Saturday, December 14, 2013


Second or last stop on my tour. I can't believe I began this trip in October and now it's December. Time flies when you're having fun.

My dad and I got on an early train out of Venice after we found a nearby supermarket to grab breakfast and snacks for lunch. As the train attendant came around with snacks and drinks, we chose the champagne. You can see we are settling nicely into the first class train thing.

We changed trains in Florence and headed to Pisa for a quick touristy afternoon. For those that have been to Pisa, you know there is really not much to do in Pisa, except to pose with their construction fail that has made them famous. We made our little picnic of salami, cheese soaked in Cabernet, fresh bread filled with delicious seeds, and a bottle of vino with our bathroom cups we stole from the hotel. It was actually a nice day; clear and sunny, maybe even a little warm. We sat on the grass and enjoyed the day. We even did our part to put the tower back in place.

After a couple hours, we headed back to Florence to start our touring there. The place that we stayed was just perfect. I'm a huge fan of airbnb now and recommend it to anyone traveling. The ability to cook while on vacation is like having a piece of home and it's nice to have more than just a room to put your stuff down in. This place was exceptional and the hosts were so kind. They gave us a list of their favorite restaurants, caf├ęs, gelaterias, and supermarkets. 

We decided to try one that was just a few minute walk from where we were staying; Antica Mescita in the San Niccolo district. We walked in and they were still getting everything set up so they got us bread, olive oil, and wine to tide us over. 

The entire menu was in Italian so I was really unsure what to get. I understood 'bistecca' ans remembered Marina telling me about the infamous florentine steak. Shortly after we sat down, an older couple walked in and we chatted with them for a bit. The old man got up almost mid conversation and said one moment and walked outside. He reappeared shortly holding a green bottle of olive oil and he explained it was olive oil his family made just in October and that we could share it with him. It was fabulous and so fresh. At the end of the meal, he ended up giving us the entire bottle to take home. It was such a sweet gesture and I'm excited to share it with family when I return.

The waiter came over and explained the menu and gave us some pointers on where to begin. He suggested a bread soup that was a Florentine staple and then the florentine steak to share prepared just as the chef would like it, rare. We agreed and were excited for what we were going to taste. He brought out the soup, told us to add olive oil, and dive in. It was so yummy. It had black cabbage which reminds me of kale, beans, tomatoes, carrots, and, of course, bread. My dad was so happy with this meal and the company we shared I thought he would shed a tear. 

While we were enjoying the soup, he brought out the steak for us to check and make sure it was to our liking. Holy cow. This had to be where that expression came from because this thing was glorious. House of Prime Rib ain't got nothin on this.

We continued chatting with our neighbors in what English they could understand and learned a bit more about them and their family. The waiter brought out the cooked steak and cut it for us explaining that it was ok to pick up the bone and eat what he called the 'priest cut' that is right next to bone. It was amazing and head the best flavor. It might have been a little rare for my dad, but I didn't mind the pink in the center because it was so tender.

We finished the meal with another house specialty - cheesecake topped with orange glaze and chocolate chips and a coffee. I can't believe I order coffee at restaurants, at night time. What has Italy done to me?

We said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for the olive oil. It was the perfect Italian meal and everything that I had hoped for. My dad clearly enjoyed himself and, I'd imagine, he will be sharing this story for many years to come.

After dinner, we walked up to the top of the hill to Piazza Michelangelo to burn off some calories from our rich meal and to get a beautiful view of the city. There is a bronze version of the David statue at the top of the hill and it is quite a site to see.

The next day we got up and had planned to go to the Uffize Museum and the Duomo. We stopped to get coffee and breakfast first, but it wasn't easy finding a place because my dad said they all looked 'too fancy'. I guess when you're used to McDonalds for breakfast, anything is fancy. Finally, I got him to agree to go in to a place near the museum and we spent a whopping 5 euro on two coffees and two croissants. Less than Starbucks and look how pretty it is (I had already eaten my croissant before I remembered I needed a pic, oops).

We went into the Uffize museum and went room by room to look at all the paintings and sculptures. I don't know if the Louvre spoiled me, but I wasn't that impressed. I know, it is supposed to be THE biggest collection of Italian art and mind blowing, but after about our 6th room of paintings that were hanging in a church at one point, I sort of zoned out. Plus, my dad wanted to read all the information, so it was dragging on a bit. We were there for over 3 hours and I was getting hungry. He sensed my restlessness and sped up his tour. We found a nearby pizza place and shared a insalata mista and a sausage and mushroom pizza with some house wine on the side. It's as delicious and just what I love about Italy. 

With full bellies we continued out exploring the city and stumbled about the Duomo, a beautiful church in the heart of Florence. We went in the church and looked around and then went into the basement of the church where there were remnants from hundreds of years ago. We got the ticket that allowed us access to all parts of the Duomo; including the parts where you can climb the tower and dome. We decided to start with the tower first, a modest 430 steps to the top. It was quite a climb, but worth the views.

When we got done with the climb, we had obviously earned some gelato and found some at a nearby cafe that also had free wifi so we were able to FaceTime my mom too! 

We hung out in the warm cafe for about an hour and then went to the grocery store near our apartment to make a nice Italian meal in our kitchen. I convinced my dad to splurge the extra 60 cents to get the fresh pasta instead of the box pasta and a fresh ragu sauce instead of a can of sauce. We were going to have paperdelle pasta with carne ragu, a fresh mixed green salad, and a fresh load of bread. We also picked up a couple bottles of wine, breakfast goodies, and some snacks for the day. Our meal was delicious, if I do say so myself. The vino - an amazing 5 euro bottle of chianti - paired perfectly and the company couldn't have been better.

We took it easy the rest of the night and woke up early the next day to get as much stuff some as possible. We went back to the Duomo to climb the dome this time. 

My dad and I had finished getting countless panoramas of the view and were relaxing on the bench when we noticed a girl trying to get a selfie with the complete view behind her. My dad offered to take the picture and we started chatting with her. She was from Singapore and traveling in Italy for 6 weeks. She had a great personality and was fun to talk to so we continued the conversation at the nearby cafe over a couple glasses of spritz - an Italian cocktail served over ice. We split off to go to museums but decided to meet up for drinks that evening.

My dad and I went to have our leftover pasta for lunch which seemed to be better than when we ate it fresh. We had some vino along side and then headed back out to continue seeing the city since it was our last day. We were off to another museum, the Accademia, that housed the original sculpture of. Michael Angelo's David. I know you're not supposed to take photos...but I did. I didn't use a flash, so I don't see the big deal. 

The David is so impressive, it really is something everyone should seem the craftsmanship that he took carving it is absolutely incredible. Every detail is captured from his muscular body, the veins in his hands, to the toenails on his feet. The rest of the museum; however, was not much to speak of. I don't understand why the David isn't at Uffize museum which would make more sense. Oh well, another way to get 11 euro out of a couple of tourists. 

We wandered around the city after the Accademia museum and found the gelato shop that Amanda had told me about, Grom. It was tucked off the square and had all housemade gelato. I decided on straciatella and pistachio and my dad got the hazelnut and pistachio. Unfortunately, it turns out I'm not a big pistachio fan, but the straciatella was delicious! 

After going around the city for another couple hours, it was time to meet up with Cherry. She led us to a place called Small Bar that serves pizza, paninis, chips, peanuts, and olives for free when you buy a drink. What a great deal! Cherry had a bottle of wine started and we continued to have more until we finished our third bottle. We were there for so long that the bartender even showed us his cellar that he is building stocked with racks and racks of wine. Unfortunately, he didn't open any reserve bottles for us, but it was still fun to see his collection.

This girl Cherry was so funny. She warned us about never going to the bathroom after a Chinese person because of their interesting habits, she told us about her travels, Singapore culture, and we even planned for her to come to sf to visit. She was a great addition for the evening and made our time in Florence extra special with her company. I couldn't help but think, that would have been me traveling by myself and how much I would want to meet people to enjoy an evening with. We walked around the city and my dad was set on trying a cannoli. We asked a local where to get one and he said, 'those aren't in Florence, they are a Sicilian specialty!' Despite his guidance, my dad continued on his search for a cannoli. We found a gelato shop that had some and bought two to share. I took one bite and immediately had to spit it out. It tasted as if the filling were vomit flavored. Pungent and bitter and not what I was expecting at all. So disappointing! We found a fountain sculpture of a boar that was similar to one we saw in the museums and decided to take a picture. You almost can't tell who is Asian here because my dad was laughing so hard. 

I don't know if it was the bad cannoli, walking around the city, or just the wine that was already in our bellies talking, but we decided we needed more wine and that we should go back to our apartment and drink more. That's always a good idea, right?  Especially after seeing my dad in the picture above. Wrong. We finished another bottle of wine and then Cherry went home. I passed out dreading the hangover that I knew I would wake up to, especially on a travel day. Sure enough, I woke up with a pounding headache, but it was Saturday and I would be going home on Monday. Hooray!

Florence was a favorite city of mine. It's another place that I wish I had longer to stay because I feel like I wanted to see more of the city and the surrounding areas. Also, meeting the people that we did made it such a memorable place. When I crack my olive oil bottle at home I will think of the older couple from our first night there. The Duomo was by far the best 'deal' if you will. For 10 euro you got access to all parts and the stair climbs were refreshing and had some of the most beautiful sites on the trip. 

Final destination, Roma.

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