So, I am – let’s see – three cities late writing in my blog… And since my last post, I have absolutely fallen in love, head over heels, with traveling. It’s pushed right out of my “planner-mode” and right into “living for the moment” mode. Don’t get me wrong, traveling involves planning… obviously. Otherwise I’d be out on the street sleeping next to a dumpster. But, plans change, and this experience is helping me to accept that. And, to absolutely love it. What’s better than not knowing what or who is around the corner? Instead of being fearful, it’s much more fun to get the hell over that and just take it all in.
Like I said, the morning I left Bologna, I had the opportunity to take a cooking class with two amazing and kind Italian chefs. I was expecting some huge sign and a big culinary school, but as I hesitantly wandered down a tiny alleyway and almost gave up, I found the little sign and made me way in. It was only me and an adorable family from Scotland who were just dropping in to Bologna on a long-weekend get-away (must be nice). We spent four hours making pasta dough, rolling it out, and forming 3 different kinds of pasta. I have a new respect for Italian women who spend so much time making fresh pasta- it is NOT easy! By the end we had Gnocchi with Ragu sauce, Ricotta and Parsley stuffed tortellini (my personal favorite), and tagliatelle (fettucini-shaped) with traditional Bolognese meat sauce- and of course ate all of it with some delicious red wine. Bella!
So I hopped the train to Florence, and the cab driver dropped me off in front of a big building with no signs for my hostel. None. Surely I am in the wrong place, I thought. I pushed a button next to the door, heard the buzzer and let myself in. Still skeptical, I shoved my way-too-big suitcase into the old-school elevator and made my way to the top floor. Sure enough, this was it. I was greeted by a typical loud, friendly but intimidating, plump Italian woman. The place was completely different from the first hostel I’d stayed in… It was like a little apartment with a few rooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen. This would be my first time staying in a “mixed dorm,” which means I live with guys--- eh. It turned out to be fine, minus all of the snoring.
I met my first Australian friends within 5 minutes of checking in—I have grown to love the Australians. By now, I’ve met about 10 of them. They are true adventurers, and do not understand why Americans don’t generally explore the world more. -- Two of them invited me to come on a tour of the city and a leather factory, followed by dinner and wine that night –- My first night in Florence ended up to be quite hilarious—filled with perhaps a little too much alcohol.
There was a lot of alcohol, actually. After all, Florence is the capital of Tuscany—where the most extraordinary (in my opinion)--- wine vineyards exist! On Wednesday, an Aussie friend and I took a tour to the Chianti, where we went to several wine tastings, toured a vineyard, and indulged ourselves in ridiculously delicious olive and truffle oils (a said to be aphrodisiac)…and more wine.
We ended that trip with a visit to San Gimignano, a tiny medieval village, where we climbed the tower and ate, apparently – the world’s best gelato. That night, we had the ever-famous Florentine steak, which was inexplicably delicious.
And the flea markets in Florence are phenomenal- open all day, everyday-- and you can find pretty much anything you can imagine. The city is famous for the leather, so I went on a mission all week to find the perfect brown leather jacket—at the lowest cost possible. After bargaining, questioning, being bombarded by salesmen, and trying on about 10 of them, I purchased my first real Italian leather.
The Uffizi Museum definitely owns up to its popular name. Despite the massive amounts of people and tour groups speaking in every language imaginable, the artwork is phenomenal. In a strange way, it was incredibly satisfying for me to find the paintings I studied day and night out of a damn textbook for an ass-kicking art history class during my freshman year of college. My favorite is “Venus of Urbino” by Titian—the painting of Venus lying naked on a red couch with her dog. But after a few hours in the Uffizi, my claustrophobia kicked in. I was led through about five gift shops, and eventually made my way out.
After spending five nights in Florence, I’d say I covered the city fairly well. The greatest thing about it is that you can walk everywhere within a half hour--at the very most. On my last day, I made it to the other side of the famous Pontevecchio Bridge to visit the Boboli Gardens—I could have stayed there for an entire day--- The gardens are adorned with beautiful statues and regal fountains. It was seemingly never-ending with dirt paths leading every which way, in and out of woods, up and down huge hills, with areas to lie in the grass and just watch the bustling city of Florence pass by.
After numerous people told me there is one place I cannot miss out on, I –yes-changed my plans—instead of venturing through more of Tuscany right away, I decided on a 4-day detour to the remarkably beautiful Cinque Terre.