Carnivale Kick-off

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only just finished my first week of studies at LdM. Every day has held a new wonder, from walking into Italian on Monday and being fully immersed into the language, to my two separate tours (and tastings) of the Central Market of Florence. I’ve had more food than I could write about in a reasonable amount of words (I’m still trying not to make this ENTIRELY a food blog).

I guess I’ll begin with Thursday evening. I’d finished all of my classes for the week and my roommates, a few other friends, and I decided to go out. We found an underground Jazz Club that had a 6 euro membership fee. Such a cool place! We got a free drink upon entering, and were greeted by a small, albeit extremely talented, live band. They seemed just like a group of friends having a jam session. The vibe was causal and cozy. And now that we have memberships, I know we’ll be back as soon as we can.

The morning after, my roommates and I boarded a train to Venice. Our first weekend exploration. I was ready to get lost in this city that I’ve read so much about. Adam found an almost-too-cheap-to-be-true apartment for two nights that was on the small Venetian island of Murano, the one know for the unmatched skill of its glass blowers. After getting settled (and calling the company we were renting from to come and clean it please and thank you…) we took a water taxi to the main island.

Now, every travel blogpost I’d read about Venice said that the best way to see the city was to avoid the crowds as much as possible and to get lost in the maze of narrow walkways and mesmerizing canals. We wandered for the majority of that first day. I asked one of my culinary professors for some good eats. She let me know that Venice is not an Italian city necessary known for its food. The major tourists destinations are surrounded by tourist trap restaurants, catering to those who probably won’t be back, and therefor won’t pay as much attention to quality and pricings. She said that the best places were the easiest to miss and the most Venician way to eat was Cicchetti-style. This is a local custom of eating finger food and sipping the local wine (prosecco is the go-to as this is the region it’s from).

Cantinone gia Schiavi

This led us to Cantinone gia Schiavi, an extremely unassuming place found under a duo green awning that could be easily passed by without a second look. Here I had one of the best plates of food I’d eaten since landing in Italy. From right to left: pumpkin, ricotta, and parmigiano – octopus – smoked swordfish – and tuna and leak – all on top of a slightly toasted baguette slice. I asked the chef behind the counter for his favorite and he picked out the tuna and leak one. This is my kind of eating, so many different combinations of flavors in tiny little bites. I could have spent my entire visit in Venice solely eating cicchetti. Plus this entire plate only cost me around 6 euro (including the prosecco).

*still drooling

For dinner that night our main goal was to find a seafood place where I could get some risotto (two things that Venice are known for). This was no problem after a little aimless wandering. Since the place we found didn’t open until 6:30, we killed some time by drinking a bottleĀ of prosecco next to a canal at the end of an alleyway. One of my roommates and I split a mound of tuna tartar, a bowl of steamed clams and mussels, and we each got our own bowl of seafood risotto. Now here is where Venice surprised me. Everyone, and everywhere I read, was telling me not to get my hopes too high for the food in Venice. Yet, these two meals, I have to say, matched any food expectation I had of Italy in general and then some. The tartar, small raw cubes of raw tuna, was lightly seasoned with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and on top a nest of peppery arugula. I was immediately transported to the sea, which probably wasn’t much of a stretch considering we were less than a kilometer away from the Aegean. The bowl of mollusks was served with a thin tomato and seafood broth and a slice of lemon. Exactly how I believe mussels and clams should be served. They tasted like they were cooked right in the sea with minimal additives. Then came the risotto. Risotto is a rice dish, that’s slowly cooked with wine and some sort of broth, and this one had shrimp and calamari. It was creamy and an absolute comfort with every forkful.

The Fierce Firenze Five take Venezia

I went to bed early and very happy that night. Getting a surprising 15 hours of much needed sleep.

The next day was a pleasant blur of exploring the glass shops on Murano, a quick trip to Saint Mark’s square, more crowd-less wandering, and of course, the first night of Carnival. Now, I’m no expert, but my understanding is that Carnival is the near month long celebration leading up to Lent. It’s the Italian Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras is the Americanize Carnival – eh not totally sure, and too lazy to google it. The big kick-off event was a canal parade of extravagant lights. There were fire dancers and eaters, a woman suspended by a huge glowing balloon, dancers with (what looked like) wacky-inflatable-tube-dancer-esque appendages, and women with glowing capes seemingly dancing on the water. The entire day we were surrounded by masqueraded crowds and little kids in Star Wars or Spider-Man costumes (yeah I’m not sure why either).

And this was just night one of an entire month of events. I’m currently riding the train back to my new home, Firenze. I thought I’d finally take some time to record a bit more of my adventures. I refuse to edit these posts (too much) partly because I’m just lazy, but also because I want to remember this as raw as I possibly can. As always, thanks for reading – you da best! I’ve only been here for, what? not even two weeks? And my eyes, and taste buds, have been exposed to more than I thought possible. Well, here’s to the more that’s yet to come.



Benvenuti a Firenze!

The two days leading up to Firenze, Emma and I were in Amsterdam. What a busy and beautiful city. Maybe I’ll write a full post about it at some point. Maybe I won’t. I’m still getting used to this whole blog thing, so who really knows? What I do know, is that I plan on making my way back to the Venice of the North.

Now onto Firenze! Well that’s what the plan was, but the weather thought differently. We had to touch down on Pisa. I honestly didn’t mind. I wasn’t in any huge rush. Plus I got to see an hour of Italian countryside that I’d never been able to see without that little detour. Didn’t get to see the leaning tower, but I’m sure that’s still to come.

After arriving in Florence I had to go straight to a short orientation. At this point I hadn’t met any of my roommates, and had only been able to contact one on Facebook. Wolfgang just happened to be standing right behind me in line. I know, how freakin cool is it to have a roommate named Wolfgang? Anyway, I had the great idea of trying to find our own way to our apartment and bypassing the taxis. Now, Florence’s streets remind me a little of the cracks of a broken mirror. No nice and easy, structured city blocks. These narrow cobblestone streets are going to take a little getting used to. Wolf and I tried our best, but after about 15 sweaty minutes and figuring out that we were walking in the wrong direction, we decided to hail a cab. At least we could feel a tad accomplished about that.

We were the last two to arrive. Five guys living in the middle of Florence. And what do you do on your first night with new people in Italia? Drink wine! And explore the city a little. But mostly, drink wine! We stopped at a tiny restaurant tucked away in the city. I panicked due to not understanding/knowing how to speak much Italian, so I ordered one of the first things I recognized, pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans). But, honestly, I don’t think it matters what you order most places in Italy, because it’s going to be delicious. The main components of this soup were square cut pasta pieces and chick peas. The warmth of the soup and the familiar onion and garlic flavors seemed to welcome me home.

Then came the wine, of course, and a chance to connect a bit with the roomies, or as I coined on WhatsApp, the “Fierce Firenze Five”.

The next morning I stopped at a cafe that is right next door to our apartment that I’d failed to notice the day before. For breakfast I like to have something soft, crunchy, sweet, and something strong to give me a kick start to the day. And the apple tart I had gave me the first three and looked like a piece of art with the thinly sliced apple fanned out on top. The cappuccino gave me my kick.

After some more orientation and whatnot/who’s who stuff, my roommate, Adam, and I went grocery shopping. I’ve never really been in a place where I’ve had to constantly cook for myself, and I was in heaven walking into that market. For lunch we just made ourselves a very simple bruschetta with a baguette topped with pesto, fresh mozzarella, and a balsamic glaze. The perfect thing to tide us over until dinner.

There is nothing more calming then standing over a stove and having the starchy smell of boiling pasta fill the room. This is what I came here for. Food, and also the sense of peace it brings me. We made a very simple pesto pici. Pici is a type of pasta similar to spaghetti, but thicker. I poached some eggs to throw on top, as well as some parmigiano reggiano. The egg yolk oozes over the pasta, thickening the sauce, giving it a bit more body. There’s nothing like a perfectly runny yolk. The basil pesto, even though we didn’t make it ourselves, tasted so fresh and was absorbed wonderfully by the pici. Oh, and of course there was a bit of red wine throughout the cooking/eating process.

First home cooked meal in Firenze

Gelato was an obvious after dinner go-to. Oh, and we were right outside the Duomo (see featured image) while we indulged.

Even though it’s only been a day and a half living in Firenze, I really think I’m going to like it here. It’s going to be a pretty delicious semester to say the least.

Alla Prossima! Ciao!