First Week in Paradise

While I cannot believe I’ve been here a whole week, part of me can’t believe it’s only been that long. In the past seven days I have grown acquainted enough with Firenze not to need a map (most of the time) when wandering around and have done and seen more than I thought was possible in such a short span of time.

Firstly, my culinary experience so far has been quite exemplary. Mercato Centrale, or Central Market, is quite literally down the street from me, so I’ve explored and shopped there a number of times already. A huge indoor space, it is bursting with the freshest of produce, pastries and paninos as far as the eye can see, spices and oils and olives galore, fresh pasta EVERYWHERE, fresh sea foods and meats you’d never find in the states, as well as enough variety of cheese to truly blow your mind. Vendors often have samples of select cheeses and dried meats out for your tasting pleasure, so whenever I need my fix I head down there. In addition to Central Market, I’ve explored San Ambrogio’s as well. It is more off-the-beaten-path  than Central and boasts an intriguing variety of meats already prepared for cooking as well as amazing looking pastries.

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Besides foods I’ve found in markets, I’ve sampled a number of other delicious wares. I’ve had gelato twice, once with cioccolato e arancio (chocolate and orange) in a delectable freshly made cone and once with café and Panacotta flavors. I’ve had Gusta Pizza, rumored to be the best pizza in Florence. From my experience, I might be inclined to agree. I’ve had marinated eggplant and crostini toscani, which is baguette slices topped with a traditional Tuscan spread. I’ve tasted a couple of wines, though I don’t pretend to really know if I enjoyed them all. I’ve had un espresso e un cappuccino as well as a tiny nibble of panaforte, una sfoglia crema, as well as a tiny cookie whose name I wish I knew. I sampled pesto in the land where it was created and had some of the best seafood imaginable in the same sitting. Additionally, I’ve managed to work our hieroglyphic oven and cook a few things of my own.

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Outside of eating, I’ve kept plenty busy. I’ve seen the inside of the Duomo and Medici Chapels. I visited David at the Galleria dell’Accademia. I wandered through the many offerings of the Galleria delgi Uffizi for a number of hours. I visited the Palazzo Pitti and its beautiful Boboli gardens. I’ve climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the best view of Firenze at sunset conceivable, and for free, no less! I’ve found enjoyment in documenting the many cleverly graffitied street signs found around the city, much like hunting for Hidden Mickeys at Disney World. I’ve enjoyed the stylings of accordionists, classical opera singers, guitar players, chalk artists, and many other street-corner talents. I feed a coin to the boar statue at the old straw market and, hopefully, received good luck for it falling through the grate below.

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I’ve further explored the non-food markets, Ciompi, S. Spirito, San Lorenzo, and part of S. Ambrogio, and gazed over beautiful flowers, antique furniture and light fixtures, colorful masks, and leather products of every kind and quality. I befriended a kindly street vendor named Arturo while enjoying my first gelato in the shadow of the Duomo. I’ve managed to carry a few full conversations in Italian as well as give people directions. I also utilized my limited Italian while taking a ballet class at a local studio one of my teachers at home has a connection to. I was able to follow the corrections, given in Italian, through the lively teachers body language and communicated so with my own as well as a few, “Copisco.”

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I ventured to Cinque Terre, Italy’s “Five Lands.” In doing so, I traveled by bus through towering mountains and expansive farmland and then by train for the first time in Italy. We explored three of the five lands and discovered postcard-picture views of staggering cliffs, deep blue waters, and brightly painted towns stacked higgledy-piggledy on the hillside. We walked a long and lovely trail of stone steps, up and down, up and down, from the fourth town, Vernazza, to the last, Monterosso. We dipped our feet in the cool waters of the beach at Monterosso and gathered stones of many hues from its pebbly shoreline.

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Oh, I also went to class.

This full week exemplifies well that Italy is a land where filling your days with exciting escapades, cultural experiences, and gastronomical pleasures is no difficult task. You could get going at dawn when the streets are dead, only inhabited by a few supply trucks and bakers sweeping up shop, and return to your apartment at sundown and keep yourself busy that entire span. As I soon realized, however, Italy is a place where hustling and bustling is completely unnecessary. In fact, it corrupts your experience of the country’s essence. Italy wakes up at a leisurely hour, takes a nice cushy break between lunch and dinner, and allows times for the occasional drawn out bar counter conversation over espressos throughout the day. In the midst of my fun filled days, I took time to do as true Italians do and simply sit and enjoy the scenery for a while. I’ve taken my book to Piazza Santa Croce as well as a small public beach across the Arno at sunset. The main campus building of the school’s has a delightful courtyard with potted lemon trees, a view of the river, and a resident pet dog that spends his afternoons lounging in the sun beneath the towering tree at its center. I sat with my neck craned up at the David for a luxurious length of time and kept discovering new details that renewed my amazement again and again. While enjoying my first espresso, I pretended to read an Italian newspaper while observing the locals come and go around me. At Cinque Terre, I spent some time after our hike catching some wonderful rays on the beach, the sounds of waves crashing and a view of the surrounding cliffs activating my maximum serenity. In fact, I’ve felt the utmost contentment since arriving in Italy and can’t imagine coming down anytime soon.

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As I dive into the oncoming week, I thank my lucky stars I’m here for so long. Had I only been able to stay a fraction of the time, I would have little chance to tap into both sides of what makes this great country great. I’m relishing the nuances of culture I’ve uncovered in my short time here so far, and cannot wait to experience new breakthroughs in the time ahead.

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