adventures in italy (and other musings)
I'm a college sophomore studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I like art and history. And writing. And food. And sometimes just getting caught up in the wonder of life.

Leaning Towers and Floating Churches: A Whirlwind Architectural Tour of Italy

April 6, 2014

Ever since gaining a brief introduction to architecture in a middle school “design and construction” course, I’ve been interested in the concept of creating a building as a work of art. While my utter lack of artistic talent and inability to draw a straight line has made any serious architectural study impossible, I was excited to find a joint art history-architecture seminar being offered during my semester here in Florence. Thus far, it’s been an absolutely fascinating experience – this is an area that I’ve never really had the opportunity to study before, and so each class seems to open my eyes to so many new ideas. Realizing how much the construction of the structures in which we inhabit is intentional, meaningful, and truly inventive – it really changes the way that you look at the world. Not to mention how refreshing it is to spend a bit of time studying and appreciating something other than artwork for a bit!

So, I was very excited to go on our class trip, this past weekend. I had heard many stories from the architecture students about the intensity of architecture field trips – because unlike art history trips, where you can just go to one or two museums and see a wealth of famous artworks, architecturally significant buildings and monuments are spread out across the entire city (and country!), and so it takes an almost-inhuman amount of travel in order to see even a sampling. And architecture professors are known for their determination – and stamina! The schedule for this weekend certainly lived up to such expectations. We were to visit five different Italian cities in just three days: Pisa, Lucca, Prato, Padua, and Venice. I was certainly excited to be able to see so many new cities (and to revisit some old favorites!), but it definitely sounded daunting. And it was indeed a lot of travel – but well worth it!

On Friday morning, we met early to take a private car to Pisa. It was a bit of a funny situation, as there were going to be only three of us students with the professor for the day – the vast majority of the students in the class were in the architecture program, which had a separate field trip that day, so they would be meeting us in the evening to continue the trip all together. But for that day, it would be a very intimate seminar! Nevertheless, it couldn’t have been more fun. The weather was a bit grey in Pisa, but the Campo di Miracoli (where the famous Leaning Tower is located) was as stunning as ever. We were able to climb the tower – a very disorienting experience, given just how much it leans: I found myself swaying almost drunkenly from the left wall to the right wall as the stairs spiraled diagonally upwards. The tower is actually much shorter than I had imagined – but the views from the top were still excellent!

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Bit of Unexpected Beauty: Florentine Street Art

April 2, 2014

I’ve come to realize that one of my favorite things to do, whether at home or abroad, is simply to walk. Whenever I’m at home, I’ll take almost daily afternoon walks with my little dog, in slow, simple loops around our familiar neighborhood. And almost from my first week in Florence, I have found myself drawn to the streets. Italian evenings are long and light (especially now, with the recent time change), and often I’ll find myself leaving the Villa Rossa at the end of classes at 6pm, with a whole hour and a half completely free before dinner. The sky has turned soft and rosy, casting a golden light on the stucco walls and tiled roofs, and I find myself irresistibly drawn into the city. So, I’ll simply set out – on foot, with no map or plan. I’ll wander freely, letting chance take me down a new street or into an unexplored neighborhood, stopping in at little shops and churches along the way – simply following my curiosity. Eventually, I’ll wind back around to a familiar landmark of piazza, and turn back onto the main roads. I’ll return home at sunset, with sore feet but full of exhilaration from my new discoveries, just as Anna Maria is setting the table for dinner.

After my first few such wanders, a few weeks into my semester in Florence, my awe at the beauty of the antique Florentine buildings began to fade a bit (but only just a bit!), and I began to notice something a bit more contemporary: the walls of the buildings. More specifically, their graffiti. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Florence has more graffiti than a similar city in the United States – but having grown up in a small, nice suburb and studied at a university which prides itself on its beautiful campus (resulting in major graffiti-removal efforts), I haven’t really spent much time in a place where so many of the walls are marked with swirls of paint.

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(a sidestreet by my house — one of the first places where I spotted a work by one of Florence’s many street artists)

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Five Towns, Three Days, One Backpack: Hiking the Cinque Terre

March 30, 2014

This weekend… Oh, wow — where do I even begin…

This weekend, a group of five friends and I set out to hike the Cinque Terre. They’re a series of five teensy little towns, nestled into the inlets of the Mediterranean coast, between the mountain ranges. There are a series of trails that connect the towns, with a distance of between three and six miles between each, such that it’s possible to hike between them. The experience of hiking from the first town all the way through to the fifth is believed to be a kind of pilgrimage — something that many people set out to do for spiritual renewal or reflection. Ever since I heard about this region, several years ago, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do. Not just travel to the Cinque Terre — but to hike between all five towns. Why, I’m not really sure. Sometimes, there are  things that you just feel you have to do, without quite knowing why — and only after you complete them do you fully understand their importance. So, we packed our backpacks with just the few essentials that we would need for the weekend, laced up our hiking shoes, and caught the first train out on Friday morning.

And the experience? It was absolutely incredible, beyond words. Without a doubt, this has been most incredible weekend of my entire life. Everything was just perfect, every single part of the trip! Truly, a part of me still can’t believe that it was all real.

The weather was amazing — high 70s and sunny all three days, and not a cloud in the sky. We were in shorts (or bathing suits!) every day, just soaking up the sun. And the five other students were so great, all really down-to-earth. We joked often, but also had serious discussions sometimes — it just really felt like we understood each other, in a way that can be so hard to find sometimes. And, oh — everything was so beautiful!!! Each of the towns were so small — literally just a single street long, filled with lovely little pastel-colored houses and tiny artisan shops and family restaurants, with two old grandparents cooking in the back, serving the fish that their sons (who were also likely the waiters) had caught from the sea that morning.

We took the train Friday morning to the first town (Monterosso), and spent the morning on the beach, swimming and sunbathing and climbing on the rocks. It truly felt like summer, for the first time!

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(the sunny Monterosso beach)

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Forza Viola!

 March 27, 2014

After coming back from my crazy spin through Europe over spring break, I had planned to just have a quiet first week back at school, to rest and recuperate before another weekend of traveling. But I guess the words “quiet” and “week in Florence” really just don’t go together – because the past few days have been anything but! Yet, as always, in the best of ways.

On Tuesday, my classes were over at midafternoon, and so after lunch I made my way to one of my favorite piazzas, just a few blocks from my house: Piazza Santissima Annunziata. That day (March 25) was an important one in the Christian calendar: it was the Feast of the Annunciation, the day that, in the Christian faith, an angel went to Mary and told her that she was going to become pregnant with Jesus. The Florentines honor this day, which they call the “Florentine New Year,” with a celebration at the Basilica Santissima Annunziata (the Basilica of the Holy Annunciation), including a street fair and a medieval parade. So, I hurried over to see the festivities!

When I arrived, the entire piazza was filled with rows of stalls, with vendors selling all sorts of little sweets: candied fruit, toffee nuts, sugar cookies, licorice, and brigidini, some sort of sweet little crisps, baked before our eyes and then offered freely to passerby, straight from the grill, with jolly cries of “provare!” – try it! Never one to turn down a free sample, I took several of the vendors up on their offers – and was rewarded with a sweet, crunchy snack, lightly flavored with anise and still piping hot from the oven.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Springtime in Paris (and Madrid too!)

March 24, 2014

Wow, oh, wow. It would be absolutely impossible to describe every detail of my Spring Break adventures – but it was truly a wonderful week-and-a-half.

On Thursday night, after my last day of classes, I flew over to Paris, to spend a week exploring the city with my mom. I hadn’t seen any of my family since leaving the States in January, and so I was so very excited to see her! We had planned this trip months ago, as soon as I knew that I would be studying abroad. Mom has been lucky enough to travel a fair amount, all over Europe, and as I had already spent the past two months living in Italy, we decided to spend our week together in one of both of our favorite cities. Since we both love art (and fashionable scarves!), Paris was the perfect city for us to explore. She flew over on Thursday night, and we met up on Friday morning to begin our adventure!

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bikes and Baby Sheep!

March 11, 2013

(note: this is a bit late, as I wasn’t quite able to get it up before I left for spring break. It documents my adventures the weekend before break. Look for another post soon on the whirlwind that has been these past two weeks!)

Friday was another completely free day for me in Florence – and probably one of the nicest thus far, sunny and so warm that I didn’t even need to wear a jacket. As soon as I stepped outside, I knew that I couldn’t resist the universe’s call to check another item off of my “Florence bucket list”: going for a bike ride! All of the walking (and occasional bus rides) here is nice, but sometimes I just want to go a bit further and faster. Couple this with many envious glances at fashionable Florentines whizzing by with little dogs and bags of fresh produce in their baskets, and I was soon researching bike rentals in the city! As it turns out, it really couldn’t be easier: there’s a stand just outside of the train station where you can rent a sturdy bike for 5 hours, at a cost of only 5 Euro. So, I walked over to the station shortly after lunch, handed over a five-Euro note, and was soon zipping through the streets! It felt so good to have the wind in my hair, and feel the rush of speed as I sailed over cobblestones and up and down the little hills next to the Arno River. I biked right alongside the river, heading out of the city and to the West, towards a sprawling park just on the outskirts of Florence called Le Cascine. I had heard that it was supposed to be beautiful, and a favorite of the locals – and much as I love Florence, its lack of anything resembling wildlife can be a bit sad at times. Especially as spring is now well upon us, I had been yearning for some green! And as I finally entered the park, cruising onto its wide, tree-lined avenues just up the hill from the water, I knew that this was the place to get my fill of nature.

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(bright grass and a clear sky… what more do you need?)

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