Some study-abroad students are so eager to travel and see as many different countries and cities as possible, that it can be easy to overlook all that Florence really has to offer. As a semester-abroad student, I do understand this desire to check off all of the major sites off of your bucket list, in such a short period of time. But, I strongly suggest taking some time occasionally, at least during the week, to do as the Florentines do and really get to know your temporary home. After all, this really is such a culturally-rich city, and by taking the time to experience its beauty, you will gain an even bigger appreciation for it. Trust me, it really is worth it!
So, if you are wondering how to best immerse yourself in Florence’s culture, I have a few suggestions which will make you feel like a true Italian.
Take a Ceramics-Painting Class:
As organized through FASA, a group of us were able to channel our inner artist through this really fun and informational ceramics-painting class! Our instructor, Enzo, gave us a little background on the history of ceramics and its importance in Florence. This was a really cool activity to take part in, being that the production of ceramics first began in a little town called Montelupo, just outside of Florence’s city centre. Potteries from Montelupo played such a big role in the Renaissance, as the rich families in Florence had a large desire for these ceramic masterpieces. That is why you will be sure to pass by several ceramic stores filled with intricately designed pottery, while walking through the streets of Florence
Each of us had our own work station, including our own personal spinning table, aprons, and paint brushes, to really help us pretend that we were potters for the night. Step by step, Enzo instructed us on how to paint the traditional (and probably most simple), design on our ceramic plates. Once we got to the center of the plate, he gave us the option of choosing which design we wanted as our focal point. Many people chose to paint the Florentine crest, while we could also choose to paint grapes or a rooster. Thankfully, he gave us a template for this design, as they can be difficult for a beginner to paint from scratch.
My hand was definitely a tad shaky at first, as it’s been a little while since the last time I actually held a paintbrush in my hand. But, it really felt good to let our creative minds wander and take our heads out of our laptops or textbooks for a little while. You will be really surprised by the outcome of your artwork. Even if you feel like you painted outside of the lines once or twice, you will probably be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of your artwork! You might even be able to trick your friends and family into thinking that you bought it from a ceramics store in town!
Take a Tuscan Cooking Class:
We all know that Italians take their food very seriously. We cannot complain about this though, because they do prepare the best food around. So, what better place is there to learn how to cook from a professional chef or full-time nonna, than Italy?
The class that I took was through Walkabout Tours, and they took us to a Tuscan farmhouse in the hills of Florence. The location was absolutely beautiful, and really got you in the mood to prepare traditional Tuscan food, right in the heart of Tuscany
If you ever decide to take this class, make sure to come hungry, because you are about to eat more than you probably ever have in one sitting. We started off preparing bruschetta (Tuscan bread with fresh tomatoes), which held us over while we continued to cook the rest of the meal. Next, we began preparing the Tuscan ragu, which is a very traditional sauce made with meat, tomatoes, and the holy trinity (onions, carrots, and celery). The class was fairly large, so we took turns cutting the ingredients and stirring the pot of sauce. While that was cooking, we made homemade tagliatelle pasta, which was probably my favorite part! It was surprisingly very simple, and I definitely recommend trying it for yourself at home! After that, we made our own pizza, which was perfectly cooked within one minute in the brick oven outside. And if you thought that already sounds like a lot of food, we then prepared pork and roasted potatoes. To end on a sweet note, we made not just one-but two desserts (Tiramisu and almond gelato)!
It may be obvious that grapes are a commonly harvested product in Italy; but many people don’t realize that olive production in Italy is so prominent as well! After all, one of the Italians’ most cherished products is made from olives-olive oil!
This was another fun activity organized through FASA! We were able to get a great tour of one of the production facilities, where olives are crushed and extracted into olive oil on a daily basis. It was so cool to see the process in action, and to be able to actually taste the final product. Spoiler Alert: You have not tasted good olive oil until you have had Italy’s genuine extra virgin olive oil. The cheap olive oil that we are all guilty of buying at the supermarket is made with a blend of olives from several different countries throughout Europe, and won’t guarantee you the best taste or quality. The genuine extra virgin olive oil is produced from olives picked from a single olive grower’s trees in a specified region. Once you taste the difference, you will probably think twice about picking up that cheap bottle from the market (but we are students, so it’s acceptable for us to compensate the quality for the budget price once in a while).
We were also taken to an olive tree farm, where we even got the chance to pick a few olives ourselves! In exchange for all of the hard work that we did picking olives, a traditional Tuscan meal was awaiting our arrival. All of the dishes were made with olive oil, even the cake at the end of the meal! This activity will be sure to increase your appreciation for olives, and may even make you an olive-oil connoisseur.
Attend a Fiorentina Soccer Game
Known as football in Italy, this is probably the most important sport for the locals, who love to show their team pride and support. Even if you don’t love watching soccer, this is still a really fun event to attend, just for the atmosphere and experience of it. It is cool to see how dedicated some of the Italians are to their local team and to see the comradery that they all bring to the game. A few of us were so entertained from watching a little 5 year old boy cheering and waving the Fiorentina flag, that our attention was taken away from the game for a little while. It was just so interesting and exciting to see that this enthusiasm for the city starts at such a young age; it’s amazing!