The Florence Market Scene

One of the best things about living in such a small and walkable city, in the ease of running into all kinds of open markets.  Who doesn’t love markets?   There is something about outdoor tents and locals peddaling their wares that epitomizes this Italian life, and I guess it’s only fair to share some of my favorites.
Let’s start the Oltrarno.

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Photo credit: Lindsay Osborne

Piazza Santo Spirito hosts several markets depending on the day.  There is the (almost) daily market in the piazza with clothes, brass goods, fruits and vegetables and odds and ends.  But then, to spice it up, on the 2nd Sunday of the month (not August) there is the Flea Market.  Oh, how I love this one.  The piazza is filled with antiques, food, candy and clothing.
The 3rd Sunday of the month hosts the organic, biological market.  From handmade and homegrown foods, to wooden toys, woolen rugs and ceramics, this is a bit smaller than the Flea Market, but great in its own vein.

Piazza Della Repubblica

Flowers
Here you can find a great flower and plant market on Thursdays from September to June.  Perfect for those with a green thumb or flair for flowers.  Just around the corner is the Porcellino Market, with leather and bags along with scarves and shirts, just a typical market in Florence.  While you are there, boost your luck by putting a coin in the mouth of and rubbing the nose of the wild boar statue that the market was named after.
Le Cascine Market in the Cascine Park
Tuesdays from 7am-2pm, this spans the length of the river and is complete with clothing, goods and food, and is a market dedicated to serving the needs of the local community, one of the few that does not cater to tourists.

Fortezza Antiques Market

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At the Fortezza Park (one of my favorite parks in Florence-check out the fountain and the ducks) there is an Antiques Market on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of the month- for all you antique-lovers (me!).

For food, I love the Sant’Ambrogio outdoor market with all of its beautiful fruits and vegetable and a quick stroll indoors for meats and cheeses is well worth the time.  This market opened in 1874 after the Piazza della Repubblica market closed down, and is a great place to find typical local products like tripe, lampredotto and tongue.  In recent years, there is also a development of imported products that foreign residents can’t get enough of such as cilantro, exotic fruits and cheddar cheese.

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Also, the Central Market with its gorgeous rennovation of the upper level is a foodie heaven that boasts some of the best products in an atmosphere that reminds me of a school caffeteria, in a good way.

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September Events

It seems that summer has come to a close before it even really began.  Aside from a few hot days that promised sultry skies and dripping humidity, it seems like autumn has been upon us for months.  The true perks of the season, however, are just coming into their own and bringing excitement for the colder weather.  Here are a few September Celebrations that are worth a visit:

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Juliet’s Birthday Celebration in Verona:  Cortile Mercato Vecchio  Sunday September 7th This is a festival complete with medieval costumes, a market, and performances and art exhibitions.  Begins at 10am and goes all day.  Tip:  Get there the day before and enjoy the opera of Romeo and Juliet at the Arena.

 

How to get there from Florence:  Take a train from either Santa Maria Novella (change trains in either Bologna or Padova) or Campo Di Marte (direct to Verona Porta Nuova).  The train station is close to the center so it is easy to take a taxi or walk.

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Cacio al Fuso, Pienza:  This is a celebration of Pecorino, or sheep’s milk, cheese, a product that Pienza is famous for (best in Italy).  There are tons of cheeses that can be sampled during the fair, and a cheese-rolling competition.

 

How to get there from Florence:  While it is possible to take the SITA bus to Siena and catch another bus to Pienza, it is difficult in terms of timing.  This may be one where a car rental would be best.

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Chianti Classico Exhibition 2014:  Piazza Matteoti in Greve in Chianti September 11th to September 14.  4 days of food and wine celebrating wines from the Chianti region of the Greve farms.

 

How to get there from Florence:  Take the bus from the SITA bus station near the train station in Florence.  It takes about an hour to arrive.

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Mushroom Festival in Casole D’Elsa: Pievescola September 7-9 and 13-16. Food festival with tastings, craft markets, races and photo exhibitions.

 

How to get there from Florence:  SITA buses leave every couple of hours for this town in the Province of Siena.

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Festa Dell’Uva Impruneta:  Last Sunday of September.  A parade starting at 3:30, dances and tastings of products celebrating the grape.

 

How to get there from Florence:  You can get there by SITA bus from the station, and it is just outside the city.

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Vendemmia:  One of the most important events of the year in Italy is the Grape Harvest which begins in September when the grapes are picked and used to make wines and the other seasonal delicacies such as Schiacciata con uva (grape flatbread), as well as dishes using the grapes as major ingredients.  One of the best ways to experience the Harvest is to get involved by picking and crushing grapes along with the local farmers.

Join one of our Harvest tours that run once a year.  Included is all transportation and meals on a local farm where you will have the experience of a lifetime.   www.italyonabudgettours.com

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10 reasons why you should study in Italy

Studying abroad is an experience beyond measure.  A new country, a culture and new opportunities around every corner; the possibilities are endless.  Moving to Italy in general and Florence in particular can change a person so deeply that they have no choice but to return again and again, or put down some roots and stick around for the long haul.

Here is a list of some of the top experiences of studying abroad in Florence:

1.  Learning a language, gestures or particular idioms in a country other than your native one is a huge achievement, and endlessly fascinating.  Florence is home to a huge variety of schools with different study abroad programs.  From University programs to individual language schools, there are choices for every type of student.

2.  Having coffee and pastries every day guilt-free.  Hey, it’s just breakfast, right? Some great places that produce their own baked goods are Caffe’ San Marco (in Piazza San Marco) with a huge variety of sweets and sandwiches, Caffe’ Marino next to Ponte alla Carraia, and even Mama’s Bakery if you are looking for something a little more American-style (Via della Chiesa, in the Oltrarno).

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3.  Shopping for food on the day you plan to use it, all the while wrestling Italian nonni for that last baguette.  Esselunga and Coop are the largest supermarkets, but there are a ton of center-based smaller markets such as Conad and Centro, with little fruit and vegetable stores all over the city.

4.  Bicycling to school, work, the pub or just a friend’s place, and dodging tourists along the way, because you are a local now.  If you are in the mood for some Karaoke or watching a game, Old Stove pubs in Piazza del Porcellino  and Piazza Signoria are fantastic, as well as JJ Cathedral, Cocktail Bar and Monkey Bar.  You will find tons of locals here as well, and Italians are very loyal to their pub of choice!

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5.  Going on tours.  You are a foreigner, so why not get the perks of that status?  Going out for a day or a weekend with people your age to see the country, eat, drink wine and explore is unforgettable. There are a ton of tour operators out there, but it’s important to find the ones with local guides and people your own age.  Some great trips from Florence include San Gimignano, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Monterrigioni, Siena and Viareggio.  These can all be day trips, or you can combine one or two for a packed day.  And why not make new friends along the way?

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6.  Walking around Renaissance art and architecture every day.  No big deal.  If you want to experience places the locals go, check out Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset and don’t forget to brink a bottle of bubbly and a bag of snacks!  Or head over to Ponte Vecchio most nights for some live music under the stars.duomo7.  Learning how to use public transportation while working your core to keep balance as the bus slams on its brakes once again.  Florence is well-served by buses, so if you want to get out of the center and  check out the outskirts, figuring out how to use the buses is a must.

8.  The chance to be on a family farm to learn about wine production and stomp grapes in a country that is all about their grapes.  This is particularly special during the Harvest.  Stomping those sweet fruits and feeling the pulp between your toes is one way to enjoy, but participating in the Vendemmia (Harvest) is a great way to be a part of Italian culture and experience the process from vines to wines.

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9.  Making friends with other locals, from your friendly cheesemonger (Sandro and Ivana on Via Dei Serragli have cheddar cheese as well as a ton of local cheeses and that oh-so-creamy Mozzarella di Bufala) to the guy at the hardware store  (Mesticcheria) down the block (they have a ton of things including kitchenware, tools and odds and ends).  You have now proven your loyalty and you have the inside track.

10.  Pasta.  Need I say more? There are some really fantastic pastas around, such as the warm and homey Tortelli Mugellani which are potato-filled Tortelli that you can order in a ragu’ or tomato sauce (best during Fall and Winter) or the thick spaghetti-like Pici that is at its best when covered in pecorino cheese and black pepper (Cacio al Pepe).  Find a ton of dried pastas at supermarkets or specialty stores, but treat yourself to fresh pasta every once in a while (Dalle Nostre Mani-also Via dei Serragli handmakes pasta every day and sells tons of other organic and bio foods.  You can also find fresh pasta right inside the Central Market of San Lorenzo…mmmm buona!).

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Palio of Siena July 2nd and August 16

The Palio of Siena is more than just a horse race in a city center.  It is an event steeped in the historical and secular traditions of an ancient culture.  The city of Siena currently has 17 districts, each with its own emblem, colors, governing bodies, festivities and patron saints.  This number is greatly reduced from the past, but the remaining districts are a part of life for the Sienese.  Each citizen belongs to a particular district, or contrada,  and rivalries and competitions run fierce between them.

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The Palio is 4 days of festivities culminating in a 70-90 second horse race in the Piazza del Campo on July 2nd and August 16th. Since medieval times, the Piazza del Campo hosted city-wide spectacles and events such as jousting, punching, bullfights and buffalo and donkey races.  Events taking place in the Piazza were particularly violent, and the Palio is the only that still takes place today and care is taken to prevent outbreaks of violence (though they still occur between rivals).  The race itself is a source of controversy because of the numbers of injuries to riders and horses during the race.

 

 

HOW IT WORKS:

 

Of the 17 contrade of the city, only 10 participate in each Palio race.  7 are given right to participate by being those who did not take part in the the race of that month of the previous year, and 3 being drawn randomly in a lottery.  A group of representatives (one from each contrada) together choose 10 horses from private owners or stables of comparable quality.  A lottery then determines which contrada will have which horse 3 days before the race. 6 trial runs are done before the actual event, one the same day the horses are chosen and then consecutively until the last trial run the morning before the Palio event. Each Palio is a 4 day event that involves the assignment of horses, the blessing of the horse and jockey of each contrada, rehearsal dinners and other festivities.  The actual race takes place on the 4th day in the Piazza del Campo which is covered in dirt brought in specifically for the race, and is an explosion of the pent-up energies from the drawn out preparations.

Each jockey rides bareback and it is not unusual for jockeys to fall or be thrown on the perilously sharp corners.  One particularly dangerous area is prepared with mattresses to reduce the possibility of injury. It is and interesting race because jockies are allowed to try to prevent others from winning by pushing other jockies, hitting horses or jockies or interfere in other ways. The first horse representing its contrada (with or without jockey) to cross the finish line is declared the winner, and will be followed by the presentation of the Drappellone.

 

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The Drappellone (banner) or Palio is a painted rectangular piece of silk that is hand-painted by a different artist for each race, with the July race using a local artist and the August race, an international artist.  There are strict guidelines as to what need be included on the banner, but styles can vary greatly.

 

Before the race is the Corteo Storico , a paegent and procession consisting of spectacles such as flag twirlers and a demonstration on horseback by the local police, as well as richly styled costumes dating back to the 13th century and songs and music.  The energy of the spectators and participants increases almost palpably in these festivities until they reach a breaking point during the brief race.  Then they flow into raucous celebrations taking place immediately after the Palio banner is presented, and often lasting months for the winning contrada.

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HOW TO SEE IT:

 

A great way to see this annual event is to come on our tour, with a fun-loving group of young Italians and travelers.  We ride up together, spend the day supporting our favorite contrada and have an amazing time.  When we have soaked up all the festivities we can, we ride back to Florence together, making this an unbeatable and once-in-a-lifetime excursion with locals.  You can’t get more Italian than this!

 

Check it out and book now:

http://www.italyonabudgettours.com/en/Palio-of-Siena

Local guides

Budget Tours

18-35’s

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2014 Participating Contrade:

 

July 2nd, 2014

GIRAFFA-Giraffe, CHIOCCIOLA-Snail, DRAGO-Dragon, TARTUCA-Tortoise, SELVA-Forrest, BRUCO-Caterpillar, AQUILA-Eagle, LUPA-She Wolf, PANTERA-Panther and ONDA-Wave.

 

August 16th, 2014 (the 7 by right)

 

DRAGO-Dragon, GIRAFFA-Giraffe, PANTERA-Panther, CIVETTA-Owl, VALDIMONTONE-Ram and LEOCORNO-Unicorn.

This is something you won’t want to miss so book now before it fills up!

 

 

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18-35 and Beyond

We recently had a discussion about the fact that we promote for the youth market 18-35 years old.  What does this mean?  Does it mean that you have just had your 36th birthday so you had better look elsewhere or that you won’t be welcome if you are a more seasoned traveler?  That we’re going to card you at the door?  No way!  It means that we a have a general audience of students, backpackers, solo travelers, etc. that often fall into this category.  We welcome anyone who wants to join our tours knowing that we will have small groups that are often between 18-35, or at least young at heart.  Will everyone want to join our tours?  Probably not.  We don’t do tours that children would enjoy, but then again I don’t know that children enjoy tours anyways.  And maybe there are those who don’t want to go with a group of 18-35 year olds, regardless of how well-behaved, and that’s okay.

Our tours are experiences of Italian culture and gastronomy.  We see beautiful places, eat typical foods and taste typical wines.  There are no body shots, no wild raves in the van and no screaming along to the lyrics of Justin Bieber or some other teen-pop (that usually happens in the privacy of our own homes).  There is an idea that representing the youth market means that rowdy kids are passing out all over each other in their attempt to outdo one another in shot-taking abilities.  Not so.  It simply means that we do tours that young travelers love.  Students and backpackers alike often make lifetime friendships or at least a little company for the road when they spend a day with us.  Jokes, laughs, smiles abound and if that is your style, instead of isolated in your seats on a huge tourist bus, then please, join us.

There are a ton of tour companies out there.  We are small and we offer something different, something for those on a budget, something for a younger crowd.  We operate within a framework of the youth market because we want people to come and be able to connect with others who share the same interests, lifestyles and traveling styles.  18-35 is an idea, a calling card for those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to see Italy in a new way and with a reasonable price, and with others who are in the same frame of mind.  And we just might be singing in our snug van, but probably to Michael Jackson.😉

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The Importance of the Social Network for Small Tour Companies

So you’ve taken a tour with us.  You loved it and have made lots of new friends and memories and now it’s time to move on, right?  Wait just a minute!  We need your help!

It’s a tough world for small business and small tour operators.  Even though the product is excellent, we just don’t have the same resources as big hotels or large touring companies.  It’s an uphill battle for the little guys to stay in business providing tours for those on a budget, but a battle we are continually fighting.  You’re looking for something a little less expensive, somewhere you won’t have to pay a commission like you do at the big hotels and hostels.  Booking directly with the tour operator saves you money, money that maybe you don’t even know you’re spending for the phone call the reception makes for you.  Maybe you are a backpacker or a student, or maybe you’re just saving up for something and don’t want to dip into your savings to have a great experience.  That’s where we come in.  Hey guys!  Over here!  Let’s tour together!  We want to give you what you want.  But we need you, not just to come and be a part of a memorable experience, but to pass the word on so we can continue doing what we do.

How you can help:

  • Review us on Trip Advisor…this is a big one guys.  When people are looking at new places and companies, in today’s world, tripadvisor is king.  We need your feedback so we can grow, and people will find us more easily if we have reviews.  If long periods go without any reviews our rating goes down on tripadvisor, so review us!  Even just a line or two makes a difference.
  • Tell your friends.  Send people you love over to us and let us show them a great time.  They’ll love you for it.
  • Become our friend on facebook and twitter.  Check out photos, get tagged in them and share your experiences.  Heck, you may even end up on our blog or in a brochure!
  • Send us your photos.  We want you to be part of our community.  Your memories are our memories!
  • Come back to us.  Seriously, we love seeing you when you visit.  No experience is ever the same because no group of people is ever the same.  It’s a great way to spend an afternoon or evening and hey, it’s cheap!  Added bonus!

Small business is important.  You get more choices, you get a more personal experience and we get to keep offering great value at a low price.  That’s a win-win if I’ve ever heard one!

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Olio e Vino- Oil and Wine

‘Tis the season here in Florence, for olio nuovo or ‘new oil’.  It’s the time of year when the olive harvest or Raccolta is happening and that delicious dark green olive oil is making its appearance at festivals and in shops.  This stuff is liquid, well, green but it is the best of the best.  Poured over toasted rounds of bread or drizzled on ribollita or tepid bowls of soup, you can’t really go wrong.  And no olive oil tasting is complete without a glass of new wine fresh from the grape harvest.  This is a perfect way to combat dark and gloomy days and the colder and colder temperatures.

Various towns in Tuscany are having food festivals or sagre with seasonal products such as chestnuts, truffles, oil and wine, polenta, wild boar and porcini mushrooms, to name but a few.  These festivals are a great way to spend wintery days while waiting for warmer weather to return.  We are also still running some wine tasting tours and forays into the Tuscan villages, so if you are here enjoying food and wine at the peak of this season, keep us in mind.🙂

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