Under the Tuscan Sun

  “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Last weekend, I traveled to Florence, Italy! My friend Bri and her parents were kind enough to let me tag along on their Italian adventure. On Thursday, we left for Florence. After a super quick layover in Rome (so quick that we had to run through the airport!), we landed in Florence in the late evening. Bri’s mom travels often for work, which allowed us to stay at the Hilton in Florence and be “executive club” members for the weekend! We checked into the beautiful hotel and had some drinks in the bar before going to bed early to prepare for the busy day ahead!

On Friday, we went to the center of Florence to do some exploring. One of our first stops was the beautiful cathedral and tower, made from marble in various shades of pink and green. It is the largest brick dome ever constructed. Next, we stopped for our first taste of gelato. If you get a fruit flavor, it can count as breakfast, right? I tried a melon flavor that tasted exactly like fresh cantaloupe. Yum! With our gelato in hand, we crossed Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which is covered in shops and crosses the River Arno. It is the only bridge in Florence to survive World War 2.  After, we walked around more of the city and saw the statue of David by Michelangelo. We had some appetizers and wine at an outdoor restaurant before heading to our Chianti afternoon tour!

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By recommendation of our hotel, we took an afternoon tour of the Chianti region of Tuscany. We boarded a bus and traveled about an hour outside of Florence. The bus took us through the beautiful rolling hills of the region and eventually to a vineyard. At the vineyard, we sampled different kinds of Chianti, including Chianti Clasico, the most authentic Italian Chianti wine that is only a true Chianti Clasico if it has a black rooster image on the bottle, signifying that it was made in a certain area of the region of Tuscany. Since I don’t have much wine knowledge, it was great to learn more about how it is made and the proper etiquette. I learned that you are only supposed to hold the glass by the stem. Before drinking, you should swirl it around a little in your glass and smell it, then swirl it around in your mouth before swallowing. We also sampled some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, paired with some breads, cheeses, and meats. My favorite part of the vineyard was the amazing view from the property. The sun was beginning to set when we were there, so it made the landscape even more beautiful.

After the wine tour, we continued south towards Siena. We stopped in a few small Tuscan villages including Monteriggioni, a town with only 50 residents. It is home to a large fortress created during the many land battles between Siena and Florence. Monteriggioni is also where the film Gladiator took place and the game Assassin’s Creed (for you video game nerds). Unfortunately, it was dark when we got there so we couldn’t see much of the city, but we did stop at another small winery for a tasting. It was great to see the region of Tuscany outside of the main city of Florence. We went back to our hotel and then out to an authentic restaurant for some pizza and pasta. It was a great day filled with lots of good food, drinks, and sights!

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Continuing on our food tour through Italy, we went on a “Taste of Florence” tour on Saturday. With just a local guide and a couple from Belgium, we stopped at local restaurants, bakeries, markets, and butcher shops to try local foods. Our guide informed us that Italian food isn’t only pizza and pasta. It was great to taste other elements of Italian cuisine that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We ate prosciutto, pastries, beef brisket sandwiches with pesto sauce, and fish and chips. In the local food market, we learned that Italians eat almost every element of an animal, including the esophagus and other gross body parts I won’t mention! There were beautiful displays of produce and shops with homemade desserts and other delicacies.  We even saw noodles being made from scratch. The market was great to feel like less of a tourist and more of a native, watching the locals buy their  fresh products and learning how they use it when cooking back home.

Next, we stopped at a winery and sampled more wine, cheese, and breads. We also sampled balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Some of the balsamic that we tried was 20 years old and a small bottle would sell in stores for almost 200 euros! It was sweet and delicious, so sweet that our guide recommended trying it with vanilla ice cream and strawberries. Our final stop on the tour was to a gelato shop where I tried hazelnut and coffee flavored gelato. It is considered one of the best chocolate and gelato shops in Italy because the owners have their own cocoa bean plantations in Central America and they make the chocolate and gelato fresh daily in their shop from the beans they import themselves.

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After a busy day of eating, we went back to the hotel for the rest of the night. We tested out the whirlpool, the fanciest and largest I’ve ever been in (it even had a waterfall!) and then spent the rest of the night relaxing in the executive lounge. It was very different from my typical weekend traveling, only staying in mediocre hostels. I really enjoyed relaxing and having a nice, private place to come back to after a busy day! Many thanks to the Adams’ family for letting me join them! This weekend, I am taking a day trip to Segovia, Spain. Until next time…. Arrivederci!

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