What to do in Florence on Easter

Italy is still a traditionally Catholic Country and, therefore, Easter (Pasqua) means a lot more than just fluffy bunnies and Easter Egg Hunts.  Interesting fact: Easter Monday is affectionately called “Pasquetta” (little Easter) and is also considered a holiday.  The Italians usually use this day to spend time with their nearest and dearest, so expect things to be a bit on the quieter side!

The main event of a Florentine Easter is definitely the Scoppio del Carro, or Explosion of the Cart (and yes, you read that right-they blow up a cart with fireworks!).  On the morning of Easter Sunday, the Piazza del Duomo becomes packed with Italians, tourists & Florentines who all come out to witness the fantastic fireworks display that happens when the Carro gets ignited.  Dating back to the 12th century, the display is complete with a historical parade involving trumpeters, drummers & flag-throwers all decked out in traditional medieval costumes.  The Carro is pulled by 4 enormous white oxen with garlands of flowers draped around their horns, starting from Porta al Prato and eventually winding its way to the steps of the Duomo.  Once it arrives at the Duomo, a mechanical dove is lit by a priest and flies along a wire stretched from the altar to the cart outside, setting off an explosion of fireworks.  Legend has it that if all goes according to plan, then the year’s harvests will be plentiful!

Here is a schedule of the day’s events:

 8:00 AM— The Carro di Fuoco leaves the Piazzale della Porta al Prato, heading down Via il Prato, Borgo Ognissanti, Piazza Goldoni, Via della Vigna Nuova, Via Strozzi, Piazza della Repubblica and Via Roma to finish in Piazza del Duomo.

9:15 AM–A procession of Uffizi flag-throwers will leave the Palagio di Parte Guelfa (tucked just behind the Piazza di Mercato Nuovo) and head down Via Pellicceria, ending up in Piazza della Repubblica where they’ll put on an exhibition of flag-throwing and music.  They will then join up with the processional coming down fron Porta al Prato.

10:00 AM–Arrival of the procession bringing the Carro di Fuoco in front of the Duomo.  Once the Carro  has arrived, there will then be a lottery drawing to determine the groups for the famous Calcio Storico football tournament this summer.

11:00 AM— The show begins, lasting about 20 minutes.

In addition, there will be a special Easter mass being held at the Duomo on Sunday. At 10:15 am in the Baptistry, there will be the Office of Terce-The Asperges-the Introit Procession.  At 11:00 am in the Cathedral, there will be the Celebration of the Eucharist, followed by the traditional Scoppio del Carro & Papal blessing with plenary indulgence.  At 6pm on Easter Sunday, there will be evening Mass.

So wherever you are in Florence during Easter weekend, we hope that you get to experience the traditions of the city!

 

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Photo Challenge: Documenting Florence

As our student ambassadors to reflect on all they’ve seen and done here in their 3 months studying abroad in Italy, we asked them to submit some photographs documenting Florence and of course, a photo of themselves!  It was difficult choosing the best photo among all of the great submissions, but after a heated debate, here are the winners:

Kaitlin J. with her self-portrait in front of the Duomo:

kaitlin jann self portrait

 

Caption: “Che piccolo!” (How tiny!)

And Fiona O-Young’s picture of a famous Florentine sculpture, around the corner from AIFS school:

fiona oyoung photo of statueCaption:

This statue is so emotionally gripping and drastic. The twisting figures and the image of a girl being grabbed and about to be taken away (even though in this case it’s not a positive departure; the piece is called The Rape of Polyxena ).

Putting aside the statues mythological content, I can interpret this statue as a call to adventure, which is the beckoning of an adventure to a “hero.”

Joseph Campbell writes:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”

    I’m a 19-year-old student living away from home for the first time. I’ve ventured from my common day into what feels like a supernatural wonder. I feel like I’ve been stolen into an adventure, and can sometimes feel a secret burst of exhilaration that I’m living in Florence; I’m living an adventure.

Both of these photos perfectly captured the juxtaposition of life in Florence, with the normally massive size of the Duomo shrunken into a tiny toy-sized object and a beautiful image of some of the artwork that makes Florence into an outdoor museum.  Great job, ladies!

 

Thoughts on a Semester Abroad

“Its getting to the bitter end, not but a fortnight remains. It’s interesting how I am already beginning to look back on my experience here as though it has already long since past. Yet I am still here, and I am constantly reminding myself that I still have time left but it feels like I am grasping at every minute to just linger a little longer.” 

Being a Tourist in Florence

Written by: Brigitte F.

Well, the end of the semester is inching closer and closer… And I realize there are still a number of things I have to do here in Florence! Don’t get me wrong, I have seen and visited many places and learned a lot about my Italian hometown. But there are a few typical tourist actions I’d like to complete before leaving. This past week I had to the chance to check a few off!

cascine park

I walked to the Flea Market in Cascine Park with a few other study abroad students. We found some great buys for cheap prices. We dug through mountains of miscellaneous clothing to discover hidden gems. My favorite booths were the ones with the tables piled with random articles of clothing all for 1 euro each.

brigitte at top of duomo

I climbed the cupola of Il Duomo!

AIFS offered a ticket for only 5 euro that could be used to: climb the dome of Il Duomo, get into the excavations below the Cathedral, receive entrance into the Baptistery, climb the Campanile and entrance into the museum right behind Il Duomo- Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. It was a great deal! The morning I planned on utilizing the ticket I accidentally slept a little later than I meant to and had to wait in line for a couple hours… but the wait was completely worth it! Two other students and I climbed up the winding, stone staircase all the way to the top of Il Duomo. Man, what an amazing panoramic view of the city. I’m glad I climbed it towards the end of the program because I was able to recognize different buildings and connect memories from throughout my trip with them. It’s amazing how everything looks so much closer together from up there.

baptistry of duomo

We also went into the Baptistery and gazed at the beautiful Byzantine style mosaics and marveled at the fact that the building is about 1,000 years old! It was on one of our slide quizzes for art history so it will be forever stuck in our brains. It was funny to memorize information about these buildings, sculptures and paintings because we pass by them often and can actually see them in person. I love having so much art within walking distance.

After the Baptistery we went into the Cathedral and below the floor into the excavations, Santa Reparata. We walked through ruins of the basilica that Il Duomo is built on top off. It’s an
interesting experience to see history on top off history. In America we’re used to one building being demolished to make room for another, but in Europe they just built on top of old buildings if they wanted to use the space.

And then, time for more stairs! We hiked up the steps of the
Campanile and got another awesome view of Florence and the Cathedral. We got a great leg work-out and beautiful outlook from a historical site!

view of florence from the duomo

Afterwards I went into the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the museum connected with Il Duomo. Unfortunately it’s undergoing construction so only a few things are on display currently. It was still a good visit because I got to see another Michelangelo sculpture- I have to see them while I can! And I finally saw  the magnificent Gates of Paradise. I learned about these in my high school art history class and again this semester- it’s so rewarding to be able to view the artwork you study. I feel so much more connected to the art history I have learned about.

michelangelo pieta

gates of paradise

I also did an optional extra walking tour of Florence focused around its “curiosities”. We learned about interesting legends, funny stories, ghosts and other Florentine information not as commonly known to tourists and students alike.

Speaking of tourists, it seems that the streets of Florence have grown busy overnight. The weather is getting warmer and visitors are arriving in the city from all over. It’s getting pretty busy here, a huge contrast from when we first arrived in January!

So I’ve got those experiences under my belt… But I still have to go into some more churches and museums before I leave. I could spend a year here and still not experience or see everything; I’m very glad for everything I have been able to do in and out of Florence so far though. I have grown so comfortable and fond of this city. Only two weeks left here!

Amalfi Coast: A Weekend in Southern Italy

The Amalfi coast in the region of Campania is one of the most visited areas in all of Southern Italy, and it’s easy to see why after spending a weekend in the beautiful towns of Sorrento, Capri, Pompei & climbing up Mount Vesuvius.  

This weekend, we took a group of 57 students from different programs down to the Amalfi Coast: NCSAC (our Northern California Study Abroad Consortium), SDICCA (our San Diego & Imperial County Community College Association), and Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.  Our hotel was located in the little town of Sant’Agnello, just next to Sorrento, with a gorgeous view overlooking the bay.

photo 6

 

It was a short bus ride and a steep walk down the staircase built into the cliffs to get the port of Sorrento on Friday morning, where we took a ferry over to the island of Capri.  By 11:30 am, we were relaxing on a private guided boat tour around the island, enjoying the spectacular views of the many grottos and  the crystal clear blue waters surrounding the island.

photo 1

 

photo 3

 

photo 2

 

After the boat tour, the students split off into different directions to explore the island.  While some people enjoyed the freshly squeezed lemon & orange juice slushies known as granitas in the center of Capri Town, others took the bus over to Anacapri and rode the chairlift up to Monte Solaro, the highest point of the island.  After enjoying the views from the top, one of our students made a new friend while waiting for the bus to go back down to the Marina Grande port.

photo 5

 

On Saturday, everyone was free to explore the surrounding area on their own, so a big group of students headed off to the train station trying to decide where to go first.  A few students decided to visit Naples for the day, with a stop off first to check out the ancient Roman ruins at Herculaneum.  Other students decided to take advantage of the sunshine and visit the towns of Positano & Amalfi, where they spent the day relaxing on the beaches.

Sunday morning we set off for our guided tour of Pompei. Our guides showed us around the highlights of this ancient ruined city, from the preserved amphitheater to the Casa del Fauno, one of the villas that still has its original mosaic-tiled floors.

photo 9

photo 8

 

After eating one last delicious Napoli-style pizza, we hopped back on our private bus and made the winding drive up to the summit of Mount Vesuvius.  Once we arrived, we strapped on our hiking shoes and trekked up to the very top of the volcano, admiring the views of the gulf of Naples and staring straight into the mouth of the beast that destroyed an entire town in 79 AD.

It was a long and action-packed weekend, and by the time we arrived back at the Naples train station everyone was looking forward to being back in Firenze.  Within a few hours on the fast train, we’d left behind the Amalfi Coast and were back in the heart of the Renaissance, exhausted but content at having seen such a beautiful region of Italy.

 

Croatia & Budapest: Spring Break in Europe

Written by: Brigitte F.

I returned home to Florence this past Monday after an amazing spring break trip to Croatia and Hungary. I know I can’t express how awesome my experience was, but I’ll try! I traveled by bus on Friday the 7th  to Ancona, a city on the coast of Italy, to take an overnight ferry across the Adriatic sea to Split. While waiting at the ferry station, I met another American who is currently backpacking through Europe. He was also going to Split and we both were staying at the same hostel so we traveled together. I had planned on going by myself but it was a really nice surprise to make a friend with the same travel plans so easily and quickly.

croatia2

 

We arrived in Split early Saturday morning and found our hostel. The Tchaikovsky Hostel in Split has very comfortable rooms, spacious lockers, clean bathrooms, and a friendly, helpful owner. It’s in a great location; I walked down to the water in the morning and explored the city, main sites, and surrounding area easily. We made more friends with other hostel guests and enjoyed Split together.

We wandered around the city, strolled through markets and explored Diocletian’s ancient Roman palace. I swam in the Adriatic Sea almost everyday I was there; the sun was shining and the water refreshing.

croatia3

I decided to stay longer in Split and cut off time in Zagreb after talking to travelers who had been there and suggested less time spent in the capital. I really enjoyed the time relaxing and soaking up the sun in Split for about four days and it was a great experience to make new friends with fellow travelers.

After staying one night in Zagreb, my new friend and I traveled by train to Budapest. We met up with his buddy who he is backpacking with and we explored Budapest together. Everywhere you turn there are buildings rich in history and beautiful architecture. It gets redundant, but all of the places I have visited have picturesque art and architecture and interesting history.

We walked along the the river, across the bridges, and past castles. We climbed to a good outlook over Budapest and wandered around on both sides of the Danube. We found St. Stephen’s Basilica and walked through the inside gazing at the ornately decorated interior. There was so much detail, color and images to view; once again I recognized a lot in the art from my classes and could appreciate it more.

budapest

 

We stopped at the Heroes’ Square; it was built in 1896 and commemorates the 1000th of the founding of arrival of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin, basically the founding of Hungary.

 

The Szechenyi Thermal Baths were relaxing; we waded in a large outdoor pool, sweated in a sauna and tried out different indoor baths.

budapest2

It was easy to befriend more people at the hostel and interesting to hear everyone’s stories. I really enjoy just exploring the city and experiencing the culture; I definitely could have spent more than three nights in Budapest.

Travelling home took a little while and presented a few challenges, but I made it! I left Budapest at 6 AM Sunday morning, took a train, then a bus, then a ferry, then two more buses before reaching my destination. When I finally got home to Florence it was a relief to be in a familiar, comfortable place; but I had an amazing time traveling so it was bittersweet. Both Croatia and Hungary are pretty inexpensive places and definitely worth the trip. I had so many great experiences and learned about other cultures and myself. Just writing about it right now makes me miss the beautiful coast of Split and exciting city of Budapest. I’m not doing my trip justice by this blog, but it’ll have to do. If you ever get the chance, go to Croatia, swim in the Adriatic Sea and explore Budapest!

Capodanno Fiorentino 2014: A Florentine New Year

In order to understand why Florence celebrates their own Capodanno, or New Year’s, on the 25th of March, we must go back into history to the year 1582 when the invention of the Gregorian calendar changed the landscape of European history.  Although the beginning date of the new year was shifted to the 1st of January by the new Gregorian calendar, Florentines continued to celebrate their “new year” on March 25th, a date which undoubtedly was not chosen at random: it’s exactly 9 months before Christmas.

This date also coincides with the date in which the Catholic Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.  What does that mean for the city of Florence?  Well, the Basilica di Santissima Annunziata will be at the center of the day’s festivities, with particular attention on the fresco inside the church that represents the Annunciation.

According to legends, the artist commissioned to paint the fresco could not paint the face of the Virgin.  An angel then went to help him and completed the painting of Mary, therefore it is the painting itself that gives the church its name and which is still preserved inside.

During the Florentine Capodanno (New Year), a historical parade will wind through the streets of the city center, starting at the Palagio di Parte Guelphi through Piazza Repubblica, the Duomo & finally on to Piazza SS. Annunziata to give white lilies as homage to the miraculous portrait of the Virgin Mary.

Despite a decree from the Grand Duke Francis III of Lorraine issued in 1749 that officially changed the start of the New Year for Florentine’s to January 1st, the city continues to celebrate this traditional day 250 years later.

 You can catch all the excitement at 3:30 pm starting from just behind Piazza Repubblica.  The historical parade will wind through the main squares of Florence, finishing at the Basilica di Santissima Annunziata at 4:15pm for the homage of the lilies.

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