Select Study Abroad June 2015: Week 3 (arts & crafts, Uffizi, cooking, gardening, and…eating!)

Week 3 baby! We took advantage of a gloomy monday to be inspired by all the gorgeous masks and art we saw in Venice and made some fun arts and crafts to take home. We got over to the Uffizi galleries, a must-see in Florence, no question. Michelangelo and Botticelli did not disappoint. Then we dropped in on some of our cooks-in-traing during their awesome cooking class in the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. They are basically professional and made some of the most beautiful cannolis we have ever seen. Then our Alpha Phi ladies hit up Orto Dipinti again (a community run and managed garden in the center of Florence) where we watered and pruned and painted the homemade flowerbeds to help extend their lives. No week is complete of course without some epic eating. This week we took our ladies to one of our all-time favorites, Cesarino. A hidden gem. We took over the entire outside patio. What a blast.
Arts & Crafts Day
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Tips & Tricks for a day in Cinque Terre

Italy_coastlineSummer is around the corner and some of you are beginning to plan your trips to Italy. Many of my friends and family that come to visit during the summer months usually have one thing in mind: the beach. Excellent plan. While there is lots of “coastline” to choose from in Italy, Cinque Terre (chink-way ter-re), or the five earths (aka towns), has risen to the top of the popular spots for tourists. This is an especially great escape from Florence (which can be very hot during the summer) and can easily be done in a day!

Recently, while writing to a friend who is planning just such a day trip, I was trying to remember all the ins and outs and I realized that there were maybe a few more than the average person can just “pick up,” especially if the Italian is limited. So I thought, why not make it easy (for me and for others) and put it all in one place. Below you will find all the need-to-know info from how to get there for less to what you can skip to save time and from where to hike to where not to. Of course we’ll tackle the food, I mean, the cuisine is worth the trip in itself, but we’ll also be sure you know how to make it home without getting stranded there (unless that is part of the plan). Enjoy and see you there this summer!
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The Best Pastries in Florence!

best_pastriesAs a follow-up to our recently renovated Best Food in Florence blog, we are bringing you a new food-themed “Best Of”: the best breakfast pastries in Florence!
So you think something covered in sugar is always good, eh? Well, ok, it is. But we’re not satisfied with “good,” what we are searching for here is Greatness.
In fact, doing some research for this post, I stumbled across an adorable blog post by Tiana Kay called “ITALIAN CROISSANTS SUCK,” which I read with a chuckle because I know exactly what she means (and nothing puts a damper on a morning like a crap pastry!). Sadly, there are some pretty lame excuses for breakfast pastries out there (the pre-packaged, stale, hard, and defrosted varieties), but there are also really good ones! I promise. I have made it my life’s mission to find them, and I want to share them with you.
 
This post obviously required a lot of on-site research, with endless taste testing and re-taste-testing until we KNEW we had a solid list of locations.
No need to thank us.
This is what we do.
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Blog Updates: Best Food in Florence!

It has been entirely too long since I updated our Best Food in Florence post. Frankly, I’m embarrassed. It’s one of more useful blogs we have, if I do say so myself, including tips, hints, and all the necessities before we even get to the food. Writing about the food is always my favorite part and usually involves me leaving immediately afterwards to revisit one of our favorite spots. This new version has some new favorites along with the classics we still love. Really, you can’t go wrong with this list, whatever your price point and for however long you’re staying. I eat at pretty much all of these on a rather regular rotation and have for years! They continuously impress, so I hope you feel the same!

The Best Food in Florence
burrata

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Tips on Food & Eating in Italy

Italian_salamiOk guys. Time for me to vent. Pet peeve numero uno comin’ at ya.
It really rubs me the wrong way when tourists arrive in Italy and expect to find the same dishes (cooked the EXACT same way) they enjoy in Italian restaurants at home. Most ethnic cuisine that has made its way to America ends up changing a fair amount on our shores. In Japan, for example, I highly doubt they serve the Philadelphia roll. And a chimichanga is something that has never graced a real Mexican table. So while Italian food in America is, without a doubt, inspired by the food in Italy, there are things on an American-Italian menu that just don’t exist in Italy (at least not EXACTLY as they do at home).
 
I was reminded of this over an English lesson with a friend who works at a local Florentine restaurant. She and her fellow waitresses laughed at the idea of spaghetti and meatballs. You heard me right. Possibly the most Americanized Italian food ever, the quintessential spaghetti and meatballs really doesn’t exist in Italy (well at least not in a version that any American would recognize). Another famous dish that stumped the waitresses is the well-known (in the good old USA) fettuccine alfredo. There is a restaurant in Rome where this dish was invented and while it has really taken off the States, it is rarely on menus in Italy.
 
Now, there’s nothing wrong with these items being ordered and enjoyed (I mean pasta covered in melted cheese is hard not to like), but you should be aware that if you go to a restaurant in Italy that makes them (with the exception of Alfredo’s restaurant in Rome), chances are they’re just doing it because they get asked so often or because they are appeasing American tourists. Let’s keep in mind that it’s a big country with a wide range of gastronomic traditions that vary dramatically in cities barely 50 miles apart. In fact, most Italian-American cuisine is based on food from only one city, Naples. Perhaps in Naples you’ll fit right in, but don’t expect any Florentine to tell you that there is not “that big of a difference” between these two culinary traditions. For Italians, the difference is huge!
 
So this week, I want to try and get some better food knowledge out there. Now this is really to follow up on my intro information on how to pick the place to eat, how to order and in what order to eat all these delicious things in our Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad blog. If you’re lost, perhaps start there.
 
Below is a list of food items that are:
#1. Unknown in the Italian gastronomic world (so take note if they appear on an Italian menu and maybe consider not ordering them).
#2. Fake friends: words that sound like an English word we would expect to find in food and yet are not at all what we think.
Or #3. Food items we rarely see on American menus but are often the most delicious ingredients on an Italian menu and sadly get skipped for lack of familiarity!
I hope in the course of this list to also impart some important Italian cuisine knowledge so while you’re here you are sure to eat some REAL Italian food.
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