The Search for the Perfect Gelato

Coming into the semester, one of the main things that was on my must do list was a trip to Italy. My great-great-grandparents are from Palermo (the main city on the island of Sicily) and I had studied Italian for my first year at Georgetown so it seemed like a no brainer that I had to come at some point in the semester. I decided to travel to Florence, opposed to Rome or somewhere else in Italy, since it is a lot more difficult to reach traveling from a non-European point of departure and it was a place I was less likely to have the opportunity to see again. Florence is a beautiful city, and although it was pretty busy with tourists it wasn’t too much of a distraction as I explored. I had bought tickets for the Uffizi Gallery in advance and knew I wanted to try more than my fair share of gelato, but other than that, I was ready just to explore the city and explore where the day took me (which is a tremendous departure from me usually trying to plan these kinds of trips carefully and long in advance.

I had a layover in Frankfurt on the way to Florence, which I was luckily able to spend with my friend Anna (also a student blogger) who was headed to Athens. I had experienced a train on a boat earlier in the semester on my way to Hamburg, but this was my first time getting on a bus at my gate, which then drove us out to the middle of the tarmac to board our flight which was an equally strange experience.

Sandwich with prosciutto, basil, mozzarella, and tomato on pane toscana (Tuscan bread made without salt)

I was quite disappointed to learn that my year of intensive Italian class failed to get me very far. The very first thing I ordered in Florence was a sandwich at a shop which had quite a long line and a stack of fresh bread, so I decided it looked like a solid lunch choice and rehearsed my order (in Italian) but the rustiness as well as the semester of Danish meant that it came out quite rough and earned me a confused look. As I was taking a few seconds to take in the sandwich shop, I suddenly heard yelling and saw a sandwich being shaken in my face, clearly impatient with me after my poor attempt at Italian and my zoning out. Regardless of how stressful it was to get the sandwich, it ended up being quite good.

The bread’s texture was perfection but something seemed missing taste wise—it turns out that Florentine bread is actually baked without salt, which has no perfect explanation, but people usually turn to the historic high price of salt or to Florence’s rivalry with Pisa that caused salt to stop coming into the city. The other stressful eating experience was the pizza I ate that night, which was a personal pizza served unsliced with a fork and knife. I had always been under the assumption that it was rude to eat a pizza with a fork and knife in Italy, so this moment was definitely a little bit of a shock, and it made actually eating the pizza quite a tedious process (I probably burned more calories just trying to cut the pizza than the pizza was as a whole).

DaVinci’s Adoration of the Magi and the adoration of Michelangelo by eager tourists

Florence is known for its extensive collection of important works of art. The first big one, Galleria dell’Academia, features Michelangelo’s David and many other sculptures and paintings to admire. David towered above the crowd, and when the statue was initially moved, facades of buildings were actually knocked down to get it inside rather than adjust the statue itself. The other major art gallery I visited was the iconic Uffizi Gallery. Wait times can be up to 3 or 4 hours to get in, but that is drastically reduced if you buy tickets in advance where you are guaranteed to get in during a certain time window.

To be totally honest, I was starting to look a little glazed over after hundreds of triptychs and polyptychs in the Uffizi Gallery until I got to the Adoration of the Magi by Da Vinci. As surreal as it was to be this close to something that came from the hands Da Vinci, it was amplified by the fact that the painting was actually unfinished. It’s quite ironic that an unfinished painting is almost more useful to art historians than a finished one because it gives a unique insight into his artistic process. The painting was accompanied by a video with a timelapse of some of the techniques used to restore this painting to a gallery ready state from being covered in dirt and grime and possibly mistaken for trash, and the attention to detail on this was almost as impressive as the painting itself.

I also made it a point to try multiple scoops of gelato daily since Florence is the original home of gelato. My favorite had to be the dark chocolate gelato that I tried at a shop just down the street from the Duomo, which might not be everybody’s cup of tea but definitely satisfied my cravings for something super chocolatey. Il Gelateria Carriera, where I got the mint chocolate chip to the right, is known for its 1 euro scoops, which was delicious and also a highly recommended spot if you’re looking for a big variety of flavor on the cheap since it is just across the Arno River from the city center.

Some incredible margherita pizza from Il Mercato Centrale

My last big activity in Florence was a trip to Il Mercato Centrale, which features modern and fusion renditions of Tuscan cuisine. The biggest mistake of the trip was not coming here until my last night because, let me tell you, the pizza I had here was perhaps one of the best margherita pizzas I have ever had. The crust was just crisp on the outside but still chewy, and the tomato sauce was loaded on with fresh mozzarella and basil with a drizzle of olive oil just before they served it to you. The quality of the crust reminded me of the pizza I was used to getting at the Georgetown farmers’ market every Wednesday, so it was like getting a piece of Italy and of home at the same time. I had to be back to the airport at noon the next day, but I made it a point to go back and get breakfast here the next morning.

On my way back to Copenhagen, I had a six hour layover in Frankfurt which I was definitely not looking forward to, but I was able to pass the time decently quickly by talking to my mom on her day off and editing some photos. Although I was initially hesitant to travel alone, it was a really valuable experience in both proving to myself that I was fully capable of finding my way and making the most of my time in the city on my terms, which meant a lot of stopping to take photos and wandering for wandering’s sake. Perhaps one of the best moments (aside from the pizza) was sitting with my gelato on the steps of a plaza a block south of the Duomo, watching the sunset and just taking a moment to take everything in. It was a good reminder of how much growth I had felt during the semester, from being incredibly nervous to leave the country for the first time to head to Denmark to being comfortable traveling alone to a new country for a few days. Let’s hope it won’t be too long until I’m back to explore more of Italy!

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