Photo of the Week: Secret Sunset Spot in Florence

View of the Duomo from the Palazzo Vecchio tower. (Photo by Alyssa Gregory)

View of the Duomo from the Palazzo Vecchio tower.

Not everything closes by 5 in Florence. Fill those late hours of the day with a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio museum and tower which are open late. Seen the sunset from Piazza Michelangelo and the bridges? Visit the tower around 8 pm and you’ll get a close up view of the city at sunset.

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Postcards from Paradise

The Amalfi Coast is a photographer’s paradise. Oh who am I kidding, it is everyone’s nirvana!

The coast envelopes you. With its small towns climbing up the cliffs the see-through blue waters crash against the rocky beaches below. Sun, surf and seafood make it the perfect vacation and the tan lines and postcard perfect pictures are the best souvenirs I brought back.

Capri's open waters.

Capri’s open waters.

Positano beach.

Positano beach.

A colorful cliffside city.

Positano-a colorful cliffside city.

Mount Vesuvius.

Mount Vesuvius.

Sorrento sunset.

Sorrento sunset.

Being a Florentine Artist for the Day

platesFlorence is a town of artists. Sadly, I am not among the gifted.  My stick people drawings are disproportionate and any songs I attempt to play on any instrument sound like car wreck.

So, as you can guess, I usually shy away from any event that would showcase my child-like artistic ability. But for the summer I’m in town where no one knows me; therefore no one can judge me so why not take full advantage of that.

I’d seen plenty of drawing classes offered but knew for that you had to have at least a little bit of talent. Then I heard about pottery painting, an ancient Florentine art, and thought how hard it can be to paint a plate.

Trying to draw a straight line by spinning the plate and not moving your hand.

Trying to draw a straight line by spinning the plate and not moving your hand.

So I signed up for a class and soon learned painting a plate is harder than you think if you can’t even make a straight line.

Enzo, the instructor handed me a bright white plate, handmade by a local artisan who collects the clay from the same clay well used in the Renaissance. He then explained the paints and brushes we’d be using. The paint is made from iron oxides and water, the same type of paint they’ve used since the Renaissance.

After the explanations the painting began. I, of course, had unintentionally sat at a table of artists, fashion designers who could not only draw parallel straight lines but intricate designs, too. So, as they created their own complex designs on the plate, I followed the recommended “easy” pattern.

One of the artists at my table.

One of the artists at my table.

I put easy in quotations because for me it was anything but easy because it required many straight lines. It wasn’t stress-free but it was fun! After I had accepted the fact that I’d be no Michelangelo, I decided to go for an abstract Picasso style.

me

My attempt at painting.

When I finally finished, Enzo came over and within a few minutes had miraculously fixed my many mistakes. With his help my fleur-de-lis turned from a red blob on the middle of my plate into the recognizable icon!

Enzo carefully correcting my mistakes.

Enzo carefully correcting my mistakes.

While it is not sale-able and I doubt even my mother would want to showcase it, I’m extremely proud of it. I might even claim that, after Enzo’s touchups, it is my best piece of artwork.

I had a blast painting my own piece of ceramic pottery. And for an hour or so, to the people passing on the street, I looked like a real Florentine artist and I felt like one with paintbrush in hand as I hunched over the spinning pottery wheel.

Whether you are a beginner or an artistic genius, I recommend experiencing firsthand the ancient Florentine art of pottery painting.  Learn the history of the art, let your creative juices flow and there is an added bonus. You have your very own handmade Florentine pottery souvenir to show off to everyone back home!

My class and their finished products.

My class and their finished products.

You can reach Enzo by phone, 339 13.15.990, or at his pottery studio, Officina Ceramica. Or message him on Facebook, Offic Lab.

He offers painting, modeling, raku, workshops and pottery parties.

It is 25 euros per person for a group of 5+ people. 30 euros per person for any group fewer than five people.

Churches and Chants in Florence

Think you’ve seen everything churches have to offer? Tired of just viewing beautiful artwork, divine statues, and numerous blatant hints of Catholicism that are sprinkled around the churches?

Michelangelo's crucifix.

Michelangelo’s crucifix.

Experience churches in a whole new way, the Italian way.

Churches are living museums, until mass time, then they are places of worship. At both times, a church is considered sacred so dress appropriately with both your knees and shoulders covered. They don’t play around here, if either are showing you don’t get granted access inside.

To see another side of churches attend a Catholic Mass, all spoken in Italian.

Here is a list of churches and their Sunday service times. The one’s bolded are the most popular churches in Florence.

San Lorenzo: 8, 9:30, 11, 18

San Lucia sul Prato: 9, 11, 12, 18

San Marco: 9:30, 11, 12:30, 18:30

San Maria del Fiore: 7:30, 9, 12, 18

San Maria Maggiore: 7:30, 9, 10:30, 12, 18

San Maria Novella: 8:30, 10:30, 12, 18

Santi Michele e Gaetano: 11:30, 18:30

Santissima Trinita : 7 :30, 9, 10 :30, 12, 18 :30

Santa Maria del Carmine : 8, 10, 12

Santa Croce : 8, 9 :30, 11, 12, 18

San Giovannino Padri Scolopi : 6 :30, 8 :30, 10 :30, 12, 19 :30

Santo Spirito: 9, 10:30, 12, 17:30, 18

San Miniato al Monte: 8:30, 10, 11:30, 17:30

 

For an even more unique church experience traipse to the church overlooking all of Florence, the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte. Along with a breathtaking view of Florence and beautiful artwork, the church holds a unique mass, one done in Gregorian chant.

Gregorian Chants

Abbey of San Miniato al Monte.

This slow melodic sing-song Roman chant dates back to the early Middle Ages. The simple, unaccompanied male voices sing out Latin words in a single line of melody. This hypnotizing 30 minute mass lacks music causing the listener to focus on the words, even if they can’t understand them.

Gregorian chant masses:

Sundays & holidays: 10, 17:30

Weekdays: 7:15, 17:30

Le Vespe Café: An American Breakfast in Florence

Big breakfasts, for me, rank right up there as the cure for all the side effects of a hangover.

I’m sure you know the feeling. You’re eyes are slits to block out the blinding light, your phone’s battery on red and your background a picture of randos who look like they’re having a great time. You feel drained of all energy and starving to replenish the depleted get-up-and-go.

An Italian breakfast of espresso or cappuccino and a small croissant won’t even get you out of the red. What you need is a big breakfast.

To keep in the European mood but still get a large American/English breakfast, turn east on Via Ghibellina in Florence and keep a lookout on the left side of the street for Le Vespe Café or you’ll walk right past it.

Le Vespe's store front.

Le Vespe’s store front.

This rustic little restaurant was recommended to me by a friend who has been living in Florence for almost seven months. I cannot stress enough the benefits of finding yourself a friend in the city. Not only will it save your taste buds but also usually your pocket book because they’ll help you dodge overpriced touristy places with hit or miss service.

Le Vespe Café is a Florence gem and perfect for breakfast after a long night on the town.

It has a cute rustic café atmosphere with mismatched chairs and flower tiled tables. I went around 10 am, with my book stowed under one arm, and found it quiet and uncrowded. (This is a novelty. Because it is so small and intimate it is usually packed, so I would recommend getting a reservation, especially for Sunday brunch.) They were playing an incredible playlist of American music, many of them oldies, which I found myself humming to.

My breakfast of French toast and sausage.

My breakfast of French toast and sausage.

I ordered a smoothie, French toast and sausage. I barely had time to read a few pages of my book when my food was set in front of me. (Though I have heard that their service can be a little slow sometimes so be prepared because you might have to wait.)

The French toast was melt in your mouth. Soaked in butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar, the bread absorbed the Canadian maple syrup I dribbled over it magnificently. The smoothie was refreshing and I could taste the fresh fruits (have I mentioned how good the fruit is here?!?!) in every sip.

Le Vespe Café is a must visit for a full American breakfast/brunch, and don’t worry about getting up early because they serve breakfast until 5 pm, as it truly should be.

Even if breakfast isn’t your thing, Le Vespe Café offers a large lunch menu to choose from. With everything from grilled cheeses to karaage fried chicken, they cater to all kinds of taste from Japanese, Firenze, Canadian and American. It is also a vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friendly café.

For drinks they have juices and smoothies. They are also a bona fide bar so they have a large selection of alcoholic beverages.

This small restaurant is the perfect place to rub elbows with locals, tourists and study abroad students who are mooching off the free wifi and the amazing coffee.

Le Vespe Café

Address: 6R Via Ghibellina, Florence, Italy

Phone Number : 055 388 0062

Hours :

10-23 Tuesday-Saturday

11-16 Sunday

Menu

#FlorenceProblems

Living in a foreign country for months on end comes with its own set of problems, ones that aren’t always experienced when just visiting for a short time. Three-fourths of the time though it is these “problems” that make the experience of living abroad great.  For me, these “problems” have been some of the highlights of my trip. They remind me that there are “problems” everywhere but some places’ “problems” are just a tad bit more fun, especially Florence’s.

1. The take away pizza box is bigger than your front door.

Pizza Box

To fit a pizza through the door it is required to tilt the box slightly causing some of the yummy pizza juices to leak from the pizza.

2. Netflix isn’t a thing here, which means neither is Netflix binging, so you have to go out and actually do things.

3. It is so hot you sweat off all your makeup before anyone gets to see it.

4. They won’t let you lick the chocolate wall at Venchi’s.

chocolate wall2

The sweet heavenly smell of chocolate drifting from Venchi’s can be smelled from down the road.

5. Eating dinner takes as long as half a day of work.

6. You can’t eavesdrop on people’s conversations because you don’t understand enough Italian.

7. Anytime you walk by a monument you risk the chance of being beheaded by a selfie stick.

selfie sticks

The Duomo is one of the largest, if not largest, tourist attraction in Florence. Trying to walk past is like going through an obstacle course and requires a lot of bending and dodging.

8. You have to play the guessing game at the grocery or risk using all your limited data trying to figure out which of the meats is ham.

9. You’re getting kissed more by mosquitos than Italian guys.

10. Time is an abstract thing. So, meeting times are always up for personal interpretation. AKA you’re never considered late in Florence.

11. You can’t seem to get it through to the guy selling roses that you’re traveling solo and don’t want to buy a rose for yourself.

Chris Palermo

Street vendors in Florence are relentless when selling their wares and are undeterred by the word no. (Photo by @chris.palermo)

12. Having to press the google translate button (found at the top in the search bar) every time I visit a website.

I’d love to know your biggest travel “problem”! Share below!