My Mind on Returning Home in a Few Days

Hello! It’s definitely been a while since I’ve managed to scrape aside time from life here to blog — I’ve been using every spare moment to get extra sleep, and I’ve also been enjoying the company of the friends I’ve made here.

Piazza Signoria.

It feels like a lifetime ago that I lived in California, ignorant of the everyday bits of life that make Florence special. I love living in Florence. I love Italy. I’ve made friends and good acquaintances here, American and Italian.

I’ve been locked away indoors the past two weeks scrambling to work on final projects for all of my classes. I don’t think I’ll be able to see much of Florence these remaining few days; it’s the sacrifice I make to salvage my academics this semester — it’s been tough balancing this adventure with schoolwork when the outside world is fascinating.

I won’t make this blog post my final good bye to Italy.

I’ve just had so many thoughts go through my head these past many days. In some ways it’s a pity I’ll be leaving just as I feel I’ve gotten the hang of things here, but there are also things I’m excited for when I return home — seeing friends, my boyfriend, and dogs. Getting to mountain bike again, and take the liberty of sleeping in. I’m excited to have access to certain foods too, like good Mexican food and all the gluten-free things that await me at home.

However, I’m also aware of the things I’ll lose; I’ll lose the freedom of stepping out my front door and entering a city of adventure. I’ll miss being able to take a stroll around the city and stopping by my friends’ apartments to say hello or have some tea. I’ll miss seeing my Italian buddies around the city in restaurants and my neighborhood Tabacchi (a small store that sells stamps, loto tickets, cigarettes, candy, water and the like), from which I’d manically buy stamps and water bottles.

I drew on a postcard and gave it to the Via dei Macci Tabbachi store owners yesterday. Buona Pasqua = Happy Easter. I’ll be trying to draw little things for my Florentine buddies before I go.

I’ll miss laughing at the creeper Italian men with my friends, and maybe even the gypsies (only a little).

What I’m counting on is that I’ll take with me the things that matter. I’ll keep the moments, stories and the things I’ve seen.

View of the Arno out of the Vasari Corridor.
View out of the Vasari Corridor (the hallway that runs along the top of the Ponte Vecchio).

I’ll be seeing Leonard! He’s a service dog in training from Bergin University of Canine Studies that my mom and I have been raising. I’m excited to see (and hug) this boy when I get home! I’ve been skyping him 🙂
(Not my photo)
And finally, Ibarra will be coming to visit me. He is one of the other service dogs I’ve raised for a year. He’s currently in-training with an associate student at Bergin University of Canine Studies.
More posts to follow, as I fill this blog with all of my adventures  (and photos) 🙂

Italian Cooking Class 2 — With Dessert Salami

Hello!

I’ve been wildly busy; my days are filled with schoolwork, friends, food, some sleep, skyping my mom and boyfriend, photography and blogging, weekend trips, and Florence. I’ve finished blogging about Rome! I have Switzerland left, Vinci, Bologna and Prague, as well as the second soccer game, San Gimignano and Siena. I pour my heart and hours of time into my blog, which is why the posts are flowing  s l o w  and steady.

Anyway, today I had my second cooking class! So much fun!! Here’s the link to my first cooking class.

Ingredients! (Those are gluten-free cookies, an adjustment made just for me ❤ ).

My classmates with one of the chefs (the guy on the very right).
My Nor-Cal people: (L-R) Katerina S., Elizabeth M., Kaitlin J., Cameron F., and that one chef-guy. On the left are some of the So-Cal girls also studying abroad with AIFS.
Preparing the eggplant Caprese salad ingredients.

Mixing the gluten-free gnocchi at my table.

Then rolling them out into strips and chopping them up into little pieces!
Fun fact: the gluten-free gnocchi won’t stick to each other like the regular pieces will.
Our instructor Francesco instructing.

The gluten-free gnocchi and eggplant Caprese at my table!!

Elizabeth M. and Cameron F.’s hand trying to ruin her gnocchi-modelling.
Potato Gnocchi in Sugo al’Aglione (Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce).
Francesco demonstrating how to roll up the chocolatey dessert mix that is called “Sweet ‘Salami’.”
(It’s made of sugar, egg yolks, butter, bitter cocoa powder, sweet liquor, and crumbled cookies. They substituted the cookies for gluten-free ones!).
It’s wrapped up in foil, and its shape resembled a piece of salami. It is typically frozen for about 2 hours (but in the restaurant’s super-powerful freezer it only took 20 minutes).
My gluten-free “Sweet Salami” !!
It tasted really good! I had Elizabeth M. taste-test the difference between my gluten-free sweet salami and the regular one — mine tasted chocolatier and she liked it better.
The brave, gluten-free-Italian-cooking AIFS classmates at my table, including Katelyn C., Katie G., Carly B., Jackie P., and Ayla B.
Kaitlin J., Katerina S. and Elizabeth M., my dinner buddies!
I really like the AIFS cooking classes, and the efforts the restaurant (In Tavola) made to adjust to my food-needs was really awesome. I had a great, gluten-free vegetarian dinner with my AIFS people.
The restaurant did remarkably well tolerating me poking into every group to snap pictures and following Francesco about to listen to his instructions to other groups. We ate dinner below the restaurant like last time (see the previous Italian cooking class post here). We even all received little recipe menus afterward, just like last time 🙂
It’s a fun experience — I definitely recommend taking an Italian cooking class, especially through AIFS! Just let AIFS/your program know before-hand if you have any dietary-restrictions 🙂
Tips for Italian cooking classes:
  • Definitely take one!
  • Don’t wear black/clothes you’re worried about getting dirty. It’s unlikely, but it could happen.
  • Don’t walk home alone afterward if it ends late in the evening!!! Have someone walk you. I walked with some AIFS girls that live near my house this time.
  • Bring a jacket for when it gets cold on the way home.

Grindelwald, Switzerland (The Mountains).

Spring break, finally! For my first weekend on spring break I left for Interlaken, Switzerland through the Florence for Fun travel group. This post is about a village I visited called Grindelwald.

I departed on Thursday evening by bus. It was a 5 hour ride through the night.

photoSouth-eastern view of the mountains– I stayed up from 4:30 am when we arrived, and watched the sun rise. I ran out for a walk immediately and walked through some rural area, and saw the sun peaking over the snowy mountains. It was beautiful. 

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I just walked along these houses.  I’m realising, as time goes on during this trip, that I like having time to myself; it’s not unusual at this point for me to spend hours exploring on my own. I enjoyed the sunshine and crisp air.
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Interlaken is a Swiss town between two lakes, lake Brienz and and Lake Thun, with a population of about 5,500 people.
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Spotted some horses. It smelled nice, like farms.

Casual farm houses with these astonishingly beautiful mountains poking up behind them.
Schule = school in German.

I found the old schule house haha.
Walking back to my hostel, which was actually pretty nice inside. The hallways/interior remind me of old-styled buildings in Poland. It was called “Funny-Farm Hostel.”
After I return at about 9am, I was feeling pretty tired so I took a nap. After that, I asked the front desk for information on how to reach Grindelwald, a villiage 3,392 ft above sea level in the Bernese Alps.
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I caught the bus to Wilderswil (about 10 minutes away) and hopped on the train. The views were beautiful.

Shots out the window.

The train ride was so enjoyable, I really liked the ride up the Alps.
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Reached Grindelwald in about 25 minutes on the train.

The train! So cute!

I was dressed in my cargo pants and sneakers, along with a thin water proof and backpack. I just picked a direction and started hiking upward.

It was pretty warm despite all the snow around, so I’m glad I didn’t bring any heavy coats, and I was grateful for my mom’s reminder to wear sunglasses — the glare of sunlight off of the snow was quite bright.
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A little doggy-bag disposal bin.

There was snow all over, but miraculously my sneakers didn’t soak through at all 🙂

This friendly cat let me pet it for a while.

I thought at first that all these little houses were designed to be rented to tourists, but I eventually realised these are regular houses. The houses all had wooden plaques with the family name carved into them.
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Grindelwald is called the “Glacier Villiage.”

My agenda is to keep smattering photos of the beautiful snow-capped mountains to fan the flames of your desire to travel.
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Came across some weird house filled with cows and their babies.

Kept on hiking along, this is probably about an hour and forty minutes away from the train station.

A crow flew over and stayed long enough for me to photograph it.

A trashcan!

A car and bus dodging each other on the road. I knocked some snow off these bushes for fun.
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The snow fell down the mountain a few times!
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I made a snowman! A man walked by as I was poking around the ground for pebbles likethe weirdo/desperate amateur-snowman-builder I was.
photoSome ski slopes were up in this direction. Near this point I decided to head back, when I suddenly spotted a bus stop with some weary skiers propped up around it. I ran over and (sure enough) a bus appeared, which actually drove to the train station. I bought a bus ticket and got a nice, twisty drive back.
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That dog was so cute! (Back at the train station).

I walked a bit and had a look around.

I bought and mailed a few postcards from Switzerland 🙂

While deciding on where to have dinner, this menu caught my eye….

I passed on the “kangaroo medallions,” (reminder: I’m vegetarian) and had some risotto.
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The little tray-table in the train was also a map of the mountain along with the rail way highlighted on it. Grindelwald is on the left. There’s another cool place I wish I had visited called Lauterbrunnen, which is in a valley full of waterfalls. At the top of the mountain is Jungfraujoch, where the Jungfraujoch railway (3,454 meters/11,332 ft above sea level) reaches. It is the highest railway station in Europe, and on a clear day you can look over into France and Germany.
Tips for Grindelwald/Switzerland:
  • Visit Grindelwald!
  • Bring sunglasses — the glare from the sunlight reflecting off of the snow is uncomfortable and bad for your eyes.
  • Pack light for hiking about.
  • Make a snowman.
  • Don’t eat any kangaroo.
  • Consider visiting Lauterbrunnen and Jungfraujoch (although Jungfraujoch train tickets are expensive).
  • Send some postcards from Switzerland
  • Buy a Swiss army knife.

Rome: The Villa Borghese Gallery and Last Few Hours

My last morning in Rome during my weekend visit there through AIFS (my study abroad program here).

I visited the Borghese Gallery with some buddies thanks to a recommendation from a teacher. It’s so beautiful and gorgeous, I absolutely loved it. There are only two floors of artwork, the painting gallery and the sculpture gallery. There’s also a 2 hour time limit, and tickets need to be booked ahead of time, here.

I’m an art kid, and I’ve spend many an hour in a gallery scribbling up a gallery review or sketching pieces. I honestly have to say that the Borghese is my favourite gallery of all time — the time limit seems counter intuitive, but it’s nice to not have to worry that you didn’t spend enough time there, and the size of the gallery is appropriate in terms of the time limit. It’s so pretty, and the actual pieces inside the gallery really appealed to me personally.

Go to see Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. It’s an amazing sculpture carved out of ONE BLOCK of marble. That is so incomprehensible on its own. This piece depicts the nymph Daphne escaping the amorous advances of Apollo, who is being very insistent, to put it mildly. Daphne cries out to her river god father for help, and (as my teacher put it) “wildly overreacts” and transforms her into a tree.
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Bernini was an incredibly skilled artist. He even used the movement of the viewer to create motion in this piece. As you walk around the piece counter-clockwise, the nymph appears to change into a tree.

Bernini’s David (also an amazing sculpture!) is actually a self-portrait. The expression on the face is incredibly true to the emotion of concentration. I love this sculpture. My Italian Renaissance Teacher said “there are a million things in there, but that doensn’t matter because you only need to see two things.” Those are Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and his David.
Jen H., Tyler A. and I took a quick stroll around the Villa Borghese Gardens.

Guards or Police on horseback! 🙂

Me and the map of the gardens, which looks like a heart! ❤

Some portion of the city walls as we leave the gardens and walk back into the centre of the city.

Rome: Vatican City and Being Lost

On this Saturday, I went to visit the Vatican City with my group.

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The flag of the Vatican City.

The Vatican City is a land-locked, sovereign country; it is the smallest country in the world, spanning a mere 0.2 square miles.

(Unfortunately, I forgot to slot my memory card back into my camera this morning, so I couldn’t take any pictures. Honestly, it was a bit of relief to take a step out from behind the lens. I think photographers need to be wary of living life documenting events and instances in time — there are moments you can’t capture with a camera.)

The Sistine Chapel (Not my photo — photographs aren’t allowed inside).

I got to see the Sistine Chapel, which was cool — it’s just difficult to comprehend the fact that the frescos were painted by Michelangelo. Michelangelo was known for his bad temper, and in fact his nose was broken at least once due to all the fist-fights he got himself into. He was nicknamed “la Terribilità,” or “The Terrible One.”

That back wall depicts The Last Judgement, painted by Michelangelo (between 1536-1541).  All of the figures in The Last Judgement were originally painted nude. Biagio da Cesena, the Pope’s master of ceremonies (basically his right-hand man) was quite opposed to all of the nudity and insisted on the figures being clothed (loincloths were painted on years later after Michelangelo’s death).

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Michelangelo didn’t appreciate being hounded and told what to do, so in response Michelangelo painted his depiction of Minos, the mythological king of Hell, in the likeness of Biagio da Cesena. Minos has large donkey ears and is wrapped in snakes, one of which is biting him in a sensitive place, if you see what I mean.

To put it in colloquial terms, Biagio da Cesena freaks out, and goes directly to the Pope asking for the portrait to be altered at once.

The Pope (who is very fond of Michelangelo) humorously states that he holds no power over the realms of Hell, and so the portrait remained.

After the Vatican City visit, I walked to the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps (more on all of these in my next post) along with some staff members from my program. Anyway, I ended up on the metro and stumbled home with a pounding headache that I started developing early in the morning. I slept for a few hours, waking at 9 pm / 21:00.

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I decided to take a stroll to the Trevi Fountain a few blocks from my house at 10 pm/22:00.

It was lovely and warm-ish out.
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Little snack vendor.

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I decided to walk to the Spanish Steps (the beginning of my bad ideas this evening), since they’re pretty close by to the Trevi Fountain. This is some weird display case — that baby-suit doesn’t have arm holes!

As I walk along, I suddenly find myself at the Pantheon (basically I ended up West of the Trevi Fountain, instead of North where I was trying to go). I think to myself “that this is fine, I know where I am. I’ll go head to the Spanish Steps now.” (At this point I’m still confident I know where I’m going).

Walking along, like I said: I think I know where I’m going.

A cute garbage truck. It started raining, but I had my water proof though, so I was fine.
At this point I have no idea where I am, but I’m not worried. Somehow, I don’t get worried about that kind of thing.
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I never consider myself lost, even if I don’t know where I am.

Somehow I end up by the river. Luckily the closes bridge was labeled, and I did have a map with me (the small streets I was on weren’t labeled on my map though).

I suddenly found myself by this huge, castle-looking thing. It turns out this is the Castel Sant’Angelo (also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian). It was first the Roman Emporer Hadrian’s mausoleum, then a castle used by the popes, and is now a museum. It’s 1.5 miles/almost 3 kilometers from my hotel.

Anyway, I walked along until I found the Piazza Navona, and managed to find my way home from there.

I finally spotted the National Monument to Vittorio Emmanuel II, which is around the corner from my hotel! I was so relieved, I wanted to yell!
I made it home just after midnight.
I ended up being swept up by a classmate and ended up dancing at an Irish pub with my classmates until 2-3am, and I had a great time.
Impressions of Rome thus far:
Rome seems like a very large city; everything has been built over the large-scale Roman foundations. The streets are wide and large (and traffic is intimidating!). It was definitely interesting to see. I didn’t really interact with anyone there, so I have no particular impression of the locals. I love Florence. I am utterly biased in this opinion, but that I think it would be more fun to study abroad in Florence than Rome. If you have any thoughts on this, please comment below!
Tips for the Vatican City, Photographers and Getting Lost:
  • Photographers, don’t forget to step out from behind the lens and live in the moment. Step into the action and don’t be afraid of the moments slipping by you. Living life means stepping through time with joy in your heart and
  • Vatican City security: you need to go through security and check in any umbrellas that don’t fold up, so don’t bring your large umbrella if you can help it.
  • It’s easiest to get into the Vatican City with a tour group — the lines are often a few hours to get in.
  • Mail a postcard from the Vatican City! They have their own postal service 🙂
  • Take a map with you everywhere.
  • Travel around with a buddy if you can help it.

Rome (the Wedding Cake and the Colosseum) — Arrival

I went through my study abroad program, AIFS, over the first weekend of March. The weather was rainy and sunny, which is my favourite kind of weather to explore and photograph in.

Rome is only about 3 hors away  (by train) from Florence, and the first thing I ran out to see when we arrived to our hotel was the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

It’s pretty cool, but interestingly the locals aren’t too fond of it. It’s considered to large and grandiose to match Rome’s other buildings, and is visible from almost every part of the city. It’s thought to be too boxy, and (in addition to lacking a tower or dome) it is glaringly white, standing out conspicuously among the surrounding brownish buildings.

As a result, it has a variety of nicknames including “the typewriter,” “the wedding cake,” and “the zuppa inglese” (an Italian sponge cake similar to tiramisu. It’s name is Italian for “English soup”)

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The building to the left of “the wedding cake.”

The weather was so pretty! It had just rained, so the steps up were shiny and the sky was gorgeous. 

Detail shot of one of the rooftop pieces on the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (who was the first king to rule a united Italy). The goddess of Victory is depicted here.

View down after clambering partly up the monument. I love the reflections on the wet stone and the sky! It made me feel so happy.

I think the inside is some sort of military museum now.

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Another interior shot. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of military engineers, among other things, so I guess it makes sense that she was depicted inside the military museum/exhibit/collection-thing.

View off of the Capitoline hill (on which the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II/the “wedding cake”) is built. It was amazing.

The clouds looked so wild and interesting that day too! I loved photographing them — I’m slowly learning more about my camera as I click along. Currently I’ve been enjoying manipulating shutter speeds and ISO.

Same vantage point, just looking down to my left into the Piazza del Campidoglio, which is on top of the Capitoline hill.
There’s also a church right next to where I stood to take this picture, and it is absolutely gorgeous — it was one of my favourite churches as far as it’s beautiful architecture and design.

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One our way to the Colosseum with our tour guides! There are ruins visible over that railing there.
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This is the Colosseum. It is ringed with 80 entrances (basically every arch visible on the bottom floor), each of which is numbered.
Important political figures during Roman times often funded the entertainment to win public favour. Gladiator fights and many “sea battles” were depicted here — in fact, the entire floor of the Colosseum was flooded for the opening performance which featured some sort of sea battle. The Colosseum was actually built over what was once King Nero’s artificial lake on his personal property, which was filled with pavilions and gardens.
King Nero had built a large landscaped villa in the heart of Rome on the Palantine hill after a fire in 64 A.D. burned down the aristocratic houses that previously occupied that space. King Nero was basically hated, so when he died Emperor Vespasian wisely converted the area into public land that was essentially dedicated to pleasing the Roman populace.

In the old entrances of the Colosseum.
Note: there is only ONE Colosseum, and it is in Rome. The other structures people tend to call “colosseums” are actually Roman amphitheaters.
Here you can see all the odd holes in the columns/pillars. When they were built, metal rods were used to help align the stone. Later on this metal was reused and removed from these pillars, leaving them with a pockmarked appearance.

In the Colosseum! Those top levels have suffered a great deal, but those top seats are originally where the Romans permitted the women to observe from.

Men and their mistresses could sit close to the arena (the wives sat in the top seats). Those white stones on the right are meant to be a recreation of how the steps would once have looked.

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The Colosseum was a lot cooler than I anticipated! It’s not a disappointing, gross old ruin, but quite interesting to walk around.
The exposed area was originally hidden — that part wasn’t mean to be seen, and it’s between 2-3 stories below that tan flooring. You can basically consider the lower are as a sort of “back stage” where things were managed, and the old pipes of Nero’s artificial lake were sometimes utilised for performances. The tan part is a reconstruction of the level on which the original gladiators would have stood.
The gladiators were basically the celebrities of their time, and were the key components of the entertainment system of Rome. A typical career lasted around 20 years, if you managed to live that long. Also, not all gladiator fights ended with the death of one competitor — good gladiators were a valuable financial investment by their sponsors, and fights were sometimes rigged due to the heavy betting centred around the fights.

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I can’t remember what this is, but it’s right by the Colosseum.
It was pouring rain during most of our tour, and because the Forum was flooded we didn’t get to go see that unfortunately.

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I can’t quite remember what this was either! It may have been the entrance arch to Nero’s gardens and house. It’s right next to the Colosseum.

The view of one side of the Capitoline hill on our return from the Colosseum.
First impressions of Rome: it’s definitely built on a large scale — they have wide streets and many lanes with pretty intense traffic that I found intimidating even with over a month of practice dealing with Italian traffic in Florence. The building styles are very different, and there are a lot of preserved ruins smattered around the city. Like I just mentioned though, the first thing that struck me was how large all the structures and roads were.
Tips for Rome:
  • This is a general travel trip, but use your free time wisely. Sometimes it’s worth it to skip a meal and use free time to go explore.
  • Check the weather — it was pouring rain at certain points, but my trusty water proof jackets, umbrella and rain boots kept me happy.
  • Climb up the monument to Victor Emmanuel II until you end up outside and can’t find any more stairs to climb. Find that church I mentioned — it’s really, really pretty, and I’ve basically been poking my head into every single church I come by in Italy.

Cultural Differences: In the Restaurant

One of the experiences that constantly teaches me new things about Italian behaviour standards is going out to eat dinner. I’ve mostly been making my own food at home (a lot of rice and veggies; also, I recently found some gluten-free tamari/soy sauce! Yay!), but I do go out every few days for dinner (often using the AIFS meal vouchers, which I highly recommend).

My two favourite restaurants so far are Masticabrodo and Golden View. (I’ll write restaurant reviews about these two places soon. Also, both participate in with AIFS’s meal voucher plan).

First off, Italians serve their food in courses. Even when ordering a simple dinner, they’ll sometimes ask which course you would like first. I’m used to having all of my meal available during dinner, so it has been interesting eating dinner this way.

My delicious (vegetarian and gluten free) minestrone soup at Masticabrodo. I was having dinner alone, and I think the waitress figured that I may as well have all my food — you can spot the (delicious) roasted potatoes in the background.

Water is not always included free with the meal. Italians often drink “fizzy” or mineral water, so the waiter always asks whether you’d prefer the water still or mineral. They do not serve water with ice, something very typical of American culture. I never drink iced water, so I actually really like this. Also, water is typically served out of a bottle, instead of the sneaky tap water you get in the U.S.

Ice cream is not as common a dessert item in Florence as is tiramisu, cheesecake and (sometimes) panna cotta. Crème brûlée and various types of mousse are also available in nicer restaurants. In the U.S., ice cream is a very common item on the dessert menu (often available in Japanese and Indian restaurants).

From what I’ve seen, gelato does not usually appear on restaurant menus. Gelato is found in “Gelaterias” (gelato booths/sweets stores) or in grocery stores.

Also, in Italy customers are not generally shepherded out a café or restaurant after the meal is over. I think this stems from the more Italian culture of enjoying a meal with family or friends; time is spend enjoying life through some leisure. In the U.S., it is socially expected of the diners to leave after finishing their meal. In a coffee shop, you are expected to purchase something every hour; there is basically a “drink minimum.” This is not part of Italian culture. If you buy one coffee, you may sit in a café for the rest of the day; you will not be asked to leave. America’s approach to meals is much more business like: once the goal of satisfying hunger is accomplished, the person leaves. In Italy places value on the process of appreciating the meal relishing the moment.

Random Cultural Differences:

America: It is polite to keep your hands in your lap/off of the table.

Italy: It is polite to keep your hands both on the table.

America: The waiter brings you the bill near the end of your meal/during dessert.

Italy: The waiters will not bring the bill until it is requested. Confused tourists/new study abroad students sometimes spend a confusingly long amount of time waiting around until this is realised. A simple “Il conto, per favore” is sufficient to request the bill.

America: Alcohol is treated a little differently — In Italy is it considered “American” to drink to get drunk.

Italy: Alcohol (like wine) is a part of Italian culture, and has its own way of fitting into social behaviour.

Age Limits: In America the legal age limit for purchasing alcohol is 21. In Italy, no one asks for proof of age when purchasing alcohol.