Under the Tuscan Sun

Where in the world was Carmen San Diego Melanie Prior this past weekend?

BACK IN THE HOMELAND.

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Ugh different Homeland, but can we talk about that last episode?! Alright, later.

I meant Italy of course! Florence to be exact, and I loved every minute of it.

When I was initially deciding on a Study Abroad location, I was between Florence and Madrid. I chose Madrid for a host of different reasons and I absolutely don’t regret it, but I knew I would surely regret not making it to Italy during my time in Europe. SO after some late night/early morning international credit card struggles, my friend Eliza and I set off on our romantic weekend in Florence.

We successfully made it through our first Ryanair flight, exchanging puzzled looks at the announcements for Ryanair model/flight attendant calendars (um, what?), and squinting to see the aqueducts visible from the plane. Flying over the ocean, the water and the sky were the exact same shade of blue, and the white puffy clouds were beneath us. It was a little disorienting but beautiful, and a perfect time to be reading “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” (which is my new favorite book). Also interesting to note, my favorite watch stopped working this week, so I’m taking it as a sign to focus on the little moments that make up each day instead of always needing to know how many minutes have passed since I last checked. It’s liberating, and reminded me of a quote my friend Erin brought up once, “If you didn’t know how old you were, how old would you be?” I’m still figuring it out for myself.

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We hopped on a bus to Florence from the Pisa airport, and I was surprised at how much warmer it was in Italy than the chilly drizzly weather I left behind in Spain. I noticed driving through the mountains that they were green instead of brown, and I could feel the humidity in the air! As soon as we checked into our hostel (Thanks Hostelworld, for the great recommendation) Archi Rossi, we walked about 8 minutes to the city center to see the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Duomo, or Dome in Italian. This cathedral is MASSIVE and was completed in 1436.

IMG_0758 My first impression of Florence was that it truly is a romantic city full of art, culture and soooo much gelato. My mother’s side of the family is Italian, so everywhere I turned I kept thinking I was seeing my Nonie, Grampy, or cousins! I felt so comfortable in Italy that it made me homesick, kind of like the beaches did earlier this semester since I live near the ocean. I noticed immediately that while Spanish is rapid and staccato, the Italian language is more musical and almost always sounds like you’re cooing a baby or speaking in time with a horse’s gallop. I could listen to it all day.

When you go to Italy, food is what you spend your money on. Therefore, after much deliberation and turning down several persistent hosts (one asked Eliza if her sparkling blue eyes were “pure” *they are* and then told me I looked “only half American” *I’m Italian-Irish* which I take as a compliment) we agreed on Le Botteghe Di Donatello where we sat outside looking right at the Duomo.

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We enjoyed some Pinot Grigio (hi Mom) while awaiting our fettuccini with pesto and tomatoes, and spaghetti carbonara, toasting to a luxurious first authentic Italian dining experience.

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Now comes the entertainment. While Eliza and I were sitting on the patio between two couples, a (obviously American, hah!) man about 40 years old sat two tables away. He began talking to the couple next to us, and as a game, Eliza and I tried to predict his life story. We were getting pretty specific, and after the couple between us left, the man began talking with us, and we discovered we had been about 87% correct. He was from Massachusetts (like us!), a Wall Street man who quit his job to raise his 8-year-old daughter after his divorce, and was staying in Italy one more day after his family left. He had played basketball in high school and went on to coach at Tufts, and even knew some softball coaches in the NESCAC I almost played for. Eliza and I splurged and each ordered another glass of wine with our ricotta cheesecake with blueberries (we both ate it too fast for a picture), and continued to shoot the breeze with this mystery man. He gave us some valuable career advice, and unexpectedly paid for our (very expensive) meal. We thanked him profusely and he told us, “if you see some kids studying abroad or a young couple debating if they can afford another glass of wine, pick up their tab. Pay it forward.” And then with that he was gone, with no names, only pleasant conversation and some unexpected generosity, exchanged.

The next day, Eliza and I strolled leisurely around the city, taking in all the sights, sounds, and especially smells. My cousin Anthony who studied in Florence (remember him from Barcelona and Amsterdam?) gave us some don’t-miss destinations, so here are some of the highlights:

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  • Window shopped at Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) where luxury jewelry stores have replaced old butcher shops from back in the day.

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  • Literally hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the 2nd most breathtaking view of the city (keep reading for the first).

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  • Moseyed through a public rose garden on the way down.
  • Stumbled into the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio.
  • Enjoyed pistachio cannoli & espresso in front of the Duomo.

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  • (More hiking) to the top of the Duomo (here it is, the most breathtaking view of the city! We spent more than an hour up here as the sun was descending, casting perfect golden rays as far as the eye could see. Definitely my favorite part of this trip.)

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  • Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo = leather bags & delicious food EVERYWHERE.
  • Ordering off a completely Italian menu for dinner at Osteria Il Gatto E la Volpe, Eliza and I split a caprese salad with the freshest mozzarella I’ve ever had (and I discovered I don’t hate cherry tomatoes), cheese ravioli with creamy tomato beef sauce (YUM and I’m so sad I forget the name), four cheese gnocchi, and sparkling white wine.
  • We ended the night with gelato (I got oreo and chocolate, again, eaten too fast for a picture) near our hostel and sat on the sidewalk people watching and talking about life.

On Sunday we had lunch at a literal hole-in-the-wall Bar Pasticceria Cucciolo, and it was there I fell in love… with a sandwich. To this day I still can’t comprehend how the combination of solely prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato melted between focaccia bread could be SO delicious, but my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. It just goes to show that when you have the freshest quality ingredients, even the most simplistic dishes can taste gourmet. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the delicious robust Italian coffee or the Nutella pie… yes, you read that right.

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While there is SO much to do in Florence, part of experiencing a new city is just getting lost and observing the people and the culture that makes it so unique. The whole time my mind was racing, thinking about my family from Italy, what is must have been like, and how in another life I could have been one of the locals I was staring at all weekend. I knew that being in Florence would inspire me to go back, and- as if I needed any more reasons- I am definitely going to stop in Italy again when I return to Europe… hopefully as soon as possible.

Overall, Eliza and I had SO MUCH FUN during our weekend together. We are both really laid back, but have the same attitude about trying to see as much as possible given we had such a short amount of time (mejor que nada, or “better than nothing” as I continually told my host mom when she would pester me about only going for a few days). We each got an Italian leather purse, and I got a hand painted espresso mug with the Duomo on it while Eliza got a Duomo-topped wine stopper for her collection from the same shop over the Ponte Vecchio. We ate well, drank well, and soaked up the Tuscan Sun as it was setting over the city of Florence. Tornerò presto, Firenze!

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One thought on “Under the Tuscan Sun

  1. Pingback: 10 Must-Snap Photo Ops While Studying in Europe - The Abroad Guide

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