And the great saga continues! (Click for Part 1
and Part 2
Our next great adventure was the lovely city of Florence. My dad and brother spent the day visiting car factories, so my mom and I had the day to ourselves. We caught a morning train into the city and soon began exploring the bustling streets. There were a tad too many tourists for our taste, but we still greatly enjoyed our time. Our favorite attraction was the Central Market. It was an indoor market filled to the brim with vendors, and they had every type of food you could imagine from pasta, to cheese, to nuts and dried fruit, to fresh fruit and vegetables, to breads, pastries, and biscotti, to olive oil, to every cut of meat you could imagine (clearly just for me), and everything in between. There were also a good amount of samples, my favorite being an exquisite truffle paste. Truffles are very popular in Italy and for a good reason!
Ohhh look at all that cheese!!!
Talk about huge blocks of cheese… I can't even imagine how much these weighed!
It was like they managed to find a way to dry every single fruit!
While I'm not a fan of dry American biscotti, the real Italian deal is an entirely different, tastier story!
Florence really does have some gorgeous buildings. While we didn't have the opportunity to see even half of them, we saw as many as we could! And of course, we did see the Basilica of Saint Mary. We were expecting the inside to be quite intricate to match the finely decorated exterior, however we found the gothic interior to me quite simple, though still beautiful.
The paintings in the dome were quite detailed however, and I loved the 3D nature of the floor.
While it may have been one of Florence's most famous buildings (and it was indeed beautiful), the city is full of other noteworthy buildings and architecture as well.
Florence's oldest bridge is lined with shops.
Now of course Florence is home to Michelangelo's David, but the line was wrapped around the outside of the building, and mom and I decided that we didn't want to spend our day in Florence standing in a line. I have never seen more lines than I saw in Florence in Rome. Thankfully, you can pre-purchase tickets and avoid most of the lines. We did that in Rome but hadn't thought the lines would be so massive in Florence. We did up in one to see a museum (we had to see something!), and even for a line that had maybe 20 people in it, we waited nearly 45 minutes! So the lesson: pre-order tickets whenever possible!
You're probably wondering what we dined on while in this gorgeous city. Well, we ate at a little ristorante on a quiet side street.
We started with bruschetta, but it was nothing like the first time we had it. In fact, it was rather disappointing. The bread was dry and flavorless, matching the tomatoes that scattered the top. There wasn't garlic or even olive oil! We managed to get it down, but it took a hefty amount of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Luckily, the mushroom risotto that we split as our entree was quite delicious. Much like topped the crostini the night before, the mushrooms were thick and meaty. They really know how to do their mushrooms in Italy! The risotto itself was also quite good, though I admit that I've made better at home.
The best thing we ate in Florence was the gelato (no surprise there I'm sure!).
Just look at those fluffy pillows of gelato!
This time I tried fruit and yogurt (one flavor) and mint. The fruit and yogurt was good, but oh goodness, that mint was incredible! There were huge, glorious chunks of chocolate in it. My mom got mint too, and she had a piece of chocolate that was bigger than one inch by one inch!
Although we greatly enjoyed Florence, one day was enough. I had heard that I should as much time in Florence as possible, but I enjoyed the smaller, quieter towns more. And as far as cities go, I liked Rome and Venice more.
Speaking of Rome, that was our next destination! Our first night there we didn't have anything scheduled so we wandered around the city and ended up visiting Castle Sant'Angelo.
Bridge in front of the castle.
If the castle and small courtyard look at all familiar, you may be recognizing them from the movie Angels and Demons. I watched that movie with my parents shortly after returning home from our trip, and there was a scene of "Robert Langdon" racing through that castle and courtyard, as well as several other places we visited. That's one of the things that's so cool about visiting places like this - you see a movie filmed there and you can say, "hey, I was there!!"
There was an amazing view of the surrounding city from the top of the castle, and we even caught or first views of the Vatican!
Our first dinner in Rome was probably the most memorable meal of the trip - but not in a way you would think, or hope. The food was crazy expensive, so we had to search for something cheaper in price, which we eventually found. It was a cute little cafe with wide open doors welcoming us in. The menu was written on a white board on the door, and although it was sparse, there were pizza and pasta options. The rest of my family ordered pasta alla carbonara, a pasta dish with an egg sauce, bacon, and black pepper, a very popular dish in the Roman area, and I ordered the pizza margherita. The man took our order and then retreated through a door in the back. He emerged from what turned out to be a freezer with three boxes of frozen pasta, proceeded behind the counter where the microwave was stationed, and, without shame, began the "cooking" process. He then whipped out a pre-made pizza crust with sauce from under the counter, sprinkled some cheese on top, and placed it in what looked liked a panini press. We all watched, our eyes wide, not sure what to think. He scraped the pasta from the plastic containers onto plates, slid my pizza onto a round tray, and dinner was served!
We all tried to keep an open mind, and my family said their pasta wasn't too bad. While I wasn't expecting a pizza from a five star restaurant, that crust made rubber sound like fine dining. I just couldn't eat it. I hate to say something like this, but it was the worst pizza I have ever had. The cheese was still fine, so I ate it off the top, leaving a naked crust behind. I felt terrible, but I just couldn't stomach it. The man was super nice though and even brought us complementary cookies!
We learned something that night - cheap price equals cheap food. But like I said earlier, it was one of the most memorable meals, one that none of us will ever forget!
Since dinner was, well, kind of a bust, we decided we must end the night on a good note. Of course, that meant getting our daily dose of gelato! This time I got cherry (though I thought I had ordered almond - guess I can't read Italian very well!) and soy chocolate (again, I thought I was ordering regular chocolate…). The cherry was okay, but the soy chocolate tasted like a fudge brownie! Maybe it's a good thing that I can't read Italian. ;)
And that concludes Part 3 of my Italian adventures! More of Rome to come in my next recap!
Is there a meal that you remember very vividly, though perhaps not for the reason you would hope?