Everyone was very excited to plan trips outside of Florence. Luckily, we were recommended some tour agencies that provide day and weekend trips. There are even a few trips included in Arcadia’s Italian Language and Culture in Florence program! We started off slow by heading into the surrounding hillsides. The bus to Fiesole was a 2 euro round trip, and the view was well worth it. We immersed ourselves in Tuscany with a delicious dinner in Settignano complete with numerous appetizers, wine, pizza and tiramisu. The day trip into Siena and San Gimignano had the perfect balance of informational tours and free time to explore. Venturing into surrounding cities allowed me to appreciate what makes Florence different.
I’ve been to Italy before, but I hadn’t been to Venice so I was especially excited to go for a day with two other girls in the program. It was unlike anything I’d seen with unique bridges over endless canals, colorful and weathered buildings, and winding walkways with no space for cars. The immense number of tourists was also unlike anything I’d seen before so I was glad I was only there for a day. Venice seemed like a maze, so going with a tour agency was great because I didn’t have to search for a glass blowing demonstration or a gondola ride.
I wasn’t very prepared for my visit to Verona. I wasn’t expecting a city, or for Juliet’s Wall to be covered in gum, and I wasn’t aware that it was free to go upstairs and give a letter to Juliet’s secretary. I thought the only thing upstairs was Juliet’s balcony that you do have to pay for. The trip was still a success because before Verona, we went to Lake Garda by Sirmione. We took a speedboat out on the Lake for breathtaking views of the mountains and water.
I feel like I picked the best class. By studying the life and works of Michelangelo, I’m also learning about the history of Florence. My teacher, Simonetta, is knowledgeable and passionate. There hasn’t been a class yet where we haven’t walked through Florence to a church or museum to see firsthand the art we are discussing. Even when we were simply giving oral reports on the influences in Michelangelo’s life, we did so in a hospital turned public library where Michelangelo would look upon the Duomo and be inspired. My favorite thing that I’ve learned is that the architecture of walls reflected a city’s political alignment. The battlements, or wall tops, feature Ghibelline design, with V-shaped notches in the tops, or normal rectangular notches representing Guelph alignment. The Guelph faction supported the Pope and the Ghibelline faction supported the Holy Roman Emperor. Knowing this made seeing the walls in Siena and San Gimignano all the more interesting.
A real treat from Accademia Italiana was the rooftop views of the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist fireworks. Living in the city can get claustrophobic when you are constantly in narrow streets surrounded by tall buildings. Escaping to a roof or the river where you can see a good portion of the sky is essential.
This past weekend I set out with two other girls to Nice in search of quality beach days. Imagine our surprise when after 8 hours of traveling, we arrive at the French border and discover that there is a train strike and no French trains leaving Italy. We quickly learned that the number of English speaking Italians in Florence is unusual for most Italian cities, as a friendly police man tried to explain the situation and direct us to a hotel. We were pretty shaken up, but woke up the next day refreshed and ready to find a beach in nearby Genova. The shore was practically cliffs, but we found a swim club with chairs to lounge on flat rocks with, and ladders into the water. We didn’t make it to France, but the two beach days were exactly what I needed.
Last night I made the mistake of ordering a Caprese salad from a restaurant. At a different restaurant, one of the girls ordered a tomato salad that ended up being one sliced tomato with garnish. My dish cost 8 euro, so I was hopeful that the portions of tomato, mozzarella, and basil would be generous. I was sorely disappointed and even had to ask the waitress for the basil that was clearly listed on the menu. So heed my warning and if you are craving any form of fresh tomato, make it yourself! The markets have affordable and fresh fruits and vegetables. If you do find yourself in Florence with a dining disaster as I did, then Gusta Pizza is to the rescue. Their single serving pizzas start as low as 4 euro and take only a few minutes to bake to perfection so don’t be intimated by a long line.
I’ve nearly been here three weeks now. I’ve made a lot of plans and tried many new things, and if I had to boil down what I’ve learned so far, it’s that if I can be flexible then I’m guaranteed to have a great time.
Jenni Antane is a student at Northwestern University and is blogging from her summer abroad with the Italiana Langauge and Culture in Florence program, in Florence, Italy.