A week passed like a breeze and now I’m back in France. Of course, I would tell you that Italy is incredibly beautiful and every alleys and streets that I passed in Turino, Florence was magnificent because it was unlike anything that I’ve never seen before. But this particular post will be dedicated for one specific night while I was in Italy. The day that me and Lisa stayed in Florence a day longer to visit the hometown of our Italian friend’s Ambra.
Just a little bit of background story: Me and Lisa sort of met Ambra for the first time during orientation week. We didn’t really know her back then, but then we bumped into her again outside the sandwich shop in the university. I remembered that she greeted us again that afternoon because she remembered seeing us during the orientation. Since we had nothing to do that day, we asked Ambra if she wanted to have coffee and after few banters in French, and me and Lisa occasionally spoke in English, Ambra finally said, “Ah desolé Michelle et Lisa, je parle pas anglais.”
Yup, we discovered that she can’t speak English at all, only Italian and French. After that afternoon, we occasionally hang out with her. To be honest, she is a great addition to our group because when Ambra is around, all of us are obliged to speak French all the time. Sometimes it gets painful given that we can’t really express or describe many things in French due to the limited vocab, but at the same time it’s great because we’re improving our speaking skill outside uni time. I mean, that’s the reason why we come to France, right? To finally able to speak French!
Anyways, we had a relaxing start of the day before we went to Ambra’s. It was the warmest day I’ve felt since I got here, and we even got to visit Palazzo Vecchio (and saw David the Great sculpture!) and chilled in the patches of green in Palazzo Pitti since Ambra asked us to come at 7 to her place. We managed to pick up a bouquet of flower for the Giunti’s, just a little something for them because they have been so kind for letting us stay overnight in their house. And by us coming there meant that our dear Ambra had to sleep on the living room so then we could sleep in her room. Oh gosh, she’s just too nice and I won’t stop saying that HAHA.
The drive from Florence to Empoli took roughly about an hour. We put on Ambra’s address to Mary Poppins (that’s how we called Lisa’s GPS because it speaks in a heavy British accent HAHA) and we were in a highway again, crossing another suburb to Empoli. As we went further from Firenze, we passed a particular street with packed tiny houses, which kinda reminded me of Jakarta. And the street got smaller and darker, and we finally saw the green sign named Empoli! And surprise, surprise! We stopped in front of supposedly Ambra’s place….. which was a car repair center. WHAT? Damn Mary Poppins!
“Okay, this is not Via Della Torraccia!”, Lisa said.
“Oh wait, wait…. I think we passed it. I think it was that little corner down there!”, I said.
We got off from the car, feeling a bit nervous about how to react when we saw the Giunti’s at their door. Well, why wouldn’t we nervous? Ambra told us that her parents don’t speak English NOR French, and her mom was so excited when she heard that we are coming that she cooked for an authentic Italian meal for us and Ambra also mentioned that her dad would attempt to speak in English and reminded us that it would be horrible. Oh gosh, I am so touched EVEN before I met them! Lol. As we knocked their door, there they were, Senore Mario and Senorina Lorena, standing in front of us, enthusiastically greeted us in a french way (a kiss in each cheek and a big hug).
When Italians hosted a dinner, it would be a serious business, such as four courses meal that we definitely didn’t expect. As for starter, Ambra’s mom made a bruschetta with different toppings — olives, onions and red-stuff-that-i-couldn’t-remember-its-name-but-it-tastes-super-awesome, and then the spaghetti with home-made tomate sauce. But of course, even after my tummy was fully filled with this savoury heaven, it didn’t stop there. After bruschetta and spaghetti, the ultimate SECOND MAIN COURSE were set in the table (yup, the ‘proper’ Italian meal consists of two main courses): the brasato and torta salata!
At that point, Me and Lisa were so bloated, but then we just kept eating because we didn’t wanna appear to be rude. For god’s sake, they have cooked us food that could feed more than 5 people that night!! lol. Ambra told us that her mom cooks everyday, like cooking ALOT of stuff almost every single day. I told Ambra that I was amazed that she’s still in shape, because her mom is an amazing cook and I don’t think I will ever leave home if my mom is such an expert cooker like that lol.
Ambra’s mom occasionally attempted to say few phrases in French that she knew to us, and Senore Mario asked where we come from (in English) and opened another bottle of wine for us to drink. Ambra sat on the edge of the table, acting as the translator and occasionally chuckled as me and Lisa lost in translation in casa de Giunti. We told him that we came from Turino, and he was excited to hear it because he is a fan of Juventus football team and I happened to told him that I saw many merchandise store while we wandered around the city. It was an amusing situation indeed, somewhat awkward but in a good way because of this lost-in-translation situation that we had put ourselves into. Between sips of wine and spoonful of spaghetti, Senore Mario and Senora Lorena kept teasing Ambra, which I could see even when I didn’t understand ANYTHING that they said. It was a cute thing to see, and we were surrounded by warmth, the warmth of a family, something that I had been missing after few weeks away from home.
It was surreal to think about it again. I would have never thought that I would have this kind of experience. You can see all of those pretty basilicas and eat in the most luxurious restaurant in Firenze, but not everyone can have a simple Italian dinner with a nice Italian family. It was one of those rare cultural experiences one could ever had. It might sound like a mundane dinner story, but that particular moment is one of those moments that reminds me why I wanted to participate in exchange program at the first place. If only we could speak Italian, it would have been awesome to engage in more interesting conversation with Senore Mario and Senorina Lorena. Their hospitality and warmth are seriously one of the best things I’ve ever experienced during my trip in Italy.
So that is that, the beauty of coincidence. The beauty of welcoming a stranger into your life, who suddenly fills you with this great memory and experience. Sometimes I still need to convince myself that I’m here, surrounded by all things unfamiliar, to be constantly challenged and surprised by this unpredictable life. It’s exhilarating, fun and frustrating at the same time, but I could never ask for a better thing. It made me realise that there are so many things that I haven’t discovered and these kind of experiences constantly remind me to be open-minded about all of the possibilities and knowledges that I can grasp upon.
Things that you should do while you’re in Italy.
1. Attempt to finish off an XL pizza all by yourself.
In which I did! Well, close enough. Tummy couldn’t finish the crust.
2. Eat at least a scoop of gelato everyday and pretend that you’re walking the Italian street like it’s summer, even though it’s in the middle of February.
3. Climbed over the 463 narro, claustrophobic steps of Piazza Del Duomo and prepare to have yourself blown by the beauty of Firenze from the top
4. Have different Italian dish every day because you can’t miss all those good pasta. GNOCCHI! PIZZA! TORTELLINI!
5. Avoid any eye contact with those bird feeder men if you don’t wanna be forced to pay €10 just to feed the birds
6. Go to Palazzo Pitti in Firenze and if the weather permits, lay on the grass, have cheap wine and fill your mp3 with good music and voilà… you’re chilling on the palace’s garden.
7. Try to say buonjourno (Good morning), grazie (thank uou), Prego (your welcome) ciao (See you/Goodbye) , Signore/Signora (Mister/Mrs.) as much as you can while you’re in Italy.
8. Stand still and look like an oblivious tourist while admiring the magnificent Duomo.
9. Lastly, throw your map away, be spontaneous and get yourself lost while exploring the little lanes and streets of Italy. ‘Tis the best way to enjoy the city.