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.
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:
Caption: “Che piccolo!” (How tiny!)
And Fiona O-Young’s picture of a famous Florentine sculpture, around the corner from AIFS school:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
While most people are familiar with the beauty of Venice & the island of Murano (where the famous Venetian Murano glass is made), not many people find out about Venice’s other island, Burano.
With its colorful houses and hand-crafted lace industry, this island is definitely worth exploring if you have the chance. Check out some photos below of Elizabeth H., one of our AIFS student ambassadors, as she discovers the tiny town of Burano.
We know, we know…as fun and exciting as it can be to study abroad, there comes a time in every study abroad student’s life where they actually need to…you know, STUDY. While some people are perfectly fine studying at home, others seek the quiet refuge of a library or a good cafe in order to get their learnin’ on.
We’ve scoured the city and come up with a list of the best study spots in Florence. Let us know if you’ve visited any of them & what you thought, or if you have a study place to add to our list!
Close to: the Duomo
Via dell’Oriuolo 26 | Tel. 055 261 6512
Hours: Mon. 2pm-7pm, Tues-Sat. 9am-Midnight (Closed Sundays)
This library is one of the best kept secrets in Florence–in fact, the incredible view of the Duomo from the second floor might make it hard for you to study at all! Fully equipped with internet access, quiet areas, and a cafe for those late afternoon snacking needs. Be warned that outlets tend to get snatched pretty quickly, so come prepared with a full battery on your computer.
2. Caffe Letterario
Close to: Piazza Beccaria, Via Ghibellina
Piazza delle Murate | Tel. 055 234 6872
Hours: Mon-Sun. 9am-1am
Set in a quiet courtyard of a former prison, Caffe Letterario is a perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. With both indoor and outdoor space, you’re guaranteed to find a nice secluded place to crack open your books. Also, don’t miss out on the live music that happens in the courtyard in the warmer months or the Sunday brunch specials!
3. Arnold Coffee
Close to: Santa Maria Novella train station
Via degli Avelli 8/Second entrance on Via Panzani
Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, Sun. 9am-8pm
If you’re looking for the Italian equivalent of Starbucks, look no further than Arnold Coffee. This cafe has American-sized lattes, flavored macchiatos, bagels, sandwiches & more, plus the added bonus of free-wifi and a downstairs area with plenty of tables and chairs.
Close to: Piazza Santa Croce, Ponte alle Grazie
Via dei Vagellai 18R | Tel. 055 094 4877
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 12pm-12am, Sun. 12pm-8pm
While it may be hard to find on the first try (the front door is quite plain and can be easily mistaken for just another storage building) this small architecture studio/cafe/bar is a hidden gem tucked away on one of the side streets surrounding the Santa Croce area. If you walk past the bar in the front, you’ll come out into a lovely courtyard decorated with hanging streamers and comfy cushions and chairs surrounding the interior.
5. La Cité
Close to: Santo Spirito, Ponte Carraia Borgo San Frediano 20R | Tel. 055
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 7:30 am-1am, Fri. 7:30am-2am, Sat. 10am-2am, Sun. 3pm-1am
Definitely more of a “hipster” location than its counterparts, La Cité is located on the Oltrarno side of Florence and reminds us of many of San Francisco’s independent bookstore/cafe/art studio combos. There’s plenty of space to spread out, have a coffee, surf the internet and generally just chill out and take your time with those homework assignments.
6. The AIFS Study Center!
Piazza dei Peruzzi 1
Hours: Mon-Thurs. 8:30am-6:30pm, Fri. 10am-4pm, Closed weekends
While you’re here, you might as well take advantage of our AIFS study center. All computer and printing materials are of course free of charge, plus you get the additional bonus of our awesome AIFS Staff to keep you company and answer any questions for you while you’re doing your homework!