Friday, July 7, 2017

Part ONE of ITALY adventure!!!!

Hi all!!

I've just returned from a short and sweet getaway to Italy with Judith.  Big time bellisimo!  All of it.  The food, the sights, to cities and the company.

We arrived in Florence on July 2 at about 10pm, snagging a cab from the airport into the city (as the buses we running once an hour and we missed the last one by mere minutes).  Our driver was majorly hot, both of us remarking silently to one another with raised eyebrows and mischievous grins, though sadly he was quite unfriendly/even a bit rude.  What a waste, such a hot face on such a jerk, we concluded, smirking and rolling our eyes at each other. 

Anyway, this night was spent in a bare bones hostel close to the station, as our plan was to depart for Siena early the next morning.  It was insanely hot outside despite it being so late at night.  Easily 90 degrees.  We fell asleep to the whirring overhead fan and sporadic noises in the hallway outside.

The next morning, July 3, we headed to the Central Market for breakfast.  I got us hopelessly lost for a  moment on our way there.  Embarrassing because I am actually quite familiar with Florence and haven't really gotten lost there previously.  However we asked someone and found it quickly thereafter.  This place is huge.  I would imagine with well over 40 stalls inside, selling anything and everything.  From meat to artisan cheeses, to spices, pastas, fruits and vegetables.  Some stalls even selling freshly cooked meals. 

We both grabbed some fruit (Judith got some fresh cherries and a peach, while I selected a peach and a huge bag of fresh cherry tomatoes).  Then she went in search of a sandwich at another stall, while I ordered a slice of spinach pie, feeling a bit bummed at the high price for what was likely to be nothing special.  Thank god I was wrong.  The spinach pie was surprisingly awesome.  The crust buttery, slightly flaky but moist inside.  The spinach dotted with tiny pieces of pungent cheese.  The bag of cherry tomatoes I bought were absolutely delicious.  Firm, juicy, the most subtle earthy taste coupled with the usual bright freshness of tomatoes.  The peach juice ran down my arm in a narrow river, soft and slightly tart, so yum.  This was an awesome breakfast.

The train ride to Siena was lovely.  For just 10 euro, a little over an hour train ride and a straight shot at that.  The inside was air conditioned.  We each had our books and our food.  The time flew by, along with the Tuscan hills and vineyards moving past the windows outside..

Now, onto Siena.

Judith and I agreed that it was absolutely stunning.  She likened it to Venice but without the water.  Siena is tightly packed, set high up on a hill.  The streets narrow and winding.  If a car passes through, this often requires one pressing themselves against the buildings along the street sides, ninja style.  The buildings, in varying shades of brick, dusty muted reds and tans.  The entire small city is old, slightly worn and crumbling.  Laundry hung outside windows, waving in the breeze.  Window sills adorned with flower pots and boxes, spilling over with brilliant bursts of pink geraniums.  Trattorias and Osterias sprinkled along the closely quartered streets.

Siena was stifling.  Sweat running down our backs as we moved through the maze of streets.  The sun intense, baring down.  The air felt dusty and dry.  We wandered the labyrinth of narrow streets, stopping to snap photos often.  Coming to Campo Piazza, regarded as one of the Europe's greatest medieval squares, our jaws dropped.  Its magnificent.  In fact, its renowned worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity.  There is a very famous, twice a year horse race held in this square called the Palio di Siena.

Continue downward for photos of our wanderings in Siena and this stunning square.

How cute are these signs, outside a little food shop!?!  Love them.

In light of the hot day, Judith got gelato.  An absolute must when in Italy. 

(Real quick, cool fun fact for ya:  Gelato is of course made with cream and sugar, however, I spotted a number of dairy free options in many of the gelatarias we popped into.  Even stumbling on one offering dairy AND sugar free gelato.  Skeptical, I tried it.  And actually, it tasted like the real deal.  Absolutely loved it!  So, for those who take issue with dairy or sugar, no worries there).

Anyway, initially I declined getting one with her but after trying a few licks of her cone, instantly regretted that decision.  Both of us agreed this was hands down the best gelato either of us had ever sampled.  That insanely overpriced, touristy cone she got in Siena (further shocking us because usually when overpriced and touristy, it isn't that good at all) was the winner, by a longshot. 

Judith chose the flavors coconut and a vanilla yogurt.  It tasted like an airy whipped cream, but with weight to it.  Thick, creamy, lightly sweet with hints of vanilla, whoa.  Mouthwatering.  Truly phenomenally delicious.  We talked about it through the rest of the trip ;-)

Annnnnnd, as you can see below, that would be "Brooke eating her ice cream" Judith laughed hysterically.  I blame it on the heat!  It was SO hot out.  When Judith ate her portion, it hadn't yet had the chance for melting to such a degree.  She commented giggling that she didn't just think it was the heat ;-p.  Then insisting on taking a photo of the whole mess.  Plus a silly photo of the two of us together.

The photos you just passed were the Duomo of Siena.  Lovely.  To me, the pale pink and white resembling something like pulled, twisted taffy candy.  Judith paid to go inside while I did some wandering and photo taking.  We met up again 45 minutes later and continued moving through the romantic mystery (minus the hoards of tourists) that was Siena.

At one point, we stumbled across a hole-in-the-wall shop with what we agreed was unique and awesome artwork.  Seemingly done in pastels or watercolor, the art was smudgy, dreamy, totally romantic and beautiful.  I bought one painted with a Tuscan countryside scene (done on a piece of pottery) in shades of deep purples, greens and gold, too lovely to pass up.  Imagining myself hanging it in my new room (back in the US in just FOUR weeks!) and thinking of Italy whenever looking at it.

Check out the street lamps!  How nuts are these!?  They were different depending on which part of the city we were in.  Some looking like a jesters hat.  Others like a spray of colorful ribbons.  I thought these fish ones were too funny not to get a photo of.

This was like, take 7.  The sun was SO bright.  The eyes open just wasn't going to happen ;-p.  We both thought this was pretty hilarious.

Dinner (pictured above) was at Osteria Cice, recommended by the artist from the shop I described above.  The dinner was INCREDIBLE.  I sampled the gorgonzola and mint pasta topped in a walnut sauce.  Whoa.  This was two large pillowy raviolis topped in a thick, creamy sauce.  A dusting of walnuts on top.  Inside, a thinner creamy puree of sorts.  The dish was rich, hearty, comforting, just the bomb.

Judith had pasta in a truffle sauce.  Her noodles were thick, so fresh, tasting slightly floury and pillowy as well (though hers were just thick strands of noodles).  Her sauce was a mixture of oil and truffles.  So flavorful and rich, wow. 

Both of us could not stop exclaiming how awesome the food was.  For those of you interested in seeing some more photos of the food here or reading other reviews, here you go.

After dinner, as dusk set the city in romantic quiet, we passed a bakery with 5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor.  Annnnnnd, I was in.  The shortbread was melt in your mouth incredible.  Then we passed a cafĂ© which, nearly continuing onward, instead we ducked inside of.  Out back lay a sprawling lawn set with tables overlooking a breathtaking swatch of the Tuscan countryside.  Looking at each other wide eyed and smiling, we agreed on having dessert here.

A trio of cannoli were set in front of Judith while I had a cookie like shell filled with sweet ricotta and topped in chocolate.  We watched the sun set in the Tuscan hills while enjoying our sweets, giggling, chatting and just having an awesome evening.

It got even funnier, Judith clutching herself and howling with laughter, when I ate the mint leaf garnish on my plate (because it had some chocolate on it), recoiling in disgust as how strong it tasted. 

"You ate it!?!"  She asked, eyes wide, grin huge, stunned. 

"You said it might be good!"  I said in a quick breath before chugging water.

"I hadn't meant you actually should when I suggested it.  I was joking!"  She said, laughing and laughing.  This was pretty hilarious, both of our eyes watering we were laughing so hard.

The streets on our walk back to the hotel were breezy, cool and hushed.  A welcome departure from the tourist laden crush and the intense heat of earlier in the day. 

The restaurant where we enjoyed dessert with a fab view.  For more food photos and reviews of this place (its called Vivace), here is the link.

Stay tuned for PART TWO!!!!!

In roughly 48 hours...!

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