Sunday, March 25, 2012

hola, i just got home from spring break in spain!  i went with caroline and met up with a couple of my roommates, amie and kelly, in barcelona.  i had my first experience with ryanair, the low fare airline--we flew to barcelona for only 20 euros, had to pack everything for the entire week (including my purse and giant camera) in my tiny backpack, and fought for the best seats once on the plane since there are no assigned seats.  the take-off and landing were kinda rough, but when we landed an hour later ryanair played their victory song and everyone applauded for making it to spain.
in case of emergency: don't forget to hold your skirt down on the slide
it was weird getting to barcelona in the middle of the night on st. patrick's day.  it was dark and we saw the city for the first time at night, while people dressed as leprechauns stumbled down the streets.  we got pretty lucky with our hostel in barcelona though.  downtown paraiso happened to be located right off la rambla, one of the most well-known streets in the city, filled with little souvenir stands, street performers, and buildings that look like their straight from candy land.

in barcelona, we woke every day, bought fresh fruit and a warm loaf of bread at the corner supermarket, ate out by the fountain in the placa reial.  we went to the beach, saw a bunch of topless women and a couple of completely naked people.  we explored the city down by the water, learned how to use the subway system to go to guell park, a ginormous park filled with gardens and tons of cacti.  we went to the local travelbar for a free dinner and met lots of travelers from all over the world.  needless to say, barcelona was amazing.  the only problem was that apparently they don't speak spanish there.  i tried to prepare myself with the memories of high school spanish, only to find out everyone spoke catalan.
barcelona down by the beach
borat at the beach
one of the many beautiful fountains
hangin at the ice bar

breakfast spot
on wedenesday we headed to sevilla in southern spain, where spanish was a real thing.  our hostel wasn't as trendy as the one in barcelona, but nuevo suizo did have a rooftop garden and was in a really great location.  sevilla was beautiful and warm.  i couldn't stop feeling like i was in florida.  maybe it was because of the overwhelming amount of palm trees, oranges and old people.  the city was really small and reminded me a lot of florence.  we stayed in the city center, while the residential area was separated by a river.  we pretty much saw the whole city in a matter of hours--we went to the real alcazar, a royal palace/tropical garden filled with palm trees, orange trees, lemon trees, fountains, and peacocks.  we sat down by the river, got some sun at the beach, visited the plaza espana, and ate lots of churros con chocolate and tapas for dinner.

i have to say this was an amazing week.  i was loving the warm weather, the beautiful cities, the delicious food.  but there's no doubt, i'm so glad to be back to my little home in florence.

Monday, March 12, 2012

some funny signs hung in the bathroom at my work...
video surveillance area--Leo (who works at TF) with the hat...
for some reason i thought this was real the first time i went to the bathroom there

Saturday, March 10, 2012

me and flora
well, i spent the day riding horses and playing with stray cats, but since the hot water is out again, i guess i'll write in my blog instead of showering.  i could not have picked a more perfect day to go to the horse farm/vineyard/winery in chianti.  it was beautiful and sunny and warm.  a few friends and i took a horseback riding tour through olive groves up in the hills.  i shouldn't have admitted that i was the only one with horse riding experience because they stuck me with flora, the 'crazy and stupid' horse, as the italian women at the farm called her.  she was young and spunky and all she wanted to do was run.  i secretly loved her.  we rode through the hills single-file on a one-lane path, but flora would purposely stop every few minutes and then gallop to catch up to the other horses.  she tried to veer off on her own paths, and when the group took pictures at the end of the tour, she suddenly became shy and would walk backwards and turn her head away from the cameras.

flora being camera shy
baby dog playing fetch with me

the farm was like heaven.  there were a bunch of silly little dogs that snuggled in our laps, played fetch every time we would pay attention to them, and ran alongside our horses during the entire tour.  afterwards, we took a tour of the winery where we were taught and shown how to make wine.  we even got to taste some of the wines produced in chianti with our three course lunch.  on the way home, we made a few stops to see the amazing views of the city and countryside, get gelato, and i even made a new cat friend.
so much wine
us in the winery

me and my new cat friend, we named her principessa (princess)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

it's finally warm enough to wear flip flops!  this week consisted of a lot of laying out in the sun in the piazza, down by the river, eating pink grapefruit gelato and pino's paninis.  i went on a field trip to the ferrari museum and a balsamic vinegar factory where we got to sample all kinds of balsamic flavors and even chocolates filled with vinegar.  i never thought i'd want to drink balsamic vinegar out of a straw until now.  it was that good.  i also have a 'street photography' project due this week, so i spent a lot of time creeping on strangers around the city.  here are some highlights from the week...
horse and carriage in the piazza 
a real live mario
cute baby at the fountain
ferrari museum
balsamic vinegar factory
cute italian baby
loungin' by the river
down by the river
watching the rowers
caroline napping in the grass
crazy drunk dread man and his puppet show
and the little girl who was oblivious to him

One Cup of Bongo, Please!

Although I have only been living in Florence for just over a month and it has been frigid cold—not just winter-cold, but Antarctica-cold—I’m already a regular at Gelateria dei Neri.  My sweet tooth just cannot be stopped.  I have spent many nights bundled from head to toe in every article of clothing I can find in order to trek down the street to indulge in a cup of light, creamy gelato.  And through my sampling, I’ve quickly learned that Gelateria dei Neri is one of the best.  Every time I walk through the door, I head straight for the gelato, ecstatic to taste their homemade Nutella, Frutti dei Boschi, Straciatella, and even Cookies and Cream.  I rush right past the fluffy cakes and pastries, despite their overpowering aroma that can be smelled from all the way down the street.

Last night, after a big dinner of spinach and ricotta filled tortellini and a fresh salad lightly coated with balsamic vinegar, my sweet tooth was craving a trip to dei Neri.  Luckily, I wasn’t alone.

“Anyone else want dessert?” a couple of my roommates chimed in almost simultaneously.  Yes, we all did.

So the five of us scrounged through our apartment for extra change, put on our coats, and set off once again for our favorite gelato.  When we arrived at the Gelateria, however, the treats in the front caught my eye for the first time.  Semi-freddi, the sign read above bins of creamy, non-frozen desserts.  I was ready to break away from my usual gelato, to try something that was authentically Florentine.

After much contemplation, I ordered una piccola coppetta di bongo.  Otherwise known as profiterole, bongo is a Florentine specialty.  They are tiny baked puffed-pastries filled with vanilla cream and topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of melted chocolate.  The moment my eyes laid upon the cup of tiny balls covered in all my favorite things, my mouth began to water.  I could almost taste the chocolate, feel the whipped cream light on my tongue.  A tiny gelato spoon was stuck right on top, and after struggling for a solid minute to balance one bongo on the little spoon, I tossed the piece of plastic in the garbage, diving in with my fingers and popping a bongo into my mouth.

An explosion of cream told me I was in heaven.  It was cool and smooth and perfectly complimented the chewy pastry and rich chocolate.  I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of pleasure before shoving the remaining contents of my tiny cup into my mouth.  So much for savoring my first authentic Florentine dessert, I thought.  But I could not have felt more intense satisfaction.

Love and Chocolate

“Let’s go find our boyfriends,” Caroline said to me as we wandered through the Piazza della Repubblica’s Chocolate Festival for the fourth time that week, looking for our two favorite chocolatiers. My roommate and I had just spent the first warm, sunny day since we’d arrived exploring the Sant’Ambrogio market and climbing up to the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sun set, and after all those stairs we deserved to treat ourselves to some more chocolate.

We had already picked out our favorite stand earlier in the week, run by two young Italian men from Campo Basso who had proclaimed their love for us at first sight and gave us free desserts.  Although we hadn’t fallen for them in the same way, we just couldn’t stay away from their creamy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolates that you could smell and almost taste three streets away.

“My friend!  Ciao, bella!” my chocolatier-boyfriend Leonardo practically sang to me as I walked toward his stand.  “I am so happy you return!” he told me in his thick Italian accent, and I grinned at his excitement.  “Mi piace il tuo sorriso.”  He liked my smile.

I practically started drooling as my eyes feasted on the beautiful chocolate creations that lay on the table between us.  He offered me sweets in every size, shape, color, and flavor, but I couldn’t break away from my usual choice—“due cocco,” two coconut-flavored chocolates.  They were the best things I had ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth.  Hard milk chocolate on the outside, smooth coconut filling that oozed from the center, sprinkled with sugary shredded coconut.

“I give you a special discount, my friend,” Leonardo told me, cutting the price down by 45 cents.

Grazie,” I said as I popped one in my mouth and let it dissolve on my tongue.  We had a special relationship, Leonardo and I.  But I hardly knew anything about my new friend.  “Leonardo, when did you start making chocolates?” I asked him, wondering when his passion had sparked.

He looked at me and a crease formed between his eyebrows as he tried to comprehend what I had asked him.

Quando hai deciso di fare cioccolato?” I tried again, hoping he could understand my attempt at speaking a language that was very new to me.

“Ah, in 1997!” he exclaims excitedly.  Very specific.  “Mi piace il cioccolato.  È troppo buono!”  His favorite kind is the cremino classico, a soft fudge-like square with a layer of hazelnut between two layers of chocolate.  “It is very good.  Buono.”

But as I struggled to ask more about his career as a chocolatier, dozens of hungry customers lined up beside me, challenging me for Leonardo’s attention.  They shoved their way between us, desperate to get their hands on one of these sweet, tasty treats, and Leonardo became anxious at my persistent questions about chocolate artistry.

When I finally told him “ciao, goodbye,” he seemed to relax and immediately began tending to his other customers.  Unfortunately for me, he seemed happy to see me go.  My unrelenting questions asked in broken Italian that I’m sure Leonardo hardly understood may have ruined our love affair.  At least now I don’t have to worry about going home three hundred pounds heavier due to free chocolates.