Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Day 9: Becoming Chefs in Italy

     We met in the hotel lobby at 8:30 am to depart for Apicius International School of Hospitality. Once we arrived, they gave us each an apron and papers with cooking instructions on them. We were told to enter the beginner kitchen and stand by a cooking station. There were about 6 different stations with 3 different dishes. I happened to pick the station that was making pasta, and I was happy I got this station. We just went to the pasta lab and saw how pasta was made, and now I got to do it myself! Turns out, making pasta from scratch is no joke. There’s so much work that goes into it, but Im happy I can say that I made pasta from scratch in Italy! The other two stations made the sauce for the pasta, and a berry and cream dessert. The finished product was a delicious lunch that we were able to enjoy with some white wine! 

And the finished product...

       Later that afternoon, we met for our hotel tour. We toured the Lungarno Collections Hotels. They had to be some of the most unique hotels I’ve ever been in. The first Lungarno Hotel we visited was Portrait. Portrait is set right along the Ponte Vecchio, but it’s beautiful views arent the only thing that makes it special. Portrait believes in building the suite around the guest, making them feel more at home and more comfortable. They ask their guests for photos of themselves and their family before their stay, and when the guest arrives, those photos are put in frames all around their suite. I thought it was a really great idea to make guests feel more welcomed and comfortable.
      The next hotel was a short walk away, and called Continentale. This one might've been my favorite because I loved the open airy feel of it, and it was just overall really cool. I mean, their elevator had a couch in it!!! After seeing some beautiful rooms, we were taken to the rooftop bar area that had an awesome view.

Elevator with couch that fit all 14 of us!

        The last Lungarno Collection we saw was Gallery Hotel Art. There were black and white photos of celebrities on the walls (I took a picture of Christopher Walken). The outside of the hotel had spoons all over it, and one giant spoon on the ground. The spoons are a part of the new art installation called “Spoon, I eat Earth”. The spoons are a tribute to the Expo going on in Milan (that I mentioned in my second post) and the theme of the Expo is feeding the planet, giving energy for life. The designer, Simone D’Auria, stated “The Spoon is a perfect metaphor for the concept of nourishment, being the first utensil used to feed babies.” Overall, it was really cool seeing the Lungarno Collections Hotels. They were each unique in their own way, and it was interesting learning about their philosophy of their brand and guest satisfaction. 

       In the evening, we met in our hotel lobby for a happy hour. The guys that own the Hotel Arizona who had already been so great to us, wanted to give us some wine and snacks for our second to last night in Florence. (They were seriously so nice to us our whole stay!) We were so tired from the day that Kristina and I missed the first half of the happy hour, but we made it down for the last half and were able to have a glass of wine and a couple snacks.

Courtesy of Hotel Arizona!
    Since we had another free night to do whatever we wanted, half of us wanted to see the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo again. The sunset was too good to just see once, and its a shame that the rest of the girls didn’t want to join us! Your loss ladies ;)  We left a little later than the previous night, and got up to the hill right as the sun was setting. We were basically sprinting to catch it. It was beautiful and we all sat on the steps and enjoyed some wine. It was more relaxing being there the second night, because the first night I was so concerned about getting photos. We sat on the steps until it got dark, then decided to check out the restaurant that was near the steps. 

       Our waiter was very friendly and excited to have us; he was so excited that when I asked him to take a picture of all of us, he wouldn't do it unless he was in it. Oh Italian men love attention and American women ;). We just shared appetizers, because the prices were a little much. After that we walked back down to the center of Florence and found a little restaurant on the side of the street and ate there. We tried to go out to our favorite bar Oibo, but when we got there we were all too tired to enjoy ourselves. Plus it was a Tuesday night and nobody was really out anyway. But I managed to get some pictures of Oibo, so you all can see! Sadly, one more day left in Florence. But dont worry, the fun isn't over yet!

Day 8: Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto. – Eat well, laugh often, love much.

       Monday began with a trip to Pasta Laboratory San Michele a Torri. Here, we met a man named Christian who spoke about the fresh pasta that he makes at the laboratory daily. He also spoke about wine, and the estate where the popular Chianti Classico is produced, and that the laboratory is named after. Fattoria San Michele a Torri is a large area of land where they produce not only the Chianti wine from vineyards, but also olive oil. After speaking, Christian showed us how he makes the pasta. First, he takes a piece of dough after is been rolled in a ball, and flattens it out. Once it’s flattened, he makes it longer and thinner by putting it through a pasta roller. 

After the pasta is long and thin enough, you cut it into a few rectangular pieces. Next, you can put one piece at a time through a different machine that slices it into long strands. The machine allows you to adjust for different types of pasta. It was pretty cool to watch!

       Christian was so down to earth and funny; you could tell he is passionate about what he does which made it very enjoyable to watch and learn. After making pasta, he was nice enough to let us try their specialty olive oil called Laudemio. He drizzled it over fresh bread and it was so incredibly delicious. My one regret is that I didn't bring any home with me. Sadly, he only sold big bottles and I knew I didn't have enough room in my suitcase. Fun fact: You know it’s a good olive oil when its green instead of yellow! We also got to try a little bit of red wine that was in a barrel right in the shop!

      Next up was the chocolate laboratory! How did we get so lucky to visit a pasta lab and chocolate lab in the same day? The chocolate shop was called Vestri and we were given tastings of their different chocolates. We also got to try their homemade gelato which was pretty good! As expected, most of us bought a little chocolate to take home. 

          Later that night, we took the advice of the people we met and decided to hike up to the hill to watch the sunset. The top of the hill is called Piazzale Michelangelo. We were warned that its a bit of a hike, and it definitely was. The walk up was such an incline that halfway up I was struggling, but determination won out and we all made it to the top in no time.

       And the view took our breath away (not that we had any breath after the hike). I can’t even try to describe the view. The pictures are pretty, but there’s nothing like just being there and seeing it in person. There were tons of people everywhere just relaxing and the atmosphere was peaceful and happy- nobody yelling and being obnoxious, everyone was respectful to each other because we were all there to appreciate the view. There were vendors to buy hot food and cold drinks and you could either stand by the railings or sit down on steps. The sun was beginning to set so we took as many pictures as we could while it lasted. After I took a million photos, I sat with some of the other girls and sipped on some wine out of coffee cups we got from our hotel lobby (classy right?!). One of the coolest moments of being there was as the sun began to set, half of the crowd started counting down. For a second, it felt like New Years Eve. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…” And as they reached one, the sun went below the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and everyone began to clap. Such an amazing moment, and I was able to catch the last couple seconds of the countdown and cheering on video. (I would upload it to the blog, but for some reason google wont let me.)

      As silly as it may sound, looking at that sunset and seeing all of Florence below, was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I think we all had a moment where we just sat there quietly, soaking it all in. It personally made me appreciate the trip so much more. Everyday was exhausting; between constant walking, early mornings and late nights that allowed for little sleep. But seeing that sunset reminded me of how fortunate I am to have had this opportunity.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 7: David's amazing and all, but Truffle is my one true love

       On Sunday, we visited the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David. The Accademia is also home to other original sculptures by Michelangelo, including his four unfinished Prisoners. The Gallery also has a bunch of paintings and sculptures by other Florentine artists. Seeing the statue of David was unreal. The sculpture is so large and was unlike anything else when Michelangelo sculpted it. It’s still unlike anything else, and its really remarkable to see it and know that its the original. Florinda was our guide and she knew so much about Michelangelo. When talking about David, she mentioned that 20 years ago there wasn't any security; no one checked your bags before entering the Gallery. She said that in the 1990’s, some man came in and yelled “I AM MICHELANGELO!” and threw a hammer at David, hitting his foot. You can see a small piece of marble missing from where the hammer hit. Another cool fact about the statue of David is that Michelangelo sculpted him out of a single block of white marble from Tuscany. Another artist had previously been working on this same block of marble, but claimed it was a bad piece and could not be used for sculpting. Michelangelo was asked to use this block to sculpt David, and he obviously succeeded! 

Unfinished Prisoner
        After the Accademia, Florinda brought us to this giant food court area. When I hear food court I think of a few fast food restaurants in the mall, but this was totally different. The place was packed with all kinds of Italian food, around the perimeter, and tables in the center. I was starving and craving a hamburger for some reason, and they had a vendor that served organic vegan burgers and french fries! I was way too excited about it, I had to take a picture.

         From there, we went to the leather markets. Florence is known for leather and I was told before going to Italy that I had to buy something. I hadn’t splurged on anything yet, so I decided it was about time. I ended up buying two purses for a total of 50 euros. Although I was happy with my purchases, the whole experience was irritating. The leather markets are outdoors and theres rows and rows of stands with items everywhere, and each stand has a different guy selling them. They all harass you, because naturally they want you to come to their stand rather than the guy next to them. It’s a pretty annoying shopping experience; a lot of the guys would tell you their stuff is free (as if we would believe that) or try to tell you that you looked beautiful and compare you to a celebrity to get your attention. I got called Shakira. I mean, thanks I guess. But after being there once, I really had no interest in going back. Plus, I didn't wanna be tempted to spend another 50 euros.

       Later that night, about ten of us went to a little bridge behind Ponte Vecchio to catch the sunset before going to dinner. While we were there snapping photos, two American students walked up and talked to us. They asked us about our stay and gave us some tips on what to do. One of the things they said was that we need to go up and watch the sunset on the top of Michelangelo hill, and pointed in the direction. Sure enough, we could see a bunch of people on this hill. They said its amazing, and you can take a bottle of wine and just hangout there. We decided we definitely had to do that the next day. Once the sun began to set, we started to look for a place to eat. We came  upon a restaurant with outdoor seating not too far from where we were. This meal was hands down my favorite of the trip. I got raviolis with a truffle sauce. I never had truffle before and figured why not give it a try, and it was the best decision I think I ever made. I seriously was in tears as I ate it because I was so happy and didn't want it to end. Truffle isn't found as easily in America but Im gonna make it my mission to order it whenever I see it on a menu. Although Im sure it won't ever be as good as that was. My mouth waters just looking at the photo I took!

         After dinner we went on a mission to find Gelato. We hadn't had Gelato since Rome, so we were way overdo for some. As we walked around we ended up back at the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, which is a building in on the of the Piazza’s, and it houses a large leather market during the daytime. We visited this spot during our tour on the first day, and Florinda told us that locals would be beaten in the center of the building if they didn't pay their debts. On the side of the building stands a bronze statue/fountain of a boar. The story goes that if you rub its snout, you will have good luck! If you drop a coin into its tongue, and it falls through the grate below, you will have good luck and return to Florence one day! Since it was nighttime and less people were around, I was able to take a picture and rub his snout. I tried the coin thing, and missed, but threw the coin in the grate. So I’m coming back to Florence one day whether the boar wants me to or not!