(2)FIT in Florence | Page 2

FIT in Florence

November 10, 2016
by Maria
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Cultural Immersion Activities in Florence

Some study-abroad students are so eager to travel and see as many different countries and cities as possible, that it can be easy to overlook all that Florence really has to offer. As a semester-abroad student, I do understand this desire to check off all of the major sites off of your bucket list, in such a short period of time. But, I strongly suggest taking some time occasionally, at least during the week, to do as the Florentines do and really get to know your temporary home. After all, this really is such a culturally-rich city, and by taking the time to experience its beauty, you will gain an even bigger appreciation for it. Trust me, it really is worth it!

 

So, if you are wondering how to best immerse yourself in Florence’s culture, I have a few suggestions which will make you feel like a true Italian.

Take a Ceramics-Painting Class:

A few examples of painted ceramic plates!

A few examples of painted ceramic plates!

As organized through FASA, a group of us were able to channel our inner artist through this really fun and informational ceramics-painting class! Our instructor, Enzo, gave us a little background on the history of ceramics and its importance in Florence. This was a really cool activity to take part in, being that the production of ceramics first began in a little town called Montelupo, just outside of Florence’s city centre. Potteries from Montelupo played such a big role in the Renaissance, as the rich families in Florence had a large desire for these ceramic masterpieces. That is why you will be sure to pass by several ceramic stores filled with intricately designed pottery, while walking through the streets of Florence

Learning the history of Ceramics in Florence

Learning the history of Ceramics in Florence

Each of us had our own work station, including our own personal spinning table, aprons, and paint brushes, to really help us pretend that we were potters for the night. Step by step, Enzo instructed us on how to paint the traditional (and probably most simple), design on our ceramic plates. Once we got to the center of the plate, he gave us the option of choosing which design we wanted as our focal point. Many people chose to paint the Florentine crest, while we could also choose to paint grapes or a rooster. Thankfully, he gave us a template for this design, as they can be difficult for a beginner to paint from scratch.

Our Final Product!

Our Final Product!

My hand was definitely a tad shaky at first, as it’s been a little while since the last time I actually held a paintbrush in my hand.  But, it really felt good to let our creative minds wander and take our heads out of our laptops or textbooks for a little while. You will be really surprised by the outcome of your artwork. Even if you feel like you painted outside of the lines once or twice, you will probably be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of your artwork! You might even be able to trick your friends and family into thinking that you bought it from a ceramics store in town!

Take a Tuscan Cooking Class:

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We all know that Italians take their food very seriously. We cannot complain about this though, because they do prepare the best food around. So, what better place is there to learn how to cook from a professional chef or full-time nonna, than Italy?

The Tuscan Ragu cooking in the kitchen!

The Tuscan Ragu cooking in the kitchen!

The class that I took was through Walkabout Tours, and they took us to a Tuscan farmhouse in the hills of Florence. The location was absolutely beautiful, and really got you in the mood to prepare traditional Tuscan food, right in the heart of Tuscany

Fresh pizza coming out of the brick oven!

Fresh pizza coming out of the brick oven!

If you ever decide to take this class, make sure to come hungry, because you are about to eat more than you probably ever have in one sitting. We started off preparing bruschetta (Tuscan bread with fresh tomatoes), which held us over while we continued to cook the rest of the meal. Next, we began preparing the Tuscan ragu, which is a very traditional sauce made with meat, tomatoes, and the holy trinity (onions, carrots, and celery). The class was fairly large, so we took turns cutting the ingredients and stirring the pot of sauce. While that was cooking, we made homemade tagliatelle pasta, which was probably my favorite part! It was surprisingly very simple, and I definitely recommend trying it for yourself at home! After that, we made our own pizza, which was perfectly cooked within one minute in the brick oven outside. And if you thought that already sounds like a lot of food, we then prepared pork and roasted potatoes. To end on a sweet note, we made not just one-but two desserts (Tiramisu and almond gelato)!

Freshly cut tagliatelle

Freshly cut tagliatelle

 

Olive-Picking Tour:

The olives before they are processed into olive oil

The olives before they are processed into olive oil

It may be obvious that grapes are a commonly harvested product in Italy; but many people don’t realize that olive production in Italy is so prominent as well! After all, one of the Italians’ most cherished products is made from olives-olive oil!

Picking Olives!

Picking Olives!

This was another fun activity organized through FASA! We were able to get a great tour of one of the production facilities, where olives are crushed and extracted into olive oil on a daily basis. It was so cool to see the process in action, and to be able to actually taste the final product. Spoiler Alert: You have not tasted good olive oil until you have had Italy’s genuine extra virgin olive oil. The cheap olive oil that we are all guilty of buying at the supermarket is made with a blend of olives from several different countries throughout Europe, and won’t guarantee you the best taste or quality. The genuine extra virgin olive oil is produced from olives picked from a single olive grower’s trees in a specified region. Once you taste the difference, you will probably think twice about picking up that cheap bottle from the market (but we are students, so it’s acceptable for us to compensate the quality for the budget price once in a while).

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We were also taken to an olive tree farm, where we even got the chance to pick a few olives ourselves! In exchange for all of the hard work that we did picking olives, a traditional Tuscan meal was awaiting our arrival. All of the dishes were made with olive oil, even the cake at the end of the meal! This activity will be sure to increase your appreciation for olives, and may even make you an olive-oil connoisseur.

 

Attend a Fiorentina Soccer Game

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Known as football in Italy, this is probably the most important sport for the locals, who love to show their team pride and support. Even if you don’t love watching soccer, this is still a really fun event to attend, just for the atmosphere and experience of it. It is cool to see how dedicated some of the Italians are to their local team and to see the comradery that they all bring to the game. A few of us were so entertained from watching a little 5 year old boy cheering and waving the Fiorentina flag, that our attention was taken away from the game for a little while. It was just so interesting and exciting to see that this enthusiasm for the city starts at such a young age; it’s amazing!

 

Showing support for our team!

Showing support for our team!

November 4, 2016
by Alexandra
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So You Miss New York…

It happened. The impossible actually happened. It’s halfway through the semester, midterms are over and you can take a (slight) sigh of relief, and you realize…you might actually miss New York City.

Sure New York’s loud, fast-paced streets, sky-high buildings have nothing on the tranquility of Italy’s cultured architecture dating back centuries and laid back lifestyle, but it happened.

I would be lying to you if I said this doesn’t happen to everyone. A common misconception is that every moment abroad is perfect. Sure being abroad is a truly life changing experience, but every moment is not perfect. You must remember to take care of yourself, physically, but especially mentally.

Here’s my go to list when you’re missing the Big Apple or signs of the good, ole United States…

Health: A walk along the Arno River

Florence’s Arno reminds me of walking along the Hudson (and if you squint your eyes, it’s kind of the same…right?) Talking a walk clears your mind and it’s always good to get some fresh air in between long studying sessions. Plus, once you get one glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio, you can’t help but smile. Hint: for ample results, grab a pizza (or gelato) along the way.

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Food: Diner Style

I feel slightly guilty suggesting to go to an American-themed restaurant when you’re in Italy, BUT if you’re really missing some classics (bagels, french fries, hamburgers, the whole nine) Florence happens to have some really good alternatives! The Diner in Santa Croce and the 1950’s American Diner near Piazza Santa Maria Novella are some favorites amongst abroad students. Go for a milkshake and fries and never look back!

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Art/Culture: A Night at the Museum

Italy, especially Florence happens to be the home of some of the greatest museums in the world! If you’re a museum snob like myself, you’ll find some great ones right here. Get your fix of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and so many others at the Uffizi Gallery. Plus, you get some amazing views of the Ponte Vecchio.

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Coffee: Cup of Joe

So I might be the only person in the history of ever that doesn’t like coffee, however, Arnold’s Coffee right next to Piazza Santa Maria Novella has authentic American coffee (in addition to tea and pastries!) If that isn’t enough to convince you, there is literally a giant poster of New York City as soon as you walk in. When you’re missing the big city, grab your coffee and chill while seeing the Empire State building!

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Stores: Shop ‘til you Drop

Europe has some authentic and unique boutiques, but they also have some familiar stores! What do Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, H&M, or Zara all have in common? Well, for one – they have all store locations right here in Florence! So if you want some familiarity of a home shopping experience, it can still happen here!

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While all of these tips might help your longing for New York (or home), I urge you all to enjoy all the more authentic experiences that this special country has to offer. Remember, what your feeling is totally normal. One of my favorite quotes reads, “Everyday might not be good, but there is something good in everyday.”

Remain positive and remember how lucky you are to be experiencing the ups and downs of studying abroad. It is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m sure once we go back, we’ll be longing to be in this exact moment!

Con amore,

Allie

October 28, 2016
by Maria
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A Gelato a day keeps the Doctor Away

I know the real saying has traditionally been “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but technically speaking-some gelato flavors do contain pieces of fruit… So, I think it’s safe to say that it is more than acceptable to have at least one gelato a day when you are in Florence. After all, it is not nearly as indulgent or overly rich as ice cream in the U.S. tends to be, so you won’t feel as guilty about treating yourself once in a while (or 7 times a week).

 

Just as you would see coffee shops on every corner of NYC streets, the same holds true for gelato shops in Italy. You really can’t go more than 50 feet without seeing one of these magical places.

 

But…you have to know the tips and hints for scoping out the gelato shops that are worthy of the locals’ tastes. I know that all gelato looks appealing to our eyes, but if you follow these rules, your taste buds will be very happy also:

  • Avoid the ceiling-high piles of gelato: Usually when the gelato is piled as high as the Swiss Alps, you can pretty much guarantee that it is not going to be the freshest. When you think about it, it is not very likely that that shop is going to be able to sell all of that in one day, especially when you constantly see that pile at the same height, at multiple times of the day. The really good places will be scraping the container to get the last licks for their customers who just cannot get enough of it.
  • Pay Attention to the Color: The color of your gelato should be a pretty close match to the flavor that it is representing. It just isn’t natural to be eating extremely brightly colored gelato, which means that there are probably artificial flavors in there.

Now that you are officially a gelato connoisseur, it is time to try some of my personal favorites, which I think are some of the best around Florence! :

  1. Gelateria la Carraia: This place will just never get old. I know I had already mentioned it in one of my earlier blog posts, but I just cannot say enough good things about it. If you want to treat yourself, but don’t want to overdo it, you can get a cone here for only 1 Euro! But, if you enjoy homemade cones, I recommend upgrading to the 2.50 Euro cone, or getting a 1.50 -2 Euro cup. This is definitely a fan-favorite among study-abroad students because you can’t beat the taste of this gelato, with the very reasonable price to go with it. Also, there are two locations within Florence; one is on the Oltrarno, and the other is in Santa Croce. So, no matter where in the city you are staying, you probably won’t have to walk very far to go there. I highly recommend the “torta della nonna” flavor which tastes like cake, as well as “Biscottini,” which has crushed up pieces of chocolate cookies. They have such a wide variety of flavors, including both fruity and savory, so you will be sure to enter into gelato heaven when you go here!

    Gelato from La Carraia!

    Gelato from La Carraia!

  1. Gelateria Edoardo: If you are a fan of ice cream cones, this is the place for you! I am not lying when I tell you that you will start to smell the heavenly scent of these freshly made cones wafted from the other side of the Duomo, and it will make you run right over to it. The freshly made cones are served to you while they are still warm and crispy, which adds the perfect complement to your cool and creamy gelato. They have such unique flavors here which I would be sure to try, including cinnamon, red wine, zabaione (fresh eggs and white wine,) and many more! And as if it could not get even better, the place prides themselves on serving biological/organic gelato, which is free of preservatives, GMO’s, additives, and any other substance that is probably not the best for your body. So, there is no excuse not to try it! It is located right within piazza del Duomo, so you can be sure to snap a picture of your gelato in front of the Duomo (it is worth it to feel like a tourist, when you are eating this gelato).
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Gelato from Edoardo!

  1. Gelateria della Passera: I heard about this place from a local Florentine, when I asked what her favorite gelato shop was. She said that Gelateria della Passera is by far the best she has ever had, because you can tell they use all fresh ingredients and make it right in the store that very day. So, I just had to try it out for myself! The owner of this place has gained her creative mindset from attending Gelato University, and has created her flavors from combining unique ingredients and creatively experimenting at any chance that she can get. I highly recommend trying “the Mona Lisa,” which is made with crème, apple sauce, orange blossom, cognac soaked raisins, and walnuts. It sounds like such a wide variety of ingredients all combined into one, but this combination of flavors creates such a great taste! This is a tiny place which really only has enough room for the counter, but the area surrounding it is so cute, so I definitely recommend bringing it to a bench right outside or even just walking around and taking in your surroundings.
The Outside of Gelateria della Passera!

Outside of Gelateria della Passera

  1. Vivoli: a hidden gem tucked away on a side street in Santa Croce. This place is almost easy to miss because it looks like a restaurant from the outside, and you do not see the word “gelato” plastered all over the window. But, it is definitely worth checking out! I have only been there once so far, and tried the nocciola and caffe’ flavors, which was a really great combination! The flavors mixed so well together, and the consistency and texture was perfect!

    Gelato from Vivoli!

    Gelato from Vivoli!

  1. Gelateria dei Neri: Right after you try one of my favorite panino shops (All’Antico Vinaio,) just walk a few more feet down the block, and you will reach another popular gelateria! They have a good mix of classic and unique flavors, so you will be sure to find a flavor of interest to you. If you want to add an extra crunch to your gelato, you can get a mini pizzelle cookie to put on top, for only .15 euros extra!

    Gelato from Gelateria dei Neri!

    gelato from Gelateria dei Neri

Other gelaterie that are next in line to try on my bucket list:

  1. Venchi (very well-known for their chocolate flavors; you can’t miss this place by the sight of their chocolate fountain wall through the window)
  2. Grom (They have a location in New York now, so you may have seen it! But, their original location is in Italy).
  3. La Strega Nocciola
  4. Gelateria Perche No!

I hope I have passed my sweet tooth onto you from reading this post! Now, go out there and enjoy all of the amazing gelato that Florence has to offer.

 

Until next time,

Maria