Florence Week 13 (+Budapest)
This was a solid week with one of the best weekends of my entire abroad experience. I was able to spend quality time with great friends, as well as make some really amazing new ones.
One of my friends from Egypt, Malak, and I went for aperitivo at a place we hadn’t tried before. Aperitivo is an Italian concept originally meant for people to have light appetizers and a drink before going for dinner. This has evolved over time and presently allows for people to go to a restaurant between 6:30-8:30 pm, pay the price of one cocktail plus a few euro (totaling anywhere from 6-15 euro), and eat at a fresh all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and you’ll find that most restaurants in Italy offer aperitivo. So for only about 10 euro, you can have a delicious cocktail and be guaranteed that you’ll be full by the end of your meal.
Not only is it a delicious dinner, but also a fun casual thing to do with friends. I’ll really miss it when I’m back in the States. It promotes good conversation, social interaction with other people in the restaurant, and a long slow meal. Something I always love about being in Europe is the eating culture. There’s so much more focus on conversation and really tasting your food as opposed to rushing a meal on your couch while watching Netflix. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring this back with me.
I finally decided on my favorite gelato place in Florence: Santa Trinita Gelateria. The gelato is perfectly creamy, the portions are huge, the service is great, and the flavors are unique. If you ever find yourself in Florence, be sure to try the sesamo nero (black sesame). My other favorite flavors are nocciola (of course), cheesecake, and yogurt. If only there was some way to ship myself a year's supply...
Thursday we had our Italian speaking final. Our professor arranged for our class to mix with her class of Italian students learning English. That way, everybody could practice the language they were learning with a native speaker. It worked out really well and was a fun way to meet some more Italians at school.
Friday, I headed off to Budapest with two new friends. I had been looking to branch out and meet some more people, so I asked a girl I had been friendly with from Italian class if she wanted to go. She brought her roommate and we had an absolute blast.
We arrived that evening and quickly fell in love with the city. Hungary uses the Forint which is equal to 0.0033 Euro… aka everything was incredibly cheap. We chose quite a fancy restaurant and I ordered a duck for only about 8 euro. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Afterward, we discovered the incredible Christmas market. It was by far the best market I’ve seen yet, with at least 100 stands, each offering unique handmade goods or food. One of our favorite finds was the traditional chimney cake, a cake made by wrapping dough around a cylinder, turning it like a rotisserie chicken, and covering it in a chosen topping. We ended up having at least one a day until we left.
Saturday, we had a full day planned at the Hungarian thermal baths. There are many natural warm spring waters under the city, which have resulted in a pretty major bathing culture and even the nickname “City of Spas”. The bathing culture of the Hungarians is very lively and health conscious: the young and the old all enjoy the spa waters and the fun bath complexes.
First we visited the well-known Szechenyi Baths. The complex is beautiful and very picturesque. Once again, the weather was in our favor with a lovely clear blue day. While it was about 40°F, it was over 85°F in the water, depending which pool you chose.
Later, we spent some more time at the market. There was just so much to see, including a live band. It was also the perfect place to get some really unique holiday gifts.
At night, we went to our second bath destination: a spa party (or “sparty") at Lukács Baths. This showed the evolution of the bath culture. Now, almost every Saturday, tourists and locals can enjoy a club experience in warm spring water. It was easily the best party I’ve ever attended.
Sunday, we enjoyed our last meals at the Christmas market, and took a walk through some parts of the city we hadn’t seen yet before returning to Italy.
The most important lesson I learned over this week was don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I asked that girl in my class to go to Budapest on a complete whim 1 week prior to the trip. I knew I really wanted to go there, and I wanted to travel with new people. I didn’t even know the other girl that she brought.
Now, they’re two of my best friends in the program and easily going to be lifelong friends.