Tag Archives: no carb left behind

Berlin

So, remember when I promised that I would be caught up on all my intended posts before I left to travel last Friday?

I might have broken my promise, a little bit.

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t quite make it to this post: Berlin!

I went to Berlin the weekend of November 18th, and it was actually a very special trip because I went alone. I know. It was sort of a stressful decision to make. Okay, it was a really stressful decision to make.

Traveling somewhere alone was actually an idea I had stored in the back of my mind for something I would do abroad if I magically became very cool and independent. There was a kind of allure to the idea…it just seemed like something that a real, grown-up, mature, fearless (a.k.a. not me) person would do. But, instead of spontaneously booking the tickets and eagerly anticipating the weekend, I went back and forth for days trying to decide if I was making a horrible decision, if I would be bored and lonely, if I would be taken the moment I landed in the airport and my parents would spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to me on my way to Berlin. I turned it into a huge deal, but encouraged by tales of how cool Berlin was and reassurance from friends and family that I might just be mature and street-smart enough to pull the whole thing off, I booked the flight and hotel…two days before I was supposed to be leaving. And then I cried. Really, though.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I’m 100% thrilled to have made the decision I did! And that I obviously was not kidnapped or murdered in a dark German alley. There were definitely moments when I wished I had someone to talk to (or, more often, someone to make decisions for me), but it was a really great trip. And perhaps most importantly, I returned to France feeling that much more confident in my ability to eventually become a real, grown-up, mature, fearless person. Someday.

Berlin began with yet another sign that, as much as I love the places I’ve been able to travel to this semester, I really did make the right choice when I decided to study abroad in Paris. As I walked from the airport to the metro, I passed a whole row of advertisements for the European budget airline Easyjet. Each ad was for a different city and basically had an orange (the company’s color) object that was representative of that city. Brussels had an orange chocolate bar. London had an orange tea pot. You get the idea. I wondered what Paris’s would be and kept my eye out for it…and finally, after passing what felt like dozens of other cities, the last one was my temporary home sweet home.

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It’s a dog. A white, super girly dog. Even though it’s big, and not a Bichon, and much more devotedly groomed than my little ragamuffins ever will be, it just confirmed that, yes, I do belong in Paris. Good decision-making, me one year ago.

But anyway! I got into Berlin at night, so I just checked into my hotel, watched a movie, and crashed. And yes, I stayed in a real hotel…it seemed a little bit safer than a hostel. So I guess that makes me a little less daring and adventurous. But it was really, truly wonderful to be able to sleep in a nice bed, work out in a gym for the first time since August, shower in a bathroom I don’t have to share with a million other people, and even order room service. After months of hostels and the smallest dorm room ever, I felt like royalty.

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So, seeing as I was alone, my Berlin weekend looked sort of similar from day to day and was heavy on the sightseeing. I always woke up later than I intended to, went to a Starbucks (I pre-mapped them before showing up in Berlin, I know, I know) for breakfast and then saw sight after sight until it got dark, at which point I’d go back to my hotel and take advantage of the workout room. Working out in shorts and a running top again was awesome. I was not made to handle cold weather.

One of my first major stops was the Pergamon Museum, which was awesome. Basically, Germany went to other countries, snagged some really incredible, often really large things, and reconstructed them inside this museum. Things like, you know, the Ishtar Gate. And the Pergamon Altar. Small, insignificant…you know.

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Really, these things were so monstrous, there’s no way to fit them into a single picture without the use of a helicopter and an impressive lens.

I also went to the Berlin Cathedral, which was beautiful and impressive.

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I was sort of miffed because you had to pay four euros to get in, which is soooo un-churchlike and I personally don’t think Jesus would approve, but then there ended up being a teeny little gallery/museum inside–and, more importantly, you could climb to the top and have access to some pretty impressive views of Berlin. So obviously that was going to happen! And I got over my irritation with the whole four euro thing.

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Possibly the most well-known place I visited was the famous Brandenberg Gate. In the words of Let’s Go Europe, the best travel guide ever, “Friederich Wilhelm II built the gate as a symbol of military victory, but Germans these days prefer to shy away from that designation, you know, because of WWI and, uh, WWII.” So there’s some semi-humorous background for you.

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And here’s a semi-humorous photo of me cheesing with some faux German/American soldiers.

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Aux armes, citoyens!

There were two potential correct languages (slash national anthems…) I could have gone with there, and I still got it wrong. Oh, France, what have you done to me?

As cool as the real Brandenberg Gate was, I liked this one better.

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MAYBE BECAUSE IT’S MADE OF PURE CHOCOLATE.

I saw this total gem at Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers, a famous chocolate shop that also boasts chocolate replicas of the Titantic, the Berliner Dom, a volcano, and other large, impressive things. The place was enormous, and it would have been extremely out of character if I hadn’t picked up a few little gifts for certain chocolate-lovers back home (just a warning, Crevasses, you might end up with chocolate from every country I’ve visited). And of course, a little treat for myself.

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(To be honest, that was not mine. I got some much fancier and more decadent truffle thing obviously, but I forgot to take a picture. So instead you get to see the cute little Berlin bear they threw in for free. Because they totally loved me and sensed my German ancestry.)

A trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without spotting some remnants of the Berlin Wall…which was definitely cool, but you know, it was before my time. It’s like the difference between seeing a WWII memorial and a 9/11 memorial. We’ve been talking about this sort of thing a lot in my artsy farsty classes…so you know…sometimes I go to school. There’s your proof.

Seriously, though, I wish I’d made it to the East Side Gallery, where there’s some pretty impressive street art displayed on remnants of the wall…but alas, I didn’t. Next time!

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One of the most moving things I saw was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, located just down the street from the Brandenberg Gate. The structure was incredibly somber, and it was actually a little bit frightening and disorienting to walk through the blocks. They were taller than me in the middle of the memorial, and it’s impossible to see other people walking around them until you literally run into each other. So, you know, creates a little bit of a jumpy atmosphere. The children flying over your head as they jump from block to block really add the excitement.

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I also visited the Topography of Terror Museum, which details the rise and fall of the Nazi Party, and where I took one picture…of the most frighteningly Aryan family EVER.

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And the DDR Museum, where I also only took one picture.

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Come on, it’s pretty funny. Also, as you might notice, while I thought the museums overall were really well done, the translation was not always excellent. Not a problem or annoying or anything, it’s just kind of interesting to notice where and when that happens in Europe.

One of the things that was interesting but sort of sad about Berlin was that there almost seemed to be this air of necessary atonement in some these museums and memorials. When I went to Normandy in early November, I remember talking with my friends about how in the south, decades after the Civil Rights movement and even longer since the abolition of slavery–both events that I and my peers were in no way involved in–you still have to be really careful when you talk about “southern pride”. It’s necessary to be specific about what that pride stems from. I can’t help but wonder how young people in Germany feel about the events of WWII, and how long it will take before the horrific events of WWII truly feel like a horrific part of the past than something haunting the present. For all of us, really. I mean, I’m sure no Germans are ashamed or upset to be German–I’m not ashamed or upset to have been raised in the South, after all–it doesn’t have to define the country the way it once did. It’s just interesting to think about.

On a lighter note, I spent some time doing less formal sightseeing–primarily wandering around Berlin’s famously plentiful flea markets and the Christmas markets that were being set up around the city. These were some of my favorite things I did–I didn’t even buy anything, it’s just so fun to wander! And even more fun when you’re sipping on mulled wine. 🙂

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Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bretzels. Which, in full disclosure, I began using as meal replacements at some point during the weekend. So much carby goodness.

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Berlin was a really cool city that somehow felt very different from most other cities I’ve visited this semester. I really am so glad that I did a trip alone, but someday I’d like to go back with friends…specifically so that I can explore the Berlin nightlife scene, which I hear is really cool. Above all, considering that I made it back in one piece and, as far as I know, without any creepy stalkers in tow, I’d say the trip was a success. I’d do it again!

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Rome

Roma Roma Roma…the last stop on our amazing trip. The Eternal City. Rome was nothing like I expected in some ways and exactly like I expected in others. The city was sprawling and beautiful, at once modern and ancient. Cars raced down streets and around traffic circles in a frantic, interminable river, making crossing the street a heart-pumping, adrenaline-filled experience. Ancient ruins sat waiting around every corner, Vespas whizzed by constantly, and the food–the food. It was unforgettable.

Rome was actually a little bit sad at first, because our little travel family went separate ways upon arrival. Amanda is studying in Rome for the semester, so she went back to her homestay. Heather’s parents were in town, so she headed off to their hotel. Meanwhile, Nicole, Tess, and I checked into our hostel. But we also gained a traveler! My friend Eric met us in Rome, bringing the Tulane count to six. NICE.

Nicole and I celebrated our arrival in Italy with some McDonald’s french fries. What, that’s not what you want immediately upon arriving in the capital of the greatest food country ever? Weird of you.

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Our first night, we wandered around a bit before meeting Amanda for dinner. We ended up passing this impressive building. I’m still not entirely sure what purpose it serves, but Tess’s guidebook described it as a monument basically just meant to say “WE ARE ITALY. WE ARE GREAT.”

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Fair enough.

We also sat by these Roman ruins and tried to figure out where exactly the Colosseum was. Embarrassingly enough, it was pretty much right down the street. We didn’t find out until a day later. It would seriously be like standing on the Champs Elysées and scratching your head over the location of the Arc de Triomphe. I pray that no actual Romans overheard our conversation. Or, you know, anyone.

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Dinner that night was 1000 kinds of amazing. (This was sort of a theme in Italy…shockingly.) We went to Dar Poeta, an amazing little restaurant located on the most charming cobblestone alley you’ve ever seen in your life. It was in Trastevere, a.k.a. Amanda’s hood! Unreal.

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We feasted on bruschetta (Amanda and I had a blue cheese and honey variety that was actually life-changing, I crave it regularly) and some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

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Oops, blurry.

The real highlight of the meal, however, was this:

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That, my friends, is a Nutella and ricotta calzone. Mark your calendars for our upcoming nuptials.

The next day was insanely and wildly successful in terms of sightseeing. Rome is huge, and we knocked out a serious chunk of the requisite attractions in those 12 or so hours. I slept like a rock that night. Actually, I always sleep like a rock. But you get the point.

Our day started bright and early and in line for the Vatican museum. We thought the entire Vatican experience would take until around lunchtime or so…we were very, very wrong. And I’m so glad. I don’t think there’s a nook of that place we left unexplored. Including the Pope’s living quarters. Okay, that’s a lie, but we found out which windows belong to him.

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(They aren’t those ones.)

The museum was really incredible! Eric and I went all out and sprung for the audio guides…any shame I might have once had about marking myself as a tourist has completely dissipated since August. American and proud, y’all.

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Highlights included:

dead mummy feet

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the super cool map room

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a Gator! For you, Dad. And because all ancient Romans were obviously Florida fans.

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I guess the School of Athens was pretty cool. (Especially because it was commissioned just to decorate a pope’s living quarters…which is funny, because I also commissioned Raphael to paint a mural in my bedroom! Great minds think alike, Pope Julius II.)

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Annndd then there was this tiny obscure work of art I really liked! Sadly I couldn’t take any pictures…no idea why…but it was called the Sistine Chapel, if that helps you imagine it.

(This might help, too: http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html)

After spending several hours touring the museum, we grabbed a bite to eat…

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SALAD PIZZA! It’s carb-y and vegetable-y. In other words, my dream meal.

And then made our way to St. Peter’s.

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Heather and her parents reunited with us there, so that was exciting! We ended up accidentally in line to go to the top of the dome…best mistake ever. We not only got to see the inside of the Basilica from the dome, we also got to see the view of Rome outside of it! It just took a ridiculous number of steps, winding staircases, and narrow passageways.

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Once we came down, we wandered around the inside of the basilica…

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…and saw some more semi-famous art.

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Also, do you know that you can get married in St. Peter’s? If you’re willing to pay an absurd amount of money and wait 147 or so years. Cool!

We met up with Amanda (this was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon, mind you), and then the sightseeing whirlwind began. Because 7 hours of thoroughly exploring the Vatican and 551 steps wasn’t enough.

We walkednacross this beautiful bridge designed by Bernini. (Angels, quit being so dramatic.)

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had some of the BEST gelato of my life (that’s pumpkin…my heart fluttered with happiness for a good 24 hours afterward)

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wandered around this beautiful piazza (which I should definitely know the name of but have forgotten)

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past (and through) the Pantheon

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made our way to the Trevi fountain, where I of course tossed a coin in so as to ensure my return to this magical city

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and eventually ended up at the Colosseum, which was very cool to see at night.

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From there, we took another lengthy stroll in the direction of the restaurant we planned on eating at. At this point, it was nearing 10:00. We also caught sight of the Vatican in the far, far distance at one point and realized that we’d not only spent 7 hours walking around the place, we had since put several miles between ourselves and the capital of Catholicism. On foot. Taking a very indirect route. On cobblestone streets. It was worth every step, but I guess it wasn’t a surprise that my feet felt like they were about to become unattached at the ankle?

And that we were total gypsies at the tram stop.

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And that dinner tasted like heaven and then some.

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And that I completely CRASHED that night.

Sightseeing slowed down after our first day, but we still managed to continue seeing the Eternal City at a pretty impressive rate. The next day started at the Colosseum, again.

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Heather made some gladiator friends.

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We lingered over Roman ruins.

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We ate a delicious lunch at a mozzarella bar in a little piazza that was hosting a great market.

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We went to the Piazza del Popolo, home to the Twin Churches (that I think might be mentioned in Angels and Demons?)

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…and more importantly, home these days to a middle school track meet. Can you imagine if your track meet were there?!

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We went to the Villa Borghese, a beautiful and expansive park that offered great views of Rome.

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We laid down in the grass, where I took a much-needed nap. After an hour or so of lounging and chatting, we made our way back down into the city…

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past the Spanish steps…

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and to Heather’s parents’ hotel, where we had some wine and appetizers and shared lovely conversation before heading out to the world’s most perfect dinner.

All of my dinners this trip were completely amazing. Not one left me at all unhappy in any way. But something about this last dinner was very special. It just kind of…sparkled.

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We ate at a restaurant on one side of a small, quiet square. When we first showed up, we were the only people there. There wasn’t even anyone in the little piazza–it was just us and a team of waiters, and I felt like so at home in this far away place with my oh-so-special fellow travelers (and Heather’s parents, who were completely amazing and ever so kindly took us under their wing).

Everyone’s meal was impossibly good. We all nibbled on this asparagus covered with cheese and shaved white truffles. It was…incredible. (The photo quality is not, sadly.)

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And then Heather, Amanda, and I made two really excellent decisions. Between the three of us, we had ordered two plates of gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola sauce and one plate of cuttlefish ink gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Like I said, my photos aren’t the best quality (far from it), but this meal–it was unforgettable. And I think black pasta is one of the coolest, greatest things ever. (Also the way the desserts were plated was completely charming.)

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We said goodbye to Heather that night, and I definitely might have shed a tear or two that our little family was splitting up and our absolutely amazing trip of a lifetime was coming to an end. Sad, sad night, friends.

Nicole, Tess, and I still had another day, though, which we spent eating at this charming little pizzeria…

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where I had some amazing funghi pizza and Nicole finished off my cheese for me. But not before sprinkling parmesan on it…told you the girl loved her cheese.

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That afternoon, we wandered down Via Julia, which was absolutely charming and full of some of the most irresistibly perfect boutiques I have ever seen in my life. (We also visited a really beautiful synagogue to make up for our thwarted attempt to visit a Florentine synagogue, but pictures weren’t allowed, so I have no evidence. Sorrryyy!)

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We even made a little friend. 🙂

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We eventually made our way back to Trastevere, where we got drinks in a little wine bar and watched little kids run in and out as they trick-or-treated. Because oh yeah, it was Halloween!

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(Blurry but necessary.)

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(Girly drink.)

Our last dinner was at an adorable little restaurant. As with every meal this trip, the company was amazing, conversation was sparkling and full of laughter, and the food was impeccable. It was really, really rough to part ways afterwards. This trip was truly incredible.

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But you know what? I got to come home to this. I suppose life is fair, after all.

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Florence

Florence. Florence was one of those cities that just feels right, almost immediately. Small enough that it’s not at all overwhelming, big enough that there’s a seemingly endless supply of beautiful things to do, see, and revel in.

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We arrived on a rainy afternoon. Everyone was feeling that bone-deep travel exhaustion–after all, at this point, we’d been in three cities and two countries in the previous 24 hours (give or take) and were feeling a little overexposed to the endless stream of planes, trains, water taxis, buses, and metros it had taken to pull off that particular feat. So, everyone else took advantage of the grey and sleepy afternoon to catch up on some much-deserved napping. I, on the other hand, turn into a too-excited-to-sleep little kid upon arrival in a new place and instead opted to spend some quality time in the hostel kitchen with a cappuccino, Nicole’s guide book, and a map of the city, plotting all the can’t-miss points. If I do say so myself, I think the resulting marked-up map ended up being very useful indeed. (I’m also going to take a moment to pimp out the aforementioned guide book–it’s a “Let’s Go” book and if you’re traveling, anywhere, at all, I highly recommend you get one. It never gave us bad advice, and it’s also hilarious. Except don’t get one if I know you and you’re going abroad in the spring, because then I won’t have anything to get you for Christmas.)

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That night we wandered, tentatively exploring the cobblestoned, colorful city we’d arrived in, charmed by the feeling that it was frozen in time and humbled by the knowledge of the countless incredible minds and souls that had walked the same streets centuries before us.

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We imagined Medicis gazing down at the Palazza della Signoria from the high windows of the Palazzo Vecchio…

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…and gazed in wonder at the dome Brunelleschi was somehow able to imagine against all odds, against history, against what architects and engineers had managed to achieve at that point. Do you know that Arnolfo di Cambio began the construction of the cathedral in the 13th century before anyone knew how to create a dome for it, acting on the faith that, by the time it was finished, someone would? He was right, of course–Brunelleschi came through for him in the 15th century and created what is still the largest masonry dome in the world. This whole story just baffles me and makes me feel like my imagination is a little lacking. (I know my engineering skills are.)

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One of the coolest parts of that first night by Santa Maria del Fiore was realizing that 20 years ago, give or take, my mom was walking around the very same building, probably feeling just as awestruck as my friends and I were a few weeks ago. Even cooler to me than knowing that Gaudi stood and stared at the Sagrada Familia or that Michelangelo himself touched the David is thinking about all the people I know and love who have stood before these incredible sights, exactly as I have, feeling something like I felt. Thousands of miles away from most of the people who occupy my thoughts, it makes me feel a little bit closer to home to know that I’m doing something they, too, found worthwhile at some point. This blog wouldn’t be me without a little bit of sap every now and then. 🙂

Just as important–if not more important–as our reveling in these amazing sights in Florence was our ardent devotion to–what else–the amazing food the city had to offer. That first night, we had an amazing introduction to the gelato of Italy when we stopped at Grom.

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What you’re looking at is heaven-sent nougat and coffee gelato (endorsed by the guy behind the counter as his favorite combination of flavors!). This met and then smashed to bits every expectation I had for Italian gelato. If the Duomo had me silently thanking God, this had me rousing a crowd in the streets to a foot-stamping, clapping, echoing rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. (I mean, not really, but in my mind, yes.)

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God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.

Oh, and here’s a fun gelato fact for you: apparently, if gelato is piled high and brightly-colored, you don’t want it. That stuff is no good. Well, it’s probably delicious, to be fair, but delicious in a normal, American gelato way. Real gelato is mixed in the metal container it’s served in and “should look like poop”. So there you go. If it doesn’t look like poop, don’t eat it.

The great food adventure continued that night with an unforgettable meal at Trattoria Anita. Sorry for the dim lighting!

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This pasta…wow. This pasta is what made me realize that every time I don’t eat fresh pasta, I’m basically taking one of God’s greatest gifts (to continue with the religious theme) and throwing it back in his face. This pasta is the pasta that would allow me to run a marathon, qualify for Boston, and then just run another marathon right away just for fun. This pasta changed my life. This pasta is what caused me to send numerous frantic emails to my mother insisting that we purchase a pasta press, promising to cook endless supplies of fresh pasta if we purchase a pasta press, claiming that I’ll somehow earn millions of dollars and buy my parents a house in the South of France if only we can have a pasta press.

I’m pretty sure we’re getting a pasta press.

I’m pretty sure my parents still aren’t getting a house in the South of France. (I mean, never say never, but don’t hold your breath, Mom and Dad.)

This night pretty much set the tone for the rest of our Florence trip. Our days always started at the same adorable, perfect little breakfast place around the street from our hostel. Every morning, I had a cappuccino, yogurt, muesli, and fresh fruit. And every morning, without fail, it was delicious.

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Fruit that fresh and that perfectly cut makes my heart flutter. So does the adorable miniature silverware they gave us to eat it with. From there, we’d wander across the river, basking in the absolute beauty that is Florence in the morning (and any time of day, really…this picture was taken in the afternoon, full disclaimer).

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We wandered from place to place, delighted to find that Florence was every bit as inviting and manageable as we’d imagined on our first afternoon. Not only did we get to visit most of the city’s can’t-miss spots, they actually became a part of our daily landscape, as familiar and friendly as the kind woman who owned our little breakfast place.

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And the food–oh, the food. I’m not sure if our sightseeing was punctuated by breaks to eat or if our eating was punctuated by breaks to sightsee. Trattoria Anita turned out not to be an untouchable first experience (although we did love it enough to return there on our last night), but rather an indicator of the equally delicious and varied feast that was still to come.

At Sergio’s, which was recommended by my favorite leather vendor (Massimo–more on him later), I decided to truly take advantage of my location and enjoy some Tuscan specialties.

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This is ribollita soup. I know it doesn’t look like much–or, well, maybe it looks like something you don’t want to eat–but trust me, it’s amazing. “Ribollita” means “re-boiled”, I think, and I guess the original concept for the soup is that it’s basically a stew made from whatever food is just taking up room in the kitchen. People would just cook whatever vegetables they had around with broth and bread that was getting stale, and this was the result. My mom actually makes it at home, and twice last year after very long, cold runs, I gobbled down three or four bowls, no problem. It’s heaven.

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This is vin santo and biscotti. Vin santo is an Italian dessert wine, and from what I can tell, it’s always served with little almond biscotti. (At Sergio’s, they just brought us a giant basket…you can see the edge of it in this picture. SCORE. Um, yes, we ate it all.) Weirdly, the wine tasted more alcoholic once you dipped the biscotti in it than it did if you just sipped on it. I bet a science person could explain that to me. However, until that happens, have no idea why that is. It was a perfect, charming, authentic-feeling dessert.

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At Trattoria Le Mossacce (recommended by the guide book to end all guide books), I realized that I actually, contrary to what I’d always thought, love roasted potatoes…as long as they’re covered with a ridiculous amount of garlicky amazingness. And especially if they’ve been roasted to an ridiculously soft consistency. These potatoes in the picture are basically my dream potatoes. I couldn’t get enough of this particular side dish in Florence, and I suspect I will spend the rest of my life trying to make roasted potatoes that taste like Florentine roasted potatoes.

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At Mercato Centrale, I finally found my very favorite pasta–orecchiette! I used to ask for this all the time growing up, but it’s hard to find. It’s even harder to find freshly made and covered with pesto (my very favorite sauce). But Mercato Centrale came through for me, and I loved every delicious bite. Fun fact: “orecchiette” means “little ear”. So cute. As long as you don’t think about the potential cannibalistic implications, which I never have until I just typed that. So, yeah.

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Gelateria dei Neri might have ever-so-slightly beaten Grom as my favorite gelateria in Florence. It had a really cute, old-school feel (our unbeatable guide book said it was the local favorite), and if the ricotta and fig (yup, you read that correctly, changed my life, I’ll never love again) gelato wasn’t enough to win me over (it was), the absolutely divine tiramisu semifreddo I paired it with certainly would have done the trick (no need, but I definitely appreciated the effort…amazing). (Parentheses are my favorite.) Also, this place earned some bonus points for being decorated with pictures of Gelateria dei Neri cups all around the world–I should have taken mine back to Paris with me! They already had one of the Eiffel Tower, so I guess I would have gone with the next best thing and put it next to a pissoir.

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We returned to Trattoria Anita for our last meal, albeit somewhat guiltily. We all felt like we should be trying as many different places as possible, but Trattoria Anita was just so good. Luckily, it wasn’t too much of a repetition, because they had already completely changed their menu when we went for the second time! (You know a place is authentic when….) We split that amazing asparagus side dish, and I don’t think I’ll ever eat asparagus not covered in parmesan again. And then I had tagliatelle with mushrooms. It was incredible. The mushrooms were like…butter. But more flavorful. I died.

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Oh, and I think it goes without saying that we loved the delightfully bubbly prosecco and giant multi-liter jugs of Italian wine everywhere we went. 😉

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the leather market. It was a pretty big part of our Florence trip, I have to say. Somehow, I ended up with no pictures of the place…probably because I was too busy frantically tracking down deals on scarves, gloves, bags, and, of course, the perfect jacket. My story was almost a sad one. It all started with a recommendation from my friend Emily (who’s in Paris with me and went to Florence a few weeks before I did) to go to Massimo’s for a jacket. Not really knowing what I was dealing with, I was happy to have a recommendation to go off of. Massimo immediately impressed us with his lunch recommendation (Sergio’s, home of my first Tuscan ribollita). We returned after lunch, and I had every intention of buying a jacket. Well, I tried on several, and I liked lots of them, but none of them were quite what I was looking for. Until I found the one. It was perfect. The right color, the right style, the right feel. I felt like I imagine a woman feels like after finding the perfect wedding dress. All my friends agreed: it was perfect! Why even look anywhere else?! The only problem? It wasn’t quite the right size. At first, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem at all–the friendly and helpful man working in the store assured me that I could custom order one and it would be sent to Paris. Once he began talking with Massimo, though, it became clear that that wasn’t going to work out. I guess the particular leather I had fallen in love with wasn’t in stock anymore, so they couldn’t make the same jacket. They had similar colors, but they weren’t quite right. Here’s why Massimo is the best. It would have been so easy for him to have had a jacket made in a near-identical color and then shipped it off to Paris, where I would have been stuck with a not quite right jacket for the rest of my life, way too many euros poorer. But he didn’t. And this is in a sea of vendors who were pulling things like trying to sell us jackets that were made for children and displaying bags with fraying seams.

So, if you skipped that long paragraph, I don’t blame you one bit. Just pay attention to this part: if you end up in Florence and want to buy something leather, go to Massimo. He’s honest, kind, and he won’t rip you off.

I know you all were on the edge of your seats wondering, so wonder no more: I did end up with a leather jacket. It looked like a no-go…I thought I was ruined for all other jackets after the perfect one fell into my hands and then was ripped away. But after a sad period of following Heather around the leather market looking like a kicked puppy, I found it. And I love it. I think maybe I was meant to find my real jacket but had to go through the pain of losing the first one to really appreciate it. Which goes to show you that…good things fall apart so that better things can fall together…and…better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all (but then love again)….and…every other cliche I made my AIM status in 7th grade…they’re all true.

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So glad we found each other, jacket. It was fate. And if it doesn’t work out for some reason (like you get stolen in a ghetto European airport or someone spills Natty Light all over you at the Palms, God forbid)…we’ll always have Florence.

We also made some time for a little art while we were in Florence, and visited a few museums, my favorite of which was the Gucci Museo. Yes, it’s real, and it was wonderful, and my favorite museum I’ve been to in Europe, and no I’m not kidding, and you should really just go, even if you think you’re above it, or you’re not into fashion, or you’d rather do something else, or you live in the middle of the Pacific (because I totally have thousands of international readers) and think I’m joking when I say it would be worth it to pay for a plane ticket to Florence just to see this museum. I’m not. Go.

Pictures weren’t allowed, so this, and my word, will have to suffice.

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We also did something a little more traditional and stopped by the Accademia to see–what else–Michelangelo’s David. I don’t have pictures of the actual statue, but I do have pictures of the wall outside the museum (where we waited in line for an hour, give or take). And a story to go along with them.

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The wall was covered in graffiti. Covered. People were just inspired by their proximity to a famous work of art, I guess, and their inner Michelangelo took over.

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Hey look, my mom’s name!

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And some people said disgustingly syrupy sweet things. If I ever write or say anything like this, ever, someone, please, lobotomize me.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted to leave something of myself behind on the wall, too. So, representing the whole group, I proudly penned a little “XΩ” as high up as I could reach.

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You can kind of see it next to that sign. Anyway, as soon as I was done with my little graffiti project, I took it upon myself to read the sign. Which informed me the area was under video surveillance and it’s illegal to make marks on the “historic site” we were standing in front of. Well, damn.

Ever calm under pressure, I completely flipped out. It got even worse when I saw a man in a very official-looking government uniform getting off his moped just across the street, looking very solemn. My heart was pounding. I was trying to decide if I could outrun him in my ballet flats. I was going to spend the next four years of my life in an Italian prison, just like Amanda Knox! What had I done?!!?

At some point, it became clear to my highly amused friends that what was surely a terrifying police officer approaching me with handcuffs was actually…a mailman. So, yeah. That was really embarrassing, considering I had a full scale freakout in front of not only my friends but everyone in line. That just goes to show that I wasn’t made to break rules. Ever. (When I was a toddler, my mom could put me on a blanket and tell me to stay there. If I so much as set a finger off of the blanket, all she would have to do is sternly say “Tessa” and I would go crawling back to the middle of the blanket, where I would no doubt resolve to remain indefinitely. Not much has changed, apparently.) I lost some pride that day…but not enough to stop me from hiding out in the leather shop across the street until it was our turn to go into the museum.

The David was cool. Very cool. Larger than I expected. Symbol of Florentine pride. Cool that Michelangelo touched it. Very cool. Cool. Neat-o. Awesome. This has been a really long blog post, y’all. Sorrier for you than I am for myself. I think what I’ll remember the most, though, is the two prim-looking ladies about my grandmother’s age sitting next to my friend Tess and I. (Oh yeah, Tess met us in Florence! Nicole started calling the two of us “the Tessi”. Everyone say hi to Tess! She’s the blonde one on the left.)

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Anyway, we were sitting behind the statue. (Warning, blog’s about to get a little PG-13, things are getting cR@zY!!!) Tess observed that David had a nice butt. I was about to quietly agree when the proper-looking ladies next to us did it for me, except loudly, for the whole world to hear. So that gave us all a good giggle. But things got even funnier as we continued to listen in on the women’s conversation: “It’s too bad, really. Big shoulders…big hands…big feet…big disappointment.”

Hilarious. (I would say it would be like hearing your grandmother say that, but honestly, my grandmother saying that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Love you, Amma.) It wasn’t until we left the museum that I was really able to get it together after that one. Sorry, maturity, it was fun hanging out for a little bit, but I don’t think things are looking good for us long-term….

I’ll end on a slightly more serious note. (And then, I promise, I’m done…this has been an epic post. I really loved Florence, what can I say.) Onwards, to the Piazzale Michelangelo. I had the pleasure of unknowingly stumbling upon this popular tourist spot while I was running one morning. I was running along the river, saw a path leading up, figured up would lead to views, and followed the path without hesitation. Which turned out to rank prominently on my list of “Best Decisions Ever”, because the view that resulted is one I’ll never forget, ever, for as long as I live. (This blog is my Notebook…read this, and I’ll come back to you.) (If you don’t catch that reference, maybe we shouldn’t be friends.) I don’t think I could pick a favorite moment from my Italy trip, because honestly, the trip was nothing if not a string of impossibly perfect and completely unforgettable moments. But I have to say, there was something very special about that morning at the Piazzale Michelangelo. The tourists hadn’t really arrived yet, so I felt alone on top of the world, free to take in Florence in all of its splendor, bathed in the light of a new day, dappled in that fresh, clean way that seems to only result from morning shadows. It was just cold enough to be refreshing, I felt fully awake and invigorated from my run, and life just felt so perfect in that moment I almost wished I could stop time. But of course, that’s silly. So instead, that night, I took my friends back just in time to watch the sunset.

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Florence, you’re magical.