Under the Tuscan Sun

Tuscany was all I dreamed it would be.

As the train chugged along between Naples and Florence, lush hills and green mountains surrounded our path. Scattered villages of red-roofed houses hid in the greenery, blending into the picturesque landscape. The blue sky was strewn with clouds, casting intermittent darkness on the Tuscan hills. Occasionally fields of grape vines would remind me exactly where we were headed – wine country.

Once in a while we would pass an industrial plant, or condominiums – stark reminders of how different the 21st century is from the magical feeling of the rustic Tuscan landscape.

Upon arriving in Florence I was instantly impressed. It was interesting, historic, and calm, yet still lively – blending perfectly the chaos of Rome with the serenity of the Amalfi coast. The meandering roads with cute cafes and restaurants were enough to immediately win my heart.

Each of the four nights that we spent in Florence, we tried a different cozy restaurant on the less crowded side of the river where Hostel Santa Monaca was located. It was a wonderful location and all the food we ate was incredible! 

A great thing about Italy is ‘aperitivo.’ It’s basically an amped up version of American happy hour. When you buy a drink between the right hours (usually 7-9 or some variation) you get access to a delicious buffet of appetizers. These buffets include colorful antipasto spreads, a daily pasta dish, bruschetta, risottos, potatoes, etc. In other words… heaven. Thank you Italy! Each time we dined at aperitivo, we stacked our plates high and went back for several servings, turning it into dinner rather than a happy hour snack… whoops!

Plate of 'aperitivo' food

Aside from food, we managed to cram A LOT into our five day stay in Florence and Tuscany. We explored the streets and history…

Visited the Galileo Museum…

Invention at the Galileo Museum

Early Globe at the Galileo Museum

We marveled at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo)….

The detail and construction of the Duomo was stunning! We climbed up into the Cathedral’s dome and looked out onto Florence and the extending vastness of wine country.

We made a day trip to Siena, the city my family’s beloved dog is named after…

Siena's Cathedral - my favorite of all those I saw in Italy!

Inside the Cathedral of Siena

We embarked on a Chianti wine tour at a small Tuscan castle…

Wine's Accompaniment

And finally, we took an Italian cooking class! On the menu:

  • bruschetta
  • handmade spaghetti with bolognese sauce
  • handmade ricotta ravioli with sage butter
  • tiramisu

The lesson began with a tasting of Italian flavors in Florence's giant indoor market - aged cheese, pestos, the finest balsamic vinegars and olive oils, pâtés, and more!

Making Bolognese Sauce

Making ravioli!

Tiramisu!

Ravioli and Spaghetti

Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter and Parmasean

Spaghetti Bolognese

We definitely made the most of our time in this region. Although most of Italy remains a mystery to me, I can say that of the places I have been, Florence and Tuscany were absolutely my favorite! I look forward to the day I return.

 

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