“You’re going for only five days?”
When I saw the opportunity for a $500 round-trip ticket to Florence during my extended Thanksgiving break this year, I immediately called up my parents. Am I crazy? Should I do it?
During school, we usually only have 3 days off for Thanksgiving break: the days directly before and after Thanksgiving day, with the following weekend. My birthday also happened to be on Thanksgiving day this year. This fall though, we had that full week off, so a total of 9 days without classes.
It was short, but I wanted to be back home and well-rested for Thanksgiving (and my birthday celebration!!) so I booked a flight that just perfectly fit in my schedule.
Day One: Bucket-List Foods and Electric Scooters
I landed around 9am, got settled in and showered after a long day (and a half, if you consider the time difference) of traveling. My next move: a panini.
When you think of Italy, you’re probably infatuated with the idea of pasta on pasta on pasta. Okay, and margarita pizza. The best food that I ate all the time in Italy though? Sandwiches.
I headed over to Il Fratellini, a walk-up style enoteca that sells 30 different kinds of sandwiches plus wine, cocktails and beers. This small shop is a huge hit since it’s right off one of the busiest shopping streets in Florence, just a few minute’s walk from the duomo.
I got my favorite sandwich, with prosciutto, arugula and cream cheese, on a soft, crispy focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil and salt.
The weather was beautiful on this Friday afternoon. I found the nearest Bird, an electric scooter that goes up to 26 km/hr. I zoomed to the other side of the Arno River and up to the Piazza del Michelangelo. The golden hour sun from one of the highest spots in Florence illuminates the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, the huge palm tree that marks the FUA school building, and the tip-top of the duomo.
Scootering around the twists and turns from the south side to the north side of the river always makes me feel so elated. Not the mention that it was 20-some degrees back in New England and a sunny 65 degrees in Florence.
Later that night, I went on a lovely dinner date with one of my dearest friends, David, who’s doing an internship here for the semester. He took me to Osteria del Filetto d’Oro (go ahead, look at the menu) on Via dei Neri. I ordered Pasta Carbonara, of course. I can’t help that it’s just one of my favorites.
We also ordered an appetizer plate, which was filled with all the yummy favorites: cheeses with honey and cranberry sauce, salami, prosciutto, crusty breadsticks, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, bread with extra virgin olive oil, bruschetta and bread with a chicken liver spread.
To top off the night and complete pretty much my ENTIRE food bucket list, it was time for gelato. I stopped by to see Roberto at La Carraia. He would always be working in the shop when I’d stop by for a small cup after dinner during my semester here last spring. I love the prevalence of small businesses and kind souls here. It’s heartwarming.
I got 2 of my favorite flavors: El Fondente (dark chocolate) and Biscotto (cookies!). The best combination!
We also went out for a drink or two with a fun group of people after digesting our food. I told the man at Eby’s to give me a “surprise shot” and I got a bitter, cinnamon flavored liquid with an apple slice, chocolate sauce and colored sprinkles on top.
Day Two: The Christmas Market
My jet lag woke me up around 11am. I stumbled out of the apartment and walked north towards the Santa Croce church, just a block away. As soon as I entered the plaza, I was greeted with scents of sweet foods, spiced drinks, twinkling lights and people laughing.
It was the annual Christmas Market at Santa Croce!
This is the first year since COVID that the market fair has happened – and I had no idea it was even a thing. There were rows of vendors, with everything from clothing, jewelry, local art and knick-knacks to sweet treats, hot drinks and foods from all over Europe.
There were food vendors from Austria that had donuts, cookies and giant pretzels of a bunch of different flavors. We got 3 huge pretzels, one like a sugar donut, one a regular unsalted pretzel and the third one a “nut flavor,” which was actually my favorite. It had a sweet glaze with a hit of nuts – like those German nut rolls.
Later, we walked around and window shopped. We got sandwiches for dinner, and I was feeling quite full from carb loading.
That night, I went out with friends to a cocktail bar I had never been to before. I met 2 new friends and ended up spending the rest of my night bar hopping with them. The 2 girls were studying here for the semester and absolutely loved it. It’s funny how you can meet someone and immediately click – such nice people.
We also stopped by Eby’s again and I got an empanada which was delicious. The ability to easily late-night snack here is so dangerous. You’ll be walking home and a man will say, “Pizza! Pizza!” and the next thing you know, you threw him a 2 Euro coin and you have a piece of pesto cheese pizza in your hand.
Gotta love it.
Day Three: The Gucci Museum and Heart-Shaped Pizza
One thing on my bucket list was to see the Gucci Garden and Museum. When I was here in May, many museums hadn’t been able to open yet due to COVID. Italy’s COVID protocols (along with case numbers) calmed down once June hit, but I had already returned home to the states by then.
Today’s goal was to see the Gucci Museum. The Gucci Garden Boutique, where you can buy exclusive items, is also in the same building. All of the clothing pieces, fabrics, bags, pillows, jewelry and everything else in the boutique is one-of-a-kind. Meaning, you can’t buy it anywhere else besides in this one store in Florence.
How cool is that??
The rest of the building is several floors of museum exhibits. As I walked up the first flight, the walls that surrounded me were white with graffiti-like writing in all sorts of colors and languages.
Each exhibit shows off items, mannequins with clothing, videos, sounds and ideas from past years’ shows.
One of my favorites was called Tokyo Lights. It was from the Fall-Winter 2016 edition, and was filled with lights that they described as a “sensory overload” on the wall plaque. There were shiny mirror-like sequins as wallpaper. Lights of all colors filled the room. The room even had arcade games.
Just adjacent to that room was another favorite of mine. This room was entirely mirrors, with glass cases of toys, shoes, butterflies, birdhouses (many strange things) that went all the way up to the tall ceiling.
Look down and you’ll see yourself. Look up and you’ll see yourself too. While a small room, the mirrors made the space infinitely expand. I was infatuated with every corner, turn and color.
Another room was called “Urban Romanticism” and it literally felt like you were in a train car. This museum is amazing because it’s so interactive and engages every sense. Another space felt like you were walking through a safari, with bird sounds, videos projected onto the wall, and even real grasses lining the wooden floors. In the last room I went in, I was almost confused if it was a real bathroom or not – until I checked the sink water.
It felt like I was walking through one of those clown houses you see in fairs and amusement parks, except each room was stunning with unique pieces of art.
I went to Pizza Napoli with David for dinner. I got a cheese pizza with arugula, tomatoes and chunks of pecorino and parmesan cheeses. It was one of those messy pizzas you’re supposed to eat with a fork and a knife, yet I still somehow made a mess of myself… and managed to embarrassingly drop my knife on the ground for a waiter to pick up. Oops.
Was it delicious though? Yes. It was even shaped in a heart.
Day Four: The Market, Nostalgic Solo Adventures and Nightlife
My last day was filled with so many lovely moments and memories.
First things first, I wanted to get some cheese to bring home. I took a trip to the Central Market and found some vacuum-sealed, soft Pecorino cheese. It’s nearly impossible to find at home and it’s my favorite cheese ever. The Central Market (el Mercado Centrale, in Italian) is just amazing.
The market culture here is one of my favorite things. It’s like going to the farmer’s market at home, except it’s even bigger with lots of vendors. Everyone shops there.
The markets are in permanent locations, not moveable spots like many seasonal farmer’s markets at home. This allows vendors to set up shop in permanent stations, with glass cases, shelves and fridges for cold food. The market is also open all day long. Some vendors in the Central Market even stay open until midnight! You can get served dinner or go for drinks. Our farmer’s markets back at home need to step it up. (Okay, I love the Glens Falls Farmer’s Market, I just am so in awe of how deep the culture is here in Florence).
That afternoon, while my friends were in class or at their internship site, I did a little walking around for myself. The city wasn’t too busy on a Monday. I walked through the Piazza della Repubblica and listened to a man play guitar. The carousel spun and the brown pigeons danced around the open space. People were humming about like they had no place to be. So was I.
I walked by a record store but didn’t go in. I got a smoothie bowl at Shake Cafe, one of my favorite places. I bought some chocolates at an enoteca to bring home as well. The sparkling lights down each side street illuminated my way as the sun began to dip down. It was a peaceful afternoon.
Since it was my last night, I wanted to get a good dinner. David’s boss had recommended a highly rated place to him and I said I’d like to go. We couldn’t get a reservation until 7:30 though, and our other friends had already planned to go to I’Margaritaio for happy hour. We went with them just for drinks before getting to our dinner place.
I got a frozen strawberry margarita – and did not expect it to be the size of my head. I worked up a brain freeze trying to finish even some of it in just 15 minutes. No regrets.
We headed over to Del Fagioli by the apartments. I got tortelli, a ravioli-like pasta, with Guanciale, a cured meat similar to American bacon but much ricer and more flavorful. This was one of the best meals I’ve had here.
I was so stuffed after dinner and that huge margarita. All the walking helped to burn it off a bit. I relaxed and hung out with some friends for a bit before we decided to get ready and go out for my last night. I had never been to a club before. They were all closed when I was here last spring due to COVID. Everyone wanted to take me out, so why not?
The group of us headed to Club YAB and got a table. Someone in my party ordered a bucket of drinks. The tin bucket came over with a giant sparkler in it. Pose for a pic, pose with it!
I had a lot of fun that night. Even though it was one one of the longest days, I was with people I loved and got to enjoy a little bit of everything. On the walk home, as I pondered how I was going to get enough sleep for my flight that leaves in just 10 hours, a new friend was eager to show me one of her favorite spots. The little window-shop kebab place was right on the walk home. It was a great choice. 10/10 would recommend.
I fell asleep so quickly that night, to the sounds of the city still awake and beaming.
Day Five: Goodbyes
It’s crazy to reflect on the fact that I was only there for 4 full days. How insane is that? I almost wished I had taken just one extra day to come to terms with my goodbyes. And maybe get another cup of gelato. Or visit another new place I had never seen. The way I left Florence was peaceful and bittersweet. How could I ever want to change that?
The trip back was smooth-sailing yet exhausting. The time difference really hits you. That’s why I wanted to come home before Thanksgiving, so that I had Wednesday to recover – and that I did.
Bittersweet & Nothing but Love
For a woman traveling alone, going to Italy and back in just 5 days, I think I did pretty well. I knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted to get there, and I had no fear with executing my plan. Next thing I knew, I was staring up at the gorgeous Florence Cathedral and reminiscing on my first day in Florence last February.
Until next time (there WILL be a next time), I’ll settle for mediocre charcuterie platters and ice cream that tastes nothing like Italian gelato. It’s the memories that count.
Are you missing Italy, too? Craving pasta now?