Commitment

"Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity…"
-- Gilda Radner

Mom & I awoke in time to enjoy (although by now the routine pane a.k.a. bread with condiments and arancia rossa juice was overkill) our last breakfast with "Streganonna". Perhaps because it was a new week (Monday) the terrace was full, however we graciously sat inside. It was the last week in June and the Mediterranean breeze that originally cooled Mom & I from the sun, was now equally hot as the outside air. There was no relief from the heat and even at 9:00 the day was warm. I wrote in my journal "hottest day yet".
Like clockwork, Streganonna approached us in her uniform of a muted blue, knee-length dress, shin-high, white socks and black old-school Reebok look-alikes. The best part of her predictability was her heartfelt morning greeting: "buongiorno". We had been in Florence just shy of a week but by day two she remembered our freakish preference so she brought our carafe of juice.

Again, Mom & I labored over where we should spend our last two days...

We heavily considered returning to Roma since Mom did not get to visit Villa Borghese nor Trastevere. It seemed like there was still plenty to see in the Eternal City. We tossed around the idea of extending our stay in Firenze – since there would be no travel required – and branching out again to Pisa or Chianti. In February 2011, while researching for our trip, Mom & I were both excited to possibly visit Bolzano – a town in the Italian Alps that more resembled a mountainside German village. How awesome would it be to see the Alps? Then there was the iconic, disappearing Venezia a.k.a. Venice. The Grand Canal; St. Peter’s Basilica; the gondolas; the romance. I was incredibly keen on traveling to Venezia (since when would we be in Italia again?) but I admitted to Mom "I’m getting people-d out." Therefore, I started brainstorming about a beach or the Italian Riviera – a place to get away from the bustle. After three weeks on the road, bumping shoulders with other sweaty people on the tight, Florentine streets was becoming aggravating. At the beginning of our holiday I was more patient. Nowadays I was appalled at the self-centered tourists who abruptly stopped, mid-step and mid-sidewalk to bury their heads in a map.

Each city was enticing and for an additional four hours (as I searched Firenze for a pair of authentic Italian sandals for my best friend Lisa) Mom & I debated the best destination. In a total deadlock we stopped at an internet café and thought we should let budget and logistics be the pivotal factor. We were deterred from remaining in Firenze & using it as a hub to explore Toscana due to the SITA bus problems. A bit dismayed we scratched off Bolzano since it was incredibly far north (added travel time) and we only had 60 hours left in Europe. Again, due to lack of time – and excessive prices – we ixnay-ed the Italian Riviera. Roma looked like a full-proof option because then we would not have to worry about making it back in time for our international flight home. To appease me, Mom looked for any noteworthy beach around Roma, but the only recommended one was a lake an hour south. Then, Mom really started yearning for Venezia. We both heard it was a dilapidated, sad city, but worth seeing because of its uniqueness. Though it was on the complete opposite side of the country, it was easily linked to Firenze & Roma via the national rail system. Last, there were no beaches on the Tuscan coast that seemed worth the voyage but the islands of Giglio and Elba came highly recommended from an Italian travel agent.

We had narrowed our choices from twenty cities to three. Despite its proximity to the airport, we had already stayed in Roma and wanted to conquer a different town. That left Venezia and a Tuscan island. Mom totally refused to pick because she did not want to "live with idea that you (myself) were disappointed or didn’t get to do what you wanted." We both confessed: neither of us cared where we went, we were simply happy to have a few more days to explore.

Elba was going to be a bit of a struggle because of its seclusion. We would have to get to the coastal city Piombino via train, taxi or bus to the actual marina, ferry across the Tyrrhenian Sea, then find transportation on the island. Plus, there were limited trains leaving the Tuscan port of Piombino for Roma. We hadn’t had the best of luck at train/bus stations thus far so staying in Elba until 30 June (our departure date) was incredibly risky. On the other hand, Venice would have just as much travel time involved but with less variables since we would only be traveling via rail. Yet, being on the opposite side of the country meant that if there was mishap it would be harder to return to Roma 542 km. a.k.a. 337 mi. away.

In summary, both places had their pros and cons. Where there was ease of transportation there was also too much distance, and vice-versa. There were ultimately two reasons we chose Isola d’Elba a.k.a. the island of Elba: first, a hotel in Venice would cost €150 more than one in Elba; second, we Google-d its beaches and we were instantly captivated! After five months of being in limbo, Mom & I committed at the last hour. We purchased our train tickets online through ItaliaRail.com and emerged in the afternoon to enjoy our last day in Firenze.

Mom & I crossed over Fiume Arno a.k.a. the Arno River and again passed Palazzo Pitti. The complimentary map of Firenze clearly marked the Giardini di Boboli a.k.a. Boboli Gardens but did not identify its entrance. We walked further down Via Romano and were now unsure if we would ever find the gardens. We were entering a more residential area of Firenze and the road narrowed. Thinking we were on the wrong side of the park we were about to turn back when we stumbled upon a not-well-marked entrance. So why were the barred doors closed? Perhaps we were not at the main gate. As I read the small sign on the wall – the only sign identifying the gardens – Giardini di Boboli was aperto a.k.a. open every day except for the last Monday of the month! We peered through the metal bars like prisoners – except we were trying to get in, not out – and everything was green with beautiful flowers.

Mom & I were upset because we wanted to see the expansive, lush gardens built by Cosimo Medici complete with an ampitheatre, pools, grottos, views of Firenze, fountains, and temples. As we retraced our steps toward Hotel Della Signoria, in a small courtyard with the usual gamut of tourist-catered restaurants we found a café offering fresh delicatessen meat. We hadn’t yet seen a deli so we stopped for lunch. Mom ordered a breaded pollo a.k.a. chicken breast on a ciabatta roll while I chose a "panini" (not quite a warm, melted sandwich like in the United States) with Italy’s hallmark meat and cheese: prosciutto crudo a.k.a. cured ham with buffalo mozzarella.

Mom hated her meal because the ciabatta was not the freshest and her pollo tasted like "pressed, flavorless chicken." I was disappointed too – the prosciutto was incredibly tough and salty. Dissatisfied and unable to handle anymore heartbreak we regressed to the hotel to snack on food we knew we liked. We folded our sink-washed clothes that hung outside our window to dry and reorganized everything in our suitcases. We agreed that we both overpacked!

As the afternoon drew to a close, Mom & I walked to Piazza Santa Trinita to meet for our corsi di cucina a.k.a. cooking courses. In a kitchen packed to capacity, everyone split into four groups to prepare an authentic Italian meal. My group consisted of my mom, and a family with two daughters from eastern Pennsylvania, USA. For at least 90 minutes we cleaned, fried, julienned and baked with a sous chef that resembled a young Nicolas Cage. Then, the four groups sat downstairs in the cool, basement cellar of the building to feast on the meals prepared with our own hands.

FIRST COURSE: Vegetable Millefoglie. Eggplant and mashed patate a.k.a. potato stacked like a hamburger on zucchini slices then baked with Parmesan cheese. Finally, olive oil was drizzled over top.
SECOND COURSE: Crespelle Al Forno a.k.a. baked crepes. Ground chicken and veal with Ricotta and Parmesan cheese, Marsala wine, and salsa di Besciamella a.k.a. Bechamel sauce wrapped in a crepe; baked to a crisp, golden brown.  Also, pollo alla contadina a.k.a. Famers’ Chicken. Seasoned chicken legs and breasts pan-fried then baked in a red pepper, onion and balsamic vinegar reduction. This was my favorite dish!
LAST COURSE: the staple of Italian dessert, Tiramisu! Delicious cookies that absorbed the Italian coffee it was dunked in, along with the layer of sweetened Mascarpone cheese and dusted with cocoa powder.

By the Crespelle Al Forno I was starting to get full but everything was insanely tastey. I don’t know if it was the heat of the kitchen, because my time in Italia was drawing to a close, or because my group only receive one liter of water but the house vino rossa was amazing (I even stole Mom’s glass)! I was drinking it like we were living during Prohibition!

Filled to the brim with Italian cuisine I could barely walk back to the hotel. Outside the evening was still warm. I got a cramp at the end Ponte Santa Trinita so we stopped for a sunset photo opportunity on the bridge. My last picture in Firenze.

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