Florence, Italy – City Center Eats

For six weeks during the summer of 2013, the city center of Florence was my home. I lived just one block north of the beautiful Duomo. I did my best to avoid the touristy food places. Stepping a block or two off of main street proved worth it – better food and far cheaper. (This goes for every city, I think.) “Grab and go” is a popular lunch option, as is standing at the bar rather than sitting at a table. If sitting in a restaurant, read the menu; if a coperto/pane e coperto (literally bread and tableware) is listed, the tip is included; think of it as a service charge. If there is no coperto, leaving one or two euros per person is customary. Also, you must find an aperitivo… it’s basically the Italian happy hour, except you buy a beverage and have access to a tasty array/buffet of food.

Anyhow, here are my go-to eats in the city’s center…

Trattoria Baldovino (Via San Giuseppe 22r)
Trattoria Baldovino, via San Giuseppe 22r (Image Credit)

Trattoria Baldovino is just down from Santa Croce, but not the least bit touristy. It’s quite small with limited, intimate seating inside, as well as a a few tables set up outside. I never had lunch at Baldovino’s but for dinner I always got their spinach pappardelle yummy! (Click here to view Trattoria Baldovino on TripAdvisor.)

Bruschetta at Osteria del Caffè Italiano, Via Isola delle Stinche, 11R-13R
Bruschetta at Osteria del Caffè Italiano, Via Isola delle Stinche, 11R-13R

Osteria del Caffè Italiano, a small osteria near Santa Croce, had delicious spinach lasagne and the tastiest bruschetta I’ve had to date. Lunch was affordable and the liter of wine my friend and I shared was great as well. (Click here to view the Osteria’s website, translated from Italian into English.)

Vivoli's caffè and
Vivoli, via Dell’Isola delle Stinche 7r

After a meal at Osteria del Caffè Italiano, walk about 100 yards to Vivoli’s. The photo above shows one of my favorite gelato combinations, caffè e cioccolata fondente (coffee and dark chocolate). Caffè is my most favorite flavor of gelato, and Vivoli’s is the best I’ve EVER had. (Click here for Vivoli’s website.)

Chianti gelato!
Chianti gelato! (Piazza del Duomo, 45r)

Edoardo, a biological gelateria, is right next to the Duomo, and somewhat touristy, but… they have Chianti flavored gelato!! (It’s really like a sorbet, but whatever… it’s wine flavored, so who cares!!) After my very last Italian class, a few of my classmates and I said “Salute!” with our professor using this gelato! (Click here to view their website in English.)

falafel kebab
Falafel kebab! (Piazza Gaetano Salvemini, via dell’Oriuolo, 14)

Mesopotamia Kebab is about a block behind the Duomo, literally just down from the apartment I lived in. I probably ate a kebab from here a zillion times on my walks to class. Kebabs are the epitome of cheap street food. They’re like a gyro, but not. Whether it is the bread or the fillings, each kebab shop is unique. Kebabs are traditionally lamb (of which I am not a fan). Luckily, they have fried falafel balls you can substitute. So DELICIOUS (filling and satisfying) and SUPER cheap (just €4)! Perfect for lunch on-the-go, kebabs are a nice change of pace from a slice of pizza. (Click here to view their facebook page.)

Where are your favorite places to eat in the city’s center?

Buon appetito!

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Mineral Springs & Monteriggioni, a Tuscan day trip

While I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy (Summer 2013) my roommate and I did a day tour to a hot mineral springs spa just outside of Siena. Because the tour included a dinner in Siena, the starting time was well into the afternoon. By the time we arrived at Terme di San Giovanni it was almost closing time. We practically had the place to ourselves! The sunset on the surrounding Tuscan hills was incredible and even better enjoyed from the relaxing thermal waters.

Incredible views!
Incredible view!

The spa consisted of three, gravity feed pools; the lower in elevation and increasingly farther from the spring’s origin, the cooler the temperature. The hottest and closest pool to the natural spring was indoor. The second one, outside and a level below the first, was a medium temperature. It was a nice break from the steamy, sauna-like first pool. This is where my roommate and I first slathered ourselves with the mineral mud from the bottom of the pool. It was exfoliating, yet gentle. We covered our arms and shoulders, and my roommate even covered her face (at the insistence of our guide). We let the “mud” harden, then rinsed it away. It tingled ever so slightly; I loved the feeling. The third and coolest pool proved to be a little too crisp for us, particularly because the sun was going down and the wind had picked up a little.

Hottest pool to the left, inside the building.
Hottest pool to the left, inside the building.
Medium-temperature pool to the left, and the coolest on the right.
Medium-temperature pool to the left, and the coolest on the right.

After our dip in the pools, the spa provided us with soft robes and little soaps (body wash, shampoo, and conditioner). While the “miracle mud” had made a noticeable difference (warmer, more radiant skin), it really dried my body and hair out, even after washing the thermal waters away. The next time I visit a hot mineral springs, I will definitely bring along a rich moisturizer for my body and some argon oil to spritz in my hair.

Thermal spa robe
I donned a comfy robe and enjoyed the setting sun.

Our day trip included dinner in Siena, but since the tour group ended up just being the two of us, our guide took us to Monteriggioni instead, the so-called “Crown of Tuscany.” The nickname comes from the circular shape of the city’s 13th-century walls and their fourteen towers. Our tour guide said only approximately 400 people actually live within the  walls. The area is basically all pedestrian. Monteriggioni is well-known for its Festa Medievale, one of the most famous annual medieval festivals in all of Italy.

Crown of Tuscany
Monteriggioni, the Crown of Tuscany.

We really lucked out… our guide knew the owner of a little restaurant in Piazza Roma, the main square. (I tried finding the name of the restaurant, but unfortunately I had no luck.) My roommate and I, sitting at an outdoor table, first cooled off with a refreshing glass of local white wine and savored a traditional Tuscan antipasto plate with meats, pecorino cheese, and bruschetta.

monteriggioni antipasti
Typical Tuscan antipasto plate.

The sun was setting as we started our il second piatto (second course). It consisted of two different pastas. One was a penne rigate-type noodle with a simple pomodoro (tomato) sauce. The other pasta was like spaghetti, but thicker/doughier and its meat sauce consisted of local, wild boar. If I could have either dish again, I’d like a combination of the pomodoro sauce with the spaghetti-like noodles. YUM!

Monteriggioni pasta
Delicious housemade noodles.

The owner served us a cannolo(singular of cannoli)-themed dolce piatto (dessert course). It included a mini cannolo, a cannolo-like “pie,” and a custard ice cream. It was SUPER tasty!

Monteriggioni dolce
Connolo-inspired final course.

We had a lovely little view from our patio table. Directly across from the restaurant is the simple Romanesque church, Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the inside.

Monteriggioni church
Church of the Assumed Saint Mary

 ***

Enjoying the thermal springs of San Giovanni, and particularly enjoying a delicious dinner in Monteriggioni, were a major highlight of my time studying abroad. I highly recommend a trip to a Tuscan hot spring! A stop by Monteriggioni is a must if you’re in the area.

***

Helpful links regarding Monteriggioni:
Official Tourism website
General information
An article by Discover Tuscany

***

Ciao!

Panzerotti di Luini – Milan, Italy

In November 2014 I spent a three days (out of a six-week backpacking trip) in Milan, Italy. Other than visiting Santa Maria dell Grazie to stand in front of Leonard’s Last Supper and staying in an amazing hostel (Ostello Bello), my favorite part of the trip was eating panzerotti.

Fillings, both savory and sweet, are spread onto puffy sourdough, folded, and then fried. The texture is phenomenal (sorta like a doughnut), and the taste, combined with the fillings, is sensational. Oh, what I would do to have another right now! Sigh.

Panzerotti di Luini is quite popular among locals, as well as well-informed tourists. It is located near the Duomo, just behind the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan’s designer shopping hotspot. Just a counter and a couple chairs, Panzerotti di Luini is a small place. There are almost always long waiting lines, but it is worth your time. I was lucky enough to be traveling out of season, so I did not have to stand around at all really.

There is a McDonald’s right across the small side street and I could not believe how many (obvious) tourists chose american cheeseburgers over a place with a line out the door! I wanted to slap them silly!

I only found Luini’s the second day I was in Milan by wandering around, but it was so tasty, I went back for round two on my third and final day. I prefer savory to sweet, so I ended up having two savory and not a single sweet panzerotti. I am quite disappoint in myself for that. (What the hell was I thinking?!)

For right around five euros a piece, panzerotti are most definitely a MUST-EAT in Milan.

Have you ever eaten a panzerotto?
Savory or sweet?
Which was your favorite?

Photo Diary: Pisa, Italy (Summer 2013)

Unfortunately, I only spent a few hours in Pisa. It was summer aka incredibly hot and crowded. I wasn’t a fan of the city, granted I didn’t see much of it. The “day” trip over from Florence, where I was studying, was rushed….. my roommate was flying out of Pisa headed for Paris, so I tagged along to see the Torre pendente di Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa). We took a bus from Florence to the Pisa airport, then a bus from the airport to the tower complex. Sadly, no one really pays any attention to the cathedral or the baptistry. I really wanted to go inside both, but like I said, the trip was rushed – roommate had to catch a flight, and I needed to get back to Florence for something that seemed more important (although I can’t remember what that was anymore). The second time I was in Italy (October/November 2014), I skipped Pisa. Maybe the next time around I’ll spend more time there to get a better sense of the city, away from the ultra touristy locations.

Here’s a small photo diary
of the couple hours I spent in Pisa
(aka just in the Piazza del Duomo)…

(Click photos to view their captions and in full size.)

Have you been to Pisa? Did you have a chance to get away from the touristy locations?

My Reviews on TripAdvisor

Reviews are a powerful thing.
I know I depend on them, and I do my best to give back to other travelers by writing reviews on TripAdvisor. Here I will link the reviews I have written. This list will surely grow, so check back often for new information!

DUBLIN

  1. Marsh’s Library “Such a lovely little library! A hidden gem!”
  2. O’Neills Bar and Restaurant “Best Guinness Stew EVER!!”
  3. Times Hostels – Camden Place “I’ll be back for sure!”
  4. Dublinia: Experience Viking and Medieval Dublin “Best for Children”
  5. SANDEMANs NEW Dublin Tours “The BEST (and most enjoyable) way to learn about Dublin”

LONDON

  1. Masters Super Fish “The BEST fish and ships in the city” (Yes, I misspelled “chips” … embarrassing).

TURIN

  1. Egyptian Museum of Turin “Incredible collection!”
  2. Focacceria Tipica Ligure “Amazingly delicious and ridiculously affordable”