Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back in Action

So, Spring break broke. But it was a good one! Lots of sleep, yoga, gelato, and gorgeous Tuscan landscapes. Perfetto!

Yesterday was mostly spent cleaning - swept the whole apartment! Eventually I got a little stircrazy and had to get OUT and enjoy the lovely spring weather! Had to complete the picture with some gelato:
Straciatella al caffe (coffe chocolate chip) + tiramisu. GREAT combo.

I went to Piazza Santa Croce and sat on a bench while I read the homework that I may or may not have forgotten about...It was so nice! The weather, the musicians playing, the CUTE dogs...wonderful way to get homework done. I took the long way home and walked by a church on my street and there must have been a wedding!


When I got back, my roommate wasn't far behind! We decided to end Spring Break on a high note and go out to one of the many recommended restaurants nearby. We split a baby bottle of wine to go with our respective meals. I went with an appetizer + side dish, which I really like to do because the portion ends up being just right!
Crostini (toasted or grilled bread) with 3 different toppings

The one closest to the camera was a pate of sorts, not sure what animal, but sometimes I think it's best to not ask questions. Above that was a tomato-onion something or other that included raisins - I wasn't a big fan of that one, too sweet! At the top was an amazing smoked eggplant-garlic-oil thing that my roommate and I had NO problem polishing off. Mmmm, eggplant. I also ordered a side of cooked spinach - needed something to balance out the bread! I just love spinach. Especially in smoothies...it sounds weird, but you really can't taste the spinach. It just turns the smoothie green and boosts the nutritional value. I miss those Green Monsters!

Today it was back to the grind. I got a solid A on my Food & Culture mid-term, yayayayay!! I love that class. And I better keep lovin it - I have a presentation and a 10-page research paper due for it this month! Eeek.
A good breakfast was definitely necessary to start back:
Banana yogoat float!
Sliced banana + raw oats + vanilla yogurt. Hard to go wrong when using good ingredients!

I went to the market after my Food & Culture class (my music class was canceled because we are going to 2 concerts this week) and picked up some necessities. 3 apples & 3 pears for 96 cents!!! So exciting. Also, yummy fresh bread:

Pane alla soia - soy bread? I like it a lot! It has an almost sweet(?) flavor...hard to describe. Other than...yum.

I picked up lunch (at Casa del Vino, of course):
Prosciutto and pecorino. Simple. Amazing.
Seriously, this took "ham and cheese" to a whole new level. It might even be my favorite, just because it was so simple yet soooo tasty.
I ate it on the steps of the Brancacci Chapel, on the other side of the Arno.
A lunch with a view!

I actually went in the Brancacci Chapel today! (I tried to go over Spring Break but it was closed.) It was lovely. So peaceful.

Frescoes surrounded the courtyard (you can see in the picture below this one).
A little sunny courtyard inside. I sat there forever, sunbathing and listening to the birds chirping. Made for a lovely afternoon.
Though the courtyard was my favorite part, the Chapel wasn't bad either:
A pieta of sorts in the chapel entrance.

The chapel is currently being restored, so there wasn't much space to walk around. That, and Frida was PMSing and losing battery power. Hence, the subpar pics. But it was pretty!

Yes, lots of camera frustration. What really bugs me is that I get so annoyed over the fact that ever single picture I get is blurry and unrecignizable, that I forget where I am -- as in, I have to remind myself to step back and say "whoa. I'm in a centuries-old, beautifully painted chapel in Florence and I'm not even appreciating it. Put. The camera. DOWN." And I did. Damned if I'll let technology take away a what should be an enjoyable experience!

I walked home after that, enjoying the great spring weather - finally too warm for my coat!

I got hungry pretty early and whipped this baby up:
Lentils, a small onion, a couple cherry tomatoes, and a TON of spinach. I needed to use it up! Seasoned it with a little rosemary, sage, S&P and pecorino romano. A little boring I suppose, but I liked it! Especially after I added some dijon mustard for a little kick.
It's harder for me to experiment a lot with cooking here because I don't have many spices to work with - I adore trying different spice combos. It is so interesting to me how something so small can completely manipulate the flavor(s) of a dish!

I was very good last night about getting to bed. I am trying so hard to get in bed before midnight the nights before I have Italian because it makes getting up and getting through my day SO much easier. Unfortunately, very little actual sleep happened, so I'm pretty exhausted today. I came right back and took a quick nap before meeting the girl I practice Italian with, and then came home for breakfast/lunch. It's grey and chilly today (I would love to know where that spring weather went!), but I felt quite accomplished yesterday, and so I'm okay with today being a little less active. I have yoga tonight and then it's time for Ethnic Tuesday dinner with the roomies! I believe we are planning on Indian tonight - woohoo!!!

On my walk home yesterday, I had a moment where all of a sudden I thought "Whoa. I'm in Italy right now. Living here. How did this happen!!" It's odd, I adapted to life here so quickly, I suppose it didn't fully sink in. And maybe it won't totally sink in until I am able to look at it in retrospect. I don't know how exactly I got so lucky, but I do know that I am in total awe and gratitude that I did.
I've been asking myself a lot, "How do I leave this place?" I don't just mean hopping on a plane; I'm talking about leaving the lifestyle here that I've become so happily accustomed to, the sights and sounds, the food. I'm so attached, I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to walk away. But, I know I will figure it out. And I suspect I will end up with a deeper respect for the cultures of both here and my home. It's going to be interesting, to say the least.

I have a presentation (on CHOCOLATE!) due soon, so I think I will put my sleepy brain to work before yoga. A domani!


Monday, March 29, 2010

I'll Be Bach...

Due to technical difficulties - a.k.a, our internet provider is about to get some seriously angry calls - tonight's post has been postponed. If Blogger suddenly decides to get its act together and my pictures magically upload, this message may be disregarded. We at Gillianasana apologize for the inconvenience. Over and out.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Simple as That

Whoops! Guess who slept in a little later than expected? In my defense, I had a massive headache when my alarm went off at 9 that made me want to scream or split my head in half or something. My roommate and I had planned to get up and go to the Uffizi, but her alarm didn't go off, so I just rolled over and went back to bed. It felt so nice, even if I did sleep later than I intended. I'm soaking it in while I can; April is going to be insane! Exciting, but insane.

Spring Break is winding down! Come 2 AM, we spring forward, and then it's back to school. I'm looking forward to the longer days. It always gets me excited for summer.

Lazy vacation days always call for oats!
oats made with tropical juice (don't knock it 'til you've tried it!) + orange yogurt
I'll be honest, I was not a huge fan. It was perfectly edible, I just really don't like orange flavor (clementines, however, are a horse of a different color!). BUT I buy the 8-pack of yogurt to save a little money, and it includes 2 orange yogurts, so I have to get creative. And, when all else fails and my creativity expires...add chocolate. Seriously, it fixes everything.

Just in case you think I've been totally ruined for "normal" food, here is my lunch:
Soft boiled egg on toast. Sometimes - more often than not, I think - simple is best.

Check OUT my coffee today:
Swirly, almond-milky goodness!

Dinner continued the simple theme:

Whole wheat penne (~2/3 cup?), tomatoes, garlic, and LOTS of spinach topped with a heavy powder of grated pecorino romano. Mmmm, spinach :)

Ok, ok, booooorrrring post. But even in Italy, sometimes boring days are necessary. So, I will leave you with a perty picture, and promise to return with something to say!



Saturday, March 27, 2010

Arezzo, All by Myself

What do to on a Friday when you wake up to an overcast Florence? Go to another Tuscan town where the sun is in abundance. So for me, it was Arezzo or bust!

I actually had no previous plans to go to Arezzo, mostly because I had never heard a lot about it and no particular yen to see it. I figured it's "just another classic Tuscan town." And it was. Which is exactly why I'm so glad I went.

The idea was put in my head when I talked to a woman my mom knows who studied in Arezzo for 3 spring semesters - 3!! I'm SO jealous! So, I power-walked my way to the train station, bought me a ticket and hopped on. I have yet to master timing my travels well, I have yet to make the walk to the train station leisurely and relaxed. Oh well, keeps my calves in excellent shape!

I got off the train and walked out into blue skies and sunshine...and had no idea where I was going. It's a really fun feeling though, to know that I could go in whichever direction the wind took me and it wasn't the "wrong way." Luckily my intuition came through, and I had a great day!
First impressions of Arezzo:
Funky trees. Always a good sign.
That would be a chocolate Easter egg (tradition here). In case you can't tell that this is the size of a large baby and the 240 euro price tag doesn't register, I zoomed out:
See those white eggs in the basket? Those are regular eggs. Now look at that yellow-bowed beast. 
Any town that takes its seasonal chocolate this seriously has my unshakable approval.

Lunch was my first order of business. I had to decide whether I wanted a restaurant-type place, or a simple sandwich. When traveling alone, this is an important question - especially in Italy, where eating meals with others is heavily emphasized. I ultimately decided on a sandwich, mostly because I wanted to wander around outside and enjoy the spring weather. After much wandering, I decided on a little hole-in-the-wall place crowded with Italian kids my age and some locals. They sold "piadine", which are a classic sandwich from the Emilia-Romagna region(where Rome is). It's basically a warm, soft but crispy pita-like bread filled with whatever your heart desires!
I went for arugula + mushrooms + parmeggiano. I did not regret that.
It was salty and crunchy and greasy and amazing. The parmeggiano-arugula combo is to live for - a little bitter, a little salty, a lot yum! I did a little more research into piadinas and they are traditionally made with just flour, lard, and water, dressed with a little olive oil. Horrible nutritionally, but I really do not care. SO tasty!

 I wandered some more, right into the piazza grande:

HUGE open piazza!
Nature called and I did a baaad thing - went into a cafe that I saw had a bathroom and when I came out, I pretended my phone rang so I didn't have to buy anything. Ssssh.

I hit the jackpot when I stumbled upon a gorgeous park! Exactly what I wanted. Even Frida the camera had fun.

Turns out there is a the valley on the other side...

See the red VW bug? Love it.

Pigeons! They like stone walls...a lot.

Nature's hammock.

Bell tower to Arezzo's Duomo!

After a long, peaceful moment on a bench, I continued exploring...
And what did I stumble upon but....a Roman ampitheatre! Imagine, in Italy of all places!

No matter how many I've seen, they are always so cool. It's just amazing to me to literally step into a different time period.

Too cute. I only felt a little creepy taking this picture.

I spent a long time walking around, window shopping and sitting on a step in the piazza grande before I decided to head home before dark. If I didn't already love this town, I'm pretty sure this sealed the deal:
A chocolate shop with 32 different flavors of chocolate. I didn't go in, because I wasn't entirely sure I would ever get out!
A rainbow of Lindt truffles. Why can't this kind of rainbow appear after it rains???

Good food, lovely weather, gorgeous views, and no obligations. The perfect solo vacation day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Sprang Sprung

I know, I know, long time no post. Bad blogger, bad! But I come with pictures! LOTS.

I don't know how or why, but on Wednesday I slept until 1. PM. I did NOT see that coming! It was literally like someone just hit me over the head with a hammer. It was sooo good though - I haven't slept like that in months. After all, what would a real vacation be without some great sleep? After a little get-together with Minerva the yoga mat and some breakfast, my roomie and I decided to try our luck with the Uffizi.

Note to self: Do NOT expect to just saunter on in to the Uffizi Gallery at 3 in the afternoon. Ain't gonna happen. In my defense, there is a reason I thought this was feasible: my study abroad program gave us each an "Amigli degli Uffizi" card that gives us free admission to all state museums in Florence. We were told that with these card, we had to enter the Uffizi at entrance #2 (yes, there are multiple), so I figured there was a special entrance reserved for people with the magic card. Well, the card may be great, but it is not a miracle-worker. There are 2 entrances to the Uffizi - the one for those with reservations, and the one for those ignorami without. So, you say (at least I did),"well why not make reservations for tomorrow?" Because you are reserving a ticket, not just an entrance time, and the magic card means we don't pay for the ticket, and thus no reservation. I realize that this has not been the most enthralling story...sorry. I like to rant.

SO, Plan A up in smoke, we improvised and visited an old friend - Dante. As in, Alighieri. As in, the Divine Comedy and Inferno. As in, the brilliant poet who lived in Firenze for a good chunk of his life. His "house" is now a museum (read: tourist money suck), and we being the diligent English majors we are just had to see it! It was kinda blah, but this was pretty cool to see:
Firenze ca. 13th century.
Notice anything?
NO DUOMO! Not built until 1476. Thank goodness it was - that thing has saved me from getting completely lost many, many times.
All this tourism shtuff really works up my appetite...what better a reason for gelato?
Mango + strawberry mousse
The mousse had a little of that artificial "cool whip"-y taste to it, but the mango was deeeLISH. 

Dinner was a bit of a re-run:
My vegged-up bruschetta!
Toasted bread with spinach, basil, garlic and tomatoes baked along side the bread on the oven, spinkled with pecorino romano. Bruschetta rock my socks.
So do gorgeous sunsets from out apartment window.
Frida doesn't like it when I turn the flash off. But the colors are perty!

Thursday was significantly more eventful. It was a gorgeous Spring day - perfect for my first trip to the Boboli Gardens!
But first, lunch at Sergio's since I didn't make it Wednesday:
Paste e fagioli! The real deal. 
I want to put this restaurant in a box and take it home with me. So. Good.

On to Boboli! It's a huge park behind Palazza Pitti (Pitti Palace), where the Medici lived when they were in power. It was absolutely beautiful. I could totally get married here. You know, with my millions.
back of Palazzo Pitti

My favorite part. I. Love. Tuscany.

Do you see this house? It's turquoise. I have no idea what it is/was...but it's more important what it will be: my house.

Cutest little spot. Good for reading/napping, I'm thinking.
Old (serious understatement) vineyards
The stone work looked like melted candle wax...no idea how that happened.
Check OUT this bathtub. Maybe the horses used it.
No words.

On the trek back, I, being the bottomless pit that I often am, was feeling some gelato. A neighbor from home told me about this gelato place across the Arno, which is where the Gardens were, and this was the perfect opportunity!

After-eight (as in, the most amazing dark chocolate covered mint candy ever. If you haven't tried them before and like the mint-choc combo, seek these out. They leave York patties in the dust.) and yogurt & nutella.
The yogurt-nutella was ok; I have discovered I don't really like the "yogurt" flavor of gelato after 3 tries. It's tangy in an odd way. But the After-eight....WHOA. Yum-my. I know that the green color means they added all kinds of artificial crap (nautral mint ice cream is white)....but I don't really care. This was amazing.
BUT - I still think I like Perche No! better. I guess I will have to go back to confirm...;)

If you want to see the rest of my Boboli pictures (or the rest of my pictures in general), check out my photobucket @ http://s32.photobucket.com/home/NorbertsShiksa!

Stay tuned for my solo adventure...where in the world is Carmen Sandiego Gillianasana???