Day 13 & 14 — Palazzo Strozzi to Sant'Ambrogio

Best tripe (trippa) and cow's stomach (lampredotto) food cart - Lampredotto is synonymous with street food. It's definitely comfort food material. The cook takes a roll slices it in halves. With a two-prong fork, he takes out a stewed cow's stomach out of its broth. Lays it out on a chopping board and hacks away. He ladles in a heaping tablespoon of salsa verde, a green herb sauce. 

Chiesa di Sant'Ambrogio

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico - a spectacular copper domed temple that survived the Nazi attacks. Located in Eastern Florence, it stands out in Sant'ambrogio because it dwarfs the residential buildings in its vicinity.

Piazza di San Pier Maggiore - A quaint little square with a couple fresh vegetable markets and small shops selling cold cuts—salami, bresaola, mortadella, prosciutto, speck, and cheese—pecorino romano, fontina, mozzarella, parmesan reggiano, ricotta, etc. 

Corso - the main street filled with various palaces from old Florentine families. 

Palazzo Strozzi - Once a castle built in the same style as Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, it now houses art galleries, and art shows from artists around the world. 

Day 12 — Medici

  1. Palazzo Vecchio - a beautiful castle built by Arnolfo di Cambio, originally serving the Podesta, an annually elected leader for the Guelphs and Ghibellines, two factions supporting the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor, respectively. It also housed La Signoria during the years of the Republic, where the government consisted of eight to twelve priors and leaders from the gonfaloni, regions of each quarter of Florence, the Gonfaloniere. 
  2. Piazza della Signoria - the great square where the Gucci Museum, Palazzo Vecchio and its tower and diagonally across, the Loggia dei Lanzi, the concession area where public ceremonies would take place. 
  3. Uffizi Museum - only a few blocks away, the Uffizi museum originally, the office for La Signoria when Cosimo I wanted to expand his government headquarters, he hired Giorgio Vasari to build the glorious office space filled with artwork about the Medici dynasty. 
  4. Vasari Corridor - Cosimo I commissioned Vasari to build a secret passageway for his family to travel safely, away from the danger below in the streets. The Medici family, especially himself were targets of many assassination attempts. 
  5. Ponte Vecchio - A bridge originally meant to house meat, fish, and vegetable markets now filled with luxurious jewelry shops owned by local Florentine families. 
  6. Palazzo Pitti - Commissioned by Lucca Pitti to house his wealthy family, switched ownership to the Medici family when Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I bought the palace from the bankrupt Pitti Family. As the last Medici family member died, the Habsburg family took residence in Palazzo Pitti during the 1700s. 

Day 10 & 11 — Rome

Rome wasn't built in a day—and we couldn't explore it in two. We bought a Roma Pass for 34 Euros to go to multiple museums. The highlight of the trip really was the Coloseo. It stood out like a sore thumb—mesmerizing arches that went around the entire structure. 

Here's the damage: 

  1. Piazza del Popolo (The People's Square)
  2. Coloseo (Colosseum) 
  3. The Roman Forum 
  4. Altare della Patria
  5. Musei Capitolini
  6.  Piazza del Campidoglio
  7. Trevi Fountain
  8. Via dei Condotti
  9. Via del Corso
  10. Spanish Steps
  11. Pantheon


Day 9 — Santa Croce

Home to Michelangelo Buonarroti, Galileo Galilei, Niccolò Machiavelli.

Memorials to Leonardo Da Vinci and Dante Alighieri.

This is La basilica di Santa Croce

Santa Croce houses beautiful chapels of important families in Florentine society. The Bardis, Peruzzi, and Pazzis all lie here. As I entered the Franciscan church, I was taken aback. 

Outside the church, the daunting statue of Dante Alighieri stared down at the people in the square. On his right is an eagle.


Day 8 — Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri — the creator of the written Italian language as we know it. It might not have been too far of a stretch because had Dante written The Divine Comedy in any other vernacular, the rest of Italy might be reading, writing, and speaking that dialect. 

We visited the church where his wife lies, la chiesa of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi which also happens to be where Dante met his wife, Gemma Donati and got married. Nearby is the museum where you can see some of the illustrations for his books. 

In his later years, the Black Guelphs, a division of the Guelphs in opposition of the White Guelphs exiled Dante to the city of Ravenna. A tragic end for a great poet, writer, and genius. 

Day 6 & 7 — Ospedale degli Innocente & The Nutcracker

Marcello, our professor took us to the Ospedale degli Innocenti, a beautiful hospital built by Filippo Brunelleschi and funded by Arte della Seta, the silk merchants' guild. The Ospedale sought to end the unspoken problems of illegitimate children birthed from priests, nuns, and friars. Back then, the mortality rate for abandoned children soared above 80%. To combat those high mortality rates, the hospital took these foundlings and bastard children in. They raised, fed, and educated the children into contributing members of Florentine society.

The next day we watched, the Nutcracker at Teatro Verdi, a beautiful theater along Via Ghibellina. All my childhood memories rushed back to me as soon as the sugar plum fairies stepped onto stage...what a night!

Day 5 — Risotto

Being in the vicinity of Tuscany and Northern Italy means making polenta, gnocchi, and risotto. I set out to look up some Risotto recipes and I settled on a chicken, spinach, and broccoli risotto. Risotto is actually quite simple to make—often times people over complicate the process.

  1. MEAT & VEG—In one pan, sauté vegetables and meats of your liking—I chose spinach, broccoli, and chicken breast.
  2. RICE—In another pot, fry off some arborio rice in olive oil until it turns a creamy translucent.
  3. ALCOHOL—Add white wine and stir vigorously. Let the alcohol absorb and cook into the rice to create a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper and taste. 
  4. STOCK—Then pour a ladle of chicken stock (or vegetable stock and stir. Let the rice absorb the stock and reduce into the same thick creamy consistency. Repeat until the rice is cooked. You can check by tasting. Add more salt and pepper if you didn't add enough before.
  5. GARNISH—Remove the pot from the heat. Add and stir in your sautéed vegetables and meats. Grate your parmesan into it. Add a few knobs and butter to make the risotto even silkier. 

Jamie Oliver, one of my favorite chefs studied under italian cooking under Gennaro Contaldo. Here is his basic risotto recipe

Day 3 & 4 — Pisa & Lucca

Pisa, home to a quaint city that boasts the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa felt like a dream to us. From the moment the rain subsided and the sun came out, we knew that we were in a special place. Pisa like most Italian cities has a Baptistry, a Cathedral, and a cemetery. We got to experience the glorious gilded ceilings of the Duomo and great view from the top of the Tower. We walked around the winding roads to find the University of Pisa, a splendid garden hidden away from the public eye in someone’s backyard, and a modern mural tucked away behind an apartment.

On the train to Lucca, we bumped into a local who kindly directed us under, through, and finally over the walls of Lucca (Le Mura di Lucca) where the sun began to set. We walked along the walls passing by a brightly-lit restaurant. After walking along a narrow waterway that ran through the city, we passed by an arc and into the heart of the city—a thriving, lively bazaar of shops, markets, restaurants, and bars. We entered a couple of the churches here that were open for service. They appeared more modestly decorated. Lucca’s charm definitely came from it’s walls. Its walls held its secrets and protect Lucca from the outside. I felt blessed I had the opportunity to hear its secrets and walk its walls.

Day 1 & 2 — Arrival and the First Day

Bright headlights bounce on the puddles as it drizzle. The airport shuttle bus halts by the sidewalk near the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, a hub filled with peddlers, taxi cabs, buses, and recognizable American franchises. I doubt my eyes for a second that I had arrived in the ancient city of Florence.

I make the pit stop to  the University, Lorenzo de’ Medici to get my keys and came home to a spacious apartment on the 2nd floor right by the back of the Duomo, decorated with  tapestries, paintings of quotidian scenes of Florentine lifestyle. The ceilings still reveal the wooden scaffolding and the marble hallway floors echo our voices throughout the whole floor.

A stout, cheery man named Marcello Bellini (pronounced march-ello) marches in and starts the class off with the origins of Florence— Decumanus and Cardo, two main roads of Florence, the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and La Signoria. After one of a half hours of rapid-fire time travel through Florentine history, we go outside and walk for an hour in the winding streets of Florence in order to experience where Michelangelo once lived and the Medici family resided.