Then suddenly it sweeps over me, Florence, Italy

Italy

Hey guys, so it turns out Florence is really fucking beautiful! It’s full of amazing art and lovely bars and surrounded by properly gorgeous rolling countryside that is sort of like quintessentially English countryside but somehow more sun drenched and misty and lovely. I realise this is common knowledge for the thousands of tourists who flock there every year but somehow I missed it. 

As far as commutes into town go, it certainly beats the 55 down Hackney Road

Home for my two day stay was a lovely old house up on a hill about two miles southeast of the city. A real Airbnb gem, this great lil BnB is run by Claire, her son Stefano and their lovely housekeeper Nico. After dropping my bags in my (enormous) room and admiring my lemon yellow 70s bathroom of dreams I set off on the leasurely 45 minute walk into town, down cobbled streets flanked so closely by stone walls I’m amazed a single car fits down them. In my usual way I had done absolutely no research so followed my nose around town, spending a faintly ridiculous amount of money on hand marbled postcards and trying to remember which way I had come from. I paused at the river to get my bearings and generally marvel at quite how photogenic the whole situation was. It was then that I remembered the ever knowledgeable Curious Pear had done a city guide to Florence, and after consulting it decided to head to Gurdulu for dinner to try the ‘sophisticated, seasonal gourmet cooking’. Of course I was unfashionably early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so I popped into a tiny wine bar, Langolino, next door to read my book and kill some time. Two hours, various new friends and more than my fair share of Spumante later, I found myself exiting Langolino in the opposite direction, across Piazza Santo Spirito in search of some famously indulgent gnocchi alla tartufi from Osteria Santo Spirito. Sadly they were fully booked, so my new friend Mariano and I instead found ourselves propping up another bar, drinking boulevardiers and eating olives. After a while we had to admit that fun as it was, it really wasn’t dinner so Mariano led me through town to his favourite sandwhich spot –  All’Antico Vinaio. Even at 10.30pm the queue was out the door, but Mariano snuck us to the front and ordered us two ‘sandwiches’. Huge slabs of fresh focaccia with a great smear of truffle paste, fresh soft cheese, lightly sautéed courgette and fresh rocket. Dio mio. Cheesy chips may never suffice again. Refuelled, we wandered back into the night, but only as far as the steps of the Uffizi gallery where one of Mariano’s friends was busking. Another few hours and another few bottles of wine drunk surreptitiously from plastic cups, eventually I made the slightly wobblier walk back to the house, cursing past me for agreeing to an 8am breakfast.

The Ponte Vecchio at sunset. Show off.


The next morning, my headache and I were met with a delicious breakfast of local jams and toast, before getting the bus back into town to do some culture. In a move that, in hindsight, was possibly ambitious considering the scale of my hangover, I decided to tackle the Uffizi. Home to the largest collection of renaissance art in the world, it is worth braving the crowds to see, though I would recommend drinking at last one less bottle of wine than I had to fully enjoy the experience. After two hours of staring at various enormous visualisations of innocents being slaughtered and so so many terrifying ugly baby Jesuses, I gave up and retreated to a cafe for cake and WiFi and sitting. 

When all I could think off whole looking at this picture was ‘pull my finger’, I figured I’d probably had enough art for one day

When my Airbnb host, Stefano, checked in on me that afternoon to see how I was getting on I explained that I had failed to go for dinner the night before and asked if he had any recommendations. It turned out he actually owns Gurdulu and a couple of other spots around town, so he offered to get me a reservation at any of them or, as a wildcard, to come for dinner with him and some friends in a villa on the other side of town. Never one to say to no a free dinner, I agreed and a few hours later Stefano picked me up and drove, at truly terrifying speed, through the winding roads to the west of the city. The evening that followed was a blur. About 20 people, mostly friends since they were kids, all together in this mad huge beautiful villa, chain smoking and feeding me wine and roasted vegetables and bread and shouting at each other in that uniquely Italian way that simultaneously conveys outrage anger and deep rooted love. Obviously I had less than no idea what was being said most of the time but everyone was lovely and engaging and it made me miss my mad friends back home. 

The next morning, I contemplated my time in Florence and thought about how maybe not reading the guidebooks or doing the research is necessarily the worst mistake. Wandering slightly blindly but, crucially, saying yes to the situations we stumble into often produce the most unexpected and positive results. Maybe slightly less wine next time though.

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

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If we do I’m sure that I’ll miss Bologna

Italy

In a perfect mirroring of our abandonment of this blog midway through our US road trip two years ago, here I resume it midway through another one.

There were no particular reasons for the previous desertion other than laziness, the distractions of life and the overall sadness brought on by writing about a trip that was imminently to be over. But apologies all the same to our 15 loyal readers who no doubt have been stricken for the past two years wondering how it all ended. In short, Vegas was tacky and full of pool parties. Non of us won our millions, non of us got married, one of us got sent their first dick pic (from a man claiming to be in the MBA). Then LA; which was great and sun drenched and full of cute boys on skateboards and delicious food but also pathos as the trip, and our bubble of American freedom, was coming to an end.

 But here we are! Two years later and it is a lone bitch who is tripping this time. While George slaves away in NYC creating plant based fast food magic, I (Laura) have temporality absconded from my East London railway arch for a solo road trip through Italy. The trip actually started a week ago, in Bologna. Initially I had no plans to document it in any particular way, but it turns out that Italian is a pretty difficult language to just jump into speaking, with a very basic working knowledge of French/Spanish hindering rather than helping matters. So with two weeks looming where the extent of my conversations would be limited to ordering wine or apologising for things, I decided maybe an outlet for my repressed internal monologue was a wise move. 


A quick precis of that first week. Two nights in Bologna, immersed in the spirit of Italy’s communist heartland – there is a thriving community of independent businesses made possible through the city’s lingering socialist business policies. The sizeable Antifa student rally I stumbled upon while exploring the city’s many university streets hammered home the underlying spirit of the city. 

My first meal was quite terrifying. I clung to the Italy Food Companion phrasebook my sister had given me for my birthday like my non starvation depended on it, dutifully reading out ‘vorrei una etc etc’ and the patient waiter answering in slowed down nursery grade Italian while I desperately thumbed through the book looking for my next phrase, stubbornly refusing to level myself with the many American tourists around me not even attempting a ‘ciao’. Either my phrasebook Italian wasn’t completely unintelligible, or the waiter helped me out, but the food that arrived was totally perfect. The thinnest, most al dente ravioli, packed with seasoned ricotta and happily drowned in browned butter and sage. Throw in a bread basket the size of my head and a personal bottle of white wine and I found myself coming over all insufferably Julia Roberts a la Eat Pray Love.  


After a long and strenuous planning session (a hasilty written Facebook status) I decided my next stop would be the much Instagrammed Cinque Terre. Comprised of five of the prettiest, least arcitechially feasible looking towns I have ever seen, it really is worth the hype. Two very contentedly sweaty days were spent hiking the trails between Corniglia and Monterosso al Mare. Corniglia is the smallest of the towns (250 residents) and from its position perched high on a cliff top, simply one of the most idyllic places I have ever watched the sun go down. Monterosso is positively metropolitan by contrast; being home to 1500 people. Although it lacks some of Corniglia’s cutesy charm and has a few too many tourists, my lovely hotel  Hotel Marina, serves free pasta and wine every afternoon which is the surest of ways to my heart. 


Once even I reached my limit on 3pm pasta pesto, it was time to wave goodbye to my seaside chocolate box Italian dreamscape, and head south east, to Florence.

Written by Laura.
What I’m saying now.
What I’m seeing now.