Category Archives: Day Trips

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…”

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.

Visiting the Cinque Terre

Photographs by: Elizabeth M.

Sunday Carnevale in Viareggio

Written by: Fiona O.

Carnevale di Viareggio is a large-scale parade of floats and masks that occurs every year in the Tuscan city of Viareggio. It’s considered one of the greatest celebrations in both Italy and Europe.

I went on the AIFS day trip to Viareggio to see the Carnevale parade. The floats were extraordinary, and have always been very political in nature, often depicting famous people and politicians.


The first float was so amazing! It was John Lennon’s head. One of the most amazing things about the floats, aside from their size, is how mobile they are. This float began with Lennon’s head cradled in his hands with a black and white background. As the music began playing, Lennon lifts his head and looks from side to side as everything explodes with confetti, movement and Beatles’ music. It was spectacular!!!

The floats are huge — a bit of the 3-story building is visible next to this float. Each float played its own music, and large groups of dressed up people and dancers moved along between each huge float.


Excited and dressed like a girl for Carnevale!

Another amazing float. The shaman could move his head and hands, as well as blink. The butterfly pillars spun around crazily too.

The crowd. That’s where the floats approached me from where I stood. That’s a 3-story building next to the shaman float, which gives you an idea of scale. The floats travelled a loop, so they moved down the street, then turned and came back along another street.

One of the dancers in the parade.

A giant voo-doo doll.

This was so cool! The scale of it was just incredible. It makes you realise how almost all large-scale things are rendered digitally in movies — I can’t imagine how much effort went into constructing an actual, huge, mobile model of a robotic spider. Really loud techno/electronic music played, and the people on the float danced a little techno routine.


I’m honestly not really sure what this is about.
This float is definitely very political. Just consider the camouflage colours, painted face, and expression of the soldier in the tank. Anyway, this was a super cool float. It was so mobile; the helmet, hands, eyes, tongue and hair all moved. It’s erie to have the huge floats loom down over you.

 The people on the floats were very dressed up too.

This scary thing coming along the other side of the street. It was breathing smoke.

Creeper Shot #7: Just chilling with an admirable tuft of texture.

That devil float made it around to my side of the street. He’s dressed as a puppet master (his mask could come down over his entire face as well) manipulating (what I presume to be) politicians in a boxing rink. The pope was depicted as one of the puppets hanging off the back of this float.


Creeper shot #8: This looks like the same guy as in #7, but I’m 70% sure it’s not. The hair is a tiny bit different.


All I can work out is that Immigrazione= Immigration.
Omosessualita = Homosexuality. I have to admit that I’m very entertained by how willing the Italian men are to dress up like this.

I’m not sure what the message is here, but this was such an awesome float. The guy could fold his wings and duck his head, to where he wasn’t that visible. Then he rose up while spreading his wings.

Creeper shot #8: This guy’s carrying some figurines.

Figurines like this one were carried along on the back of a single, dedicated \ person.

They Hysteria float — the lady (dressed in the colours of Italy) basically just screams (there’s a sound track). A scientist and psychologist are on either side of her. Again, I’m not sure what the message is here, but I interpreted it as representation of Italy’s (social and political) problems that are understood neither by the scientist (who studies physical bodies), nor by the psychologist (who studies the mind).

This thing was pretty intense — it’s eyes, jaw, head and arms all moved. It just leered creepily over the crowd.

Poseidon appeared. He could both sit and stand upright.
Creeper shot #9: A cute soccer-playing child with that hair cut I need to photograph.

I ran off to explore and found the beach!! The mountains in the distance were such an unexpected sight!

Me by the sea shore of the  Mediterranean Sea.
Tips for Viareggio:
  • Bring layers! It may be warm for a while, but the temperature drops in the evening.
  • Ride the ferris wheel! I didn’t do this, but some classmates had a great time (and a great view).
  • Walk through/along with the parade. You see everything faster this way, and get to dance around and stuff (I didn’t do this, I stood in one spot).
  • Take sunglasses, it can get sunny.
  • Don’t let the kids throw confetti at you — they tend to scoop it off of the ground.
  • Go run over to the beach! It’s so gorgeous.