A Florentine Revival

I did not realize just how close Florence was to Innsbruck until we started to think more seriously about going on a spring trip. By car it only takes 5.5 hours! That’s less than it used to take me to drive to Elon from Marietta! Pretty awesome. So we loaded up the Skoda (Reini got us an automatic car sort of as a wedding gift because y’all know I can’t do the manual thing…) and headed south to Italy! The drive through the Dolomites was gorgeous – rocky mountains jutting out from terraced greenery. The drive through Tuscany was supposed to be gorgeous too, but we were unfortunately greeted with nasty storms, hiding the view of the rolling hills.

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I really had fun planning this trip, reading through old posts on here from my school study abroad times, picking out the must dos, sees, and eats. I knew Reinhard would be starving when we arrived so our first must eat stop was at the Mercato Centrale. It definitely got remodeled since 2011 and the 1st (or 2nd, for the Americans) floor was really modern and a cool place for locals and tourists to have a nice sit-down lunch. I got an excellent meat and cheese platter, and Reinhard was served some excellent ravioli. We then scurried (very quickly as it was pouring) over to get our first glimpses of the Duomo. Reini was afraid that I was totally overhyping the Piazzo del Duomo, but even with the nasty weather, he agreed that it was stunning.

IMG_1675Both totally soaked despite having umbrellas/rain jackets, we made a detour to go back to the hotel to seek a little shelter. We stayed at the Hotel Tornabuoni Beach directly above the Burberry shop and Florence’s high fashion street. We used the excuse of drying off in order to spend time at the bar with some glasses of wine and explored the rooftop terrace.

IMG_1677Our next stop was over to the Palazzo Vecchio. We had been watching a series about the Medici family on Netflix, so naturally we walked around pretending like we were Cosimo and Contessina. Then the saddest thing happened. On our way over to Santa Croce, I planned to stop by Gelateria dei Neri, my absolute favorite gelateria ever. But, it looked like they moved locations. It was further down the street than I remembered.. and IT WAS CLOSED!! Aww man I was so sad when I saw the little sign that said something about being closed until the following day. I was really looking forward to my caramella mou with panna. Totally defeated, I settled for Grom near the Duomo later that night.

fullsizeoutput_1043We then went over to Santa Croce, touring the insides and outsides before making the trek to the Oltrarno where my old apartment was. I’m proud to report that we were able to find it, and it still has the same little restaurant underneath and bakery just next-door. On our walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, we made a detour through the rose garden before heading up the stairs. Also on the must see list was San Miniato al Monte where we sat for a little bit and observed a church service. The Priests’ voices really echoed through the building. The weather was not so cooperative so we decided to head to dinner at Il Gatto e la Volpe to relive my study abroad days. We had penne alla vodka, gnocchi, and an abundance of wine and focaccia with balsamic vinaigrette.

fullsizeoutput_1095The next day was a little less rainy so we started just as the Piazza del Duomo attractions were opening. We climbed the bell tower and gazed at the roof of the baptistry. Back in the olden days, people were not allowed into the church unless they had been baptized. So in the baptistry building (separate from but adjacent to the main cathedral), the roof depicts the entire bible. Literacy was not a high priority back then (hey, they were combatting multiple plagues and attacks from neighbors), so the visual representation was key. And the gold tiles are sparkly and cool to look at, too. 🙂 We did not reserve a time to clime the actual Duomo and that was a total mistake – I definitely recommend to book in advance because it a really awesome experience and sells out thanks to the scalpers.. Go figure… So we ended up just waiting in the line to go into the cathedral. We got there about 15 minutes before it opened and ended up waiting an hour total to get in. The dome was definitely the coolest part of the cathedral, but the rest of the church was just not as impressive inside as we had hoped for. We were really wowed by the baptistry but we felt like the the hour long wait for the cathedral wasn’t worth it. But not to worry! We still had many more fun things planned for this trip!

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Just a few Juliets in Verona

IMG_8585fullsizeoutput_5a4I really have some awesome girlfriends here in Innsbruck. They planned a surprise bachelorette get-away for me months in advanced. Only when we were driving in the car did I learn where we were going – to Verona! The hometown of Romeo’s Juliet! What American girl gets to go to Italy for her bachelorette trip?? So special! IMG_5099We had an excellent Air BNB right outside of the colosseum. We wandered a bit and of course had to stop by Juliet’s famous balcony. Though we didn’t write any love letters ourselves, we read some of the notes that other visitors had left for Juliet. We had a delicious lunch in a charming outdoor café with a canopy of vines to provide shade. We then stopped for some Aperol spritzes at cozy bar along the Adige River that runs through the city.

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Just a trip to Verona was not all these girls had planned. They were taking me to a Lumineers concert in a castle! It was a great show and in such a cool place. Everyone was singing along and went crazy when they started “Ho Hey”. I think I still have “Ophelia” in my head! The girls even got me a sparkly “bride to be crown” to wear! And then after the concert, we did what would be unthinkable in Innsbruck. We went to a cafĂ© after midnight and ordered pizzas (and more Aperols)!

IMG_7173After an amazing day in Verona, the girls had even more surprises in store for me. We drove to Lake Garda. We stopped at a town that the girls had visited before, Lazise. It was so cute walking through the tiny streets and out onto the lake front. We dipped our toes in the water and giggled as we tried to shake the sand off when it came time to put our shoes back on. IMG_3271We ate a late morning snack (Aperol spritzes and a fruit platter) at a restaurant with a gorgeous view of the lake. We spent the afternoon driving along the lake shore and stopped at Riva at the top of the lake for one last gelato.

It really was a very special trip that I won’t soon forget!

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Polaroids taken by Selina!

Bolzano

On our way back to Innsbruck from Venice, we stopped in a beautiful small city, Bolzano. Their history includes some time as a part of Austria so many of the people still speak German. Our bellies were rumbling so our first stop in Bolzano (called Bozen by the German speakers) was to the Stadt Caffe CittĂ . We sat outside and watched those strolling through the main piazza which happened to be hosting a festival of flowers. We got a couple glasses of chilled white wine and ordered some tasty bruschetta – we were not ready to say goodbye to the fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. After lunch we participated in one of the Italians’ favorite activities – passeggiata or strolling. We walked through the town, enjoying the mixture of Italian and Austrian cultures. On our way to the car, we decided to take some Italy back with us. We bought a few bottles of wine and even a couple basil plants.

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Murano

Venice has a few other islands that are just a short boat ride away. Reini and I hopped on the water bus and made our way over to the glassmakers’ island, Murano. The story is that the glassmakers were all banished to Murano in the 1200s because their craft was feared to burn down Venice’s wooden buildings. Now this island is jam packed with glass making and glass selling shops. Artists have huge creations in their windows and sparkling glass chandeliers hanging from their ceilings. There’s even a cool display in the middle of one of their courtyards. Most of the pieces were way out of our price range, but I ended up buying a picture frame and Reini bought a coveted glass egg. We mostly just enjoyed the magnificent window shopping offered on this special little island.

Venice

IMG_3279Many of the people living in the Tyrolean Alps don’t feel the need to travel far away. Their hometowns are so beautiful they tend to stick close by. With his four hour drive Reinhard was the first of his family and friends to visit Venice. I had only been once before, so I was eager to give it another try. Reini drove almost all the way to Venice, stopping to park and hop on the train in the town just before the island. Thankfully I picked a hotel fairly close to the train station so weren’t lugging our suitcases too far. We weren’t amused when the men selling the “selfie sticks” tried to get us to make a purchase as we carried the bags over the bridges. The weather was fine – no rain and a little sun. We loved wandering through the narrow streets when nighttime came and cruising on the water bus during the day.

IMAG0783We ended up picking a couple of great restaurants. I made Reini stop for gelato at Grom (it reminded me of many nights in Florence) and the Magnum shop. We dined the first night at Muro Frari. I had the most delicious gnocchi and Reini enjoyed a pasta dish that had some assorted fishy things in it. The second night we ate dinner at the Impronta Cafe. We shared a tasty caprese salad with the freshest mozzarella. But what really stole the show was the panna cotta that we ordered for dessert – so decadent! I could have used seconds! We always had great house wines and even stopped off at an enoteca and enjoyed a small carafe of wine outside. You have to be careful in Venice – there are lots of awful places to eat that solely target tourists. But there are also many absolutely special places, too! It just takes some research ahead of time!

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The End

After a very long Wednesday of travelling, I am now back home in good ol’ Marietta. I miraculously did not get charged for overweight bags, and they both arrived at my destination this time. I call that success!

It’s nice being home, but I am missing parts of the European life. Though my Italian escapades are over, this blog will hopefully get used again for a future adventure abroad.

Thanks for reading!

Tying up loose ends

Artisan adding initials

So little time and so much to do! I feel like I’ve had to cram a week’s worth of events into this very abbreviated week. Sunday I finished up some essays and did my last bit of grocery shopping. Yesterday was really exciting. I went to the Leather School to pick up a couple things a friend asked for. The Leather School is really cool. Florence is known for its leather work, so of course there would be a school here just to teach the artisans. This school is really old, though, and is literally attached to the old Santa Croce church. While I was waiting, I read that it has its origins as a school for orphans. Now it attracts aspiring leather artisans from around the world! The school, of course, has a big showroom where you can buy pieces of their work. My friend went to Florence when I was there also in January, and she had already been to the Leather School so she knew just what she wanted and asked to have initials put on them.

Piccolo door

On my walk over to the Leather School, I passed this very special door, made just for my favorite Italian family – the Piccolos!

Neptune water dispenser

On the way back, I stopped at the public filtered water dispenser. This this is even better than the fresh milk vending machine because it’s free! Florentines will bring empty water containers and fill them up with clean, cold water – either still (naturale) or bubbly (frizzante). I think it’s fitting how it’s right next to a big neptune fountain.

A little later I went to my last public speaking class. We just had to turn in our essays (low on ink, mine was printed with pink words). Then we went back to Piazza della Signoria and talked about good old Savonarola and had a big group hug before our professor got a little emotional and left. I guess we’re not the only ones who are sad about leaving! After that, I headed back to the Leather School (to pick up a little something for one of my family members).

My friend Amra and I with our politics professor at dinner

Monday night was wonderful! We had a great big farewell dinner with everyone in our program and all of our professors. We went to Il Gatto e la Volpe and had a great big family-style feast! They brought out a huge antipasto platter consisting of mozzarella, turkey, prosciutto, salami, zucchini, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers. I’m sure you can guess that my favorite part was the mozzarella! But oh my goodness, the turkey was also a show stealer. Yum! Then we got 3 different pasta dishes. First out was a risotto with spinach and chicken. Cheese was melted all throughout. Second was spinach tortellini filled with ricotta and topped with a truffle sauce. Last was penne alla vodka. All-around deliciousness paired with, of course, red Chianti. We then got to mingle and take pictures with all of our friends and professors as we said our goodbyes. It was a great way to conclude a wonderful semester of classes.

My last Florentine sunset

Today I did some heavy duty packing. I started yesterday, but mostly did everything today. I was so worried I’d have to buy a third bag to check, but by the grace of God, I think I can skirt by without it. Then we had our apartment “inspections” which consisted of our landlord coming by, asking us if anything was broken, and telling us to leave our keys on the table when we leave. Right after, we headed up to Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset. It’s already been a lovely week.

Now I’m preparing for the early morning and crazy day that will be tomorrow. I am not looking forward to my alarm going off at 4 am, but I am super excited to get to be home for Thanksgiving!

 

City with Liquid Streets – Venice

Our water taxi

Yesterday I went on my last trip of the semester. One of the assigned readings for my public speaking class was the book Vidal in Venice. When it arrived in the mail over the summer, I busily flipped through, reading about the history of Venice and looking at the accompanying photographs. It made me really want to visit. We were supposed to go via a subsidized class trip, but that totally fell through. Instead, I went through a student tour group. It was the same one I had used in the past – not that great, but the price made it the way to go.

Cruising the Grand Canal
Fish Market (scene from The Tourist)

So two of my roommates and I went to meet our group (including 7 other Elon students) at the train station early in the morning. We took a modern bus over to Venice, stopping in the town of Dolo to catch the train to the island. We hopped off the train and onto water taxis to take us down the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Our big group had to be divided into smaller groups to fit onto the taxis. We had enough Elon kids so that we could have our own boat. We had a great time and took a lot of pictures on our Grand Canal cruise.

Piazza San Marco

When we arrived in Piazza San Marco, we walked over to a Murano glass blowing demonstration. We saw a man make an elaborate vase. Then he broke it into a trashcan. That was kind of sad. Then we were given free time to eat lunch and do some shopping. A couple of friends and I walked through the narrow streets and shopped. Little odds and ends crafted in Venetian glass filled the little stores. Then we stopped for some lunch. We went to an ultra touristy place (which you shouldn’t do) and ended up paying way too much for a mediocre pizza. Oh well. It was really cold outside, and the restaurant gave us a nice, warm place to sit for a while.

Street fair thing
Nutella sandwich

Then we joined back up with our group for a walking tour. We walked all through the beautiful island, over river bridges, along the water, through alleys. We ended up getting to a street filled with food venders. There were men stuffing cannoli, frying bread, and candying strawberries. I ended up with a fried bread thing filled with an inch thick of Nutella and rolled around in sugar. Whoa buddy. The Venetians know how to do sweets!

Casanova's house

We wandered more through the city, we were supposed to take gondolas back to the train station, but we either got lost or the dock was broken? I don’t know. Either way, we didn’t ride gondolas. But we did instead get to see Casanova’s house and spent some time on the Rialto Bridge (Venice’s equivalent of the Ponte Vecchio).

Foggy day

By then we were all freezing and tired, hopped on the train back to Dolo and then the bus back to Florence. Venice was super beautiful and an extremely unique place. Too bad we caught it on a really foggy day – my camera was struggling a bit.

Also – there’s a new page at the top with descriptions of my most memorable places in Florence.

 

Liquid Streets