Italy, Chapter 4: Florence!

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Ah, Florence. The last leg of our great epic girl’s trip to Italy. What do I think of Florence? I don’t even know. It was pretty. It was vast. There were a lot of churches. There was a lot of shopping. I would go again, definitely. It’s not top of my list like Varenna but it was fun. I would definitely go back to buy shoes, leather bags and belts.

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First off we stayed in a pretty hip hotel.  The San Gallo Palace .  I dug all their weird cool art and the fresh take on breakfast. It was a bit kitschy, a bit modern, a bit zany like Italy is. I loved the funky chairs in the lobby and the little tiny cacti plants at breakfast. They had a garden outside too that I wanted to explore but by the time I got around to it a storm had rolled in and it was a bit chilly!

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Before all that, we took a quick trip on the Hop-on-hop-off bus to get a lay of the land. Teresa (and me) always recommend this to weary travelers. It’s a great way to relax, see the sights, get your bearings and get around! You can sit and relax or use the ticket for 24-48 hours just to get from here to there. It’s really a great value. Don’t worry about the cheap headphones and knowing what is really going on. You’ll figure it as you go and if you don’t figure it out, no biggy! Just go around again! Florence had two hop-on-hop-off bus routes. One was about an hour and the other two. We didn’t see all of the routes but we did get around. Our first stop was the statue of David at the top of the hill over-looking Florence.

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What a view! Not of the girl, though she is pretty too but of the Duomo and the city! It was really nice to start off our tour with this view and get an idea of what was to come. We walked around, admired some water-colorists street art and ate a delicious lunch.

 

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Apperol Spritz and thinly sliced meats were on the daily. Not pictured was of course burrata caprese salad! We ate that at every meal.

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Then down the hill to do some shopping! Shopping in Florence is what everybody does.

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There are little shops everywhere! Selling everything! And most of it really really nice things, not just cheap souvenirs.

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Of course we visited Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore up close and not just afar from the hillside. At night it was the most dramatic. The black and white marble looks almost like paper when juxtaposed with the other orange and brown buildings around it. It was all very surreal.

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And of course we shopped.

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Teresa found a jaunty leather jacket and I almost bought those boots with the red elastic insert, but I didn’t.

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The next day we took off to see the church at the top of the hill that we didn’t get a chance to see the day before.

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It’s called The San Miniato al Monte and it’s very pretty. We happened to go there on a Sunday and actually got to see a Mass being performed which was crazily dramatic for me, the non-Catholic of the group. There was incense being swung back and forth, monks speaking in latin and the most dramatic and scary song being played on a loud organ. It sounded like Dracula himself was about to appear! But it wasn’t. It was just a traditional mass.

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After that excitement we wandered around the cemetery outside and soaked in the sunshine.

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We visited a little pharmacy store next to the church that the monks make essential oils for. I sampled their famous coconut ice cream. It was delicious, of course. So simple and light! Teresa was skeptical because she thinks coconuts only grow in Hawaii and the monks have no business messing with them. Either way the shop was really cute and we went home with several tinctures and potions.

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The cemetery was beautiful. So many graves of children tugged at our heart strings.

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Then back down the hill we bussed to see the famous bridge: Ponte Vecchio. It doesn’t look like it’s a bridge because it’s covered with little buildings but it is. All the little buildings are little shops. Some of them are so small they are cupboards that lock and unlock with a series of levers and pulleys that are all interconnected. It’s quite interesting and complicated. I’d love to go back when they are opening or closing and see how all the mechanisms actually work.

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Pretty pretty postcard shots! Teresa took one from inside a shop which is a much more original idea. Too bad I didn’t think of that!

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When we were there half the shops were closed because it was Sunday, which was fine with me because I was pretty much out of spending money by that point and less shops equals less people shopping so it wasn’t so overwhelmingly crowded.

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I can only imagine what it is like on a busy tourist day. Crazy!

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Next we visited the Piazza della Signoria and admired all the violent sculptures. I’d love to go back as a history student and learn all the stories behind them.

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Christine pointed out some graffiti by Michelangelo. There are a lot of tall tales about how it got there. I’m not sure what is true but it was kind of cool to see. And nobody was really looking at it, so maybe it’s not that well known.

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Tourists, tourists, tourists. They are an amazing spectacle on their own. Sometimes it’s fun to turn around and take pictures of all the people taking pictures.

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We got a kick out of a flock of Tibetan monks that swarmed the square around us. I think the feeling was mutual.

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And the street art!

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I wonder what this chalk street art looks like when it rains.

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We putzed around poking in and out of shops. The shopping seemed like it could go on forever. Much longer than I or my budget ever could.

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But I could definitely take pictures of shops!

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We stopped by the famous Gilli restaurant from the famed American in Italy photo. Sadly we happened upon the one rude waiter in all of Italy so our experience wasn’t the best. I guess that is what we get for being American tourists. I’m sure Italy is very sick of us.

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The deserts were camera ready but not quite as tasty. Maybe our rude waiter tainted our opinions. I don’t know but I do know I am definitely NOT a cafe con panna girl. It was a little too much panna for me! It looks pretty though!

That night a storm rolled in and we were so late to get out to dinner that all the restaurants closed on us! It was Sunday after all. We were just about to stay in and order room service when we discovered the cutest little restaurant right next door to our hotel. It was very small and managed by the most capable older woman with fluffy blonde hair, probably the matriarch of the place. We huddled inside to keep warm.  In America they would have turned us away but she let us stay there in the entryway with a few other couples crowding everyone. Every table was filled but we stood there patiently until finally a few families left. They weren’t even rushed by the woman. They just finished and got up to go of their own accord. I love that about Italy. No one ever rushes you. You can stay all night until the restaurant closes! We know because we closed down a few!

I don’t have any pictures but you’ll just have to imagine it. It was called Ristorante Alfredo. It was so cozy and warm and welcoming. I love little family run restaurants! They really treat you the best. I ordered some kind of tomato zuppa (soup) (because I’m not a fan of fish and that was their specialty) and when it came, it was the heartiest thick, bready, crumb stew you have ever seen! My spoon stood up straight in it! It was a comfort food dream come true, perfect for a cold fall night AND perfect for our last dinner in Italy!

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The next morning while Teresa got her travel agent affairs in order, Christine and I did one last power walk to see Santa Maria Novella. There are so many amazing churches in Italy but this one seemed the most steeped in history. It was quite big with many rooms and courtyards. I want to go back and spend a year learning about it an all the frescos and art. A year might not even be enough time!

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Then after that power walk tour we headed across the street for my last standing cappuccino.

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Italian cappuccinos are so, so, so good. It’s very strange to me to stand and drink a cappuccino at the bar. I think we should adopt this custom. Especially the $1 part. So good and so cheap! The woman pouring my cappuccino recognized a friend who came in and shouted out “Ciao Bella!” so loudly and enthusiastically that Christine and I were quite smitten. Wouldn’t it be great to be greeted like that every day?!

So we did just that when we got back to our hotel and reunited with Teresa. Ciao Bella, Teresa!

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I think learning a new greeting is probably the best souvenir of all!

Ciao Bella, Florence!

Next up: Robbed AGAIN (!!!) in Milan

Throwing Money in a Cup

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Christmas came big to my house this year.  I have a boyfriend who spoils me rotten. Have you ever been on the receiving end of being spoiled rotten? It’s not as easy as I always thought it would be. It’s downright difficult. I’m a sputtering mess on how to receive graciously. I feel like I need to reciprocate and when I can’t, it’s just worrisome for me. I stress out about it. But I’m learning to accept and be grateful. Maybe I need more practice. Just kidding!! I don’t need more spoiling! Seriously.

I better give you some history before I unravel the whole story of spoiling though. A while back, on a whim, Payam (that’s his name, said like Pie – Am or Pay-Am) bought me a $50 espresso maker. He was at Best Buy or some such place and he knew I liked lattes (since that’s what I drank on every single date we went on, and maybe it might have been somewhere in my online dating profile, cough cough.) so he picked it up. It was no biggy to him. Like throwing a few candy bars into the basket on your way to check out. Crazy! I’m not trying to say he’s loaded but you know, things are different.  To me an espresso maker was a BIG. MAJOR. DEAL.

I have a HISTORY with coffee. I’m a snob of all snobs. I don’t just drink any old coffee. I obsess over coffee. I have very particular tastes (Strong, with milk. No sugar, unless it’s bad and then I need sugar but I hate flavored creamers…and so on). I always wanted an espresso maker but I couldn’t settle for just any old machine. I’ve had coffee machines in the past but not a real espresso maker with the steam I needed to make the best latte.  I figured I needed the best of the best espresso makers and since I couldn’t afford that, what was the point? My French Press was doing the job and I like to go out to coffee, so it was all good.

When he showed up with the cheap Mr. Coffee espresso maker I was delighted yet skeptical. I’d never had one of these home jobbies before. What could it do? I immediately put it to the test.

I tested it EVERY DAMN DAY. All in the name of research of course. This little Mr. Coffee espresso maker kicked butt! It made a pretty good latte. So good that I never used my French Press again and if you know French Press, then you know that’s kind of a big deal. French Press coffee is delicious!

I made latte after latte after latte after latte. I made lattes for everyone! I tried to create latte art on top like the barristas do at fancy coffee shops but I had no luck. Flop after flop after flop. I made interesting art but I never quite mastered it.

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Payam said that if I mastered latte art on the little Mr. Coffee espresso maker that he’d buy me the real thing someday. Hmmmm! Now that’s a challenge worth taking seriously.

And so I aspired. I really did. I tried and tried and tried. But I never quite got it. I’d make progress and then fall back into foamy messes. One step forward two steps back. But it was fun. I sipped delicious failures every day. Sometimes two and three times a day. They all tasted pretty great.

I finally resigned myself to the fact that the little machine just didn’t have enough steam power. It couldn’t make the creama espresso that’s just the right dark color and the foam often was just super airrated and not really thick foamy milk like it needs to be. Your latte art foam needs to be the consistency of house paint to get the pour just right and I couldn’t get it there.

So guess what I got for Christmas?

A super deluxe Mr. Coffee Maker!!! Ha Hah!

Wait, what?

Oh man. A Mr. Coffee Maker again?!!  A super-size version?  I tried really hard not to be disappointed. The sad fact was that I just don’t love Mr. Coffee. He’s like a Dodge Neon on his best day when all I really wanted was a fine Italian Lamborghini. I’m not a snob! I’m just smart!! Or am I?

Of course not everyone can afford a Lamborghini. I fully expected to wait twenty years for the espresso maker of my dreams. That’s what you do. I tried really hard to be happy with the super deluxe version of my Mr. Coffee espresso maker. It was big and it made any kind of sweet drink at the touch of a button….but you know what? I couldn’t fake it. The kicker was that it didn’t even let you make latte art! The milk came out in a compartment that you couldn’t even pour. It was stuck in the machine like a vault. I was so sad.

Payam was even sadder. What crappy way for me to ruin Christmas. Why do I have to be such a snob? I was fed up with myself.

We made the best of it and found joy in the kids unwrapping their many presents.  But deep down I had a monstrosity on my counter that I wasn’t sure what to do with. Later we talked about it and I admitted to him that I really just wanted to send it back. He understood. At the end of the day I really liked my little $50 espresso maker better. I just like making latte art. All the bells and whistles on the other machine didn’t excite me.

But you know the story doesn’t end there! Of course not!!

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Black Friday, or maybe the day after, came around and Payam talked me into going shopping with him. I don’t really like shopping in general and I don’t really like crowds so a bit of coercion was involved. But I figured I’d tag along for the fun of an outing with him. We walked and window-shopped and somehow ended up going into Sur La Tab, the most expensive of all kitchen stores. OF COURSE we ended up looking at the espresso makers, FOR RESEARCH, right?!! That’s what I was saying. We might as well see what they offered so that someday I could save up for what I really wanted. And maybe he’d even help me buy it…

You know what happened next. So much for saving up. Mr. Boyfriend had to go and be a sugar daddy and bought the top model right there on the spot. Oh my goodness.

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Yes, I am the proud new owner of a Breville espresso maker.  I like to call it my boat. As in it’s a close-your-eyes-and-throw-money-in-the-water kind of hobby.

Espresso making is such a crazy expensive hobby!! Did you know that? There are so many variables! Just to create the perfect espresso you have to have the best beans (which I don’t), the best burr grinder (which I don’t) and the best water (which I don’t). If you want to create latte art you have to practice about three-thousand-and-eleventy-three times before you get it right. So that’s where I’m at. I’m working on extraction and pre-extraction. I’m working on double-grinding my grocery store beans and I’m learning. It’s going to take a while. But I’m making progress. This new espresso maker blows doors off the old $50 Mr. Coffee Maker. Unfortunately it blows out all the doors and windows and floors and everything else too. So I’m pretty much starting from scratch with my new espresso making skills. It’s a game changer.

In the meantime I’ll be creating lots of latte flops! You should come try some, they’re delicious!

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1. All the filters and date night make up., 2. When all else fails, break out the toothpick. , 3. Coiled snake of micro foam. I don’t seem to be making much progress. , 4. Oh no it’s another cat butt! I seem to have mastered the cat butt latte pour art. , 5. Sloppy love. , 6. One step forwards, two steps back. , 7. Afternoon Taliban latte., 8. Maybe I need a bigger cup. , 9. Getting there… This is toothpick art but I sure have a lot more variables to play with., 10. Well, it’s pretty! Still have a ways to go… , 11. Attempt #3 radio antennae! , 12. Try number two. It might take a while before I get it but this new machine is a game changer!, 13. First work of latte art from the new espresso maker. I think we are in BUSINESS!! , 14. Latte in a cup from Lubna. Thank you @lubna_lola99 ! , 15. An ornament on the tree? , 16. Lips with spots. , 17. It’s not always all about the pour., 18. , 19. Twee to go latte. , 20. Steaming ñ with a side of “Do not even think about eating ONE cookie!!” So that means I’m fine if I eat four or five? , 21. B as in “I love it when you call me Big Poppa (latte).” , 22. Two birds in one…latte! , 23. Two birds in one latte. , 24. Rock me like a subtle hurricane. , 25. Six-toed bear paw? , 26. Brachiosaurus in the sky with sprinkle stars which is sort of like Lucy in the sky with diamonds but with more caffeine and less LSD. , 27. Crack o’ dawn Whirling Dervish Latte., 28. Looks prettier stirred up. , 29. Looptiloop P or something… , 30. Not impressive but I’ve almost got it… I’ll call this “kissing swans” #failedathomelatteart #brendaslatteartcollection