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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.