So this is it, this will be my last blog post from over 4,000 miles away in my quaint little apartment on Via del Porcellana. Every post I have mentioned how time passes by so quickly, but I guess it’s just the truth. You make plans to do something crazy or something big or out of your comfort zone, like studying abroad for four months or even a year, and then when you do it, it’s over in a blink of an eye. As much as I truly love Florence, I am greatly anticipating my arrival home. Being here was an amazing experience and a wonderful learning opportunity, but home will always be home for me. My parents have just left Italy after their week long stay and time went by even faster when they were here, but that was of course expected. We had a great time as we went to Rome and then traveled our way back to Florence. It was a great experience to have them here because I was able to show them everything that I have learned and what I have been calling my home for these past couple of months. I felt like I knew Florence like the back of my hand and they were able to see how much I gained for this experience. Two days and one long, hot, 16 hour bus ride lead us to Genova, Switzerland for a last minute school trip. We went to Genova to visit the World Trade Organization and the WIPO. We left early Sunday morning and took an 8-hour bus ride to Genova, Switzerland. We checked into the hostel and were given free time to explore the city. We got Starbucks, because that’s clearly what college girls are obliged to do when they haven’t had it for so long. Then we walked around the town and saw the Christmas markets and lights that were hung up all around the stores and streets. We also learned that the Swiss Franc is more than the Euro so we found ourselves at McDonalds for dinner that night. The next morning we were off to the WTO and the WIPO for meetings. We were able to speak with the secretary of the WTO and a director from the WIPO. Both had great first hand knowledge and information to share with us. We learned a lot about both non-profit organizations, what they do and how they are run. After we got back on the bus for another 8 hours and found our way back to Florence. Well, here’s too my last 17 days of calling Italy my home. Finals are coming up and classes are coming to an end. My suitcase is getting fuller and closer to being shut for it’s arrival back home. My experience abroad will truly never be forgotten (and I’m not just being sappy and saying that) it’s just the truth. Now, onto last minute Christmas shopping in the markets, eating as much gelato as I can and taking in the last bits of the Tuscan air.
Florence is obviously very different than New York, for one it’s a small renaissance city in comparison to the busy metropolitan city that is New York. However the differences are more than just that, everything from classes to mass transit and of course the food is different.
- The food is not only better but also cheaper – unlike New York good food is very easy to come by, you can pretty much find it everywhere. The food especially from bars, the Italian coffee shop, is cheap; lunch probably won’t cost more than five or six euros. Even the food you find in the stores is better, Italians have a deep love for food and it shows, they demand the best and they get it.
- It’s a lot prettier – This may seemed a little bit biased, but it is true. This is partially due to the age of a lot of the buildings and the craftsmanship that has been put into their construction. It makes for amazing apartment views that seem like there a painting and not your view.
- Coffee lovers rejoice – The Italians are coffee people which means that not only is the coffee really good it’s also a lot less expensive than coffee in the US is, for example a cappuccino is only € 1.20.
- You can walk everywhere – or close to it, Florence is a small city, which means that if you can’t walk to where your going you can definitely bike to it. Florence also has a great bus system that is both inexpensive and fast.
- ART! – Florence is known as the birthplace of the renaissance for a reason, you can simply walk around and see the history of the city around you. There are also a multitude of museums around the city that have major works of art in them.
- Smaller classes – Florence is a smaller program than New York so there will be less people in your classes. For me I think the most I have is twenty, but my major related classes only have six people. This means more space to work and more time per student from your teachers.
- Closer Knit School – in total there are about 70 people studying in Florence, and because of FASA events we are much more of a group than in New York where the amount of students means you will never know everyone, or even close to it.
- You will get sick of Italian food – turns out there is a limit to the amount of pasta one can eat. However Florence doesn’t have the variety of food that you can find in the US, which is sad. On the plus side once someone finds say a good Chinese food place word spreads fast.
- You will walk a lot – for me it takes about twenty minutes to get pretty much anywhere, be it school, the supermarket, or the city center. Walking this much can be tiring and it does mean that you need to plan your time better. There are also a lot of stairs here and very few elevators.
- There is no Netflix or Hulu – if you are a TV person like me this can be a crushing blow, because nether site is technically speaking allow to stream content in Italy. So plan ahead bring your favorite movies with you or buy season passes of your favorite TV shows.
- Tea people and Starbucks lovers beware – there are no Starbucks in Florence, there is only one ‘American coffee’ place in the whole city and it doesn’t even come close. Tea can also be hard to find, it your not to picky your supermarket will sell tea but it’s so so. Personally I found a teashop, which is where I now buy my tea but if you like tea bring at least some with you.
- Store hours are very different – In Italy stores aren’t open as late, most places with close by eight at the latest and on Sundays count on them only being open for a half day this includes most supermarkets. Places will also close for lunch, this can be for only and hour or up to three. Bottom line look at the store hours for the places you go most often it will save you time and hassle in the long run.
One of the best parts of studying abroad has been the encouragement that FIT provides to be sure that you are seeing everything and traveling as much as possible. This encouragement exists in a few aspects while studying in New York, but in Florence, it’s pushing you every single day to get out and see all that you can. For example the school set up a trip this past Friday and Saturday to Rome. During this short stay, we fit as much sight seeing into 36 hours as you could possibly imagine.
We hopped on an 8:50 am train on Friday morning and arrived in Rome just a short hour and a half later. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we began a day filled with walking and sight seeing. The Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica proved to be as amazing as one could imagine. Religious or not, I have found that the sense of magic found among beautiful places of worship is astounding. While in Rome, this magic was felt often. After viewing the Vatican from the outside and sending a few postcards specifically from Vatican City (it is it’s own entity) on our own, we went through a tour guided by our own Renaissance art teachers through the Vatican Museum, ending at the one and only Sistine Chapel. As we traveled through the immense Vatican Museum, the rooms got more interesting and more incredible as we went. Raphael’s four rooms, decorated top to bottom in meticulous, famous frescoes, were incredible. Despite being jam-packed with tourists led by guides holding flags above their heads, the rooms were astounding to look at. As we learned about images we had seen previously in classrooms, they loomed in front of our faces, massive and colorful.
The final destination of the Vatican Museum was the Sistine Chapel. As we entered, I felt anticipation in my belly. This is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel. To say that the room was mind-blowing is an understatement. How in the world did an artist lie flat on his back and paint a ceiling of that size?! Did his arm not hurt?! I just could not understand it. A priest came in to remind us that the chapel is, in fact, a holy area and that we should take note and keep our voices down. He then gathered us in a short prayer, first in Italian and then in English. I was prayed to while in the Sistine Chapel, in Rome, under one of the most famous and jaw dropping works of art in the world… when did my life become this unreal?!
In the evening, my friends and I visited the lit-up Colosseum and stood looking at it entranced. Construction for the Colosseum started in 70 AD… that’s over 2000 years ago. I can barely imagine being 30, yet I was standing in front of a building older than anything I have ever seen or could have ever imagined.
On Saturday, we visited multiple museums, saw a ton of art, and trekked around Rome. I was lucky enough to light a candle in the Santa Maria Maggiore, the oldest church in Rome, see some of Caravaggio’s works in La Galleria Doria Pamphilij, and learn about ancient Roman ruins, left to be viewed, despite Rome modernizing a city around them. Though construction made my Lizzie McGuire moment at the Trevi Fountain impossible, I was still extremely content with Rome and all it’s ancient wonders and treasures that I am fortunate enough to have seen.
Five weeks of hanging out in Florence and relaxing has been an amazing reprieve from the crazy traveling I did at the beginning of the semester and that I am picking back up on this weekend as the semester comes to a close. Florence holds hundreds of treasures that can easily be overlooked when you are eager to travel to other countries and cities. Similar to New York City, if you get used to living there and into the routine of every day life, you forget sometimes to go out and see what is offered. One would think that being in Florence would alter that mindset, but there’s still schoolwork that needs to be done, days when you oversleep, or rainy weather to keep you inside, rather than out and discovering. Even living in a foreign country, life still becomes semi-routined.
A few weeks ago I trekked over to Palazzo Pitti to go to the Boboli Gardens. We have been to the costume gallery in Palazzo Pitti in class, but I had yet to travel into the expanse of lands beyond the palace that was once occupied by a wealthy family living there many years ago. It was a sunny day and a burst of extra warm weather, so I went with friends to see what the Boboli Gardens had to offer. We get in for free with our museum cards, which makes it easy to pop into places for just an hour or two if you don’t have the full day. The Boboli Gardens astounded me in just a few hours.
The expanse of well-manicured land complete with fountains, statues, and trails is gorgeous. Along the more traveled paths, it is elegant and incredibly maintained. It’s easy to imagine the Renaissance wealth that this family had who occupied this space. As you wander to the left or right, you come across small dirt paths, shielded by branches creating an awning over your head and shading you from the sun. It seems like a setting that you would find in a Taylor Swift music video as she treks through wooded areas with a gorgeous boy in tow—I mean I can imagine the guy will pop up, right? As we winded through the trails, simply picking left or right to determine which we direction we would go, I wish we had come a bit more prepared. Couples, friends, and families were laying on blankets, enjoying picnic lunches or reading while they relaxed in patches of sun or shade depending on preference. It was a setting you can barely come up with in your imagination, with views of Florence’s city center in one direction and the rolling hills beyond the city in another direction. A gem that’s well-known to tourists, yet amazingly hidden and not crowded even on a sunny Saturday, it was the perfect place to let my wanderlust ridden self explore.
Since setting foot in the Boboli Gardens, there has been about a week of rain and cloudy skies to keep me from heading back. Last weekend, we made the most of a cloudy day by first attended a tour of a hat factory set up by the school. For only ten euro, we met at the tram stop and traveled to a factory that has been family owned for four generations. We toured the factory and then made out own hats. An adorable man and business owner informed us that designers such as Chanel, Pucci, and Stella McCartney contact them first to inquire about high-end hats. He even told us that they created the well-known and now famous hat worn by the singer whose name he couldn’t remember… as we guessed who it might be with no luck, he finally pointed to a picture. Ohhhh. They made the Pharrell hat and this little Italian man didn’t even know Pharrell’s name. Only in Florence.
As we sat on the tram donning our newly made hats, we tried to come up with what we should do with the rest of our day, since the rain was holding up. With spontaneity that my usual, planned self didn’t even know existed, we headed to the train station and bought tickets for the next train to Lucca, a city within walls, just an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Florence. We missed the first train, had to wait in an exceptionally long line for train tickets, and then got fined for not validating the ticket prior to getting on the train (I thought you only had to validate bus tickets… talk about the feeling of misinformed American). By the time we pulled into Lucca we were literally running away from the train in relief that we actually made it to the destination. We rented bikes from the first shop we saw for just four euro and then rode on top of the city walls that enclose Lucca. The sun was setting and the sky was pink as we pedaled through yellow leaves that had fallen from the fall-colored trees. Florence has so few trees that we reveled in a fall atmosphere that reminded us of home. It was a beautiful evening with just the slightest chill in the air.
We biked and then spent a few hours walking around, before getting gelato, and enjoying a much more relaxed ride home (validation of tickets = no fine). It was a perfect day spent making perfect memories, similar to many of my days here in Italy. You don’t have to travel far, or at all, to see beauty here. As long as you’re open to looking, you’ll find it everywhere you go.
The crisp fall air finally fell over Florence early one October morning, and it wasn’t until then that I realized that this won’t be my home for much longer. The rocky cobblestone streets, the scenic views of the Arno river, and the “out of a movie scene” musicians playing their accordions outside of my apartment will soon become memories, but great memories at that. The opportunities and experiences that I have had since that day I stepped off the plane in late August have been anything but unreal. With learning a new culture, traveling over 4,000 miles away from home and experiencing something you only get once has been an experience words can’t describe.
Being here in Italy, or in Europe for that matter, has taught me a lot of things I never thought possible (but really). You are faced with certain situations you never really thought about. Whether it be as simple as communicating with a native or dealing with something at home that you have no control over. Things get tough and thats when you realize that you are forced to be independent and learn how to handle things. When coming to Italy for longer than a vacations stay of time you have to be prepared to expect the worst. Whether it be your computer hard-drive crashing, your credit card being stolen or coping with a lost one at home it is never easy, but with the help of good friends and professors by your side everyday gets easier with whatever challenge you may face.
Enjoying the time I have left, I have attended some great school events since the last time I wrote. I attended a cooking class that was phenomenal, the EuroChocolate festival that was delicious (and I probably ate more chocolate than I should have) and a very exciting Fiorentina soccer game. More recently, we went to the Gucci factory and never in a million years would I have pictured myself witnessing a multitude of Gucci artisans hard at work constructing an iconic pair of Gucci Loafers. From the very first step of cutting the leather to the final phase of shining the shoes was an unbelievable experience. I now of course want my own pair of $600 Gucci Loafers, but that’s another story.
Before my trips ends, in sadly less than two months, I am trying to take in as much of the European beauty as I can. I have plans to travel to Paris, Rome, and Switzerland before I leave for America come December 20th. So unfortunately, I guess time does fly when you’re having fun, but I know I will be back soon especially since I touched the Il Porcellino (a statue/fountain of a bronze boar) here in Florence as it is an old tradition that if you touch it you will find your way back to the city. Until next time!