Last weekend 35 Fashion Business Management (FBM) students had a short academic trip to Venice, easily accessible by a two hour train ride. Leaving on Sunday and returning the next day, we packed a lot of things in just the span of two days!
Venice is a small town north of Florence, built on water, so most get around by waterbus. Venice and its surrounding islands are known for their gondolas, Murano glass, and Burano lace!
Upon arrival, we dropped off our bags and then immediately went to a site visit at Louis Vuitton. The store recently opened in 2013, and our guide was able to share more information with us about Frank Gehry LV Foundation, which is an art museum and cultural exhibit located in Paris, France.
The store was beautiful, decadent with their classic merchandise and the exhibit was crisp, clean, and simple. The exhibit, designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 2014 and runs as a nonprofit entity of the company.
After our visit, we were able to grab a quick slice of pizza (followed by a gelato, of course) and then we had an information session at a classic Venetian mask making store.
It was so cool to learn about the history of Venetian masks (often worn to hide one’s identity) and the way in which they are worn today, most popular in February during Carnivale.
After our session, some of us signed up through Florence Abroad Student Activities (FASA) to make our very own masks! There were so many different options for sizes, shapes, colors and designs! We all had a blast showing our more creative sides in order to create a personalized one. Hopefully those who are staying for the year are able to sport them at Carnivale!
Venice Day 1 concluded shortly thereafter…and I’ll let Maria tell you more in next week’s post about our fun-filled second day!
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:
A few examples of painted ceramic plates!
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
Learning the history of Ceramics in 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.
Our Final Product!
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 Tuscan Ragu cooking in the kitchen!
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
Fresh pizza coming out of the brick oven!
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)!
Freshly cut tagliatelle
The olives before they are processed into olive oil
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!
It happened. The impossible actually happened. It’s halfway through the semester, midterms are over and you can take a (slight) sigh of relief, and you realize…you might actually miss New York City.
Sure New York’s loud, fast-paced streets, sky-high buildings have nothing on the tranquility of Italy’s cultured architecture dating back centuries and laid back lifestyle, but it happened.
I would be lying to you if I said this doesn’t happen to everyone. A common misconception is that every moment abroad is perfect. Sure being abroad is a truly life changing experience, but every moment is not perfect. You must remember to take care of yourself, physically, but especially mentally.
Here’s my go to list when you’re missing the Big Apple or signs of the good, ole United States…
Health: A walk along the Arno River
Florence’s Arno reminds me of walking along the Hudson (and if you squint your eyes, it’s kind of the same…right?) Talking a walk clears your mind and it’s always good to get some fresh air in between long studying sessions. Plus, once you get one glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio, you can’t help but smile. Hint: for ample results, grab a pizza (or gelato) along the way.
Food: Diner Style
I feel slightly guilty suggesting to go to an American-themed restaurant when you’re in Italy, BUT if you’re really missing some classics (bagels, french fries, hamburgers, the whole nine) Florence happens to have some really good alternatives! The Diner in Santa Croce and the 1950’s American Diner near Piazza Santa Maria Novella are some favorites amongst abroad students. Go for a milkshake and fries and never look back!
Art/Culture: A Night at the Museum
Italy, especially Florence happens to be the home of some of the greatest museums in the world! If you’re a museum snob like myself, you’ll find some great ones right here. Get your fix of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and so many others at the Uffizi Gallery. Plus, you get some amazing views of the Ponte Vecchio.
Coffee: Cup of Joe
So I might be the only person in the history of ever that doesn’t like coffee, however, Arnold’s Coffee right next to Piazza Santa Maria Novella has authentic American coffee (in addition to tea and pastries!) If that isn’t enough to convince you, there is literally a giant poster of New York City as soon as you walk in. When you’re missing the big city, grab your coffee and chill while seeing the Empire State building!
Stores: Shop ‘til you Drop
Europe has some authentic and unique boutiques, but they also have some familiar stores! What do Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, H&M, or Zara all have in common? Well, for one – they have all store locations right here in Florence! So if you want some familiarity of a home shopping experience, it can still happen here!
While all of these tips might help your longing for New York (or home), I urge you all to enjoy all the more authentic experiences that this special country has to offer. Remember, what your feeling is totally normal. One of my favorite quotes reads, “Everyday might not be good, but there is something good in everyday.”
Remain positive and remember how lucky you are to be experiencing the ups and downs of studying abroad. It is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m sure once we go back, we’ll be longing to be in this exact moment!