Updated: Sep 3, 2020
An ode to one of my favorite weekends in Italy
Between homemade crostata, a day trip to Arezzo, pizza making, and a dinner-turned “Amici” watch party, my visit to the small town of Montevarchi, Italy was overflowing with everything a weekend in Italy should be: good food, greater friends, and irreplaceable memories.
Thanks to the Intercambio Language Exchange program I signed up for through my study abroad provider, I was able to meet Giorgia, a language student who attends La Università Firenze. While Giorgia’s English far exceeds my Italian proficiency, we became friends and bonded over our commonalities in dance, music taste, and a love for learning about other cultures.
We made a habit of meeting up quite regularly— visiting cafes, trying different panini shops, and introducing each other to new friends. Soon, we had a friend group: Giorgia, her friend, Emi (also a language student here in Florence), my friend, Hailey, and I. Our little international group was flourishing. We soon made plans to spend a weekend in Giorgia’s hometown of Montevarchi.
Our weekend trip began with a short, 45 minute train ride from Florence. Giorgia picked Hailey and I up from her local train station and within five minutes, we arrived at her house. After getting settled in and meeting Oliver Twist (the most curious cat I’ve ever known), we got down to business; it was crostata making time. We made the dough from scratch, full of butter and deliciousness. Next, we gently pressed it into the bottom of the pan, coated it with a glossy layer of apricot jam, and created a pinwheel design on top. Bella.
Emi arrived the following day and we set out for Arezzo, a nearby Tuscan city. We took winding country roads and listened to a blend of Italian and American music. Mountains, farms, and quaint villages passed us by in bright colors all drenched in the warmth of the day— a day promising Tuscan perfection.
Like the Piadine we ate, our day was a sandwich of fresh carbs with savory fillings.
From munching on Italian flatbreads, we climbed up a hill and found ourselves relishing in a panoramic, mountainous overlook which reminded me a lot of home. We walked through open piazzas straight out of the Academy Award winning movie, La Vita è Bella, which translates to “Life is Beautiful.” All while exchanging stories, cracking jokes, and exploring Arezzo like a playground.
We concluded our day trip atop a hill, at a gelateria in the middle of nowhere. A warm brioche bun was filled with fresh pear gelato— a sandwich of Sicilian perfection. Hailey and I each grinned from ear to ear at this new food discovery. I kept proclaiming “this is the best day of my entire life.” I thought of the movie from Arezzo, because in that moment, life was mouthwateringly beautiful.
If you can't already tell, the Italian food experience is an important one. Eating, making, and baking are all equally important tasks. And after a day filled with warm breads, coffee thicker than Giorgia's American accent when she says "mozzarella," and gelato so smooth you could strain it, I figured there was no way my stomach could be privileged enough to digest another luxury. But of course, there was more.
We returned to Montevarchi for a homemade pizza lesson courtesy of Giorgia’s family. There were six of us in the kitchen (seven if you count Oliver Twist) and three pizza stations: one for rolling out dough, one for the tomato sauce, one for toppings. We each rotated around, testing out our skills. I’d like to think I dominated the art of pizza dough, especially after I learned to properly knead it— "more violence!" Giorgia encouraged. And every now and then, Giorgia’s mom would shout to all of us “brava!” We were on a roll (pun-intended).
With more pizzas than I can recall, we gathered around the table and dove in. Pizza with salami, pizza with potato and zucchini, margherita pizza; you name it. The meal carried on until a very dramatic episode of “Amici” diverted all of our attention for the rest of the evening and until nearly 2 AM. I’d never watched Italian TV before that moment, but I soon found myself engrossed in the most dramatic battle of the arts. There was fake drama, occasional tears, ballet, hip hop, a guest appearance by John Travolta, and the beautiful Alberto. Even my Italian comprehension didn’t entirely let me down. It was simply perfect; and perfectly confusing. I loved it.
The next day we slept in and took our time around Montevarchi. In a few short hours we managed to get our photo taken for the local newspaper (because Hailey and I, two Americans, were “discovered”); embarrass Giorgia by dancing in the street; finally master the line “posso accarezzare il cane?” (which means “can I pet the dog?”); and miss the rain. Once we got back, Giorgia’s mom had begun to cook up a delicious lunch of parmigiana and crostini, alongside a Chianti Classico wine. We wined and dined and stuffed ourselves past an American Thanksgiving level. For the next few hours we sat and spoke in laughter, photo albums, coffee, and the occasional language translation. Regardless of Italian traditions, it was a perfect Sunday, and a perfect weekend.
I look back on these few days with a feeling of bliss and fondness like a Kodak moment. There were family, friends, food, and fun. It was Italy in its most honest and welcoming form. Behind the trees we passed on meandering roads, in the steaming bounce of the brioche bun, and in the steps my friends and I walked in sync, Italy whispered a secret I had been wanting to hear. “Brava” it said, “we’re friends now.”