I Want to Go with Oh to Florence
Leah Walker March 25, 2012

When I was a child I often daydreamed about being locked in a shopping mall overnight. There also was the reoccurring vision of Jake from Sixteen Candles whisking me away in his red Porsche. While neither of these has happened, I haven’t given up on my daydreaming habit.

These days, my daydreams have grown and matured. No longer do silly, teenaged fantasies fill my head. Instead, I am consumed with thoughts of stealing away to the medieval city of Prague, pouring over the Gothic architecture of Barcelona, and listening to tunes by Strauss in Vienna. I’m armed with a suitcase and an American Express Centurion card on a plane bound for Europe. In this most elaborate fantasy, I set off like Gulliver, trying to stave off my insatiable wanderlust by exploring the countryside and greatest European cities, before finally finding peace, strolling along the Arno River in Florence.

Cool clouds over the Arno RiverWalking along the Arno River in Florence is just one of my fantasies. Credit

Imagine my surprise when I read in Sherry Ott’s blog about a competition sponsored by Go with Oh that offers several great prizes, including a month’s accommodation in Europe! Sherry is the first Go with Oh blogger and is currently in the midst of her European adventure. Now, Go with Oh is searching for their next blogger.

Should I win the title of Luckiest Blogger in the Whole Wide World, I’ll get to choose four cities from a list of ten to visit: Berlin, London, Florence, Rome, Prague, Paris, Dublin, Vienna, Barcelona, and Venice. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better list. In order to enter the competition, I must choose one of the cities and list the five things I’d like to experience during my visit there. So, I’m supposed to pick a city and write about five things I’d like to do in that city? That assignment is a piece of cake for a daydreamer like me.

Here’s what I’m going to do if I get to Go with Oh to Florence.

Take a Tuscan cooking class and visit Dario Cecchini, aka the Crazy Butcher of Panzano:

Tuscan cuisine is simple food. It’s not smothered in heavy sauces that typify most Italian fare. I like the idea of cooking that’s simple, especially since the only Italian-inspired meals I cook come from a box and a bottle. When I’m in Florence, my mediocre culinary skills will be transformed intoTop Chef material. I’m going to take a cooking class where I’ll learn to whip up pappa al pomodoro, asparagi alla Fiorentina, and carciofi fritti. Flawlessly, I’ll pair Chianti with a perfectly-grilled bistecca Fiorentina. After one lesson, I’ll have increased my knowledge of Tuscan cooking by precisely 98.57%.

Giada De Lau-who?

ChefPaoloI’ll be a master Tuscan chef after my cooking lesson. Credit 

 Equipped with that knowledge, I’ll take a short drive to Panzano. What’s in this tiny Tuscan town, you ask? Well, the most famous butcher in the world, of course. Dario Cecchini is affectionately known as the Crazy Butcher of Panzano. More than simply a butcher, Dario is a meat artist. As a Texan and former English teacher, I must meet the guy that offers the best cuts of beef and quotes Dante. I’ll let Dario choose my steak; he is the expert. Then with the sweetest of smiles and in my best Italian, I’ll thank Dario for the Dante lesson and the fine cut of beef. Back to the city I’ll go to make a home-cooked meal at my Oh-Florence apartment. After all, I’ll be the best half-day-trained-Tuscan-cook ever.

Get dolled up Italian-style and head to Piazza della Repubblica for la passeggiata:

Much like folks in small-town America, Italian life revolves around the town square. These squares are the sites for festivals, religious events, and la passeggiata. Italians revel in a chance to see and be seen, and that’s what la passegiata is about. Equivalent to an evening stroll, it’s no wonder that Florentines see the sidewalks of la passagiata as catwalks.

Piazza della RepubblicaI’ll experience la passegiata in Piazza della Repubblica. Credit

 When I’m in Florence, I’ll want to see and be seen, too! Wearing my best Italian leather boots and around my neck, a stylishly-tied silk scarf, I’ll strut along the cobblestone sidewalks trying not to twist an ankle. I’ll take time to sip on an aperitivo, and from my café table, I’ll watch the time-honored, Italian tradition of la passeggiata unfold before me.

sunglassesI’ll master the effortlessly-chic Italian style for la passeggiata. Credit

Peruse the Uffizi Gallery, Vasari Corridor, and Bobili Gardens with Flavio:

Luckily for me, Florence has an art-hoarding problem. The city has over one million pieces of Renaissance art, and that doesn’t include the architecture. To properly appreciate the artistic works in the famous Uffizi Gallery, I’ll find a handsome, starving-art student (let’s call him Flavio) to give me a tour. Flavio’s extensive knowledge will guide me through the gallery’s collection of masterpieces from the Middle Ages. I will be entranced by the works from the Renaissance Period. Creations by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and other great Italian artists will come to life before me through Flavio’s melodious, Italian accent.

The Uffizi Gallery during White Night FestivalI’ll explore the Uffizi Gallery for its Italian masterpieces.  Credit

We’ll escape the crowds of the gallery through a door that opens to the Vasari Corridor. Many don’t know about this enclosed and elevated, kilometer-long passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. But Flavio and I do. He’ll tell me about how Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici had the corridor built in 1565 in order to move freely between his home and the government palace. Flavio will brag about how it only took Italians five months to build and how innovative its design is. We’ll continue walking in the footsteps of the Grand Duke. As we contemplate the meaning of the art, Flavio will tell me about the fundamental role of the family in the birth of the Renaissance, their genius in banking, and their part in history.

After reaching the end of the Vasari Corridor, we’ll step foot into the glorious Boboli Gardens. Flavio and I will say our goodbyes after he’s pointed me to the most spectacular spot in the gardens. There I’ll bask in the Italian sun, update my Facebook page, post photos on Instagram, and tweet out a tiny taste of my art-filled afternoon.

Traverse the Florentine streets on a gluttonous gelato crawl:

Pub crawls are so yesterday. Getting bombed on beer and vodka sodas just don’t have the appeal it used to for me. Besides, I want to remember every single detail about Florence, and a brain swimming in alcohol will certainly impair my memory. But a brain swimming in gelato? That won’t cause any physical damage other than to my waistline. Hey! When in Rome Florence.

italian gelatoFinding the finest Nutella gelato in Florence is my mission. Credit

Part of my time in Florence will be spent searching for the important “produzione artiginale” and “produzione propria” signs hanging in gelaterias. Those will tell me that I’m about to partake in hand-crafted gelato and not something mass produced. I’m not wasting my time or taste buds on that. Yes, my search for the perfect Nutella gelato will be something akin to the hunt for the Holy Grail. Places like Vivoli, Festival del Gelato, Grom, and Gelateria Carabe are already on my radar.

Just as Marco Polo explored the Silk Road of Asia, I will scour the streets of Florence for the finest gelato. By the week’s end, I will be the definitive expert on Nutella-flavored gelato in all of Florence.

gelato in FlorenceHeaven in a cone  Credit 

Learn the art of leather craftsmanship from a master at Scuola del Cuoio:

Shopping is legendary in Florence. Some of the most famous fashion houses originated there, so it would only make sense that I’d shop. Maybe I will pick up a luxurious souvenir from Gucci. Perhaps custom-made shoes from Ferragamo, a pop-art patterned scarf from Pucci, or an animal-print dress from Cavalli would satisfy my shopping hunger.

cell phone accessoryFerragamo is the ultimate in Italian luxury, but I’ll make my own souvenir. Credit

Those all sound wonderful, but why would I want to pay a premium price for hand-crafted Italian items when I have the opportunity to make my own? That’s right, make my own! When I’m in Florence I’m going to take a leather craftsmanship class from the world-renowned Scuola del Cuoio. This school, located in Monastery of Santa Croce, was founded by Franciscan friars and the Gori and Casini families. Their purpose was to teach the orphans of World War II a trade, but has morphed into a leather laboratory that attracts world leaders, Hollywood stars, and royalty.

Santa CroceI’ll study at Scuola del Cuoio, housed in Monastery of Santa Croce.  Credit

I will proudly put on my smock and study under a master leather craftsman. He’ll give me a glimpse into the world of fine leather and the art of design. As I breathe in the luxurious leather scent, I’ll soak up all the knowledge the master will offer. I’ll be the teacher’s pet by volunteering and asking questions. And when it’s time to create our own leather goods, I’ll choose the hand-stitched, cowhide belt, complete with a brass buckle and an embossed monogram. It will not only be beautiful, but also practical. After my gluttonous gelato crawl, I’m going to need a new belt. Two birds. One Stone. Perfecto!

Leather Craftman's toolsThese are just some of the leather tools I’ll use at Scuola del Cuoio.  Credit

Perhaps this blog post is my American Express Centurion card. Maybe my daydreams of Florence and the rest of Europe will become reality. Lest you be concerned about me wandering the continent alone, Go with Oh is letting me bring along a friend in this month-long odyssey. How awesome is that? I’ve already decided, should I win, that fellow travel blogger and friend, Lauren Di Marco of Lola Travels, will join me. You know what that means, Go with Oh judges? TWO travel bloggers for the price of ONE. (wink-wink) Now, that’s a great deal.

Ponte Vecchio after sunsetI’ll see the Ponte Veccho as I meander along the Arno River.  Credit

But that’s not all!

I should let you know that I’m not the only one that can win in the Go with Oh competition. Although there’s only one Luckiest Blogger in the Whole Wide World, there are several prizes to be had in the Go with Oh Facebook contest. It’s super easy. You could win some snazzy Samsonite luggage, a Panasonic Lumix camera, an iPad 2, or 500 Euros in holiday accommodation. Check it out and best of luck.

Tuscan sunsetThe Florentine sunset of my dreams. Credit

Keep daydreaming, y’all.

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

40 Comments

  1. WOW. What an amazing contest and opportunity. Let me tell ya, the first time I went to Florence, I felt that I was missing something; I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. So what did I do? I went back a second time and hated it even more. But after reading this, I *might* want to give it another chance.

    Seriously, this is beautifully written and if it were up to me, you’d totally win right now. Good luck!

    1. I wish it was up to you! I’d be packing my bags right now. Let’s hope that I get the opportunity to see if I hate Florence. I have a feeling that I will love it though. Thank you!

      1. I’ve spent a few months in Berlin ages ago working for a film catering company (random job before college to make some money). One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t really see the city at all because we were always working. So, I’ll have to learn through you if you go.

        A few years ago we spent some time in Tuscany at the beach (Orbetello) and went for a crazy day trip to Pisa (just to see the leaning tower – amazing!), to Florence (walked a lot through the city, by the uffici, over the Ponte Vecchio), and to Sienna (best city in Tuscany! You have to go if you stay in Florence). Would love to spend more time in Tuscany!

    1. The two of us would be more welcomed by Florence than the cast of Jersey Shore for sure! Thanks for everything. 🙂

  2. Best of luck to you! Your foodie goals sound wonderful – really making the most of one of my favorite cities. Just a note, the bridge pictured above is the Ponte Vecchio, the photographer is shooting FROM the Ponte alle Grazie (which, by the way leads directly to the best pizzeria in town – i Tarrochi). I hope you win!!

    1. Thank you! I know you’re right on when it comes to food, so I’m thrilled to read of your endorsement.Thanks for the correction. See, if I get to Go with Oh, I’ll know that the bridge is the Ponte Vecchio. Just more reason for me to win. I’ll get an Italian education!

    1. Fingers crossed, YES! Thank you so very much. Going with Oh would certainly be an opportunity of a lifetime for me in so many ways.

  3. My experience in Florence was very American, granted I only scratched the surface as it was a short 2 day stint. Its very touristique and there are plenty of Exchange students. It was during the 2011 NBA All Star Break so actually it was to my benefit.

    Of course if that’s not your thing its just a matter of digging deeper. My most memorable experience was befriending an Italian as she supported her band friends performing that night. She was drawing her friends, when we chatted she intermittently illustrated the conversation. She let me keep it, an artifact of the time spent 🙂

    1. That’s really cool. Often times, the best part of a place is the people you meet. I echo your recommendation of digging deeper. And what a really cool souvenir she gave you. BTW, as a former basketball player and coach and employee in the NBA/WNBA, I love the premise behind your blog. Basketball lovers unite!

      1. Thanks Leah, I’ll have to dig deeper myself and find some basketball related stories on your blog.
        I have a more conventional travel blog as well but this current one was born out of the amazing experiences and connections you can make with people everywhere through a uniting theme/passion. I’ve found sports in general is a great way to ingratiate yourself to strangers.

        But I feel we are getting off topic 😉 I wasn’t kidding about Florence though, there really is a party infrastructure built for the exchange students. I wasn’t that surprised that Jersey Shore showed up to be honest. Your list is the antithesis to that which is cool.

        1. I haven’t written about basketball, and don’t foresee myself doing so. I have written a lot about college football though. It’s a real passion of mine. Is there a link to your other blog on the basketball site?

          I have a friend who spent a semester in Florence studying in the 90s. I’m not sure what he was actually studying, probably Italian women. 😉 I’m way past that whole go out and party thing anyway. I want to remember my trips!

  4. WOW! I cannot imagine a better way to see Florence. How amazing! You are so planning my next trip. 🙂 If you are not the winner then I’m a monkey’s aunt!

    1. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’d be happy to help you plan your next trip, as long as you agree to take me too!

  5. This is directed to “Go with Oh”. Leah would be an excellent choice for the travel contest. She is a very good writer and has an eye for flair and different views than the ‘normal’ traveler. It would be in your best interest to choose her for your prize winner. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

    1. You are far too kind, Charu. Thanks a million. I’d love to have you follow along come November.

  6. I knew about this contest and your desire to go to Florence but didn’t read this post until just now. I love your ideas for what to do in Florence. You and I should talk sometime about it because Florence is my first travel love. I went there at age 16 with my dad (who was living in Naples at the time). I went back for a month-long Italian Renaissance course at 21 and loved every minute. I went back the next year for another month, just me and a friend, and then the year after that, with another friend, just for a quick visit. I haven’t been back since but daydream about it all the time (and write about the city’s art a lot!). I’m really looking forward to following your time there and hopefully meeting you there, too. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’d love any and all advice when it comes to Florence. I’ll be there a few days and some of that time isn’t already spoken for. Fingers crossed that we’ll get to meet there. How fun would that be?

    1. How Fabulous! I know several people who have studied in Florence. It must be a great place to call home, even if it’s for a short time.

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