Florence took me by surprise in more ways than the leather industry, people have told me that Florence is a small city, and it really is! I loved it. I went to a small high school, go to a small college, live with a small community of students, Florence was a perfect fit for me. I was there for a half of a day and I knew how to navigate myself around the Duomo district. Of course, Florence is the infamous city where the cast of Jersey Shore shot their 4th season; you would be amazed how much of the venues in Florence that they have visited boast about how “The cast was here!” with their picture. But obviously, I HAD to go to the pizzeria they worked at! It’s exactly like it was in the show, and they still have their clothes hanging up in the restaurant! And the pizza was just MARVELOUS, it tasted exactly how it did in Naples. The cast graffittied up the walls inside this place pretty nicely, they have numerous sandwiches’ and pizzas named after each cast member, as well as the place was dressed up head to toe with their pictures. It was a fun atmosphere and amazing pizza.
I took out the headphones the tour guide provided us with, he spoke very poor English and the reception kept cutting out, but the tour was relatively short. Hardly took an hour; yes Florence really is that small! What I found most interesting is the many, many replicas of the Statue of David. This obviously is an important statue in Christianity, for the slaying of Goliath. There were many beautiful sculptures in this beautiful piazza near by the Duomo. The Duomo in itself was just, stunning. It was absolutely massive and so beautiful with the detail and historic vibe. Our hotel was a hop, skip, and a jump from the Duomo, a very wise decision by API since the Duomo is considered to be the North Star of Florence, we were bound to never get lost because almost anywhere in Florence you can see this beautiful church in the distance and just follow it to your destination. After our tour, we decided to venture off to find the museum with the original statue of David, there were no cameras allowed, but I just took my flash off and did it discretely under my scarf (hehe J), the original was so worth seeing. It had many distinct features that the others just did not have. It was a beautiful work of art, and I am NOT by any means, into art or art history at all!
The people in Florence are out of this world, genuinely nice. My goodness, if everyone I have ever met in my life was half as nice as these people in Florence I think this world would be a better place. First of all, almost everyone in the vicinity of the Duomo and even outside of it spoke VERY effective and fluid English. Living in Rome for the past two months, I know a good amount of phrases and responses. Naturally I went ahead with my normal ritual of speaking in their dialect, and they would respond to me in English. Restaurant owners would stand outside and attract customers with their charm (by the way, Florentine males are DEFINITELY charming!) and welcome Study Abroad Students in the warmest way. I found out that after the trip that Florence in the number one place to study abroad in Italy, making this city loaded with student deals and English speaking business owners. I felt comfortable right away in this city. Even the vendors at the leather market would walk up to people and joke with them like they have been old pals for years, I was talking a guy down to buy a purse and he wasn’t budging, and the vendor next to him with the exact purse I wanted gave to it to me the price I was aiming toward. The men were very polite, gave out compliments (not just ‘bellisima’ like they do in Rome) and always had a smile on their face. Not to mention GELATO WAS EVERYWHERE YOU LOOKED!
Okay I know you’re all dying to know about the nightlife, I was angry that people didn’t tell me how AMAZING the nightlife was! While walking into the leather market, we received a flyer for this place called the Fish Pub, this flyer gave you one free shot. And that it did! For once, it was NOT a scam! This American pub was located pretty close to the Duomo, and many study abroad students were inside. We met students from the United States and of course found out the mutual friends we have in this small world. We decided to leave Fish Pub and set out to find a club called 21 (featured on Jersey Shore) as were approaching this place, a group of delightful men approached us and said that 21 was not worth going to a Friday night, and to come to this place called Full Up. Now who in their right mind would listen to strangers who are locals in a city you have never been to? We do obviously! We entered Full Up and the club was in full swing. He music was just right and me and my girlfriends start dancing and meeting new people, soon I see the dance floor starting to open up and I’m thinking “Woooooooo more room to dance!” I’m doing my own thing and then I see a guy start pulling out all of this wild choreography and break dance moves and these crazy flips…he then steps to the side and ANOTHER guy steps in and starts doing the same thing…it NOW occurs to me that I was the idiot standing the middle of a dance off between two dudes battling against each other (woopsies) and I stood off to the side and watched them go back and forth, it was like being in a scene from Save the Last Dance or Step Up, it was straight out of a movie and so amusing to see! My girlfriends and I said we would take it easy for our first night in Florence….fat chance. We struggled waking up the next morning for our cooking class!
Our cooking class was so much fun. I learned so much and had a blast with my group. We made three courses; our appetizer was tomato, eggplant, mozzarella roasted together for a delicious combo of freshness, our main course was pasta that we made two sauces for, and our dessert was Tiramisu. We made all of our ingredients from scratch and we were walked through on the many techniques and was given great guidance from our chefs on how to make it perfecto! We the pasta making process was the best part, we made the dough, we beat the dough, the rolled it out, we put in the machine on all of the crazy settings and the finally put it through another port to make it spaghetti! I felt like my Aunt Nancy! When it came time to eat our creations, it was so absolutely delicious and delightful and SO EASY to make! I would love to put on a “Make Your Own Tiramisu” RA program next year (PJ, I hope you’re reading this!:) ) because it was so easy to make it just might be an everyday item for me now! The best part was that because it was homemade, it was so light and savory and packed with natural flavors you didn’t feel like a house after consuming it. Not only was a learning experience for all of us, but now we also know when the food is fresh and when it isn’t (although I have had seriously rare occasions where I questioned even for a second if the food wasn’t fresh here in Italy). It was delightful, worth it, and so enjoyable!
We had about an hour before our next item on our itinerary, the vantage point on Piazza Michael Angelo, were you can see all of Florence from the top. There was a monk Church with a beautiful monument at the highest point just outside of the city, you saw everything. It was breath-taking, and just like the Spanish Steps, and the Castle of St. Elmo, I had yet another life changing moment (what is it about these beautiful views that bring that much more happiness into my life?). I was sitting on the ledge of a beautiful church, above the city I just fell in love with the day before. Taking deep breaths, soaking up the beauty of this country, I yet again counted each and every one of my blessings. Another knock off of the Statue of David was on a lower terrace that over-looked the whole city as well, it was a lot more different from the other ones that were imposing the original, mostly because it was made of a green solid, but I saw many other differences as well. it was very well placed though. Having a satisfied appetite of a true authentic Florentine meal, looking out over the city, and a replica of the Statue of David, with gorgeous weather and surrounded by amazing people; my trip could have stopped here and I could have went back to the States completely fulfilled.
But it didn’t! The trip went on, and went on it did! We received yet another flyer from a restaurant owner about a deal they were having for lunch that day. Although it was approaching dinner time, we thought we could check it out anyway. It was located right down the street from our hotel, and it was a cozy little joint that reminded me a lot of Antonio’s! The dishes offered were so exotic and the combinations of items available in each Pranzo (entrée) caused us to sit and ponder the menu for at least 30-40 minutes. We were all so excited about what we ordered and how good everyone’s meal looked around us, when we received our platters they vanished in about 5-6 minutes. I got this wild mushroom stuffed ravioli with this white reduction and garnished with this special mushroom harvested in Florence. Maya got this plate that was a pasta with salmon, champagne, and caviar and I almost fainted for her when it came out. Jess got this seafood Risotto that came with all the fixing, muscles, scallops, shrimp, clams EVERYTHING! Molly, got this wonderful smelling/looking spaghetti that was colored with many different vegetables. When we got to Florence they told us about this dessert that we needed to try while we were here, it was a wine that came with biscotti cookies that you were supposed to dunk into the wine. Well, it was definitely different, that’s for sure! The wine was VERY strong so we weren’t sure what to think of it. The owner HIGHLY recommended we try the restaurants ricotta torta (cheese cake), and much like the first piece of cheese cake I had when I came to Rome, it was delightful, fluffy, and light. Making it so easy to enjoy! Arguably, the best meal I have ever had.
We had heard of a very intense and reputable night club called Space. Without hesitation this was our spot for the night. The method they used for entry was very interesting. They don’t charge you to get in, but they charge you to get out. They give you a card that the bar tenders punch throughout your night, that you give back to the people who let you in (smart thinking because when people don’t have to keep track of their money they tend to spend a lot more!) and you pay them for the drinks you consumed. This was quite comical, everyone I was standing around had the “OH SH*T” moment when they realized how much they spent getting drinks that night! Not me though 🙂
The two guys that were battling against each other at Full Up were in attendance at Space, and they picked me up right away and said “HEY, you were the girl who didn’t know we was battling eachother!” as awkward as THAT was, I laughed and told them they were really good dancers! They were extremely nice and they were studying abroad in London (couldn’t tell you where, or what they’re studying) but throughout the night at Space I saw them going back forth again. They were pretty amusing! Totally Unbeknownst to me, there was an upstairs to this place. Wasting no time, we walked up there and were instantly blown away. The dance floor was MASSIVE, the music was on point, there wasn’t an obnoxious overload of people in there, the type of people in there were the same free spirited study abroad students we all were. The light displays were something else, it literally created the image that you were in Space! My friends got invited up the DJ booth and they flagged me down on the dance floor while iw as dancing with more people from my program, after making my way up there the DJ was the nicest guy on earth and I even manned the booth for a song or two! Everyone in this lounge by the DJ was so nice, buying us drinks and taking our requests. It was truly mind blowing. After a long night of vicious dancing, we headed back to our Hotel, we departed early the next morning for our half day trip to Pisa.
Dragging ourselves awake, we hopped on the bus to Pisa. I was told time and time again that Pisa is literally a small town, and the tower is the only thing they had there worth seeing. It was included with the program so, why not? These people were right, the town is VERY residential. Unlike the cities here, they didn’t even have cobblestone, it was normal cement roads and street structure (not like the tiny alleyways and side streets in the cities in Italy), it looked just like a small neighborhood in any normal town in the States. We were warned of the pick-pockets though! We approached the one and only square in Pisa, there they were right! The Leaning Tower is the only attraction! They have a beautiful church, and museum too but they were exceptionally under whelming after seeing the Vatican, and the beautiful churches in Rome, Naples, and Florence! I of course got the touristy picture of my ‘holding up’ the tower! We had a crazy night before hand, so we were SO hungry. And we actually ate at a small Tratorria directly across from the Tower, and it was not absurdly over-priced either! It was quite enjoyable, and if I turned my head to my left, there was the tower. It was beautiful, relaxing, and a perfect ending to a perfect weekend!
Walking back to meet our bus, we saw a group of local older women. As we got closer, they pulled out a map and the other pulled out a large piece of card board and tried to pick-pocket our whole group. They were extremely unsuccessful because all of us power walked through them. But they just walked right up to you with NO fear at all. The cardboard (as it was explained to us) was used to wrap around our torso by the person holding it, making the victim startled and turn our attention away from the woman with a map and onto the person wrapping a piece of cardboard around our body, assisting the person with a map in the attempt to snatch our purse or wallet. I could hardly believe it when I saw it, I just thought they were weird homeless people. But I guess deception is the entire point. Interesting to see attempted but happy to see it failed. We hopped on the bus for our 5 hour Journey back to Rome.
After an eventful, and successful weekend in Florence, I am absolutely dead weight! And so excited for Tuscany next weekend!