Happy Holidays from Florence

Ciao Readers!  And HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

The holiday season is upon us.  Here in Florence that means sparkling lights strung over all the main streets, Christmas markets, strolling musicians and Babbo Natales, and dogs decked out in their holiday attire.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t mean that shops are any more crowded than usual (if anything less so because the tourists have thinned out).  I have to say, it is a much less commercialized version than the one we’re used to back in the States.  It makes the season feel more festive and enjoyable (objectively, putting aside homesickness).  (Of course, you would have no idea it was also Hanukkah here, unless you ventured to the only synagogue in town [pictured in last row].)

The holiday season also means that here in Florence many things will be closed for the winter break (Steve gets 3 full weeks off – yay!), and that back in the States many of you will be away from work for a bit (though likely not 3 full weeks).  This also means that if I keep posting at my usual rate, your inbox will be flooded upon your return and some posts may go unseen.  So, in honor of everyone’s holidays and work breaks, I’ll be taking a short holiday hiatus and will return in January.  Since we have train tickets to Venice and Lucca over the break, rest assured there will be fun and photo-filled posts come the new year.

In the meantime, whatever your holidays and celebrations, I hope they are warm, peaceful and joy-filled!  HAPPY EVERYTHING!  Signing off with some festive scenes from around town, enjoy!:


Fun Fact (featuring a pasta-eating quiz)

Ciao Readers!

Sorry if the title threw you – no, I have not found a way to provide an actual eating experience on my blog (yet).  (Nor will the quiz, below, be consuming any pasta.)  Today’s fun fact is in the form of a poll about how much pasta Italians v. Americans eat.  Mind you, I did as much research as I could (also some taste-testing) and the answer to the quiz represents the numbers that appeared most frequently and in the most reliable sources (there’s just way too much info in cyberspace).  So, on with today’s quiz:

So, unfortunately, poll-daddy on wordpress is really for just for polls, not quizzes, so the only way for you to know if you got the answer right is for me to tell you.  If I just type it, it will take the fun out of taking the quiz, cause you’ll see the answer below.  Instead, take the quiz first.  (Yes, right now, before you read another word.)  Okay, have you taken it? Seriously?

Alright, now for the answer….I’ll give you a hint…it’s not the first, second or third option… (Yep, that’s about a pound a week for those of you doing the math!)

Thanks for playing along!  (I don’t know about you, but I am really enjoying these “fun facts,” though I just realized that unlike the others, this one is not based on a gripe…..and it’s making me kinda hungry.)

The “Gaudí” House

Ciao Readers!

Now, you may be wondering “what does Gaudí have to do with Florence?”  Or, you may be wondering “who the heck is Gaudí in the first place?”  In either case, I shall explain.   Today I am going to give you a peek at my favorite architecture in the world (which I discovered in Barcelona, Spain), through a house right down our very own street.

Since you can Wikipedia or Google him yourself, I’ll give you the short version – Antoni Gaudí was a Spanish/Catalan Architect (and visionary) who lived from 1852 – 1926 (when he was hit by a tram).  He is known for his outside-the-box style – Modernisme (which is, according to some sources, the origin of the word “gaudy”).  It’s hard to explain, but his buildings usually don’t have edges or corners – they look organic – all curvy and flowing and natural (and, in my opinion, surreal).  Both Steve and I fell in love with his work the first time we laid eyes on it (in Barcelona).  He has several amazing houses (Casa Batlló, pictured first, looks like some sort of a sea creature both inside and out), as well as the famous Sagrada Familia church (pictured next, with work continuing on it to this day).  He also designed an entire “gated community,” but it didn’t go over so well and ended up becoming an amazing park instead of a residential area for rich folks (Park Güell)(second/third row of photos).  There really are no words to do justice to how amazing and unique and awe-inspiring his works are – ya just gotta see ’em for yourself!

Now, you may still be wondering what this has to do with Florence.  I’ll tell you.  There is a house down the street which looks nothing like any other houses in the neighborhood (or any neighborhood in Italy); it looks, well, curvy and organic and a little surreal.  In a nutshell – it looks like the architect channeled Gaudí!  Steve and I both thought so the minute we saw it.  Now here’s a funny side note – we had dinner guests over one night and they started describing this amazing house they had seen on the walk over – we both immediately blurted out “the Gaudí house”!  They weren’t familiar with Gaudí, so we had the pleasure of filling them in and lending them a book about him.  (So, that is how we get to Gaudí from Florence).   The final row of pictures are of the house down the street – ending with a close-crop of one of the weird little webbed creatures that adorn the top (I’ve since learned the house is called Villino Broggi-Caraceni, built in 1910, not by Gaudí).  Enjoy!

Seriously, MORE Festivals?!?! (yes, but this time there’s cheddar!)

Ciao Readers!

Okay, if you’re tired of hearing about all of the festivals here, this is not the post for you.  Then again, if you’re a festival junkie like me, read on…

It’s almost hard for me to believe how many festivals there are here in Florence.  I think I’ve just decided that festivals are a part of everyday life – like little food markets, the passeggiata and cappuccinos (and, “purtroppo,” the post office).  Seriously, I can’t remember a weekend in the past several months where there wasn’t at least one festival or festival-like happening.  And now that it’s the holiday season…well, you can do the math!

This past week marked the start of the German Christmas Market which runs for about 3 weeks in Piazza Santa Croce (recall this is where the European Food Festival was held).  It’s a little like that festival (complete with wurst), but with more permanent and holiday-adorned stalls, as well as more non-food gift items (pictures below).  There’s also the addition of a cold-weather treat we sampled – mulled wine (pictured in Steve’s hand) – we could not put our finger on what gave it its unique flavor (wine, spices, and….varnish?).

While all of that was fun enough, the festival came to an exciting crescendo when we came across the gentleman from England and his wondrous booth of… CHEDDAR CHEESE!!!!  (I actually yelled out-loud, in English, “OMG, he has CHEDDAR CHEESE!!!”)  Okay, now those of you reading this back in the States may be thinking “huh, what’s the big deal?”  I’ll tell you what the big deal is – it is the first time in 4 months we’ve had a taste of real cheddar cheese (and we used to eat this stuff by the pounds back in ABQ)!  (You may recall I have said you can get [very expensive] cheddar at Pegna, which is true, but the taste is not spot-on).  Not only does the English chap (pictured) have cheddar cheese, but he has a mind-boggling array of varieties (with jalapenos anyone?).  I think we were too overwhelmed by excitement (and taste-testing) to make coherent choices, but we did come home with two blocks (some of which will make its way into enchiladas tomorrow night; while we have no green chile, I did bring dried red).  We’ve agreed it’s worth the splurge, so before the festival ends we are going to go back and get one of the flavor assortment wheels pictured.  Woo Hoo!!!  (I actually had to e-mail another expat who I know stays on the lookout for cheddar as well – she responded with similar enthusiasm [“Yuuuuuum. How totally exciting!!”]).

I know it’s been a blog-post-filled week – thanks for reading and have a great weekend!!!

Fun Fact (interactive poll edition!)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am attempting something new – an interactive “fun fact”!   I have my own personal guestimates of the varying waits at the post office between the U.S. and Italy, but google as I might, I can’t find any hard evidence.  So, I thought I’d let you all participate in a poll and see what we find out (for those of you in neither the U.S. nor Italy, feel free to use an experience you had in one or the other, or both; for those that have lived in the other at some time, feel free to vote in both polls as well):

Thanks for taking part!  By the way, if you’re interested in the psychology of waiting in line, the New York Times published an interesting article, “Why Waiting in Line is Torture.”  (And, yes, if you’re wondering, I wrote this after returning from the post office!)

A Tale of a Good Day (Complete with mini-tour of Bargello)

Ciao Readers!

I have shared with you many stories of woe and culture shock, so today I thought I’d share a tale of a very good day.  To me, this was yesterday; but since I have already written about 2 weeks worth of blog posts, to you it was probably a couple of weeks ago. (Lucky for you you’re not reading about actual yesterday (Dec. 4), or you’d be reading about my being wet and cold and homesick and about my wait at the post office.)  In any case….

The day started off with a necessary trip to the Questura (where you do most immigration-related things).  Now, you’re probably thinking “that doesn’t sound like the start of a good day” – but the sun was out for the 35 minute walk there and the lines were faster than usual, with the lady who’s helping me already through by the time I got there (yay!).  With so much of the beautiful morning left (this was a Friday; I don’t have school on Fridays), I decided to just stroll.

Somewhere during my leisurely stroll I came upon the Bargello (lesser known museum); with my Uffizi card in hand, I walked right in (love this card!).  While I’ll provide the educational tour part below, the Bargello was also cool for two reasons other than the art – 1) it was almost empty and soooooo quiet and peaceful – I sat in the courtyard and relaxed (and watched the woman pictured below sketching one of the sculptures) and 2) I bumped into one of the women from the charity organization meeting I had attended and it made me feel like this is really my town (bumping into acquaintances has that effect).

After the Bargello I decided to stroll around “my town” some more, soon realizing I was less than a mile from Steve’s school and it was almost his lunch break; we met on the hill and sat in the sun for a bit – nice!   After Steve got home from work we decided to fight the urge to be lazy and go out for (yet another) stroll.  First, to see if a Korean grocery store my new Italian teacher (she’s originally from Mexico and now studying Korean!) told me about really exists (it does – tiny but cool).  At this point Steve needed to find a restroom, and as you may or may not know, this isn’t the easiest task anywhere in Europe and usually involves paying for the privilege.  Since we were close to the Uffizi and I was thinking they might still be open (about 5:30 p.m.) and we have that card that gets us in for free, we checked it out – at first we thought they were closed because it was deserted, but the sign said “aperto” and in we went (good tip for visiting the Uffizi sans crowds)!  So, how amazing/surreal is this – I waited for Steve in front of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”!?!?!   Seriously – taking a bathroom break in the building with some of the world’s masterpieces?!?!?!  Unreal.  In any case, we still had an hour before the museum closed, so we strolled around and appreciated the museum.

By this time we were getting hungry, but being Italy it was still about 1 – 1.5 hours too early to think about dinner…but NOT too early to think about the aperitivo buffet at Serafini (which I wrote about and posted photos of here)!   We had a lovely time at the aperitivo, and not having stuffed ourselves on what was not meant to be dinner, stopped by our favorite pizza place (which opens at 7:30) and got a margherita pizza to go.   All in all, it was a very good day!

As for the Bargello, it is a sculpture museum, which used to be a prison.  As I mentioned, the courtyard (row 1) is very peaceful (I didn’t know until researching later that they used to execute prisoners here – gasp!).  The museum has a few lesser-known pieces by Michelangelo and (almost) an entire room dedicated to Donatello.  There are also lots of tiny sculpted works such as vessels and combs and more.  Photos are prohibited, but now I’ve learned in the less-populated rooms, if you ask nicely they sometimes let you take a no-flash shot (much better approach than when I did so without permission in a different gallery and promptly got yelled at and kicked out of that room).   So, below, following the courtyard shots, are a few more shots throughout the upper rooms (notice the cool grotesques on the plate), ending with Donatello’s “David” as well as another artist’s (Verrocchio’s) version of David (seems like they had a contest as to who could make David look the “least intimidating,” no?).

It was a lovely stroll (I google-mapped as much of it as I can remember and in total I walked about 10 miles) – thanks for coming along!

“Fun Facts” (an exciting new blog feature!)

Ciao Readers!

So, as you sit there reading my posts about festivals and museums and pizza, I am actually sitting here shivering from walking all day in the rain and cold.  But, since I have decided not to use my blog to gripe (well, not too much), I have come up with an amusing new mini-series – “Fun Facts.”  In this way I will take my woes and turn them into something fun and educational (which I will post between the usual longer, photo-filled posts).  For example:

Fun Fact:  Florence usually gets about 4.5 inches of rain in the month of November, which is about half of what Albuquerque, NM gets in an entire year (9).  Florence also averages 15 rainy days in the month of November (yes, that means HALF the days it rains!).  This November (2012), according to the weather channel, the West Side of Albuquerque (drier side, where we lived) got .05 inches of rain, while Florence was drenched by at least 5 inches.  If I am doing my math correctly, that means we got one hundred (100) times more rain here than our house in Albuquerque did.

Who knew?

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