Monday, February 14, 2011

First Florence Visit

Ciao, Loved Ones!

I’ve been meaning to keep you updated more regularly than once a week, but it’s looking like all that will really be worth reporting on will be happening on the weekends.  The weekdays thus far are class, food, and homework.  Very little time for anything else.  I have had some accomplishments that may interest you.  Firstly, I have gotten my showers down to under 5 minutes, seeing as that’s how long the hot water lasts.  On a good day.  Secondly, I can do headstands now!  Two different ways!  Whether this is a worthy accomplishment or not, I’m quite proud of it.  The handstands are still a ways off, I think, but I'm making slow progress in that direction.  Thirdly, I finally did my laundry for the first time since I’ve been here.  No dryer.  Hang dry only.  Success!

My accomplishment.
But enough about that boring stuff… I’m going to tell you all about my magnificent trip to Florence this weekend.  I can confidently say that the main reason I had such a wonderful time was the hospitality and guidance of Chris and Julia, who housed me, fed me, and showed me the ropes.  I’m so happy I got to spend time with them before they return to the states on Tuesday.  I took plenty of pictures, but I don’t think they can really capture what a special city this is, and how marvelous it was to enjoy it with family and good friends!

I came in Friday evening by myself.  I was quite frightened as this was my first Italian train trip and I was taking it alone, but all was well.  My one small misadventure was getting off at the wrong Florence stop, but with Chris’s help I was able to jump back on and make it just fine.

Chris and Julia live in a very cute apartment that has 78 steps leading up to it.  Quite a trek, but I was so grateful to have such a quaint place to stay.  Most of my peers were all crammed into rooms hostels.  I’m hoping to come back and stay again with Chris and Julia’s roommate Tracy, who left an open invitation for which I’m very grateful!

On Friday we ate dinner at a very cute restaurant, "Osterio Santo Spirito." It was lovely… we had nibbled on some finger foods at the apartment beforehand, so I decided to stick with plain old spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil.  Nothing too complicated or fancy, but damn was it delicious!  That night we walked around the city a bit and got gelato at the wonderful organic "Grom," where they told me how to identify which gelato places are better than others. 

On Saturday we started the morning with eggs made by Julia then headed off to the Central Market.  I saw such an assortment of meats, produce, cheeses, seafood, wines-- you name it!  I was admittedly a bit unnerved by the numerous displays of stomach and intestines, not parts of animals I’m used to seeing displayed so proudly.  We also strolled through the outdoor San Lorenzo market where I wanted to buy everything in sight.  Clothes, purses, boots.  I want them all.  I feel like such a girl walking around Italy and actually having the desire to shop for the first time in my life.

We also walked over the Arno river and saw the beautiful jewelry displays.  Again- as someone who usually holds no interest in jewelry, I was mesmerized.  I also loved this statue where people write their name on a lock with their sweetheart's name, then they attach the lock to the statue and throw the key in the river.  It's illegal now, but there are clearly some rebels out there who still do it.

We then trekked up to the Piazzale di Michelangelo, from which you can see the entire city of Florence.  I was floored.  I have so many pictures from the way up.  This was probably the highlight of my visit.  On the way up we saw several houses of famous artists and scientists, specifically Galileo and Tchaikovsky as you can see in the pictures.  We also stopped at the San Miniato a la Monte (a beautiful church overlooking the city) and looked around inside.  Beautiful.

We then went to lunch at “Yellow,” and I had my first pizza in Italy!  I’m going to be honest—I can’t say that I like it better than American pizza.  That’s not to say it’s not fantastic.  I just think the two are so different you almost can’t compare them.  There is certainly a healthier quality to the Italian pizza, but I can’t say that makes it better than American style.  Just different.  I loved it.

Then—another highlight.  The Chocolate Fair that was going on in town.  I’m pretty sure this is what heaven is like. Chocolate.  Delicious chocolate.  EVERYWHERE.  Where to begin... The most amusing stands had a lot of tools made of chocolate.  Apparently that's a thing.  Wrenches, locks, horseshoes, pliers, and then a lot of other creations like my favorites, the chocolate shoes.  My other favorite, which Chris actually got, was the chocolate kebab, which you can see in the pictures.  There is a giant pillar of chocolate which is shaved into a flat piece of cake, then instead of the sauce you'd see in a real kebab there is a raspberry sauce.  Absolutely unbelievable.

After the chocolate fair we went into a really cool store called "Signum" which is full of delightful knick-knacks and cool stuff.  I bought a bunch of really cool postcards and also a set of juggling balls.  Jonny, one of my good friends here, is an excellent juggler and he has offered to juggle with me.  

After Signum we hit my favorite store in Florence.  No, not one of the fancy, one-of-a-kind leather shops or fashion boutiques... the toy store.  Where there is a toy store, there are board games.  I geeked out for a while in the board game room, and took plenty of pictures of cool looking Italian versions of my favorite games.  I probably won't be able to come back home without at least one Italian board game.  I feel that I should start researching now.

After that we went to the Duomo and walked inside to the part that's free.  Sometime perhaps on another trip I want to walk all the way up inside the dome, that looks like it will be amazing.  It was here that we found my fellow ADA kids who had finally come to Florence, and Chris and Julia became the official "cool people to know," and earned me a lot of cool points by association.  They gave us all kinds of great pointers on where to go and what to do while we're here.  Outside the Duomo a number of us got sucked into some parading singing and dancing Hare Krishnas.  That was a funny experience, and they didn't want to let us go!

We ate dinner that night with a large group of my theatre friends at ADA at a restaurant near the apartment.  Again, they had all called me to make sure Chris and Julia were going to be wherever I was so they could pick their brains some more.  We all got great food and kicked back some wine, then the rest of the group left to find alcohol and clubs while Chris, Julia, my friend Elena, and I went to a nice little bar called "Moyo."  It was a great time, Chris and I exchanging family gossip, Elena and I exchanging ADA gossip.  It concluded a truly fabulous day in Florence.
Sunday I thought about joining the rest of the group at the Uffizi, but the line was incredibly long and I know I will be seeing that with Mom and Pops next month.  Instead we went to the Bargello, which has a ton of cool sculptures.  My favorite room might have been "the dish room," or so I felt it should have been called (though no one around me at that time caught the reference like I know Mom, Pops, and probably Rankin will).  There was such ornate pieces all throughout.  It's hard to imagine things like that were ever used for washing or eating.

We ate lunch again at "Yellow," this time bringing Stuart and Elena along, and I had the single best dish I've had yet in Italy: Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  This was unlike any imitation I have ever had in the United States.  I literally licked my plate it was so good.  That is a delicious, affordable restaurant that I'm sure I'll be returning to on future visits.

Well... I think that just about covers it.  I received an amazing letter from Rankin written in the style of a Confederate soldier writing from the battlefront, complete with smudges and stained paper.  It is undoubtedly the best letter I have ever gotten, and I continue to read it over and over again.  I had great Skype sessions with both Zach and Tom last night.  I do so miss my boys on Valentine's Day.  There is a party in town tonight that I think most of us will be gearing up for.  I have no idea what a piazza party in Arezzo is like, but I'm sure it will be something!  I'll leave you all with some more photos that I forgot to put in earlier in the blog.  I have about twice as many as what I'm including on this blog... Perhaps they'll make their way to facebook one of these days.

Love you all, and happy Valentine's Day!



  1. Oh Maggie Jo! Sounds like you are having such a wonderful adventure! I particularly enjoyed the bit about the Italian board games, as most of my favorite memories of you center around marathon sessions with the American ones. So happy for you, and happy for me that I'll be able to follow your journey through your blog!

  2. I especially liked the chocolate high heal. Sounds fabu!!

  3. MJ - I remember that bronze warthog statue - I think I have a very similar picture standing beside it! What fun to remember Italy through your experiences. Total bonus that you ran across the chocolate festival!!

  4. "You mean the china room?" Please say I got the right reference. My face now hurts from smiling.