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Art, Renaissance, and a Culinary Love Affair

I wander lazily through the Mercato Centrale, a local farmer’s market; the fresh produce around me is intoxicating—in the best possible way. You can do that in Italy, wander lazily; the atmosphere lacks the urgency which propels most people in the United States. There’s an ease with which the Italians navigate through life—it’s positively mesmerizing. I stop at a stand with the sweetest smelling peaches, the merchant greeting me with a warm “Buon Giorno signore!,” rattling off a list of her morning’s collection. I smile and do my best to keep up with the words rolling off her tongue, finally settling on three peaches, an apple, and a bunch of grapes. I thank her in what little broken Italian I know and move toward the exit—the café down the street is calling my name.I pick a table on the sidewalk outside and wait patiently to capture a server’s attention. Dining in Italy, or Europe in general, feels as though you’ve entered an alternate reality where everything happens in slow motion. The dining experience is something to be savored here, and I swear it makes the food taste even better. I eventually order and sip on my espresso, freshly ground that morning of course, as everything is fresh here. Soon, the waiter returns with my slice of apricot-filled crostata, the first bite sending my senses into overdrive. The food will definitely be one of the things I miss most when I leave.A quick stop at the hotel to drop off my purchase and I’m off to see the sights. The air is crisp and fresh. I take a deep breath and pause. Will the allergies kick in or am I spared on a day too gorgeous to spend hiding indoors? One second, three seconds, five seconds…seven. My nose maintains control—I’ve been spared an onslaught of symptoms for the moment. The weather in Florence tends to be quite mild and enjoyable. The coolest part of the year begins in November and lasts through March. You’ll see temperatures hover around 50 degrees fahrenheit, reaching into the low 60s on a sunny day. April sees a ramp up into the mid-to-high-60s with May ushering in 70-degree days that steadily rise into the mid-80s through August. Overall the temperature remains pleasant, rarely ever dipping into extremes on either side of the spectrum.Pollen counts and pollution levels in Florence are generally lower than back home (for me, that’s Houston, Texas). That’s not to say that you won’t experience the occasional attack. I recommend discussing options with your local ENT doctor prior to travel. The main culprit here is pollution and pollen, especially if you spend most of your travel time in more densely populated cities. When planning your Italian vacation, remember to get a letter from your doctor stating your diagnosis and the recommended medication for treatment, whether that’s prescription or over-the-counter. You won’t find any familiar medications on this side of the globe, so being able to bring them with you will make battling symptoms a whole lot easier.Today’s first stop is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The first thing I notice as I walk up is the intricacy of gothic architecture on the exterior walls. Originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and later built by Filippo Brunelleschi, the Basilica is a stunning reminder of the Renaissance period, which owes its beginnings to Florence. I make my way inside only to be absolutely awed by what I see. The detail of carved stone on almost every wall, column, and arch is simply breathtaking. To think that all of this arose without the help of modern-day machinery only increases my level of amazement as I spin around, trying to capture the magnitude of it all.From there, I make my way to the Galleria degli Uffizi. Here I embrace the rich history of the Renaissance reflected in the artwork around me. You learn in school about Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Raffaello…but to see their art in person is to truly appreciate what all those textbooks, lectures, and documentaries always attempt to explain. Words cannot capture the essence that makes these legends, well, legendary. I now understand why this is one of the most visited museums in Italy. But what’s a day of viewing art without Michelangelo’s David? I pop into the Galleria dell’Accademia for this very reason and, believe me when I say, it is every bit as impressive as you’ve heard. I’m stunned as I look up at the 16-foot marble masterpiece. The detail in the carvings, the perfectly smooth finish—it’s almost unbelievable that someone crafted this with nothing but basic tools and their own two hands.Time goes by quickly when you’re absorbed in the world’s most magnificent works of art. My stomach reminds me that it’s a little later in the day than I anticipated, so I switch gears and seek out a new restaurant. I happen upon a small eatery, laughing at my initial urge to call it an Italian restaurant; they are obviously all Italian in Italy. I order a freshly squeezed lemonade and a pasta and I sit by the window watching people go by. Everyone seems to look genuinely happy so I must conclude that the key to happiness is hidden somewhere within the boundaries of Italy. As I finish my meal I’m perfectly content, although if you set a bowl of gelato in front of me, I’d find room for it. The food here is arguably some of the best I’ve ever had. I thank my server and begin to make the walk back to my hotel.I sit on the balcony of my hotel room, watching the sunset, and playing back the day in my head. Just one day and already my world feels so much larger than it did when I arrived. If you’re planning a European vacation, I cannot say more incredible things about this country. Put Italy on the bucket list…you won’t regret it.Don’t let allergies ruin your vacation fun! Check out this blog to learn how you can make the most of a bad allergy day while you’re traveling. You can also take a look at the Pasha Travel Guide to see this year’s top 12 travel destinations, and learn tips for traveling allergy-free. This week, we’re featuring Aix-en-Provence, France, and covering allergens to watch out for, fun activities to do while you’re there, and important medicine restrictions for travelers. Follow us on Facebook and Pinterest for more updates!