Notes from a Summer Tour Part 1: Florence, Italy

Thanks to another assignment with EF, I am being shipped to Florence, Italy.  This work trip will be more epic than normal, as I’m facing a month abroad with the added weight (literally and figuratively) of lugging my work crap through 5 or 6 cities, and 2 countries.  I am incredibly excited on a personal level, but have no small amount of anxiety about the trials I might face work wise.

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6/24 (I think…)_Florence

Amidst the flurry of the shoot, I’ve found time to sit in the park across the street from our Hotel (Mediterraneo).  I’m at what has become our favorite spot, the “Snack Bar”.  Its pretty simple.  A little purpose built, octagon kiosk along a park path, with the Arno river flowing down an embankment.  They have snacks (I think), ice cream cones maybe, but most importantly a full bar.  The birra grande are cheap and flows from the taps pretty late into the evenings.  After a day working in Tuscany’s summer heat, nothing feels better than plopping into one the surrounding plastic patio chairs, and taking that first sip of Nastro Azzurro off the tap. As usual the work is long and physical, but the company is great and Florence’s sites are charming as ever.

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Had an interesting conversation with our local guide last night.  We were lucky enough to be in Florence for the night of the celebrations for San Giovanni, Florence’s patron saint.  The firework display was hands down the best I’ve ever seen, but the guide lamented to herself that this was such a waste.  Even in their difficult financial times, she told me that Italy consistently and stubbornly displays it’s glory in the form of firework competitions.  I had no idea that there was such of thing.  She assured me that there were major, international fireworks battles every year, and Italy makes an annual showing.  The country is always a front runner, but for all it’s effort inevitably takes second place behind China.  Thanks to political and economic controversy, Italia has been battling to stay in the EU over the past few years, but the government makes sure they put on a world-class fire cracker show any chance they can.  We laughed about the a poignant metaphor.  The simple, hard to articulate observations of travel.

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A rain storm as vibrant and passionate as the italians themselves just rolled in and everyone scurried for the closest shelter.  Beers, cigarettes and espressos expertly swept up in the melee, and after an instant of panic, everyone resumes their relaxed air of “la dolce vida” under a tree or overhang.  I like Florence.  Cosmopolitan and distinctly urban Italia without the abrasive aspects of downtown Rome.  Unfortunately, the rain has kicked up the mosquitos, which apparently LOVE me, so I’ll have to cut this short and flee to the hotel.  The 20 minutes of “vacation” much appreciated, but back to work.

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6/25_Osteria Santo Spirito

A  fun round-about, spontaneous coincidence occurred tonight.  I’ve been to Florence before in ’06, on my first, life altering backpacking trip through Europe.  Florence was pretty much a layover for me, between Barcelona and Rome, and I remember being less than enamored with Italy (sacrilege I now know).  The highlight of Florence way back then was the first meal I had in Italy.  Dinner at a small place, in a lively piazza, where I remember vividly my first experience with “al dente”.  “So this is what pasta is supposed to be like!”, I remember thinking.  It was sublime.  Tonight, as we wandering the winding streets south of the Arno, I began to develop a feeling of familiarity.  I had had this feeling before during this trip, but never truly believed I would stumble back to this spot, especially since I didn’t really remember exactly where it was.  In one of those kismet moments of rambling, we came down a construction torn street, and into a tucked away piazza.  I looked up and had a rush of nostalgia.  Piazza Santo Spirito was in front of me, the setting for my first night in Italy.  It was like seeing an old friend.  The osteria was still there, and business must have been kind to them.  The formally sleepy little joint was bustling with patrons.  We sat upstairs, and had an amazing meal.  I went for the rabbit, a noted difference from my strict veggie diet last time I was here.  Everyone left stuffed and happy.  We grabbed a few beers, drank them on the fountain in the square and enjoyed the ambiance of an italian piazza during la sera.  Reunited!  Glad it’s still here.

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06/26_Siena

Day trip to Siena.  Cool town.  On paper touristy, but even now in the high season, don’t feel inundated.  We are here a couple days before Il Palio, and I feel stupid for never hearing about it.  It happens twice a year (July 2 and August 16th), and sounds like the craziest and most unorthodox horse race on earth.  Something like 50,000 people pack into the piazza and watch this few minute, maniacal race.  Its pretty fucking crazy, look it up.  Need to jot down La Torre.  Just off the tourist epicenter of the Campo, is this unassuming trattoria.  No frills, seemingly run by one extended family, simple and amazing.  The hole in the wall room has a woman in front cranking out hand made pastas in what looks like a normal grandma’s kitchen.  The male members of the team scurry about the small dining area and take pasta orders.  There was a menu outside, but the waiter pretty much told us what we were having, and I’m not sad about that.  After an onslaught of thick, fresh cut prosciutto and melon, the tagliatelle that landed in front of me was unforgettable.  I was (and still am) amazed that there is a place so close to the tourism center but so authentic and simply marvelous.  In all aspects it felt like I was getting a home cooked meal, and fucking delicious at that.  In the midst of the souvenir kiosks, kids on school trips and overpriced cafes, to be taken to a place like this was an incredible treat.  I’ll never forget La Torre.

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06/27_Onward

Enjoyed the time in Florence.  Exhausted on a bus northbound.  Port of call; Venice.  Stoked.  Never been, but looks pretty.  All I know is what I’ve heard.  Tourist hell, but stunningly beautiful. We shall see.  Florence done, nap time.

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