Tag Archives: Carnevale

A Tuscan Weekend

Okay, I have waited way too long to post this, but here I am, sitting in Paris, blogging when I should be researching. Prepare yourself for lots of photos.

Damon and I got up before the sun on a Saturday to catch a train to Florence. This was my fourth trip to the beautiful city, which is a welcome change of pace from Rome. We started out the trip with the inevitable climb up Brunelleschi’s dome. How can you visit Florence without it? So, four-hundred and sixty-three steps later and we were on top of the world.

Damon and I on top of Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence

After our visit to the Duomo, we hadn’t quite had enough of churches, so I took Damon to Orsanmichele. This is hands down my favorite church in Florence. It looks nothing like any other church. It’s a big brick square with fourteen niches around the outside. The different guilds in Florence commissioned artists to decorate each of the niches. Damon and I had fun trying to guess which niche went with which guild. Some of them were pretty hard to figure out. Click on the link above to look at all the individual niches. Afterwards we wandered down to Piazza della Signoria and ate some lunch. On our way to check in to our teeny, tiny hostel we happened upon a miniature Florentine foods festival. There were vendors selling wine, cheese, olive oil, biscotti and dried meats. In one corner an old couple was making these weird, nut-flour pancake/tortillas filled with ricotta cheese and Damon and I decided to try them. Not the best thing I’ve ever had, but it was certainly worth the experience.

Eating that nut-flour ricotta wrap.

After checking in to the hostel, we did a little obligatory shopping at the leather market outside of San Lorenzo church. Damon bought a hat, scarf and a tie and I bought nothing. Unbelievable. We did a little bit of wandering, crossed the Ponte Vecchio and ended up at Santa Croce where there just happened to be a chocolate festival. Oh darn. I ran around all the booths like a crazy person getting a sugar high just from looking at all of it. After scoping out all the goods, Damon and I settled on a certain vendor who sold some sugar-free delicacies he could enjoy. (He’s hypoglycemic.)

On a suggestion from my friend Candidate Steve Bunn, we had a before-dinner drink at Lochness Lounge before heading on to dinner. The end of our night was filled with multiple unsuccessful attempts to find a jazz cafe. Oh well.

The next morning we swung by Ponte Vecchio before we caught a train to a little coastal town in Tuscany called Viareggio. Viareggio is second only to Venice for its Carnevale festivities. As soon as we arrived we heard a guy singing this random song that went a little something like this: “La da da da da Carnevale! La da da da da Carnevale!”  Or that’s how Damon remembers it, anyway.

After lunch we paid our 15 euro to get into the parade area and I was completely blown away. In all honesty, I was a little tipsy and I think that helped, but this was the most impressive parade I have ever seen. The floats were beautiful. Everyone, absolutely everyone was dressed up. Damon and I had bought masks just before leaving Venice. Here’s a photo of our Carnevale costumes:

Damon and I in our Carnevale Masks

The floats were absolutely breath-taking. They were gigantic and had all these moving parts. Damon and I were surprised to find that many of the floats had political or social messages. For example, this one is about budget cuts to education:

Edward Scissorhands Float

This one was about violence towards women:

Scary Warewolf Float

And last but not least, this one was about Michael Jackson dying. Notice the people dressed in skeleton costumes… There were also people dancing on the float who were dressed like Michael Jackson. In fact, the one wearing a fedora pointed out Damon in the crowd, who was also wearing a fedora. It was very exciting for Damon and it seemed to be pretty exciting for the dude on the float, too.

MJ Float

And then there was this one, which I liked for no particular reason:

Another Float

As the parade was coming to a close and dusk was settling in, Damon and I decided to ride the ferris wheel. It was then that we realized just how close to the sea we were. So, naturally we made our way out to the beach. We ran around in the sand a little and Damon took his shoes off, stood in the freezing water and yelled thank you to his family and friends. It was the perfect way to end the perfect day.

Damon and I on the Beach

We took the last train back to Rome and I slept in Damon’s lap the whole way.

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Filed under Florence, Italy, Viareggio

Check that one off the list.

On Sunday Damon and I took a train out to Frascati, a hilltop town just outside of Rome. Frascati is known for two things: white wine and its famous Villa Aldobrandini. It’s not a very touristy place in the winter and it’s a refreshing break from life in Rome.

We arrived pretty early in the day and the whole town was dead. Well, that’s not entirely true. Everyone was in church and none of the stores or restaurants were open yet. Damon and I wandered around the empty cobblestone streets and happened upon beautiful piazzas, a colorful tower and a large park.

Tower in Frascati

We just happened to walk into the main square in front of San Pietro Apostolo right as church was letting out. I had completely forgotten that it was the first day of Carnevale and children in costumes starting pouring out the church’s doors with handfuls of confetti, with the occasional kid wielding a can of silly string. Damon and I watched the confetti war for a good 15 minutes.

Confetti War in Piazza San Pietro Apostolo

I had a different mental image of Carnevale than what we actually saw. In Italian class we learned about all the traditional Carnevale characters and I guess I expected to see everyone dressed up as Pantalone or something. Instead it looked like the parents raided the Halloween aisle of a Walmart or something. Our favorite two-some was a little prince and your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.

A serious conversation between Spiderman and the Prince.

After the celebration, we wandered around trying to find a restaurant that was open at the normal American time to eat lunch. It proved slightly difficult, but meant that we scouted out nearly every restaurant Frascati has to offer and ended up at what I believe to be its best. It was a cute, hole-in-the-wall type rustic Italian trattoria with a hand-written menu and a welcome fireplace. Damon and I hung our coats in the glow of the fire and shared the best meal of our lives:

A bottle of the local red wine (even though Frascati is famous for white. Oops!)

A complimentary ginger grappa drink with an olive and a slice of orange

Four different kinds of bread

Porcini mushroom soup

Savory crepes filled with ricotta and spinach

Gnocchi with a pumpkin cream sauce (Well, actually that was Damon’s, but I tried it and it was delicious.)

Grilled vegetables

Pork filet with chestnut sauce

The best tiramisu ever because instead of soaking the sponge cake part in brandy, it had a few chestnuts on top which had been soaked in brandy. I had been craving tiramisu all week and now nothing will ever compare!

I wish I had taken some photos of the meal, but my stomach was more powerful than my brain at the time.

After lunch we had plans to go and visit the famous Villa, but alas, it was closed. I had been there once three years ago with my study abroad program. It was the end of spring and we wandered around the gardens in the sunshine. Villa Aldobrandini looks so different in the dead of winter. The fountains are dry, the labyrinth is overgrown and the gray skies and color of the mansion combine to create a eerie mood. I feel like this villa should be haunted or something. The tall gates locked with a rusty chain didn’t help.

Damon outside of Villa Aldobrandini

Anyway, Frascati was awesome and I hope to go back this summer to escape Rome’s heat and catch the breeze on top of this hill outside the city.

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Filed under Frascati, Italy