We drove all morning along the Mediterranean coast, leaving France for Italy, and stopped for a couple hours in Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. I swear I was not Photoshopped into this picture! It was just a ridiculously nice day, and the Tower really does look artificial in a strange kind of way.
Once we reached Florence, we checked into our teensy hotel (it was the tiniest room I stayed in on the whole trip). Florence itself is actually quite small, at least compared to other major cities we’d been in. It wasn’t a far walk to our dinner at Baldovino.
Confession: I did not care for the table bread in Italy. Yes, it’s true. After all those crusty-outside, tender-inside rolls and loaves and slices and baguettes I’d eaten throughout France and Spain, I was surprised to learn that Italians like their bread somewhat stale; day-old. Not that it wasn’t edible—dipping it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar made up for the missing flavor in the bread.
It was pizza night! I got a pizza marinara (or pizza napoli, depending on the region), which just means cheese-free. The sauce was nicely spiced, and the black olives, yellow bell pepper, and grilled zucchini and eggplant on top were tasty, but it’s really all about the crust there.
I went non-vegan for dessert and partook in the panna cotta with macerated mixed berries.
That evening, we chilled out at a sweet nearby champagne bar called Oibò that specialized in super-creative cocktails. More on that later.
The next morning, we took a walking tour of the city, and then had all day to explore on our own. This here is the Neptune fountain in the Piazza della Signoria, a particularly nice plaza in the center of town.
I visited the Accademia museum and saw, among other things, Michaelangelo’s David statue—very impressive. No cameras allowed, though! After that, I met up with Kim and we got…gelato.
Here’s the scoop: I ate gelato at least once a day, every day we were in Italy (and a couple times elsewhere!)—so much of it, in fact, that a) I stopped taking pictures of it all, and b) I’m not even going to post many of the ones I did take. Oh MAN was it good. I’m not even an ice cream person, but I became slightly obsessed with gelato. This one, even though it was outrageously expensive, was one of my two favorite gelati of the trip—it’s a triple-dip consisting of crème caramel, Nutella swirl, and Kinder bar (a brand of candy bar from Germany that’s popular across Europe).
Kim and I shopped till we dropped that afternoon while taking in the local scenery, architecture, and sculpture. Here I am in the Piazza della Signoria.
Our group met up for dinner in the early evening. On the way there, we stopped across the Arno river to admire a panoramic view of Florence.
We dined at another out-of-the-way locale, a winery nestled in the Chianti Hills. We socialized for a bit first in their pretty garden…
…with glasses of Prosecco di fragola (strawberry champagne).
They had a MONSTROUS antipasto buffet of over 20 different dishes, and get this—all but one of them (which had cheese) were accidentally vegan!
I piled so much on my plate that I’m not going to be able to even name everything. I can see (clockwise from top) wheat berry salad, roasted bell pepper bruschetta, veggies and rice, stewed tomatoes, pinto beans, garlicky pasta shells, green beans, and marinated mushrooms.
I could have made a meal out of just that stuff, but they had much more in store for us. While the others ate pasta with meat and alfredo sauces, I noshed on penne with marinara and mushroom-herb sauces.
Our table shared some delicious roasted potatoes.
As if that weren’t enough, they provided me with a gigantic plate of grilled zucchini and eggplant. I was already so full I could barely make a dent in this thing.
On top of all that, there was a choice of three desserts, and you know me—I had to try a bite of all of them. From left: cream cake with berries, sponge cake with chocolate cream and ganache, and good ol’ tiramisu. The clear winner among them was the tiramisu.
Did I mention that we were polishing off bottle after bottle of wine during this meal? We were in Tuscany, after all!
Even though I was stuffed to the gills, I went with the group back to Oibò for one more drink. I’m glad I did, because I wound up with the strangest and most unique cocktail I’ve ever tasted, or even heard of. It’s the short glass in the middle there, a “Patatina”—muddled strawberries, champagne, vodka, and balsamic vinegar. No joke! WEIRD! It might sound scary, but to tell you the truth, as perplexing as it was, I genuinely liked it.
Florence was a GREAT introduction to Italy! Next, we head south to the city that years of Latin classes prepared me to adore: ROME.