Inter-country travel in Italy is relatively quick, convenient, and cheap. My friends and I took a train from Venice to Florence without issue, checked into our hotel, and went to the Mercato Centrale for dinner, recommended to us by our hotel receptionist. Similar to the Mercado de San Anton, the Mercato Centrale sells groceries on the first floor, offers numerous, free-seating food vendors on the second floor, and a sit-down restaurant on the third floor. The market is a great option for a quick, no-fuss meal. Surrounding the Mercato Centrale, the Mercato San Lorenzo, a large spread of stalls selling (most likely fake) leather and other souvenirs, offers an outdoor shopping experience, making the area a perfect place to spend the afternoon.
My friends and I spent as much time at the market as possible, waiting out the evening for our late-night/early-morning activity—Florence’s secret bakeries. The idea behind these conspicuous curiosities is that Florentine bakers begin producing their goods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in order to deliver the fresh breads and pastries to the distributor shops in time for opening. These bakers work in unmarked kitchens around the city, but have been sniffed out by hungry party-goes making their way back home. Those who have visited the secret bakeries share that a quiet knock on the door, a polite request, and a euro will get you a freshly baked pastry, straight from the kitchen. Though operating without addresses, these not-so-secret locations have descriptions all over the Internet. Even with the help of many study abroad students before us, though, we were unable to secure a pastry from the secret location we chose to peruse. Instead of discovering an Italian treasure, we spent thirty chilly seconds outside of an abandoned building before we decided that the lack of sweet scents meant that we’d be going home without snacks. Disappointed, tired, and cold, we went back to the hotel, vowing to be more prepared should we have the opportunity to try again.
Our first morning in Florence was spent on a train to a half-day trip to Pisa. We took the regional train to the efficient Pisa San Rossore station, rather than the popular Pisa Centrale station, because it was a shorter walk to the Leaning Tower. A ten-minute stroll took us to the Piazza del Duomo, with the Tower, the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the Composanto. There were two museums too. I’m glad we only had plans to observe the monuments, because examining the Tower consumed all of our time and attention over the course of our 3-hour visit. It really is leaning! Most photos that I have seen do not accurately depict its tilt, but I attempted to capture the awe we felt standing beneath it.
On our way back to Florence, outside of the Pisa San Rossore station, we stopped to get lunch at a pizza truck. Though slightly suspicious, we were sold after seeing the flames of the brick oven in the truck. With their “student menu,” we got a drink and two slices of pizza or calzone for 5€. I got a slice of pizza with “spicy salami” and a piece of sausage and cheese calzone, and it was the best pizza that I had my entire time in Italy. I would travel back to Pisa San Rossore just for the pizza truck!
Closer examination of my photos show that the banner above the windshield of the pizza truck reads “Original Italienische Holzofenpizza,” a German phrase. I have thence come to the conclusion that the best pizza I ate in Italy was German pizza. What a disappointment.
- Mercato Centrale
- Piazza del Mercato Centrale dell’Ariento, Via dell’Ariento, 50123 Firenze, Italy
- Mercato de San Lorenzo
- Piazza San Lorenzo, Firenze, Italy
- Secret bakeries
- Piazza del Duomo
- Piazza del Duomo, 56010 Pisa PI, Italy
- Pisa San Rossore Pizza Truck
- 56122 Pisa Province of Pisa, Italy
Pace, Amore, Pisa