Here in Italy, I am always on the go. This weekend I spent a short but very full few days in Tuscany.
On Friday morning, a Coach bus for the ISA (International Studies Abroad) kids left bright and early for Firenze (what the Italians call Florence). After a 5 hour drive, we had arrived! At this point it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and I immediately realized that Firenze is noticeably warmer than Rome. We had to walk to our hotel, as the center of Florence is primarily pedestrian-only, and I was drenched. Our hotel was also on the second floor and with only a small, 3 person capacity lift, and that did nothing to help the situation. I roomed with two of my roommates here in Rome, Courtney and Ashley (LOVE them), and after we briefly got settled into our room, we were off on a walking tour of the area.
Firenze is gorgeous. I loved that the streets were free of cars and I loved the medieval feel of the town. The architecture is preserved so well because they actually stopped all new construction of buildings in 1895! After walking past the Medici house, we stumbled into the square that holds the Duomo of Florence. I say stumbled, because all of a sudden there was this amazing, massive, intricate cathedral in front of us, with no warning. That is a common theme in Italy. It is made of marble – green, pink, and white. More on it later.
We then weaved through streets seeing the highlights of the area including the bridge Ponte Vecchio that stretches across the Arno river. It’s unique because on it are jewelry shops. Gold and silver are everywhere. The shops actually used to be homes – can you imagine living there?
Our final destination for the tour was the Uffizi Gallery – a renowned art museum. Here we saw the first portrait in art, a room full of Botticelli’s, and, uh, oh yeah – a Michelangelo and da Vinci or two. Just a casual thing.
After this, we had the night to ourselves and spent it exploring markets – both of the food and goods variety. Gelato, of course, was involved. I had peach gelato – which was DELICIOUS because peaches are in season – and ate it with my friend Andrea on the steps of the Duomo as night arrived.
Saturday, we woke up early to go on another walking tour. This one took us into the Duomo, which is the size of one and a half football fields. One of the coolest parts, for me, was the clock. It goes from hours one to twenty four and shows how long it has been since the last sunset.
After gawking at the painted dome, we headed to the Galleria Accademia. This museum holds the David, along with 6 other sculptures of Michelangelo’s. The 6 others are commonly called the Prisoners because he didn’t finish them – leaving them stuck in stone. He did these when he was 16 or 17. Sixteen or seventeen. Yeah. Okay. The David was at the end of the hallway basking in perfect lighting from a skylight. It’s seventeen feet tall and perfect. Our tour guide called him her boyfriend and took us around back for what she dubbed “the girl’s view.” Couldn’t complain… Michelangelo started the David when he was 26 and it took him three years to complete. It was all sculpted from one block of marble – whoa.
After doing some more gawking, I went through the rest of the museum and got a little separated from my friends. I tried to find them at this lunch spot, but I had failed to get the name of it, so I got a 3 euro panino instead and it was the best one I have had so far. I was just walking through the streets of Florence, enjoying the day, when I came across some of my other friends who were preparing to climb to the top of the Duomo. I had planned on doing this anyway, so I quickly bought a ticket and tagged along.
Now, climbing the Duomo is a feat. We panted up 436 steps (roughly). The view was definitely worth it, though. I could see all of Florence sprawled out beneath me. We stayed up there taking a million pictures that will never ever capture the true experience.
Our next stop was the leather markets. Some of the girls were looking for shoes, bags, or jackets. I’m not much of a leather gal, but it was fun to go from shop to shop watching them try on jackets and haggle the prices down. After about the eighth shop, however, I was feeling dehydrated and went back to my room to hopefully find my roommates.
SIDENOTE: Rome is amazing because everywhere you go, there are public fountains that spew out cold, fresh water! We have learned to take advantage of these and I really missed them while in Florence.
My roommates and I wanted a great dining experience that night, so we did our research and ended up at a place called La Buchetta. It ended up being probably the best meal I have had so far. As has been my way this trip, I went with what the waiter suggested and got the ravioli. It came in aluminum foil and the sauce was a mixture of eggplant, tomato, capers, and spices. To. Die. For. Afterwards, can you guess? Gelato from a place with a chocolate fountain for a wall!!
The next day was our last in Tuscany and we headed into the countryside for a wine tasting/lunch at Verrazzano Castle. The landscape looked like it had been painted. We toured the cellars – the NEWEST one being six hundred years old – and then settled in for lunch. Pasta, wine, cured meats, and cheese. It was all freshly prepared using local ingredients. Probably my favorite item was balsamic vinegar on pecorino cheese. We seriously only got a spoonful of the balsamic vinegar, because they age it for ten years and it goes for 50 euro for 100 ml, but it was heavenly. Much sweeter and thicker than the balsamic I was used to. We dipped a small slice of pecorino cheese – cheese made from sheep’s milk – in it, and I could have made that my whole meal. The cheese crumbled and melted the moment it hit your mouth and its buttery sharp taste was perfectly accented by the sweet balsamic. Man. I’ll be thinking about that combo for years.
Tuscany was an amazing experience. Florence is quaint and frozen in time – if just a tad sweltering. I’m so happy I went, but I’m even happier that I chose to study in Rome. Rome provides something new every single day – I’m still falling more in love as time goes on!