Tag Archives: florence

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.
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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!”

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!

 

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!

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.

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.