Viareggio Carnevale 2015

One of the highlights of any spring semester in Italy is getting to experience the atmosphere of Carnevale.  One of our NCSAC student ambassadors, Kendra G., details her Sunday spent in Viareggio amongst the crowds of people:

“Just last week I went on the AIFS day trip to Viareggio for Carnevale, and I am so happy I did. I never really believed people when they told me how huge it was, and let me just say; its crazy. The parade was a blast, with the floats standing taller than the buildings and all the insane costumes. It was unlike anything I have seen. The best part; we all know the huge difference in space between the U.S. and Italy. Pedestrians and cars will cross each other all the time without even flinching. Well the parade is just the same. You can stand in the way of these towering beautifully made floats just before it rolls over your toes, allowing you to get the best pictures and videos ever.  Here is a compilation of the footage I got during the parade, enjoy…”

A Perfect Holiday Gift List for Study Abroad Students

While some of you may be getting ready to head back to the States after a whirlwind fall semester abroad, other students are dreaming about a Christmas in Italy and starting their checklists for the upcoming Spring 2015 semester.  As the holidays are drawing closer each day, we thought we’d give you some holiday gift ideas for the travel-addicted wanderer in your life.  Whether they’re coming back into your life or getting ready to head out on that study-abroad adventure and start gallivanting around Europe, these gifts will serve to help them along their way…..

1.  Olloclip iPhone Photo Lens Kit 

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With a fish-eye lens, wide-angle lens and 2 types of Macro lenses for those up-close shots, this kit is the ultimate in pocket photography and completely portable for those weekend trips on budget airlines.

This 4-in-1 lens kit is the perfect solution to packing those bulky SLR cameras for the weekend.  If you’ve got your phone with you already, why not maximize its potential and use it as your camera for taking that perfect pic in front of the Eiffel Tower?  Save the space in your carry-on for souvenirs instead!

2.  An Instagram Photo Book

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What better way to store all those precious memories from your 3 months abroad than with an Instagram collage?  Use your best photos to create posters, magnets, scrapbooks and more.

3. Luckie’s Scratch Map of Travels

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Want a better way to keep track of the countries you’ve visited than buying keepsake postcards, shotglasses or passport stamps?  Look no further than this scratch-off travel map from Luckie’s.

4. A portable device charger

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An absolute essential for any study abroad student, the portable device charger is perfect for staying connected during those long bus rides or overnighters at the airport.

5. A Dual-Time Watch

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Keeping track of time differences can be challenging, but not if you’re wearing a dual time-zone watch!  Now you’ll never have to guess what time is appropriate to call your parents and beg them to put money in your account when you’ve run out of cash.

6. Travel Micro-Towel

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This tiny foldable pouch contains a micro-fiber towel that is easy to pack and in much better condition than that rented towel from your hostel.  Absorbs up to 4 times its weight in water and won’t leave your backpack smelling like a wet dog after an unexpected thunderstorm.

7. Foldable Water Bottle

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Staying hydrated is important while you’re busy running around Europe, and these foldable bags come with a nifty clip so you can attach them to your backpack or store it away in your purse when you’ve got to go through airport security.

Happy Holidays from all of us at AIFS Florence!  We hope that good health and happiness follows you wherever you are in the world.

So fresh and so clean

AIFS Florence is back after the summer break, open for business once again and we’ve already welcomed students from Pasadena City College and Oregon International Education Consortium into the fold. Now comes the delightful but difficult task of scratching the surface of the city…

Scratching the city, in its literal sense, is most definitely not encouraged but slowly, steadily and surely our super-duper new students will discover Florence for themselves. Classes in Italian language and Art History haven’t prepared them for ‘the science of the spritz’, sourcing in-season specialities or the steps up to Piazzale Michelangelo. Thankfully, that all comes with time, practice and maybe a sturdy pair of shoes.

It’s always fun witnessing the journey of our students throughout their semester abroad but we are no casual observers. We’re invested in the ‘trip’ and are looking forward to the next stop…

Coming up: Siena & San Gimignano, Fiorentina vs Inter, wine tasting and the small matter of a weekend in Venice.

Everybody else is doing it…

In the eyes of AIFS Partnership Programs, the Summer ended over a week ago with the departure of our final group. Since then we’ve been cleaning, checking, counting, paying the bills and installing a sweet new sound system to disturb the neighbors  make watching movies better, all the while staff have been slowly slipping away on vacation…

We’re looking forward to welcoming our new students in September. Until then its time to enjoy the city as it empties out for the holiday weekend.

Enjoy your Summer.

 

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Day Trip to Siena & San Gimignano

One of the most popular day trips from Florence is a visit to the beautiful countryside towns of Siena and San Gimignano.  Located about an hour and a half south of Florence, it’s not only easy to reach Siena or San Gimignano but also incredibly rewarding–just check out the view!

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Last week, our students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette made the trip out to these two Tuscan towns for a day filled with beautiful scenery, historic tradition & a taste of the world’s best gelato.

The first part of our morning was spent wandering up and down the hilly streets of Siena as our lovely tour guide Cristina gave us a brief history of the famous contrade, or neighborhoods, of Siena and also a look into the life of Saint Catherine, the city’s patron saint.  After quickly ducking into the Church of San Domenico to view the relics of Saint Catherine, it was off to explore the rest of the city’s treasures!

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Our tour guide Cristina talking to the group about Siena’s patron saint Catherine outside the Church of San Domenico.
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Hiking up one of Siena’s hilly streets towards the Duomo.

 

The beautiful Duomo of Siena!
The ornate Duomo of Siena!

After visiting St. Catherine’s house, the Duomo, and the world famous music institute Accademia Chigiana, it was time to end the tour in the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, home of the famous Palio di Siena horse race.  While it was a bit too early in the year to catch a glimpse of the race preparations, we all enjoyed the sunshine in the square until it was time to head off to the next Tuscan town on our itinerary.

One short bus ride later and we were pulling up to the imposing gate of Porta San Giovanni, located at the base of San Gimignano.  Upon arrival it was time for a quick lunch before everybody’s favorite part of the day–a visit to the world-famous Gelateria Dondoli (also known as Gelateria della Piazza) for a tasty afternoon snack!

 

Blackberry and Lavender--the perfect combination!
Blackberry and Lavender–the perfect combination!
A few of San Gimignano's imposing towers
A few of San Gimignano’s imposing towers.

6 Things You Need To Know For A Great Summer Abroad

Studying abroad in the summertime is a whole different ballgame–you’ve got a limited amount of time to make the most of your experience in Florence.  Here are 6 things you need to know in order to have a great summer semester abroad:

6.  Make the most of your time in Italy and visit some of the unique regions this country has to offer.

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Visiting the region of Liguria and the cities of the Cinque Terre.

With all of the fun, exciting stuff your program has to offer, the chances are pretty high that you’ll spend little time sleeping and most of your time on-the-go.  While your summer program may not allow enough time to jet-set off to other European countries for the weekend, there is plenty to see right here in Italy.  Each region of Italy is completely unique and different from each other, from the citrus groves and beautiful beaches of Campagnia & the Amalfi Coast region, to the rolling hillsides and sunflower fields of Umbria.  Even a day trip to neighboring Pisa or Lucca or visiting the white beaches of Castiglioncello can provide a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

5.  Don’t forget to explore your own backyard.

Florence is a pretty amazing city, but when you’re crunched for time and want to see all that Italy has to offer, you often forget to spend time getting to know your new host city.  You’ll see the major landmarks on walking tours with your classmates, but it’s worth a closer look to take some time to explore the Oltrarno, bike ride through the Cascine park, visit Fiesole for an afternoon, and just generally enjoy living like the Florentines do.

4.  Take advantage of all the cool special events that only happen during the summer months.

Enjoy music at the Pistoia Blues festival

From food sagras (little village fairs) to music festivals, there’s a whole bunch of exciting events that only take place in the summer. Don’t miss Calcio Storico, the Florentine historic football (soccer) match, that comes towards the end of summer with the fireworks celebration of San Giovanni, the patron saint of Florence.  For all you music lovers out there, everyone from Jack Johnson to The Lumineers to The Arctic Monkeys will be playing the annual Pistoia Blues Festival or Lucca Summer Festival, so be sure to buy your tickets early!

3.  Try something new, whether it’s food or cultural or language related.

Tuscany, like all Italian regions, has its own unique traditions when it comes to language, culture & food.  Ever been curious as to what Crostini Toscani (the infamous chicken liver paté served as an appetizer) tastes like?  Brave enough to try a panino con Lampredotto (cow’s stomach), or shop at the local market and order all your fruits and vegetables in Italian?  Trying something new is a great way to connect to the local culture, and will give you some great stories to tell your friends and family back home.

2.  Get out to the Tuscan countryside at least once. It’s at its most beautiful during the summertime.

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There’s a reason you chose to study abroad in Florence, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Tuscany in the summertime, with its powder-blue skies and rolling green hills dotted with yellow hay bales and tall skinny cyprus trees, is the stuff that dreams are made of.  Whether you take a wine day tour or just head off for a hike up in the hills of Bellosguardo behind Florence, you’ll take some beautiful photographs of Tuscany during the summer months if you get out to the countryside.

1.  Invest in getting to know your program mates, even if it is only for a short period of time.

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Let’s face it–summer programs go by fast.  And since you’re probably going to be spending all your class time and many of your scheduled visits with your roommates and program peers, it’s worth it to get to know people.  Some of these people will become your best friends and share in many a great adventure with you, if you’re open to making new friends and meeting people during your time abroad.  So branch out of your circle of already-established friendships, and talk to that shy girl in your Italian language class, or arrange to meet for an aperitivo with your whole program outside of class time so you can all get to know each other.

 

 

 

Last-Minute Memories from A Semester Abroad

Fiona:  “It feels like a lifetime ago that I lived in California, ignorant of the everyday bits of life that make Florence special. I love living in Florence. I love Italy. I’ve made friends and good acquaintances here, American and Italian.

I’ve been locked away indoors the past two weeks scrambling to work on final projects for all of my classes. I don’t think I’ll be able to see much of Florence these remaining few days; it’s the sacrifice I make to salvage my academics this semester — it’s been tough balancing this adventure with schoolwork when the outside world is fascinating.

I won’t make this blog post my final good bye to Italy.

I’ve just had so many thoughts go through my head these past many days. In some ways it’s a pity I’ll be leaving just as I feel I’ve gotten the hang of things here, but there are also things I’m excited for when I return home — seeing friends, my boyfriend, and dogs. Getting to mountain bike again, and take the liberty of sleeping in. I’m excited to have access to certain foods too, like good Mexican food and all the gluten-free things that await me at home.

However, I’m also aware of the things I’ll lose; I’ll lose the freedom of stepping out my front door and entering a city of adventure. I’ll miss being able to take a stroll around the city and stopping by my friends’ apartments to say hello or have some tea. I’ll miss seeing my Italian buddies around the city in restaurants and my neighborhood Tabacchi (a small store that sells stamps, loto tickets, cigarettes, candy, water and the like), from which I’d manically buy stamps and water bottles.

I drew on a postcard and gave it to the Via dei Macci Tabbachi store owners yesterday. Buona Pasqua = Happy Easter. I’ll be trying to draw little things for my Florentine buddies before I go.

I’ll miss laughing at the creeper Italian men with my friends, and maybe even the gypsies (only a little).

What I’m counting on is that I’ll take with me the things that matter. I’ll keep the moments, stories and the things I’ve seen.

View of the Arno out of the Vasari Corridor.
View out of the Vasari Corridor (the hallway that runs along the top of the Ponte Vecchio).

Elizabeth: “Studying abroad in Florence has been one of the best times of my life, and I know it will be for many many years to come. I’ve tried new foods and drinks, learned to live without a connection to the internet every minute of the day, and I feel like I’ve gained more knowledge about myself and how I work.

When I first arrived in Florence on the 26th of January, I was so scared and nervous that I wouldn’t fit in with everyone else on the trip, all I knew for sure was that I had Kaitlin with me. I’m so happy that we were able to go through this experience together, and I know that we both learned a lot about each other and shared experiences we will never forget. Kaitlin and Devin, our new roomies, were also friends before coming on this trip, and I think that is why we all got along so well. Although Kaitlin and I have different ideas of fun from Kaitlin and Devin, I feel like we still have so much fun when we’re together. I couldn’t have asked for better friends on this trip.

I also met 3 amazing new people, Lily, Megan, and Rachel, whom I absolutely adore. Kaitlin introduced them to me, and since then, the five of us have been hanging out whenever we can, whether that be having late night deep conversations or laughing along to silly movies. Along with my new friends, we found a new home for our studying, and new acquaintances with the people who work at MUG, our favorite cafe. Dealing with our love for flavored coffee and hamburgers, they have created a warm and kind place where we can go to study or have fun. I’ve met lots of fantastic people other than the couple I’ve mentioned on this trip too, people I would love to keep in contact with and reminisce with over a cappuccino and a croissant.

Leaving Florence will be difficult, I’ve grown to love the feeling of having a home away from home. The giant and impossible to maneuver around groups of tourists, the umbrella salesmen, and the men that stand outside restaurants shouting at you to come in, all things I hate hate and will not miss when I’m back in California, in no way outnumber the great times I had here. I’ll save my favorite moments for my next post.

Dealing with jet lag, homesickness, getting physically sick, and sadness during this trip all made me stronger as a person. I’m so glad to get back to my family, friends, job, and school back at home, but I know I will not be the same person they saw leave, and I’m so glad of that. I’ve changed for the better, and I’m proud! “

san miniato al monteBrigitte: “On Sunday morning, I met another student and we walked up to San Miniato al Monte to hear the Gregorian chants, but ended up staying in the main nave and attending mass for Palm Sunday. It’s a good walk uphill and has a great scenic view from the top. The inside of the church is beautiful, the floor is very interesting to look at and the ceiling has detailed designs. It’s one of my favorite churches I’ve visited.

After church we bought pizza at Gusta Pizza and walked around the antique/flea market in Piazza Santo Spirito. There were some very interesting old items and handmade goods being sold. Later in the day we met again to go back to San Miniato al Monte to hear the Gregorian chants. We found the service in an area behind and below the main altar. The voices of the monks were beautiful, it was an awe-inspiring experience.

view from San Miniato

Before class on Wednesday two other students and I went to the Boboli Gardens. We sat on the grass and had a picnic with another scenic view of Florence. We talked about the trip and how it has changed us. The sun was out and it was a perfect time to get some fresh air. picnic at boboli gardens

My roommates and I had a special dinner out since the program is close to ending. All four of us went to a cute restaurant on the side of Il Duomo; they had delicious food. It was strange to think back to the very beginning of the program when we were just settling. We discussed the program ,and how it will and already has affected us. It made us a little sad to think how it’s coming to a close.

dinner with roommates

My mom has arrived in Florence! I am planning on showing her around to the tourist sites and hidden gems of the city, in between class and homework. I’m glad she gets to experience the city that has been my home for the past 11 weeks. After the program is over we will travel and have more adventures together for another 4 weeks!

I’m sad to have this program end, I’ve had so much fun and learned a lot through it all; but I still have one more week to enjoy it!”

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