So before the advent of Sorrowful September, I was lucky enough to spend Awesome August in the country that gave us the Renaissance, pasta, Pavarotti and in-floor heating. That’s right people, I literally spent an entire month luxuriating under the Tuscan sun.
I had been awarded a scholarship to study a four week Italian course at the Michelangelo Institute in Florence, which I was super excited about. Not only because I got to learn Italian in Italy, but because I would have a full four weeks of eating authentic pasta and gelato. And it would be glorious. Friends from Australia who now live in Germany had done the same course a month before, and my appetite (both literal and figurative) for all things Italian had well and truly been whetted by their Facebook pages.
The Wren had also been awarded a scholarship to study, though at a different school. So we excitedly converged on Italy and the generous hospitality of Claudio, the Koncon go-to Italian host in Florence. Claudio taught us many things, from tango to the best way of cooking tomatoes. All in Italian of course. It was very reassuring and comforting to find that a fair percentage of native speakers had the patience and good humour to endure the mumblings of a beginner student intent on improving their language skills.
The course was conducted entirely in Italian and was very fast, covering a large amount of grammar in a short period of time. However, there was a good balance between grammar, reading comprehension and conversation practice. The latter of which was often…interesting. In my class we had me, the atheistic feminist; an alternative spiritualistic yogi; two Muslim guys; a Franciscan priest in training, and some normal people. And with this varied group we discussed things like whether homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt. You know, a nice, neutral subject certain not to be inflammatory.
I often left the class fuming with the two-fold frustration of having to listen respectfully to opinions I completely disagreed with while not being able to articulate my own arguments adequately in a foreign language. Is it any wonder I ate so much gelato? I had to calm down somehow…
Which brings me nicely to the real point of my post: gelato. I took the difficult task of sampling the offerings of as many different gelaterie as possible. Purely in the name of scientific endeavour. Naturally.
I came to the conclusion that the best gelataria in terms of consistency, value, flavour and service was La Carraia. The main shop is just off the bridge of the same name which crosses the Arno, but there was also a smaller shop just near the Piazza Santa Croce. While the gelato at gelataria Santa Trinita may have been just slightly better, the people who worked there were so rude that it really wasn’t worth the effort. The most extraordinary gelato I came from gelataria dei Neri. It was a caramel gelato (the best flavour) that somehow had the consistency of fudge… I know. However, the other flavours that I tried at the same store didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by this one incredible specimen.
At this point, you may be worrying about my health, if all I did in Italy was shout at people with different opinions and eat gelato. But fear not, I spent the rest of my time working off the frustration and calories through the strenuous activity of walking around galleries, museums, palaces and gardens.
I know. My life is super difficult.
Now, I will freely admit that the Medici family with all their palazzi, churches, villas and incredible art collections are well deserving of the awe and admiration that their legacy inspires. However, I have one complaint. Their coat of arms looks like a collection of tomatoes on a table. Which does little to inspire fear and deference when mounted over the city gates or palace entrance. What am I supposed to think? “Oh boy, better not attack this city. Their duke has tomatoes.”
But questionable heraldry aside, ten points to the Medici family for the artistic legacy created by their patronage. A month wasn’t long enough to see even part of what is in Florence, and even visiting these cultural institutions at a leisurely pace every other day was enough to leave me in a state of overwhelmed stupor.
So when the stress of eating gelato and bearing witness to some of the world’s greatest art became all too much, I did what any self-respecting Australian would do. I either went to the beach or wine tasting. But this wasn’t any old beach, this was the world heritage listed Cinque Terre. And this wasn’t any old wine, this was Chianti.
Life is still super difficult. My diamond shoes just don’t fit properly.
But like all good things, my time in Florence eventually came to an end. And so I bid a fond arrivederci to Tuscany and headed off to Rome for my final three days in Italy. I spent eight hours walking around the city on my first day there, traipsing from Termini to the Villa Borghese and back via the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Venezia and Imperial Forum. I was pretty impressed with my feat of athleticism until I got back to my hostel and found out that the other girl in my room had spent two months walking to Rome from Switzerland. She had nothing but scorn for my sore feet.
The next day was spent exploring the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill and Coliseum. I was very impressed to learn that in case of emergency the Coliseum could be emptied in under eight minutes, even when at full capacity. These Romans were a clever bunch. My final day in Rome wasn’t technically in Rome, or even Italy. Yes, I went to the Vatican. I had bought a ticket to see the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, which was both over and underwhelming. Apparently even in Europe you can’t just be whelmed.
If you don’t get the 10 Things I Hate About You reference, kindly go back and party like it’s 1999 until you do.
There was so much stuff in the Vatican Museum that I couldn’t actually pay any attention to it. I had seen too much art and too many artefacts over the last month, I had reached saturation point and the limit of my patience. I was hoping for the Sistine Chapel to be a transformative, transcendent experience, but in reality it was a small room crowded with way too many people. There was no chance of getting any form of perspective, the only paintings you could see were the ones directly above you. And it’s not particularly comfortable to spend more than thirty seconds staring upwards. Poor Michelangelo.
And here comes the confession of my post. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. My ticket clearly stated that entrance to St Peter’s Basilica was not included. But nobody seemed to be checking tickets, so I pretended to be part of a tour group and snuck into the basilica without paying. I don’t think saying three Hail Marys on my deathbed is going to stop me from going to hell now.
But there’s at least one good experience guaranteed for me before I get dragged off to the fiery pit. Guess who’s going on a concert tour to Modena this month ?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s me!