The stairs continued into Week 5 as we climbed the Duomo and the Bell Tower for a total of over 800 stairs. It’s crazy we waited so long to climb the Duomo, but it was kind of nice to save it for towards the end. We lived so close to the Duomo that it became a beacon and a symbol of our Florence home. In the second week of a heat wave, temperatures were consistently reaching 100 degrees and I was ready to escape to Switzerland for my last weekend abroad.
The first stop was Zurich, and Brianne and I took the same one-hour route to get there as I took when I first arrived in Florence after a layover in Zurich. The Zurich airport connects to the train station through a beautifully modern shopping area complete with a massive chain grocery store, Migros. We stopped for directions at the station’s travel agency and the incredible friendliness and helpfulness would only be our first taste of Swiss hospitality and customer service. We hopped on the train to our hotel and I could hardly believe how comfortable, clean, and high tech everything was. The transportation was so interconnected; with our Zurich day pass, we could ride any train, tram, bus, or ship. Without much of a plan, we used our free city map to keep from getting lost as we walked the streets of Zurich from the shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, to the old city wall river walk, Schanzengraben promenade. We even ventured as far as catching the historic funicular, the UBS Polybahn up to the university, ETH Zurich. The view of Zurich from the university was a great new way to see the city and the university halls themselves were impressive. We walked back down to the opera house and center of town past the Kunsthaus and the Schauspielhaus. We were quickly discovering how expensive Switzerland is, as we could not find even a salad for less than 20 francs. It was all worth it though as we enjoyed a live band with dinner overlooking the lake. Before continuing on to Lucerne, we ran through the Swiss National Museum since the cost was also covered by our Zurich pass. Swiss history and culture were displayed through artifacts of inventions, furniture and art. The displays were creatively put together and I only wish we had more time to explore Zurich.
We met up with three more of our study abroad friends in Lucerne, or I should say Luzern. The city was very beautiful and seemed more like a fairytale than Zurich. There were covered wooden bridges, beautiful hilly pedestrian cobblestone streets, and a stone monument built into the cliff face, the Lion of Lucerne. We heard bells and followed the sounds up stairs to the Church of St. Leodegar, which boasts expertly carved wood doors. The churches courtyard was peaceful and beautiful with a view of the city. The stairs continued in Lucerne when in search of a clock tower we spotted from the city, we happened upon the old city fortification, Museggmauer, which had several towers to climb as you walked along the wall. We sought out chocolate stops and paid both Laederach and Confiserie Kurmann a visit. Laederach was my favorite as they sold sheets of fresh chocolate with flavors like raspberry in white chocolate, honey in milk chocolate, and cookies and cream. Confiserie Kurmann had mostly pralines flavored with liqueur. We had dinner again overlooking the lake and very close to the Chapel Bridge, and for dessert, chocolate fondue! The streets along the lake came alive for the international Lucerne Blue Balls Festival as people crowded the international food tents. We had visited the food tents for lunch, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded then.
In the morning, we hopped on another InterRegio train to Geneva. As always the train was wonderful and seeing the mountainsides from the train was almost as fun as walking through the cities themselves. We realized our ticket was valid for the entire day, so we thought, “Let’s stop in Lausanne!” Still trying to fit Geneva into the same day, (which was a ridiculous goal to start off with) Brianne and I exercised our ability to be extreme tourists. We efficiently visited the information booth for our free map, hopped on the tram down to the waterfront, and began seeing the sights. In our haste to find Olympic Museum and Park, we accidentally got trapped in the Beau-Rivage Palace property after going through an open gate we thought was to the park. Short on time we jumped the fence to the real Olympic Museum and Park.
Continuing to Geneva, we ate at Holy Cow! right by the train station. It was a really cute gourmet burger place and I’m glad I ordered a junior sandwich because the portions were generous. Unfortunately not much else was open in Geneva on a Sunday, including the United Nations. We saw the outside though and hopped on tram to the riverside. Looking for paddleboats we stumbled upon Geneva’s geyser, the Jet d'Eau. Apparently, it’s the outlet for excess pressure in a hydraulic power plant. We headed over to English Garden, where there were festival tents and a Ferris wheel. Despite Brianne’s fear of heights, we went up in the Ferris wheel for a breathtaking view of the city, lake, and surrounding mountains. We wandered through old town to the Saint Pierre Cathedral and had dinner nearby. The restaurant specialized in serving various dishes spotlighting rotisserie chicken. The cuisine was a welcome change of pace from 24/7 Italian carbs, raw meat, and cheese, which don’t get me wrong- I still love! We walked around the city at night not wanting to say goodbye to Switzerland. Important buildings, water fountains, and walkways were all lit up. One of these walkways in the river under the bridge connected to Rousseau Island, which was a magical bird sanctuary that we hadn’t noticed during the day. On another larger “island” in the river we stumbled upon an outdoor salsa party. We didn’t dare join in, but it was cool to see a fun, unplanned, side of Geneva when the city was so quiet during the day.
The last day of class before the final, I went up my last set of foreign stairs to climb the Palazzo Vecchio tower within the museum. When I first arrived I could barely tell you which bridge was the Ponte Vecchio, but in the last week I could point out the Uffizi, Piazzale Michelangelo, Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, the carousel at Piazza della Republica, my apartment, and of course the Duomo. The last day everyone in the program was there was my favorite day of the trip. We walked through Florence having our own little photo shoot (one of the perks of being in an art program with friends who are skilled photographers) and stopped to watch the sunset on Ponte Santa Trinita. We had a family style dinner and laughed all night long.
I’ve been home for a week now and looking back on my time in Florence and the friends I’ve made, it really feels like I’ve lived there. Florence became my home even if only for six short weeks. All there is left to say at the end is goodbye and thank you, so ciao, Firenze. Grazie mille!
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.