One would think that a student that is about to embark on a study abroad adventure would do their utmost in researching their new home. For me it was a different story. As a student from a small town in Texas where study abroad isn’t necessarily the most popular option, I did most of my time before departure getting funds prepped, agreements signed, and classes aligned to my degree. Ultimately I left to Florence in complete ignorance.
A large part of me is grateful that I arrived “blind”. Most of my experiences are incredibly new and fresh. In fact, every week has been an adventure. The biggest surprise has been the classes here encouraging their students to actively participate in events. Within the first two weeks of class my Travel Writing professor, Vicky Hallett, enlightened us on a pretty thrilling one: The Gelato Festival.
I never had gelato before coming to Italy. Not only that, but I never thought to myself that I’d be capable of going to a gelato competition where the best gelato chefs in the world would battle with their signature recipes for the winning title. I remember the feeling of fortune and excitement radiating in me with the news.
A classmate and I decided to head to the Piazzale Michelangelo on a Sunday afternoon. Of all the places to host such an amazing event, I thought to myself how fitting it would be. Granted, the walk up the hill is not an easy one—especially for a typical, automobile-orientated American—but the top was a square full of excitement.
The whole plaza was filled with tents and people. Music was booming next to the long lines of eager gelato-eaters waiting to consume famous gelato. The length of the lines didn’t affect anyone’s mood, they all danced and smiled with tiny cones. Foreigners, Florentines, and Foodies alike. We were all celebrating gelato with simple excitement like a child. There was an endearing sense of innocence about it all.
Though the center of the event was alluring, the view of Florence from the Piazzale was also a perfect complement to the festivities. The Duomo sat in the distance, splotches of red and white colors of buildings all around us. A bronze David stood in the center of it all—just in case you forgot where you were while you were stuffing your face.
We soon figured out how to get started in our journey of collecting all the possible flavors we could. Walking up to the stand to buy our tickets, we saw that the price wasn’t too steep: only 10 euro! For all you can eat gelato? Dreams just kept coming true and the smile on my face couldn’t stop growing. This was the third day of this event, so the lady handing out purple wristband tickets didn’t seem phased by my consuming desire to start my quest. She handed us our checklist of flavors, said “prego” to my “grazie”, and we began our goal of trying each flavor listed.
The first flavor that my classmate and I got to enjoy was called Tropical Basil. Now, I’m not a famous gelato judge with a refined palette. I was here to eat as much gelato as my 10 euro got me. I will say, however, that this flavor was a memorable first. It was light and refreshing—and it did its name justice. The line for the first gelato, quite literally labeled “1”, was a short one. This was lucky because all the lines next to it were quite long.
Every chef, as they handed out small gelato cones, explained their flavors with passion. It was a surprisingly personable experience considering there were so many customers to appeal to. I remember saying to my friend: “they must be exhausted!” After all, this was the third day of scooping, prepping, smiling, explaining, and the lines never seemed to dwindle. Their life’s work showed.
Now, most chefs that had the luxury of participating in this event were Italian (understandably), but there were a few non-Italian contestants!
Taizo Shibano was a Japanese chef with a vivid green gelato. The taste was tart but subtly sweet, and it didn’t sit heavy on my stomach. Of course, the ingredients of pineapple, green apple and celery made it quite light. It made sense. It was also an interesting touch of Japanese culture amidst an Italian majority.
Eric Dorval was a native closer to my own home: Canada. Albeit his gelato fit quite snug into the Canadian culture box! It was a salted caramel gelato with pecans and—you guessed it—maple syrup. It tasted exactly like a salty-sweet pecan pie. What was especially sweet was his personality. After his explanation of flavor and inspiration, he smiled ear-to-ear as we bit into our 14th cone of gelato. “Make sure to vote for us if you loved it, you guys!” He screamed, “but if you don’t, we still love you!”
Our total toll of gelato casualty was 15. We intended to receive all 16 flavors, but unfortunately Antonio Mezzalira’s Pinolo ran out at around 7:30 pm. His worker looked quite defeated as they placed their “fini” sign on their station. I’m sure they wanted all of us to try their gelato as much as we did.
The sun was all the way down by the time we picked up our final piccolo cone—Sbrisolona dei 12 Apostoli con recioto bianco by Giovanna Bonazzi. This was the most Italian group of flavors that I can’t even recall—due to them all being in Italian—and I wish I had given this beautiful cone more of an opportunity earlier in the day. At this point I was fighting with my stomach to hold onto all these sweets. Regardless, I felt incredibly victorious.
I had delved into an opportunity in my life I never knew I could have. I held up my tiny cone in front of the view of the duomo in the distance. My symbol of gelato victory. The night was filled with dancing, full gelato stomachs, and a beautiful view of Florence. “If you had told me a year ago that I would be here today, doing this,” I remember telling my friend, “I would have laughed”.
Logan Shary is studying Art Studio with a minor in Creative Writing at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. She’s studying with SRISA as an abroad student for a semester in Fall of 2018, with hopes of an internship in the following semester of Spring 2019.