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Monday, December 13, 2010

A better way to see Firenze...

After our lesson in cheese making we decided to head down to Florence a day early. We found a charming hotel in Fiesole, in the hills surrounding Florence. The views of the city were magical...

The next morning we made our way into the city for our 2 night stay in one of my favorite cities in the world. In case you are unaware, I spent the spring semester of my junior year in college studying abroad in Florence. Those four months abroad were some of the most challenging, scary, indulgent and rewarding months of my whole life. I adored my time in Florence - the good and the bad (good = gelato, bad = unending tourist season). It had been 7 years since that time, and a visit was way overdue.

Standing in front of my old apartment

We stayed at this amazing bed and breakfast near the Bargello (Il Bargello B+B) which was a perfect jumping off point to see all of the major sites in the city. Florence is widely known for its incredible museums and art collections - it's practically sacreligious to go there and not take a peek at Michelangelo's David or Botticelli's Birth of Venus. However, as we know from previous experience , Brian is not an art guy. Not really a church guy either. Luckily, this was fine with me as I had seen the sites before. One thing Brian is though, is a food guy (and I am most definitely a food girl).

If you are going to Florence to see all the amazing art and glorious churches, you will probably need 3-4 days to get through it all without your head exploding. Knock those two things off of your list though and you can easily do it in a day. I was looking for something fun and unique for us to do while we were there, and TripAdvisor came to the rescue.

Did I mention Florence (er, and the rest of Italy) is also known for its incredible food?

Enter - Taste Florence. A four hour walking food tour of Florence *cue angels singing* - including an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting, a trip to Mercato Centrale, visiting 2 bakeries, a gelateria and wine tasting. I died. I didn't even notice that it was cold outside while we were walking, thats how pumped I was.

Ok, thats a lie.

I always notice how cold it is.

We started our tour outside of the San Lorenzo church, met up with the rest of our group (limited to 8 or 9 people which is a great bonus) and our tour guide (who by the way was only 22 years old but knew any and everything about Florence) and off we went. Our first stop was a bakery that specialized in savory baked goods - breads, rolls, meat stuffed rolls, more bread.

The next stop was right next door, at a bakery/cafe that specialized in caffe and dolci - coffee and sweet baked goods. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention - at each place we went to we tried a piece of 2-3 of their specialty items. Good thing I came on an empty stomach.

Our next destination was down the street - Mercato Centrale. Your one stop shop for everything meat/cheese/bread/pasta/fruit/vegetables...oh hell - one stop shop for EVERYTHING.

We started off with a plate of boiled beef with the house red and green sauce (spicy and mild). Doesn't sound spectacular, but when the beef melted away once it hit your buttah. Next stop - balsamic vinegar and olive oil tasting!

We tasted 6 different balsamic vinegars - each of a different age, strength and some with special ingredients. We tasted them by themselves on a spoon and cleansed our palettes with white wine in between.

Umm, is this a dream?

Next up - a selection of cheeses paired with various jams and chutneys. Finally we finish up with two different olive oils, one of which was a first press extra virgin olive oil. It was thick and peppery and green in color *drool*

Next stop on our fabulous culinary tour was a gelateria. Not just any gelateria - we went to Perche No! The first gelateria in Florence and rated no 2 gelateria in the world. Heaven.On.Earth. They make all of their gelato fresh every day, from all natural ingredients. Many flavors are seasonal, changing with the weather.

I remembered this place from when I lived here, and had taken Brian here the day we arrived in Florence. During that visit we restrained ourselves and each got 2 flavors in our small cups.
This time we got to taste EIGHT FLAVORS of gelato - and that was just during the lesson of the tour! Once the lesson was over, we could taste whatever flavors we wanted - no limits! I have to admit, I did feel a little sick by the time we left. I think in total I sampled 11 flavors in 30 minutes (ps - the sample size during the lesson was 1/2 a cup of each flavor - hardly a "sample" if you ask me!) . If I had happened to die the second I left that gelateria (probably from a sugar overdose), I would have died a happy woman.

The next and last stop on our tour was a wine shop where we got a lesson in Italian wine and sampled 3-4 different wines. This ended up being one of the most informative and useful parts of the tour - the next day we were embarking on a road trip to Tuscany! We learned all about the history of the DOC and DOCG Italian wines (thats Denominazione di Origine Controllata and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita in case you needed a refresher) which, again, came in handy while were were wine touring and buying up all the wine were could get our hands on.

Finally, and sadly, the tour was over. We met some really great (and really, um, interesting) people - shocker, we were ALL American. We learned (and ate) a lot. I highly recommend it if you are going to Florence...

...oh hell, plan a whole trip around it!


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