one brightly painted wall.

The waiters were hustling around as there was also outdoor seating. Since it was a cloudy, potentially rainy day, Rob and I decided to sit inside and get to business. The decision of what to eat was simple and we ordered 2 burgers. Our waiter Dante, first spoke to us in Italian, then after hearing my response, switched to English, then after I requested we speak Italian “perche vorre imparare,” he happily entertained us for two hours. Speaking in rapid, simple Italian, after two glasses of wine I was convinced that I was practically fluent since I was easily following the flow of the conversation. In retrospect, he was probably speaking to me like a 5th grader, but whatever, it felt great to shoot the shit with some locals and not feel insecure about my jumbled tenses and placement of my pronouns.

Dante "Alighieri" (as he introduced himself) and I chatting about NY restaurants (he has a small book that describes his impressions of all the major restaurants he's been to around the world with little pictures and notes. It was amazing hearing him talk about places in NY like Babbo and Le Cirque with a shrug of his shoulder implying that they were "no big deal." Amazing.

The Deutschman! I have so many pictures of Rob in this exact pose, across a table at a restaurant, about to dig into something glorious. Another great shot to add to our collection of delicious meals together. *Also note the beautiful glass doors that lead into the kitchen. It is great sign when a restaurant is proud to offer behind-the-scenes views of the cucina.

Speechless. Well, maybe not. The colors of the plate (lightly pickled onions, fresh garden tomatoes), the perfectly seasoned and cooked burger (only served rare by the way, but I promise you, with this quality meat, you won't be scheeved. It was a perfect red-pink, not a hint of runny blood, an exterior crust with just the right amount of salt), and the FRIES. Potato wedges cooked to perfection, so much so that I had to order a second side (so not lady like but hey, whaddayagonnado?)

I think I’ve said enough. Writing this post has left me exhausted and with a hankering for some beef.

Just remember, next time you’re in Tuscany, make a day trip to Panzano, appreciate the fact that there is barely any sightseeing you may typically feel obligated to do, and allow yourself the pleasure to sit at Dario’s for two hours one afternoon and enjoy the pleasures of life: simple food, good wine, and warm hospitality.

Buon appetito!

 

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Mi dispiace! Sono piu tarde…

When I first decided to create a blog I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those half assed blogger hussies who only posted once every few weeks. Initially I had dreams of making quick daily updates with a few pics and thoughts to hopefully keep you interested. As I started to write though I realized my style more involved a rambling exploration of what was going on around me with thoughts, feelings, dreams all piled into one (way too long) blog entry. So I figured at least an entry a week would be appropriate. WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY IS, I’M SORRY! There is no excuse for my poor blogging behavior! Sure, I could tell you I’ve been so busy the last two weeks, I’ve had sooo much work for school (including writing my first paper is 2 and a half years!), I’ve been traveling and blah blah blah but when people just stop posting for no rhyme or reason it is plain rude. I remember this summer, one of my favorite fashion and style bloggers, Garance Doré, who usually posts a story every 2-3 days, just stopped updating for over two weeks, I felt as if I had been wronged. Left high and dry. Rejected. She and I were definitely in a fight (that she obviously was unaware of). Anyway, it wasn’t until she finally posted again explaining (through a French translator) that she had had a mental breakdown from stress and exhaustion and had also been in the process of moving from Paris to New York. Ughhh. FINE. I accepted that as an appropriate excuse and forgave her. My excuse? Well, I guess I’m still trying to balance my life out: school, new city, new friends, travel, boyfriend, email correspondence (or lack thereof), and shitty internet in my apartment. So again, mi dispiace! Finally, here we are so let’s get going!

 

The last we left off I was on my way to Sardinia with the girls from my program. There are only 5 of us in total so what better way to get to know one another than to travel to an island together? I find that exploring new places, getting lost in foreign countries, eating new foods, dealing with (the frustrations and mishaps) of public transportation while traveling is the perfect setting to really get to know some one. For example, when Robert and I we were still in the “I like you but am not totally comfortable with you yet” phase, we made a stop over in Lake Garda, Italy during our Euro trip last summer. I must’ve eaten some bad fish for dinner one night. Let’s just say that all the “mystery” in our relationship was lost when I had to spend two hours in the bathroom at his family friend’s house cramped over the toilet having a flashback to Jim Carey’s epic scene in Dumb and Dumber. Ah, young love. So romantic isn’t it? I mean, I was completely mortified for the next 48 hours but once I was able to laugh about it, and we eventually laughed (for a long time) together, bowel issues really dissolve all barriers between two people. Not that I would suggest taking ex-lax to get to your boyfriend’s heart, but hey, we’re all human right?? And no worries! When Robert visited New York last fall he also had a  bad fish experience which left him in a similar situation at my Uncle’s house! And maybe it was worse for him as we were in a house filled with my male cousin’s who were only (and still are) slightly abusive towards the German boyfriend with the bathroom attack.

ANYWAY, back on track. So Sardinia. After catching a 3:30 am bus from Florence to Pisa, we got on a flight at 7 am and landed in Alghero by 8 am. Ryanair flights are extremely inconvenient as they tend to fly at either the crack of dawn or middle of the night and also into random small airports outside city centers, but for 24 Euros roundtrip, I guess one has to try not to complain. So once we deleriously arrived into Sardinia as the sun just came up, we found one of the two taxi drivers in total who are waiting outside this teeny airport. I ended up sitting in the front seat and for a good twenty minutes practiced my Italian skills as the driver and I shmoozed about Sardinia, his family, our studies in Florence, ya da ya da ya da. I was excited to find that he understood my poor excuse at his native language. Italians in general it seems, and more so than the ones I’ve met outside the city, are so willing to share advice about anything with you – whether it’s about finding a good restaurant, telling you which vegetables are the best in season now, attempting to help you when you’re lost even if you can tell that they actually have no clue where you are trying to go. Maybe it’s because I’m from New York or that my father is Neopolitan and I was raised a natural skeptic, but I have always found it difficult to trust strangers, like they are trying to get something out of me. I mean, of course I’m not going to follow a guy with a gelato down a dark alley, but it seems like for the most part, the Italians I meet day to day, really just want to chat and offer sound advice when asked for it. Guilio the cab driver, provided a wealth of information from a good sandwich shop in Alghero to the importance of knowing how to speak English and how he regrets never learning. Everyone has regrets in life I guess and it was some how sweet that this man was opening  up to a car full of delirious foreigners at 8 in the morning about his personal woes…

So we finally arrived at Big Fish B&B, a bed and breakfast I found online. The website implied a sort of kitsch decor, but nothing could prepare us for this:

 

Amazing decor and an ideal place to call home for the weekend. I mean, who doesn't love mismatched print leopard thrown up all over a room. Fantastic.

 

An early morning stroll along the port that these men have probably been doing for the last 40 years. What is it with me and my affection for old people?

 

Boats parked in Alghero's port.

 

 

 

Simple and beautiful.

 

 

 

We stumbled upon this amazing find: Casa del Formaggio. Only good things can come from a place named HOUSE OF CHEESE.

 

Specializing in local favorites such as Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Sardo (a bit tangier than the Romano), Casa del Formaggio was a glorious find. The girls and I picked up a big block of cheese, some thin crispy bread (another local favorite) and juicy cherry tomatoes for lunch our first day.

 

Fred Plotkin also mentioned this shop in his book, Gourmet Traveler, so I was excited to know we stumbled upon a foodie hot spot!

 

After our first day of strolling the streets, we took a walk on the beach and caught this sunset. The two people in the middle ground were an old couple taking in one last swim before dark. Perfect end to a day.

 

Day 2: Kathryn, Elise and I signed up for an all day excursion on the Andrea Jenson sailboat. The boat (and boat boy) were a gorgeous sight.

 

While I'm definitely not a savvy boat girl (you can ask my brother John whom I think may be perplexed by my sheer inability to function on the open seas), I was able to relax and enjoy the big sailboat and calm waters.

 

Just your standard lighthouse chillin out on a cliff.

 

Just an insanely beautiful lunch on a sailboat with new friends in the middle of Tyrrhenian Sea.

 

 

 

Elyse, Kathryn and I enjoying the water. Elyse, who I think I nicknamed Guppy on this trip because she literally was in the water every chance possible and went as far as to hoard bread during lunch to feed the fish. She and I also explored (and by explore I mean sheepishly approached but had to back away because I was convinced I saw an Octopus ready to suck off our faces) a cave. Anyway, it was the perfect day for me to practice my doggy paddle and repeatedly dunk my face in the salt water in hopes of clearing up my recently acquired acne issues (Oh, Florentine air, how you get me every time!).

 

Kathryn and I soaking up some afternoon sun. Another view of true happiness.

 

 

I hope these pictures help express the true beauty of this part of the world. From the water and mountainous landscape, to the pure and simple mentality of the Alghergo people. The owners of the B&B, the English couple who owned the sailboat and are half year residents in the town, to the shop keepers and restaurant owners, it was such a nice relief instantly feeling at home in this lazy beach town. I guess I am still getting used to city living where Florence can seem ruthless at times depending on the day and your mood. This trip allowed me to breath and the fresh air always has a calming effect over me.

I feel lucky to have spent time with Elyse and Kathryn on our boat excursion. After living at home over the last 18 months before moving to Florence where my closest friends were my parents, it truly is a wonderful feeling making new friends. Elyse is one of those people who is naturally smart and insightful and doesn’t even realize how much she offers the world and the people around her. We also find the same things funny and bond over pyscho-analyzing everything and everyone around us. Kathryn, an artist, inspires me in the sureness of who she is. A person so comfortable with the decisions she makes, can see the outset of situations (both menial and important) before they happen. We also concur that she is definitely a little psychic.

Anyway, it’s probably not of interest to you that I am happy to have the capacity to  meet new people and make friends, but you really don’t understand! I have been so lucky all my life to have grown up with a close nit circle of lady friends and have continued to hold onto important people through different phases of my life (college, study abroad, Montauk friends…) and just feel lucky to continue to meet inspiring people and share this place and time with them… Alright, before the warm and fuzziness continues, I will end this post thanking you for continuing to tune in. 

Off to do some research at the Pitti Palace for my first presentation this week! Wish me, “in bocca al lupo!” 

More soon amici!

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L’estate e finita

There is something in the air. I think it is the feelings that come when the seasons change from summer to fall, and those first cold nights come as a nice, welcoming surprise, a long awaited relief from these oppressively hot and humid (and in the case of Florence – mosquito infested) summer nights. Then after a few weeks of progressively cooler days, one may start to realize that Oh My God, summer is almost over, since when are there back-to-school advertisements everywhere, ah I need a new pair of fall shoes (for some reason I always equate a new school year with buying new shoes – depending on which faze of my life, from elementary school Mary Janes to my confused, hormonal years where I relied on the latest Nikes and Pumas to kick (ha, kicks, get it?) off the fall season – new shoes meant new year, new me!)

ANYWAY, along with the gradual changes in weather and feelings of anticipation that September brings, it seems that the changing seasons may also induce a frantic affection for loved ones. At least in this town, as I stalk people behind my cheap sunglasses in piazzas, cafes, outside churches, through museums, love seems to be seeping out of everyone’s pores. I think it has something to do with everyone trying to desperately hold on to these last fleeting moments of summer that had encouraged a slower pace, longer days outdoors, more time spent lingering with loved ones over dinners maybe followed by an evening stroll to the gelateria. I feel like we all say this every July, how exciting it is to have the WHOLE SUMMER ahead of us! And then seriously, in the blink of an eye, here we are, it’s Labor Day and oh my God, did you see that advertisement for Halloween already?!?!

With fall comes a new energy of Back to School anticipation, excitement about new shoes (as I eye every shop window in town, once again, on the hunt for this season’s PERFECT FALL BOOT. *Just as a note this search will probably continue through January because I am a painfully slow decision maker when it comes to investing in such important – you’ll wear this for the rest of your life – leather accessories such as bags and shoes. Will keep you posted on any/all advances made on this crucial life investment).

With all the energy of September in full swing, I also find there is a sort of sweet sadness to this time of year. As I begin my mental transition to the fall, there is a small window of time to reminisce about the last summer months which for me included weekend trips to Montauk with family and friends, trying to soak up as much sun as possible, organizing all pre-departure details (from tedious bank issues and Visa paperwork to the multiple Costco runs for socks and underwear), finishing my work at the Neuberger Museum, basically just running around like a nut case because in times of transition, keeping realllllly busy is the best way NOT to deal with closing one chapter and opening the next.

THAT BEING SAID, I have been in Florence for a little over a month, and as you have read so far, this journey has been a whirlwind of ups and downs. Most downs lean toward the category of self-induced catastrophes while the ups have been so unbelievably rewarding I’m overwhelmed with giddy schoolgirl happiness at various points during the day. Like the other day for example, when I stopped in to check out what this cheese guy had to offer around the block. After sheepishly peering into the display cases, recognizing some names  – parmagiano, fontina, mozzarella – I realized what I was really craving was some cheese alla goat! It was time to stop avoiding the guy (brief description of cheese guy: large in stature and width, full face, wearing stark white apron, smiling with dimples! perfect…). So basically we get into a charades routine of me trying to explain what I am looking for. I state that I do not want cheese from a cow (so I say “non mucca”) or cheese from a buffalo (my translation: “ non mucca grande), or cheese from a sheep (not having a clue how to say sheep I offer the guy, “non BAHHHHHH” and he got it!!! Maybe this wasn’t the first time he’s been bahhhhed at? I don’t know, he seemed completely unfazed) Alright, so we are knee deep in this situation and he goes, “Allora, varrai formaggio della capra?” He points to a cyclindrical shaped wrapped cheese that’s lounging in some water (probably to keep it moist, fresh, at the right temperature) YES, VICTORY, WE’VE DONE IT! I confirm that OH MY GOD, SI SI, E VERO! POSSO PROVARE QUESTO FORMAGGIO? So after a taste, a swoon, I’ve fallen in love with both the cheese man and Italian goat cheese. He advises that “il formaggio ha bisogno solamente un po di pepe nero e l’olio.” I like his style, offering that all I needed to do is add a little black pepper and olive oil. As always, I ask where it was produced and find out that it’s from an area in Northern Italy called Piedmont. I left the store with this glorious cheese, sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil (called pomodoro secchi) and moved onward to the bread lady and the proscuitto guy. While I can’t always afford to eat like this, as I think it is similar in the states where heading to the local vendor sometimes costs almost double than what you can get at the grocery store in terms of price, when considering the quality of the product, the human interactions afforded from meeting people who run the small businesses near where you live, and supporting a family run operation, well sometimes, it just feels and tastes too good to settle for plastic wrapped mozzarella made in Albania, packaged in Turkey, sent to Italy. You know what I mean?

Nothing better to cure a hangover than a fontina cheese omelet, crisp flat bread and a gorgeous slice of proscuitto. (And Robert's laptop arrived! Hooray! The wold is once again spinning on its axis!)

 

Well, to finish off this post I leave you with some sweet pictures of locals I’ve encountered (or stalked) in the last weeks. As I said at the beginning of this long, rambling post, not sure if it’s just a Florence thing, or a bigger seasons changing sort of feeling that I suggested, but whatever it is, it really is a beautiful thing to watch two people in love act in love.

Off to Sardinia for the weekend!

A presto

Young hipsters on the steps near Piazzale Michelangelo

 

I'm pretty sure this couple just came from work. I find this man's suit fabulous. This woman really needs to step up her game.

 

You don't cross such an epic sock-shoe combination every day. This is just a hint of the fascinating personal style that runs rampant in this city.

 

Can't you feel the heat from here?!?! This was the couple who spent over an hour fighting in the small town of Fiesole overlooking Florence. When I first saw them, I guess all was well in lover's lane. I wonder what happened...

 

I love everything about this picture. How they are overlooking this beautiful city and the man is completely unaware of anything but her. And she is probably exhausted from a day of sightseeing, her feet are killing her and she couldn't be happier to be collapsed in his arms. AHHHH LOVE! Waitttt, why am I so mushy lately?!?! This has got to stop... ok almost done!

 

Let's finish with the sweetest couple of all Cecelia and Antonio from Fiesole. Stumbling upon these 2 love birds at the top of a steep climb from Fiesole town, I couldn't help but strike up a conversation. While I can only confidently affirm that I understood about 30% of what we talked about, I am pretty sure I got out that Cecelia is from Arezzo, Antonio is from Fiesole. Cecilia started working for a woman (I think cleaning maybe?) and this woman knew of a young man who was also working in town. Well, she decided they should meet. So they did! And these love birds have been married since 1957! Look at how he still looks at her! Like not a day has gone by since he spotted her in her cute little work uniform over 50 years ago!

 

Just amazing.

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FIRST BREAKDOWN

Well, I am already lying to you. I would consider the first day (paint issue/apartment anxiety/I want my Mommy) freak out a semi-breakdown as it did involve a few hours of excessive sweating and some hyperventilating. I have also had a few weeping sessions here and there (like when I realized that there is no oven in my apartment – meaning NO pizza making, NO baked chicken, NO lasagna… oh I can’t start thinking about this again…) but nothing too over the top or that different from my pre-abroad life tears. But what went down this past Wednesday takes the cake as FIRST MAJOR BREAKDOWN. As always, let’s start from the beginning.

As worst-days-ever-sometimes go, this past Wednesday started out GREAT. I made (deliciously fresh) eggs for breakfast, felt awake for my 8 am Italian class, had to present on a historical topic in New York in class and everyone seemed to be able to kind of follow what I was rambling about (basically about how at the end of the 19th century many immigrants from Europe came to the ports of New York looking for work and because of such big influxes of immigrants through the turn of the century, NYC is one of the most multi-cultural places on earth!… what? I don’t know how I came up with that complicated story when the assignment was to simply tell the class a little background about where we are from but you know how it is when learning a foreign language. I think I was trying to use some words I already knew and one thing led to another and Bam! The story of immigration!).

Anyway, the morning rounded out with a successful interview for a part-time babysitting position. The woman (an American who married an Italian she met while studying abroad during her undergraduate years 10 years ago…I’m telling you, the general theme around here is that people come and never leave… just saying) I met has a two-year old daughter, they live 5 minutes from my apartment in a great part of town, she and I hit it off right away and as always with babysitting, it will be nice to get out of the apartment and hang out in some one’s real house for a few hours a week.

Then I spent a few hours at the British Institute Library, a fabulously stuffy and intimate library that I think will become my new study spot as it lacks (loud) Americans, and who doesn’t love hearing a nice British accent through tall rows of books in rooms topped with chandeliers? The afternoon rounded out with a class and then the 4 other girls in my program and I headed out for some aperitivo and a glass of wine. I took them to a spot I discovered a week or so ago in Piazza Santo Spirito. The place is called Pop Cafe and it serves a vegetarian aperitivo in the evening. So for 3-4 euros each, we enjoyed a nice glass of wine and some healthy finger foods. Can’t beat that. And the ambiance is perfect. Santo Spirito in general is a little sketchy with hobos and bird ladies, but is also filled with students – both Italian and American – so it’s a great place to people watch and spend a few hours in the evening.

So allllll that being said, wouldn’t you agree that this day sounds pretty great?? After our drink we were all pretty tired and parted our separate ways. You’re not going to believe me but on the way home, across Ponte Santa Trinita, there was a beautiful, fire-red and pink sunset that even the Italians were stopping to snap a pic of. Looking out over the Arno at this intense sky is one of those (cheesy) moments when you just have to feel so f-ing lucky… like, can life get any better??!

I’m not sure about that… but boy did it get worse pretty quickly. So I get home, feeling great, in a good mood from my vino rosso and the day in general. I was in such a good mood I decided, ‘Hey! why don’t I sweep the apartment?!’ My thought process I guess was that I may as well do this tedious task while in a swell mood, right?? So I get going, lift all the chairs onto the table and futon, pick up the rugs and hang them over the window, pick up all the cords off the floor and ready, set, go! I sweep the place in a few minutes (as I had mentioned in an earlier post, the whole place is the size of a walk-in closet – I have this fun game I play where I stand in the center of the room, turn 45° I’m in the kitchen, turn another 45° I’m in the living room, and another I’m in the bedroom! Woo hoo! I know I know, I must get a hobby or a gay best friend to avoid such poor use of my time.) ANYWAY, here comes the climax of this ridiculously anti-climactic post: As I start putting things back in place, I – a little too forcefully – swing down a chair from the table and then hear a loud crash and swerve around to see my laptop FACE FIRST, SPREAD EAGLE on the floor!!! I SCREAM! DIVE TOWARDS IT! OH MY GOD! THE MONITOR IS NOT STANDING UP ON IT’S OWN! HOW COULD I DO THIS TO THIS INNOCENT CREATURE?!? I COLLAPSE ONTO THE FUTON WITH THIS POOR, LIFELESS, SOUL IN MY ARMS! I’M HELPLESS! LOST! ALL ALONE IN THIS WORLD!

Alright, I’ll stop with the caps lock. But really, an overwhelming feeling of loss and helplessness overtook me. What does one do in a foreign country when their laptop breaks?? I know a computer tech repairman in ITALY will charge me a fortune for repairs! Can this poor guy even be repaired? I can’t buy a European laptop! All the plugs will be different when I get home! How will I do my school work? The library closes at 8 pm during the week and is completely closed on the weekends!! How will I skype?? How will I write emails!? Watch American TV shows online?!  HOW WILL I BLOGGGGG?!?! NOOOOOO!!!!!!

Ughhhhh such devastation. I obviously immediately called my father, and you can guess what his response was. No wait really guess. Yea, you’re right: WHATTAYAGONNADO?? Ah, usually that works to help calm me down but in this scenario the feeling of helplessness and woe-is-me overshadowed any rational thought. This self-inflicted, royal pain in the ass situation with no feasible solution had me thrown on my bed with grief, tears streaming, snot flying, the works. Who I really needed at this moment were Spikey and Spikey Jr, my two stuffed animals from childhood (don’t get confused though, they are brothers, not father and son. I know, it’s complicated). They would let me freak the f-out without judgment and wouldn’t mind being suffocated in the nook of my neck as I squeezed the life out of them in frustration.

Since they weren’t available, the next phone call went to Robert. More than my father, I succumbed Robert to a complete major freak out of every thought I just wrote about and most especially, HOW WAS I SUCH AN IDIOT?? Of course his response was that ‘Babe, these things happen,’ but as I am a person so meticulous with taking care of things and having to know where everything is and ah just in general so Type A, making this kind of mistake is nearly IMPOSSIBLE for me to deal with, especially because the only person to blame is myself! So after a few more minutes of sheer insanity, like a child tired from her own tears, I started to calm down.

Robert came up with the following facts for me to think about: A. Yes, you’re right, they will charge you a lot for a repair B. I just googled your model laptop and it is only worth $150 U.S. dollars so don’t feel that bad (who knew 6 year old laptops depreciated in value so much?!) C. I can send you my old laptop, no worries babe.

And you know what my response was? ‘Really???? But the Z and Y buttons will be backwards…’ If you stop following this blog forever in disgust of my actions, I will not hold it against you. I actually completely concur.

I mean, I don’t have that much more to say on the topic besides I am hoping this event was a build up of stresses in general that come with moving to another country – broken electronics, trying to learn a new language, simple everyday tasks that if you’re not in the mood seem to take up more energy than you can imagine, running home at night because I don’t feel 100% comfortable with the streets yet, wishing that biotch at the caffe would stop ignoring me because she knows I’m American and seems to bothered by my national identity, AH, just everything. Life. Life in transition. New places, spaces, people, languages, everything. It’s all intoxicating and wonderful and magical and also lonely and frustrating and tiresome.

I know, I know, how can I complain about ANTHING?! I’m living in Italia baby! And please understand, I RARELY feel this way but, when I do, I really do. But I guess I was right, in reference to my first post, there are moments (usually after a long fulfilling day of looking at art, trying to learn and practice a new language, avoiding getting lost, trying to find goat cheese at the market (becuase it’s easier to digest – obviously), etc ,etc) when I’m alone at night sometimes all I really do want is a bag of Stacy’s chips and salsa, Bravo TV and my Mom to laugh at my jokes.

I guess that’s what this experience is all about though, right? Acknowledging and dealing with these dark, lonely moments and then moving on, hopefully growing and seeing a new side to yourself. In the case of the laptop melt down, I saw a side of me that was quite disturbing and I will now actively work on trying not to be so overwhelmed when faced with technological malfunctions.  Thankfully, the laptop fiasco has been resolved, Robert’s old laptop is on its way from Germany (again and again, God Bless his soul), and I am again back to getting chills walking these streets knowing that this place is home for the next year.

Sorry, no pics in this post but hope to be back in the rhythm soon.

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La mia famiglia in Prato

So I just finished by first week of classes and have a much better perspective of what this Masters program is all about. This is the first year of the program but it’s been a work in progress for years. The Program Coordinator told us that 4 years ago she was talking with some colleagues over dinner one night about how there should be a Masters in Museum Studies in Florence, and was shocked that such a program in a city filled with museums didn’t exist yet. 4 years later, here we are! I find this completely romantic – an idea born over a long dinner – and it is easy to tell that the people involved are beyond excited to see it come to fruition. I won’t bore you with my reading lists and class descriptions but I’ve already finished Thomas Hoving’s autobiography, “Making the Mummies Dance” (former Director of the Met) and am now full speed ahead into the biography of Alfred H. Barr, “Missionary for the Modern” (one of the founders of MOMA). After a 2 year break from school it’s WONDERFUL using parts of my brain that have been dormant for quite a while now. It also maybe be first semester jitters – as my friend Meredith said recently: who doesn’t love clean notebooks and new pens?! Once the notebooks get worn a bit and the pens lost, there is a huge chance that in three months I’ll be complaining to you that “I’m soooo tiward, I can’t handle this, what was I thinkingggg, wa wa wa.” But, for now, I LOVE SKEWL!

Let’s back track to 2 weeks ago during my orientation. I had a day full of activities when Robert was still here so while I was attending information sessions Robert was tucked in my apartment finishing up some school work (don’t even ask about the German university system. Robert’s classes for the semester were over at the end of July yet he has work for those classes that’s due through the end of September and then his next semester starts early October. Makes no sense to me!). But anyway, he needed to cram some work in so he set up camp at the kitchen table and planned to work the 2 days that I was in school. 

While the following story is coming second hand, I can promise you that all facts are true as the details have been recounted several times from multiple sources. So it’s around 9 am, Robert is settling in, sipping an espresso, trying to get in the zone. He hears some one buzzing my apartment which is completely strange since I don’t know anyone in the city and I’m at school and have the key so wouldn’t need his help to get in. He then realized that the person was furiously buzzing all of the apartments in the building so just figured it was some annoying guy trying to sell something or drop off advertisements.

He tried to re-focus on getting focused when he hears a man shouting in the streets. The man seemed to be blurting out to anyone who walked by, something along the lines of: SCUSI, CONOSCE UNA STUDENTESSA AMERICANA COGNOME PICCOLO?? LEI ABITA A QUI. CONOSCE? SCUSI! SCUSI! C’E UNA RAGAZZA AMERICANA DICA PICCOLO ABITA SULLA STRADA…. Robert jumped up and looked out the window to see a man relentlessly accosting innocent passerby’s, children, rogue dogs trying to get an answer out of anyone who would listen.

Realizing that this man was looking for me Robert ran downstairs to see what was going on with this crazy Italiano! Welllll as it turns out, my father’s first cousin, Antonetta, lives in Prato (a small city outside Florence) and was in Naples when my father was there 2 weeks ago and after running into each other (after 40 years!) at the town feast my father told her that I was studying in Florence and gave her my street address, so Antonetta immediately sent her husband, Antonio, to SEARCH ME OUT and not come home til he found me! 

So after Robert gathers the gist of this connection, he and Antonio end up spending the afternoon walking around the city getting to know one another. I mean, not what a boyfriend has planned when he’s moving his girlfriend into a foreign city – but Robert is so amazing that walking around town with my father’s cousin’s husband for a few hours instead of getting much needed work done barely fazed him. Again, God bless his soul. As it turns out Antonetta and Antonio lived in Germany for 30 years (small world isn’t it???) and moved to Prato 12 years ago. While my father is related to Antonetta, Antonio is from the same small town in Naples and remembers going to primary school with my father and Uncle Dominick. 

So at some point in the day I get a text from Robert: Your cousin found your apartment. We are having dinner in Prato tonight. Come home after school. Obviously I had no idea how these plans came about and almost died when Robert told me that Antonio had rung every buzzer on the street and had interrogated every shop keeper in the area if they knew “an American student with the last name Piccolo.” Gotta love la famiglia.

It is exciting, heart warming, overwhelming to meet family for the first time. I instantly felt connected to Antonetta and while I have a hard time understanding everyone in the family (as my Italian is strictly conversational (I’m working on it!) and they speak with a strong Neapolitan dialect) I was overwhelmed with love for these people I barely knew.

Here are a few pics from our epic dinner in Prato. 

Antonetta making tomato sauce for our spaghetti. She keeps it simple with some good quality olive oil, garlic, canned whole tomatoes, s+p and at the end throws in some fresh basil. Sta perfetto!

 

There are 4 generations of women in this photo. From Left to Right: Matsia, Me, Tina, Nonna, Antonio, Antonetta. Notice Nonna saluting! I love it.

 

Matsia, an outgoing, curious, spunky kid who was proud to correct my sorry excuse for Italian. She is unapologetically opinionated and my heart melted when she said "mi piace la tua vestiti." (She liked my dress!)

 

Matsia snapped a pic of Rob and I at the dinner table. A five hour meal spoken through a mix of Italian, German and a hint of English as Matsia and I practiced her 1,2,3s and names of animals and colors. The evening was fun and quite exhausting!

 

Some pics from one of Robert’s last days in Florence:

A view from Fiesole, a small wealthy town 9 km north of Florence. Rob and I enjoyed a beautiful afternoon walking around.

 

A lover's quarrel ensued for over an hour and I couldn't help but watch as these torn souls tried to forgive each other for whatever wrong doing was caused. Italian love seems to be an intense undertaking.

 

We finished our evening with a memorable meal at I’Polpa restaurant in the town center. The intimate setting, seasonal menu of Tuscan specialties, and quiet ambiance made for a perfect end to Robert’s trip to Florence.

Off to check out the Mercato di S. Ambrogio this morning. Word on the street is that they offer the biggest organic selection of produce. Will be in touch soon!

 

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La vita bella degli funghi

I couldn’t wait any longer to share some photos of the goodies Robert and I found in the market at Parco delle Cascine. The park runs along the Arno on the western side of the river and hosts an outdoor market every Tuesday. I first discovered this park on Monday when I decided to venture sul Arno for a morning jog. Unfortunately I didn’t take into account who would be chillin at a large public park before 8 am. I first passed a few shady characters sleeping on benches which kind of spooked me but there were other joggers on this route so I wasn’t too too concerned. Then the freaks came out to play:  I heard some weird moaning coming from behind a line of tall bushes so I (Curious George that I am) tiptoed towards the sound to try to figure out what was going on. Peering over the bushes, I witnessed a group of 20-30 people in circle formation holding hands chanting and swaying and shouting incomprehensible words while looking towards the sky or maybe to an invisible friend they all shared. Not sure. But I realized at this moment that I’d have to explore other early morning jogging options as joining a cult was not part of my study abroad plans.

ANYWAY, the park on a Tuesday during the day is great! There are a bunch of fruit and vegetable vendors along with home goods and clothes being sold. Robert and I were naturally attracted to the food guys and first crossed paths with a nice looking cheese stand. The cheese guy first gave us a taste of a Parmegiano-reggiano which was smooth and had a great depth of flavor. He then enthusiastically offered a sampling of Grana Parmegiano which instantly hit my taste buds in a completely different way. The Grana definitely had more of a bite to it and there was a zing at the back of my throat after eating the small sampling. I liked it for its pronounced flavor, thinking it would be great over pasta or simply cut in chunks and served with some crusty bread and olive oil. We bought 500 g of the Grana for only 5 euros! Our best deal of the day by far.

I just want to note that when I talk about food it is completely based on my personal experiences and emotional reactions to what I encounter (and consume). I am eager to learn and explore the greatness that is Italian cuisine but am a novice when it comes to knowing the histories and facts on the subject. Prior to leaving for Florence, I picked up Fred Plotkin’s book, Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, which I have been dissecting every chance I get.

Plotkin is American and has lived in Italy on and off for the last 30 years. His book is split up by region where he provides in-depth descriptions of the varying cuisines found throughout Italy. He also provides personal anecdotes and gives suggestions on where to eat. I have a feeling Gourmet Traveler will become my Bible of sorts. But back to the food writing insecurities, I hope you’ll be patient with me as I explore using words to define how food tastes and makes me feel.

Some of the goodies we picked up:

A view of the Grana, tomatoes and spicy green olives. Beautiful ingredients for a light lunch or antipasti.

 

Small, sweet tomatoes that we made in salads the past days but would probably work well as a fresh tomato sauce sautéed with oil and garlic.

 

Now onto a life changing food experience: In-season Mushrooms! It wasn’t until recent years that I took to liking mushrooms. When I worked at Naturally Good Health Food Store in Montauk I came to appreciate the meaty quality of the vegetable where many vegetarian customers relied on a nice thick Portobello grilled (usually topped with soy cheese – a smart protein source that unfortunately does not coordinate well with my digestive tract…) and stuffed in a pita or bun as a fulfilling lunch option. Also adapted from NG is a nice stuffed Portobello that I make by first grilling the shroom skin side down and then filling it with a mixture of sautéed (and drained) spinach, parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon zest, pignoli nuts, oil, s+p and finished with a little mozz melted on top. Delish!

So back in the market, Robert and I met a nice vegetable vendor which is always helpful when exploring food markets in Italy. I usually decide which stand to buy from based on 2 key factors. 1) The visual quality of the foods displayed (maybe I’m just a sucker for aesthetics but a nice, carefully planned out spread of produce that takes advantage of the wonderful colors and shapes of fruits and veggies makes an impression on me). The 2nd factor is the way the vendors behave. I appreciate people who seem like they will be patient with me as I don’t always know the name of the vegetable I want and have to rely on hand motions and broken Italian to describe what it is I’m looking for. Unlike most markets I’ve been to in the states, in Italy, the customer should not touch the produce. Instead, you have to wait you turn to get the vendor’s attention and then he/she will walk around and bag and weigh what you request. I find this process frustrating as I (and I think most Americans) enjoy touching and choosing each item for ourselves, knowing that our judgment of the perfect pear or tomato may be different from the next persons. Anyway, such is life and this particular vendor was smiling, eager to help us and I’m pretty sure charged us correctly (you’ll also find if you pay attention that many vendors overcharge foreigners when they get the chance). This happened to me when I hunted down some rucola and radiccio and the vendor tried to charge me 1 euro 80, an insane price for what I was getting. I could tell instantly this guy was a clown taking advantage of un’Americana but all I could was repeat the total with a question mark in my voice and he dropped the total to 1 euro 70. Thanks buddy.

I had so much fun preparing these mushrooms for dinner Tuesday night I thought I’d share with you their journey into il mio stomaco. 

View of mushrooms with an herb called nepitola. The vendor explained that these two ingredients go hand in hand. Ted, the other tenant in my building is a foodie of sorts (teaches classes on Italian cuisine) and did some quick research to find out that nepitola is part of the mint family. I think the herb will pair well with veggies like mushrooms, eggplants and peppers.

 

Chopped:

Sauteed:

Mangia:

To cook the mushrooms I generally follow the same process. First I take a paper towel and wipe down the tops and trim the stems if they’re hard and very dirty. Chop the mushrooms separating the stems and tops. Heat up a little extra virgin olive oil and 2-3 small cloves of garlic at medium-high heat. Once I smell the garlic I add the chopped stems (the stems take a bit longer so they go in first) to the saute pan and stir occasionally for 3-4 minutes. Then add the tops. The mushrooms will quickly absorb most of the olive oil in the pan but don’t get worried! In a few minutes they’ll release all the water they’re holding onto and you’ll see the magic working. After 7-8 minutes or so the mushrooms should start shrinking and becoming moist. At this point I add a little black pepper and whatever herb I’m using (in this case it was the nepitola, but at home I also use 1 or 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped thyme – if you don’t have fresh herbs you can substitute a teaspoon of dried herbs). With the herbs I also add a smidge of butter (less than a tablespoon). The butter creates a glossy coating over the mushrooms and just a little will boost the flavor immensely. I wait until the last minute or so before seasoning with kosher salt. The process is so easy and rewarding. I would suggest giving it a try next time you see a nice pile of shrooms at your market. Robert and I ate the mushrooms with grilled chicken that was prepared in a simple oil and dried rosemary marinade. We also had a few boiled then grilled (for marks) potatoes. The meal overall was perfect for a cool night in Florence. It is amazing how in just a week the evening air has changed from sweltering to a cool breeze. 

I’ll finish the post with just a few food pics I’ve taken over the last week. Enjoy!

 

Breakfast of figs and nectarines from the market with Leutenbach honey (from Robert's home town) over plain yogurt.

 

First dinner cooked in the apartment! Robert picked the pasta (which I think look like water bugs). Sauteed some oil and garlic, added 2 chopped zucchinis, sauteed some more, added a can of chopped tomatoes, sauteed til liquid reduced (10-15 mins), added s+p, so easy, so delicious! Finished the dish off with a dollop of ricotta, a smidge more olive oil and some cracked peperoncino pepper.

 

Picked up a handy grill pan for the stove top at Ikea and went a little grill crazy one night. Simple marinate of oil, apple cider vinegar, s+p for the zucchini and peppers, and with the potatoes added dry rosemary. Surprisingly satisfying considering it was a meal of 2 veggies and a starch. I usually love my proteins but this worked well finished with a salad (and maybe a gelato...).

 

Robert showing off his grilled vegetable sandwich (obviously taking advantage of the previous night's leftovers). I added mozz and a little prosciutt to round out the wedge. Rob and I took a day trip to San Vincenzo, a small beach town in southern Tuscany, near Livorno. After a few intense days of apartment stuff, we needed to get away and had the perfect day soaking up the sun and enjoying some home made sandwiches alla spiaggia.

 

Rob suggested I add this photo of me at the beach (no worries Ma, I was wearing a strapless bikini top... not totally Euro just yet!). He said my friends may especially appreciate this pic because I am making a typical "grumpy Lauren" facial expression. At this moment I had just gotten up from a nap and was probably still adjusting to the sun (or whatever!). Don't know! But here I am, grumpy and also happy to be sipping an Aranciata on a beach in Tuscany. Not. Half. Bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Il mio primo giorno

I can’t believe I’ve been in Florence for exactly one week. It seems like the time has flown by, yet so much has happened, yet I still don’t think it’s truly hit me that I’ll call this place home for the next 51 weeks. I guess the best place to start is from the beginning: Day 1 a Firenze (even though I would REALLY like to tell you about these amazing mushrooms Robert and I found at this outdoor market yesterday that we cooked last night (and devoured) and I am still swooning over… but we’ll get to that later I guess).

So! Last Wednesday Rob and I left Munich at around 6 am, standard “Piccolo time” as he calls it. This trait of mine (extending directly from my Mother) to leave for road trips before the sun comes up stems from many summers spent in Montauk, NY. As a child and to this day, when I know I have to travel on the Long Island Expressway to get through 27 East (the Hamptons) to reach Montauk, a pang of anxiety and fear of being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic overtakes me. Since getting my license at 16 and taking friends out for the weekend, I’ve required departure times as early as 5:30 am. While some claim this demand irrational and a form of torture, I stand by my affirmation: we’ll sleep on the beach!

Anyway, Robert is accustomed to this ritual and was on board for a 5 am wake-up call (God bless his soul). So we hit the road with a car full of luggage, some mix cds (of songs we’re already sick of since we listened to the same ones during last August’s road trip) and headed South. After about an hour’s drive I started to get hungry (seriously?) and requested we stop to get a snack. Not sure if this was delirium or nerves but I was getting nauseous! Robert complied and we stopped for a croissant in Austria to find that it was 12 degrees celsius outside!  We ventured into the only small bakery in town to find a toothless woman with the thickest eyebrows I’ve ever seen behind the counter and one twitchie eyed mountain townie reading the paper. Being surrounded by the Alps at 6:30 am freezing in a tank top and capri shorts was a wake up call that we needed to get moving pronto!

Alright, I’ll try to pick up the pace. So after a great drive (no traffic), in 6 hours we reach the periphery of Florence. The drive was not as scenic as expected but the last hour or so was a pleasant surprise of green rolling hills (when one thinks of Tuscany, it seems that browns, red and oranges more come to mind). I will not bore you with our first 2 hours in Florence which involved trying to find a parking spot for foreigners in this city. Let’s just say that the research we did beforehand all warned: DO NOT TAKE A CAR TO FLORENCE! Because of congestion and the amount of tourists in and out of the city (approx 18 million per year), there is a law that foreigners cannot drive into the city unless they pre-register with a garage (that as you can imagine charges an insane fee for parking). Ya da ya da ya da, eventually the concierge at my father’s hotel told us a shady street to park outside the city center – we both have a looming fear each day that the car will be gone and/or a homeless man will be sleeping in the back seat.

So finally we are out of the car and ready to roll. Suited up with an exhaustive amount of luggage, we head due West on foot along the Arno to find my apartment. Keep in mind, it’s late August in the 3rd most visited city in Europe, it’s 31 degrees Celsius (double that add 30 = 92 degrees Fahrenheit), we’re exhausted and heading along the busiest street in the city, right near the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. Let’s just say I think I rolled over a Japanese tourist or 2 as we trekked along.

A quick shot of Rob as he narrowly avoids a line up of mopeds.

 

Luckily, I had a good idea of how to get to my street. Having spent a semester of undergrad in Florence I realized that one of the bars my friends and I used to frequent, properly named, The Art Bar, is on the same street! So we finally get to the door and I ring the buzzer. I wish I could report feelings of sheer excitement and anticipation on finally reaching the apartment with an understanding that the year to follow will be life changing, etc etc,  but in reality my emotions we more overrun by feelings of exhaustion and just really needing a glass of cold water. My apartment was listed on the 3rd floor, which means 4th floor in American standards, so after the final schlep up a long, windy staircase, we arrived! 

Ted, another tenant in the building, let us in and to say that I was unable to process rationally all that I saw was an understatement. I both fell in love and hated everything. The walls were mucous green, the floor a beautiful rusty red terra cotta, nik naks everywhere, lime green fleece blanket on the twin cot that is to be my bed, gorgeous midday light streaming in from 2 windows, an aggressive painting of a woman cleaning on the wall, ah I can go on and on. I tried to register everything at once, but rather just needed to get the f out of the there. For those who know me well, know that I am not keen on new situations. I am easily overwhelmed and once I feel a sense that I’ve lost control, I retreat and typically break down. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember – from 3rd grade birthday parties where if I lost at some sort of sports game I would go home devastated to choosing the wrong topic for my undergraduate thesis and letting it get the best of me during my last semester at school. I think it’s a mix of middle child syndrome, being the only girl in the family, being a summer baby and  Cancer sign, and well just being me. 

So anyway, when life gets you down, what do you need?! Your parents! Luckily for me my father and uncle just arrived at their hotel in Florence and after telling my father everything at a million miles an hour, having him say, “so whaddya wanna do? Find some place else?,” made me realize that there were other options. After catching my breath and talking it over some more, my father, uncle and boyfriend made me see the good things about the place: it’s in a safe area, 5 minutes from school, decent rent, and after a few months of getting settled and making friends, I can always consider moving out. I am so grateful that my father was with me that day. I feel like I could cry writing this. Both his rational outlook on a situation and knowledge of how to deal with me when I am a tranny hot mess overwhelms me with love for him. Ah, didn’t want to get too touchy but just had to put it out there. 

First picture of the apartment! If you have the ability to zoom, please note the sheer insanity in my eyes. That's the face of a crazy person.

 

So to finish off day 1, Robert and I spent the afternoon walking around a bit while my father and uncle napped at their hotel. We met for a perfect dinner at a restaurant called Quattro Leoni (4 Lions), located Oltr’arno, or across the Arno. This part of the city is quieter and set apart from the hustle of the city center. It was nice to slow down for the first time that day and after a few glasses of vino rosso, my father and uncle shared stories of growing up outside Naples and also told tales of more recent trips (my Uncle Dominick is a playboy and was just in Italy 7 weeks ago, not bad right?). We shared a few antipasti and all got pastas as our main courses. I chose a home made pasta arrabiata, a personal favorite, made with a simple red sauce and red pepperflakes. Arrabiata in Italian means “annoyed” or “hot headed” making it a perfectly clever description for this dish. Your whole mouth becomes ignited with the heat of red pepper flakes which if you’re into it, is both intoxicating and delicious. The fresh pasta was perfectly cooked. I typically choose to cook with dry pasta at home as fresh pasta always runs the risk of becoming gummy and overcooked quickly. But this pasta was made and cooked by some one with obvious finesse for the ingredient. We finished the meal splitting 2 orders of tiramisu which was surprisingly satisfying. I usually find tiramisu to be too creamy or not enough liquor or too dense, but this one was perfectly balanced and devoured by all parties involved.

Rob, Papa, Uncle Dominick and I on the roof of Hotel Cavour. That's the top of the Duomo behind us! Funny picture as the sun in our eyes makes us all look a bit stressed (I can account only for myself that I wasn't).

 

Papa at the Florence Train Station under a sign stating: Treno a Napoli: 20 minuti in retardo. In true italian fashion my father's trip to Italy started as follows: flight over - delayed, tv screens on plane didn't work; hotel - tv remote was broken, weak air conditioning; train - 20 minutes late. In the world of Italian train systems, 20 minutes wasn't too bad I guess (we were just grateful no one was on strike that day...)

 

So that concludes the whirlwind of my first 24 hours in Florence. I will try to update more often now that I am quasi-settled. Next post will highlight how Rob and I gave this apartment an HGTV “Design on a Dime” make over. You’ll be shocked at the before and afters!

This afternoon I have my first day of orientation. We are obviously meeting at a restaurant for aperitivi to get to know one another. Gotta love a school run by a Italians…a presto!

 

 

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