Italy 2018: Florence, Pisa, Tuscany

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I’m back! Now with the Tuscany-region leg of the trip. As with all of the other cities we visited, I only wish we had more time here, especially in Florence.

We took a Trenitalia from Verona to Florence, checked into our hotel (which was about a 10 minute walk from the train station), and pretty much went right back to the train station to catch a regional train to Pisa, about an hour away.

I had been told ahead of this trip that Pisa was not a must-see. And in the same way that I’m glad I saw Juliet’s balcony in Verona, I’m glad we went to Pisa, if only to confirm that it’s not somewhere I need to go back to. No offense to the people of Pisa, but all there was in the city was the Leaning Tower. It felt like Italy’s version of Times Square. People everywhere taking photos, eating mediocre food, and buying overpriced souvenirs.

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Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day, and it was nice to see such a famous sight. But if you’re pressed for time, Pisa definitely isn’t a must-see in Italy.

As I mentioned earlier, our hotel in Florence was about a 10 minute walk from the train station, and about 2 seconds to the Mercato Centrale. When we returned from Pisa, we stopped for wine and antipasti at Trattoria Za Za. I would be completely content sitting outside in a Piazza, sipping Pinot Grigio and eating fresh bruschetta until the day I die.

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After our snack, we poked around the outdoor portion of the market, shopping for leather goods. I ended up with a brand new brown leather belt, and a bucket bag that I am obsessed with. It definitely gives me major Mansur Gavriel vibes, but it only cost me 35 Euro (they were asking for 55, but I wore him down). I also got Andrew a new leather wallet, since his was old and way too small.

More on the bag, because I’m obsessed with it. I was a little hesitant at first, since I usually like my work bags to be huge so that I can carry everything I might need (laptop, snacks, books) with me. Although this bag appeared small, I’m happy to report that it is able to fit all of my various accouterments. It is chic and functional all at once.

For dinner the first night in Florence, we went to Fuoco Matto, where I had one of my best meals of the trip.

A side note — when we got to the restaurant, the host informed us that their credit card machine was broken, and so for the evening they were cash only. My dad had left the majority of his cash in the hotel room, which sparked his and my struggle to inquire about an ATM. The challenge, of course, was that “ATM” is an American acronym and no matter how many different tones of voice or different inflections (or in my case, ASL) we used in asking, the question was lost in translation. It was only after my dad resigned to walking back to the hotel for his cash that my sister informed us that the word we were looking for was “bancomat” and she had known it all along.

After that debacle, I had an AMAZING pasta dish. It was a kind of long cavatelli-type pasts, with a spicy sauce and a big dollop of burrata. The pasta was fresh, the sauce was just spicy enough without being overwhelming, and the cheese also helped to cool things off. The waiter also recommended an excellent Nebbolio — a mild red wine that I had not tried before. It complimented the spicy dish without overpowering it.

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The following morning, we explored the city of Florence a bit more. We walked through town to see the massive Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, and crossed the Rialto Bridge. Since it was Monday, we weren’t able to see Michelangelo’s David at the Gelleria d’Academia, but we were able to see a replica, which felt close enough.

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After some wandering, we found our way back to the Mercato Centrale, and went inside to explore and have a snack. The downstairs of the Mercato is full of cheese, pasta, and butcher shops. I eventually picked up some pasta and biscotti to bring back. The upstairs is an enormous food court, full of every type of Italian food imaginable. I, of course, had bruschetta and a glass of wine, but there was fresh pasta, pizza, pastries, a 3,000 euro truffle, and a complete culinary school.

After lunching, we headed back to the hotel for a nap and to freshen up. Later in the afternoon, we had scheduled a castle tour, wine tasting and cooking class at Castello del Trebbio, outside of Florence. The castle is located on a vineyard in the Tuscan hills, and was absolutely stunning. The panoramic views were like something out of a movie, and constantly took my breath away.

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We started with a tour of the amazing castle, in which the owners of the vineyard actually live. Our tour guide, Noemi, was excellent, and balanced telling stories of the history of the castle with wine-making effortlessly.

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After the tour (which conveniently lasted through a rainstorm) we met up with Jerry, our chef and teacher to cook dinner. The whole meal was four courses: the most amaznig olive tampenade I’ve ever had, pasta with a sauce made from zucchini, carrots and cream, chicken with sage and rosemary, wrapped in bacon with a sweet red wine sauce, and a traditional Tuscan cake.

Through each course, Jerry made sure to let everyone in the group participate and learn the proper techniques, including kneading the pasta dough, rolling it out, and cutting it. I also got to cook my own chicken, since the full dish had pine nuts and mine had to be done separate. Jerry was lively and informative, and an all-around excellent chef and teacher.

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After we cooked, we all received the recipes for everything we made. I had already re-made the tampenade. I don’t even like olives, and I usually had tampenades, but this one, with fresh mint and oregano and orange zest was life altering. My parents made the whole meal at home this weekend, and I plan to at least make the fresh pasta soon, as soon as I get my hands on a rolling pin.

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We took the class with another family, and ate all together, family-style. For each course, we had a different wine. One white, 2 different reds, and a dessert wine. I was so stuffed afterward I could barely move, but we did manage to make it to the gift shop and order a case of wine to be shipped back to Rochester. I recently picked my bottles up when I was home last, and am excited to have one last taste of Italy.

I loved Florence. As I mentioned in my Rome post, I studied art in college, so being in the middle of one of the most historically important art cities was unreal. If I could go back, I think I would have studied abroad in Florence.

I’d love to go back there soon and explore not only the city itself more, but also the surrounding countryside.

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