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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.

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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.

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!”

Visiting the Cinque Terre

Photographs by: Elizabeth M.

Cooking Classes in Florence

Written by: Fiona O.

Hello!

I’ve been wildly busy; my days are filled with schoolwork, friends, food, some sleep, skyping my mom and boyfriend, photography and blogging, weekend trips, and Florence. I’ve finished blogging about Rome! I have Switzerland left, Vinci, Bologna and Prague, as well as the second soccer game, San Gimignano and Siena. I pour my heart and hours of time into my blog, which is why the posts are flowing
s l o w  and steady.

Anyway, today I had my second cooking class at In Tavola! So much fun!!Here’s the link to my first cooking class.

Ingredients! (Those are gluten-free cookies, an adjustment made just for me  ).

My classmates with one of the chefs (the guy on the very right).
My Nor-Cal people: (L-R) Katerina S., Elizabeth M., Kaitlin J., Cameron F., and that one chef-guy. On the left are some of the So-Cal girls also studying abroad with AIFS.
Preparing the eggplant Caprese salad ingredients.

Mixing the gluten-free gnocchi at my table.

Then rolling them out into strips and chopping them up into little pieces!
Fun fact: the gluten-free gnocchi won’t stick to each other like the regular pieces will.
Our instructor Francesco instructing.

The gluten-free gnocchi and eggplant Caprese at my table!!

Elizabeth M. and Cameron F.’s hand trying to ruin her gnocchi-modelling.
Potato Gnocchi in Sugo al’Aglione (Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce).
Francesco demonstrating how to roll up the chocolatey dessert mix that is called “Sweet ‘Salami’.”
(It’s made of sugar, egg yolks, butter, bitter cocoa powder, sweet liquor, and crumbled cookies. They substituted the cookies for gluten-free ones!).
It’s wrapped up in foil, and its shape resembled a piece of salami. It is typically frozen for about 2 hours (but in the restaurant’s super-powerful freezer it only took 20 minutes).
My gluten-free “Sweet Salami” !!
It tasted really good! I had Elizabeth M. taste-test the difference between my gluten-free sweet salami and the regular one — mine tasted chocolatier and she liked it better.
The brave, gluten-free-Italian-cooking AIFS classmates at my table, including Katelyn C., Katie G., Carly B., Jackie P., and Ayla B.
Kaitlin J., Katerina S. and Elizabeth M., my dinner buddies!
I really like the AIFS cooking classes, and the efforts the restaurant (In Tavola) made to adjust to my food-needs was really awesome. I had a great, gluten-free vegetarian dinner with my AIFS people.
The restaurant did remarkably well tolerating me poking into every group to snap pictures and following Francesco about to listen to his instructions to other groups. We ate dinner below the restaurant like last time (see the previous Italian cooking class post here). We even all received little recipe menus afterward, just like last time 🙂
It’s a fun experience — I definitely recommend taking an Italian cooking class, especially through AIFS! Just let AIFS/your program know before-hand if you have any dietary-restrictions 🙂
Tips for Italian cooking classes:
  • Definitely take one!
  • Don’t wear black/clothes you’re worried about getting dirty. It’s unlikely, but it could happen.
  • Don’t walk home alone afterward if it ends late in the evening!!! Have someone walk you. I walked with some AIFS girls that live near my house this time.
  • Bring a jacket for when it gets cold on the way home.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!