Post-Trip Introduction and Reflection (for Honors 3010)

For my Italy study abroad I was supposed to choose a disciplinary lens through which to experience my trip and describe it during and afterwards, but to be completely honest, I was so overwhelmed with the sheer awe and newness of experiencing being out of the United States that I couldn’t really focus on any specific aspect of what I saw and experienced. Because I’m a musician, I did notice and seek out quite a bit of music while we were there, and I believe I have made that apparent in my posts, but I did not look around Florence with a specific eye towards finding music. I took a World Literature class as part of the study abroad trip, and so I noticed references to works and authors that we had read in class, but I did not pay as much attention to whether they were recognisable as I could’ve done.

Upon reflection, I suppose that is my lens: I viewed my week in Florence through the eyes of a teenager who is properly out of the country for the first time. I noticed as much about everything as I possibly could, and I believe I’ve faithfully recorded that variety of subjects in my blog posts. I hope my blogs from Florence are as varied and encompassing as my experiences.

Day ?? of Italy

There are a few memories I have of Italy that I don’t think I’ve written down yet, mainly because I have no idea on which day they took place. So here you are: in no particular order, the few remaining memories of Florence which are not yet on my blog.

One of the teachers took me and a few of the other students to the Laurentian Library to see their exhibit on Boccaccio. Inside, there were several different manuscripts of some of Boccaccio’s works, at least one manuscript copied by Boccaccio of a different work, a few manuscripts that were neither by Boccaccio nor of Boccaccio, and a room full of the different versions in many languages of Boccaccio’s Decameron. It was pretty fantastic.

The Medici chapel in the church of San Lorenzo is absolutely staggering. It has a tremendously ceiling, and the entirety of the walls and floor are marble with inlays of semiprecious gems to make the different designs. The tombs of several of the most famous of the Medici are placed in the walls. Behind the main chapel there’s another room that contains the graves of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, complete with their monuments carved by Michelangelo.
There are also a few rooms off to the sides that held more reliquaries and other artifacts, such as the robes and mitre of Pope Leo X, the Medici pope.

There was one church that we passed a few times that, for some unknown reason, had American $1 bills stuck over the entirety of the walls of the church. They were in very evenly spaced rows and columns, and went from just above head-height to the very top of the church. The rows that were easily accessible had remnants of whatever had been used to stick them on, and little bits of the bills that had been there, leading us to believe that (1) people had taken whatever bills they could reach, and (2) the bills were probably counterfeit. I would love to know why those bills were there…

And so ends my written journals of my time in Florence this spring.

Study on.

Day 8 of Italy! (The Final Day!!)

There’s really not much to tell about our final day in Florence…

We woke up in just enough time to make sure that we’d packed everything, then headed downstairs to turn in our room keys for the last time and meet the taxis that arrived to pick us up from the airport.
We got to the airport with about two hours to spare, and settled down to wait excitedly to get back home (as much as we all loved Florence, our feet were pretty happy to be going home). We got on the buses when it was time to board, and waved goodbye to the sight of Florence.

Or so we thought.

It turned out that it was too windy for the pilot to take off safely, so we were stuck in Florence until the wind subsided.
Eight hours later, we were finally able to fly to Amsterdam, where we had to spend the night. Thankfully KLM paid for our hotel rooms and provided us all with complimentary bags of the basic necessities in toiletries, but we were still in Amsterdam. They also had to split us onto two flights: one that left two hours earlier, went through Detroit, and got into Atlanta at 4; and one that left later, went straight to Atlanta, and arrived at 3:15. Guess which one I was on.

After three hours (…maybe four) in the Amsterdam hotel, we returned to the airport, got back on the plane, flew through Detroit, and finally landed in Atlanta at about 3:40.

And thus ended our spring break study abroad trip to Florence, Italy.

Day 7 of Italy!

Day 7 in Italy began exactly when we wanted it to, because Friday was our morning to do whatever we wanted!!!!!!

My roommate and I went out together at around 8:30 ish to visit almost all the churches we hadn’t been able to see during the rest of the week. We first went to Orsanmichele, which was first a granary, then a church, and now a place you can visit. It’s basically just one big room with an altar in the middle, an altar to St. Anne on one side, and a couple of worn frescoes on the ceiling. Despite the slightly underwhelming appearance of the church, it was quite lovely and I’m very glad we went. On the outside walls of the church are a number of statues commissioned by the various guilds in Florence during the Renaissance to commemorate their patron saints.

We next went to the church of Santa Croce. Inside the church are the tombstones and/or memorials for practically every famous Florentine that has ever lived: Donatello, Marconi, Dante, Boccaccio, Rossini, Galileo, and even a tiny marker in the floor for Jacopo Peri. Besides that, the rest of the church was beautifully made. Several sections of the floor were actually roped off to preserve the carved effigies of men and women (mostly monks and nuns, I believe) who were buried there. The chapels along the sides of the church were perhaps not as ornate as those in, say, Santa Maria Novella, but they were still quite lovely.
Outside the church there was a display of large squares that were sculpted to portray various scenes of Dante’s Inferno. The sculptor is apparently quite well known, and he sculpted a bust of Ronald Reagan that now resides in either the White House or a museum dedicated to Ronald Reagan (I apologise for my lack of memory).
One of the cloisters was called Brunelleschi’s Cloister, and, since my roommate had been researching Brunelleschi, we stepped inside. I’m not entirely sure why it was called Brunelleschi’s Cloister, as there didn’t seem to be anything that particularly indicated Brunelleschi, but it was still cool.

After Santa Croce we walked across the Ponte Vecchio and looked into some of the jewelry shops there. We also took pictures of the river from the crest of the bridge, as we hadn’t had time to do so when we’d crossed it before. We stopped into another paper store to look around on the other side of the bridge, then ate lunch outside at a restaurant directly across from the Pitti Palace. It was the warmest day of the week, and it felt amazing to be outside. The food was really good as well, and it turned out that the three girls at the table next to us were American students spending the semester in France who had come to Florence on their spring break. We had a friendly bit of conversation, then it was time for my roommate and I to head to class.
The class that day was much the same as on Tuesday: we didn’t really learn so much as talk about what we’d done that morning. It was a good chance to just sit and talk, as well as find out about parts of the city that we ourselves hadn’t been able to see.

After class, I and two other music majors decided to make one last excursion before we left, even though our feet felt like they were about to fall off. We decided to visit the Boboli Gardens inside the Pitti Palace. There were absolutely beautiful: terraced green lawns, masterfully shaped bushes and flowerbeds… We didn’t actually climb up the hill to see most of them, though: we walked in, took pictures, walked down a tiny hill and visited the grotto that was there, took more pictures, and then, thankfully, headed back to the hotel.

(Most of us did actually head out again at about 10 that night, though: we wanted to spend as much time as humanly possible just walking through Florence, because who knows when we’ll get to go back?)

And thus ended our final night in Florence.

Day 6 of Italy!

Day 6 in Italy, Thursday, began rather early, again, because we actually had to meet a person at a place.

We walked to the State Archives of Florence to meet Dr. Lisa Kaborycha who, not coincidentally, wrote the textbook that we used for part of our class. She works at the Medici Archive Project inside the State Archives, so she was able to get us inside and show us around.
All the documents of the State Archives had been kept inside the Uffizi, but one of the many floods in Florence had gotten very close to destroying a lot of precious documents from the Renaissance, so they built a special building just to keep them safe. The Medici Archive Project is a group of scholars who are dedicated to transcribing all of the documents sent by and to the Medici family into an online format so that other scholars around the world can have access to these documents. Dr. Kaborycha introduced us to the director of the Project, and he told us a little bit about what they do.
Dr. Kaborycha also showed us a massive bound book of handwritten documents from the Renaissance that are part of the records from the first catasto or income tax that was enacted in Florence. It was pretty incredible to see all the different handwriting styles that people had back then, and, as Dr. Kaborycha pointed out, most of the people that filled out this income tax “form” did it in their own handwriting, which means that they were literate. The scholars in the Medici Archive Project have figured out that a huge percentage of the population in Florence in the Renaissance was literate: more than almost anywhere else in the world, if I remember correctly.

After we left the Medici Archive we all scattered to eat lunch and spend our few hours before our afternoon activity: climbing the Duomo.
The Duomo, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is the nickname for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the middle of Florence, and it is so nicknamed for the massive dome on top of it. The dome (also known as Brunelleschi’s Dome, since Brunelleschi was the head architect of the completed dome) is a major landmark of Florence, and is visible from practically everywhere in the city. It was the largest structure of its kind at the time, and is still an amazing feat of architecture. The dome itself has an inner and an outer shell, and there is a staircase between them that was originally used for the workers to haul materials up and down, but is now open to the public if they want to see the view from the top. My roommate did a project on Brunelleschi’s Dome for part of the class, so she informed all of us before climbing that there were 453 steps involved to climb the dome. Let me just say that not all of us actually made the climb.
Before we went up into the dome (those of us that climbed it, that is) we all went into the Baptistery, which is a separate building just outside the Cathedral that was originally used to baptize people before they allowed into the Cathedral itself. It has an amazing ceiling, and the main doors of the Baptistery (the originals of which were in the Duomo Museum which we visited later) were designed by Ghiberti, who won against Brunelleschi in the competition to see who would design them. We split up then: some of us climbed the belltower, some explored the main part of the cathedral, and some of us (myself included) went to climb the dome.
It was surprisingly not bad! I mean, it was definitely a lot of stairs, and there were a couple places where you could feel that yes, you were definitely climbing stairs, but they were in fairly short flights, so it didn’t feel like it was a massive endless stairwell. The view from the top was also absolutely phenomenal. After having been up to Fiesole and San Miniato, it was really cool to see the extent of Florence from yet another viewpoint. My roommate and several of the other students with iPhones were able to take long panoramic views, and I felt fairly envious of that. I did get some pretty neat shots down the side of the dome and up the columns to the very top, though.
Then came the climb down, which wasn’t nearly as enjoyable since there wasn’t that anticipation any more. Also, climbing down very tight spiral staircases will make you very dizzy very quickly.
The flautist I’ve mentioned a couple times and I walked through the body of the Cathedral after we came down from the dome. We’d both been to Mass and vespers there so we knew what a good portion of it looked like, but we hadn’t really gotten a chance to take pictures before. We also went down to the crypt, which was apparently the ruins of an ancient Roman church that the Cathedral had been built on top of. We tried to go the gift shop down there to get souvenirs of the crypt, but they were closing and so they had to kick us out before we could get anything. We then walked over to the museum behind the Duomo and got to see the original Baptistery doors, which were huge and golden and made up of squares depicting different Biblical scenes.

We were all pretty tired after all that walking, so we headed back to the hotel soon after. We did go out again to get dinner, though, and a couple of us wandered around Florence after dark, which had become a habit by this point.

And thus ended Day 6 in Florence.

Day 5 of Italy!

On Day 5 of our stay in Florence, we actually got to sleep in a bit later, so I woke up closer to 7:30 than 7. The small things in life…

Our first stop that morning was the monastery of San Marco, home to several famous frescoes by Fra Angelico and historic residence of the Dominican friar and political leader Savonarola. There was a fresco by Fra Angelico on the wall of each of the monks’ cells. They were very well painted and maintained, and despite the fact that most of them depicted the Passion of Christ complete with streams of blood, I quite liked all of them.
Since it was a Dominican monastery, every fresco had Saint Dominic somewhere in it. Since there were very few characters in every fresco, it was extremely easy to tell which one he was. (One of the guys on the trip and I joked that Saint Dominic must have been an excellent time traveller to be in all of these paintings.) I must say: my favourite fresco was the one of the Annunciation with the Virgin Mary, the Angel Gabriel, and St. Dominic lurking awkwardly in the background.
Along the hallways of the monastery there were a few glass cases holding vellum and parchment missals opened to pages of Gregorian chant. Since one of the two teachers on the trip teaches music history at my school, she gave me and a couple of the other music majors an impromptu lesson on how to read Gregorian chant and the importance of the various symbols. It was awesome.
The one disappointing thing about San Marco is that we wanted to see the library and scriptorium housed inside, but they were undergoing renovations so we couldn’t go in. This was more or less made up for though (in my mind, at least) by the fact that there were probably about 20 different reliquaries in one of the cloisters. It may seem a bit gross that there were a bunch of bits of dead people kept in ornamented boxes, but I’ve read about reliquaries all my life and never been able to see one before this trip, so I was fairly excited.

After San Marco I went with the psychology major to eat Italian McDonald’s (yes there is a difference, we weren’t just being typical American tourists. Besides, there were a ton of Italian teenagers there) and to visit one of the shops that sells handmade paper.
Apparently there’s a particular design of paper that’s a Florentine specialty, so we made sure to visit one of the shops that sold it. I got to see how it’s done!!!!!!! Apparently there’s a special glue solution that they use, then you splatter paint in, stir it around in a couple of different ways depending on what you want the pattern to be, then lay a piece of blank paper on top and voila! Instant awesome paper. Since I’d seen her make it, I obviously had to buy entirely too much. It was totally worth it.

After lunch we went to the Galleria dell’ Accademia. The Accademia is considerably smaller than the Uffizi, but it has an amazing gallery of instruments practically right after you walk in. There was a violin, a viola, and a cello all made by Stradivarius (or it might be a viola and two cellos; I’ve forgotten), a spinet (I’D NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN ONE BEFORE IT WAS GORGEOUS), and the instrument that later evolved to become the piano that we know today, built by Bartolomeo Cristoferi.
There were then a couple of rooms of paintings that we walked through (gorgeous Renaissance paintings; more Annunciations and Madonna & Childs; the most epic of the “Peace Out Jesus”s complete with coffin lid striking down soldiers; it was lovely), and we finally entered into a long hallway at the end of which…was the David. We all walked in at more or less the same time, and at first we were wondering why there was this massive hallway, then the statue appeared. The David (Michelangelo’s David, in case you were wondering) is presented at the end of a long, tall hallway with a skylight lighting it up in all its marble glory. The statue itself is huge, but it’s made even larger by the fact that it’s on top of a pedestal that’s at least 20 feet tall. The end of the hallway is built into a rotunda so that you can walk around and see the entirety of his sculpted body. The statue itself didn’t seem much more complex than some of the other sculptures we’d seen, but the presentation is what made it so awe-inspiring.

After the David, we had a short period of time on our own, so most of us went back to the hotel to rest before our evening excursion. This was the only evening that we all did something as a group. As our excursion, we climbed a hill on a different side of the city from Fiesole (I would say the opposite side but I don’t know if that’s accurate) and went up to the church of San Miniato al Monte. The climb to San Miniato had stairs rather than a straight-up mountainside, so it was considerably easier than our short climb on Fiesole.
We thought we were going to hear the monks at San Miniato chant vespers, as I and the two other girls had heard at the Cathedral, but it turned out to be an Ash Wednesday evening Mass. [Did I mention this day was Ash Wednesday? It was Ash Wednesday.] Once we’d realised it was indeed a Mass instead of Vespers, most of the class left to walk back to the hotel; a few of us remained – it turned out to be the music students who wanted to stay. The entire Mass was held in Gregorian chant, and there was lots of incense and, of course, ashes, so I’m very glad I stayed. It was a fairly incredible experience.

Our day ended at the amazing trattoria in San Lorenzo. We went there this time to celebrate the birthday of one of the other girls in the group (the girl who I went shopping with our first night, as a matter of fact). It was delicious.
We also went out for gelato afterwards, to make it a proper birthday celebration, and that was equally good.

And thus ended Day 5 of our stay in Italy.

Day 4 of Italy!

Tuesday morning, day 4 of our trip, began similarly to the previous days: too early.

Our trip of the morning was to the Uffizi Gallery. “Uffizi” literally means “offices”, and it is so named because during the time of the Medici it was literally the office building of the city. It was used to store the collection of paintings owned by the city, and after the city offices moved to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi the building became exclusively a painting gallery. It now houses some of the most important paintings in the world: several works by Michelangelo, an early painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and the centerpiece of the whole gallery: Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus. The Uffizi is tremendously long and winding and our feet became tremendously tired by the time we finished, but all of the paintings were quite spectacular, even if it became harder and harder to concentrate as the corridors kept going and going.
The Uffizi is laid out in chronological order of paintings (for the most part), so you begin in the 12th century and move forward throughout the rest of the Renaissance. The earlier, Byzantine-style paintings have almost an excess of gilding and gold paint, but it is a trademark of the style and it means that you can still see the majority of all of the paintings, despite their extreme age.The faces of the people are fairly flat and unrealistic, especially the paintings of the baby Jesus in the many different version of the Madonna & Child. The baby looks like an old man’s head was placed on a tiny body! As the Renaissance progresses, though, you can see the development of perspective and more realistic painting styles. While there are still quite a few Madonna & Childs and Holy Familys and Annunciations from the body of the Renaissance, they look less terrifying and more realistic than those from the end of the medieval period. From these paintings, particularly “Madonna & Child” and “The Annunciation”, was born the two memes of our trip: “No Thanks Mary” and “Peace Out Jesus”. These came about because I ended up walking through most of the Uffizi with the theater major from our trip, and she noticed that in most of the Madonna & Child paintings the baby Jesus has two fingers raised in what, in modern culture, is known as the “peace out” symbol (i.e. palm facing out and the index and middle fingers raised in a V shape). (We also found a few “Peace Out Jesus”s later on in the Uffizi and in our trip.) The “No Thanks Mary” comes from the Annunciation paintings, where the Virgin Mary is being told by the angel Gabriel that she will have the Son of God. In a surprisingly large number of these paintings, Mary has her face turned away from Gabriel, and more often than not, also has her hands out to her side as if to push him away. This two silly thoughts were mentioned repeatedly throughout the Uffizi, and later in the week as we saw more and more of the same types of paintings.
In the hallways between rooms in the Uffizi, there were portraits of famous Florentines on the wall, right up where it met the ceiling. They were quite beautiful, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that there were several women among the portraits! There was also a number of busts lining several of the hallways, and those were quite amusing to look at, especially since many of them had strange facial expressions.
There was a lovely balcony/terrace about halfway or possibly two-thirds of the way through the Uffizi. We stepped outside to enjoy the outside air and take pictures of the view of Florence. Unfortunately we thought this was the end of the Gallery and so we got rather excited that we were almost at the end, only to find that there were several more galleries we had to walk through. I personally think it was worth it, though, as one of the galleries near the end was of Renaissance painters from other European countries, and three of those paintings involved lutenists; two of whom were women.

After the Uffizi we had lunch and a short break, then we headed back to the ACCENT offices in Piazza Santo Spirito where we’d gone the first day so that we could have a short class period. It wasn’t a real “class” class: we really just discussed all the cool things we’d done so far in Florence.

After class we were completely free to do whatever we wanted, so most of the girls (myself included) walked over to the San Lorenzo leather market to shop around. It was a lot of fun looking at all the different wares on the stalls and listening to all the vendors yelling and haggling sales. We ended up staying at the market for most of the afternoon and into the evening, taking a break from friendly arguments with the salesmen to eat dinner at a local trattoria. {A small aside to talk about this particular trattoria: their food was amazing. We’d said at the beginning of the trip that we wouldn’t eat anywhere more than once, but we broke the rule for this restaurant. I don’t know what exactly it was or how to describe, but it felt fun and authentically Italian, and the food was some of the best I tasted while we were there. End aside.} Most of everyone else bought a leather bag while we were there; I bought a leather book cover emblazoned with the lion of Florence.

Several of us went out that night and explored more of the nightlife of the city, but that was about all the interesting stories from that day.

And thus ended Day 4 in Florence!

Day 3 of Italy!

Day 3 of our trip also began at 7 in the morning.

Breakfast was the same as the day before, and it was just as good as the day before.

This was the day that we went on a trip to “follow the Decameron”! At the beginning of Boccaccio’s book The Decameron, the characters begin in the church of Santa Maria Novella during the plague, and travel to an estate a short distance away from Florence, commonly believed to be the township of Fiesole on a mountain just outside Florence. And so that is what we did. My day started a bit differently, however: the flautist with whom I had gone to vespers the night before went with me to hear matins chanted at the Duomo (matins is the morning prayer). The two of us left early to listen, and then walked to the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella to meet the rest of the class. We actually got there about 20 minutes before everyone else, even though we were expecting to be late, so we wandered around the piazza and took selfies in front of the church.
The church of Santa Maria Novella was huge and absolutely amazing. The walls were practically covered with amazing paintings and sculptures, the architecture was phenomenal, there was a massive crucifix suspended from the ceiling, the altar piece was just incredible in the detail, there was a giant stained-glass window, and the area behind the altar had frescoes on both the walls depicting Biblical scenes in great detail. Of course we only saw all of this after we had gotten there too early for it to be open and we’d had to wait in a side chapel for a while until the main doors were opened since we didn’t actually know where we were supposed to go.
Since Santa Maria Novella began as a Dominican monastery, there were several cloisters in the courtyard of the church that we were able to visit. One of them is called the “Cloister of the Dead”, and it was basically a large collection of graves and gravestones set into the floor and walls in one section of the courtyard. The Green Cloister had several paintings stored inside it, but it seemed more like a tiny exhibit of paintings than an actual restored Renaissance cloister. The most exciting of the cloisters (even though I did rather like the Cloister of the Dead, morbid as that sounds) was the Spanish Chapel, which, I realise, isn’t exactly a cloister, but it was outside of the main church with the actual cloisters, so I grouped it in with the actual cloisters. There were two fairly large restored frescoes inside, and a number of not-restored frescoes. The two restored frescoes had little displays telling the story behind the paintings in various languages. It was very intriguing, as one of them had the Duomo pictured (in one of the earlier conceptual designs, as the actual Duomo hadn’t been built at the time of the fresco), and the other had figures representing the arts and the sciences as part of it, including one woman representing music and holding either a lyre or a lute (I’ve forgotten which). This chapel is referred as the Spanish Chapel because Eleonora of Toledo (mentioned in the post about the Palazzo Vecchio) and her Spanish retinue would attend Mass in this chapel.

After Santa Maria Novella, we headed over to the Mercato Centrale, which is apparently a very famous food market. We were left to our own devices for a bit to shop around for ourselves and for our lunch, and we agreed to meet after about half an hour to eat together. I acquired two more bags of pasta while we were there (I know, I know, what can I say? At least this time I didn’t purchase them: the flautist I mentioned before bought them for me as a late birthday present) and for lunch, rather than eating another sandwich after the mild disaster of the day before, the flautist and I bought pasta from one of the vendors and ate that for lunch. I also purchased a couple of pastries to eat later.

After the Mercato, we caught a bus up to Fiesole to continue our Decameron journey. We visited the Civic Archaeological Museum and got to see a bunch of really cool ancient Roman ruins. It was a bit odd, seeing as how we were studying the Renaissance and this was stuff from ancient Rome, but I love ancient stuff so it was still cool, and besides that, one of the teachers pointed out that the Renaissance is as far away from us now as ancient Rome was to the people in the Renaissance and told us to journal about how that made us feel. We got to write our journals on the remains of a Roman amphitheater, and afterwards we got to explore the acoustics of the performance space.
Once we’d had our fun in the amphitheater, we climbed up a very steep hill (ouch: thighs) and saw a breathtaking view of Florence. It was truly spectacular. I snacked on my pastries as we listened to one of the teachers read part of the introduction to the Decameron. It felt very much like we were reliving the Decameron, which was a pretty cool feeling.

Then after we’d enjoyed our little trip into the past, we headed back down the hill (much easier than going up), caught a bus back into town, and then did things until bedtime. … Again I’ve completely forgotten. I am quite sure, however, that dinner was delicious, as all the food there was delicious, except for that one sandwich.

And thus ended Day 3!

Day 2 in Italy!

Day 2 in Italy began at 7 o’clock in the morning.


The earliness of the hour, however, was more than made up for by breakfast!
We met down in the common room at 7:30, and we got rolls, packages of cookies, and packaged pieces of tiny toast (try saying that 5 times fast). There were several options for drinks: grapefruit juice (dear lord it was nasty; all watered down and gross); some sort of orange juice/fruit punch; various versions of coffee; hot milk (it was…interesting…); and hot chocolate (which was absolutely delicious). Our entire group turned into hipsters as we unashamedly took pictures of our food. It was fantastic.

After our first Italian breakfast, we headed over to the Palazzo Vecchio (literally the Old Palace). In the Piazza Vecchio (Vecchia? I have no idea) there is a smallish sculpture collection, a large fountain, and a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David outside the doors. The sculptures are absolutely amazing, and quite massive. When you first walk into the Palazzo, there’s a huge open courtyard area, which was completely unexpected. If you look up, you can see the roofline and the bell tower of the Palazzo. There were several carabinieri [policemen] patrolling the courtyard, so I took a chance and asked to take a picture with one of them. Thankfully, he was nice and understood at least enough English to know what I was asking, so I now have a picture with an Italian policeman.

The Palazzo Vecchio was one of the several palazzos around Florence that were owned and used by the Medici family. The main room on the ground floor was and still is used by the city council for large meetings, and the rest of the rooms on that floor were private apartments of the Medici. The study of Lorenzo the Magnificent (…I’m pretty sure that’s who it belonged to) is open to visitors, and the walls and ceiling are covered with mythological and allegorical paintings. The other half of the ground floor are officially known as “The Apartments of Pope Leo X” (who was the Medici pope), but I don’t believe he ever actually lived there. There are portraits of most of the male Medici family members in the various rooms on that floor, and some of the original furniture (mainly ornamented bureaus) remains in the rooms. The second floor has a second set of apartments directly above the apartments on the ground floor, and apparently the theme of each apartment on the upper floor represents the spiritual side of the theme of the apartment directly below it. On the other side of the Palazzo’s upper floor, there are the apartments of Eleonora of Toledo. Each room in her apartments is dedicated to a different historical woman, which is fairly unusual for her time. The colours of these rooms were still bright and cheerful, yet not overwhelming. They seemed like a set of rooms that might actually be quite fun and comfortable to live in, even today.
I should mention the stairs between the two floors: there were surprisingly few of them, but they were very old stone steps which were worn from years and years of people walking on them. After about the third one, I basically flew up the rest. They were terrifying. Seriously panic-inducing. I mean yeah I have a fear of stairs so that was probably part of the reason but THESE WERE AWFUL STAIRS. The rest of the Palazzo was gorgeous though!

Lunch after the Palazzo was “whatever you wanna do”, so me and a couple of the other students stopped by a sandwich shop to try out some more of the food we’d heard people talking about. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the man making my sandwich, so I accidentally got the wrong one…so it had goat cheese…and I don’t like cheese…so I just tried the prosciutto…but apparently I don’t like prosciutto…so I had one of the two slices of bread on the sandwich and that was my lunch. *headdesk* but then we had around an hour to just hang out, and I had snacks up in my room, so it turned out fine.

After lunch we went to another (former) Medici residence: the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. This palazzo was slightly smaller than the Palazzo Vecchio, which was mildly disappointing once we’d gone through it all, but it was just as gorgeous.
The main attraction of the Medici Riccardi is the Chapel of the Magi, so called because of the fresco entitled “Procession of the Magi” painted on all four walls. We’d looked at pictures of it in class before we left, but it is so much more impressive in person. There was another chapel later on in the Palazzo, the Chapel of the Signoria, which did not have a fresco, but instead had a lot of gold leaf. The rooms that we walked through in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi seemed more barren than those of the Palazzo Vecchio, but they were still very richly decorated. There were several rooms with massive tapestries hung on the walls, and one room where the walls were covered in mirrors painted with grasses, trees, and tiny Cupid-looking beings. A set of doors leading into one of the tapestried rooms had an image and quotes of Boccaccio on one door and Petrarch on the other, which was quite excited for me and the other four members of our World Lit class that had studied them. Our favourite part of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, though, would have to be the bust of Machiavelli that we found tucked away in a small room near the end of the palazzo. We liked it so much, in fact, that we took a group picture that makes it look almost like Machiavelli was a member of our class!
The reason our trip through the Palazzo Medici Riccardi was so short was because much of the palazzo is still used as offices and workplaces for city officials, so obviously they don’t want hordes of visitors traipsing through there, staring at all the ceilings. There was, however, a small garden in the courtyard of the Medici Riccardi that was home to several pieces of modern art, and several trees that had oranges hanging off them. It was quite beautiful, even with the tiny drizzle.

Since our visit to the palazzo didn’t take nearly as long as the teachers had planned, we had the rest of the afternoon as well as the entire evening to wander around the city and do whatever we wanted. My roommate and I took this opportunity to visit the monthly farmer’s market in the Piazza della Repubblica that just happened to be taking place the weekend we got there. Everything looked tremendously fresh and delicious, and I ended up buying homemade beeswax chapstick, handmade wheat (I’m pretty sure it’s wheat) penne pasta to feed my pasta addiction, and a tiny jar of apple & violet jam. The two of us also went to the department store at the edge of the piazza, called La Rinascenta (meaning The Renaissance [more or less]; it felt like a cross between World Market and Macy’s), so that I could buy a washcloth, since none were provided in the room. I also ended up buying another bag of pasta there. I regret nothing.

…Actually I just realised: I think my roommate and I went shopping in our lunch break, between palazzos. After the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, I think we all walked down to the Arno because one of the teachers had seen something about a carnival to celebrate the last weekend before Ash Wednesday. It turned out to be a carnival meant for small children, so we were mildly disappointed that we’d walked all that way for nothing. We crossed to the other side of the river, though, and found a gelato shop with a huge line, which seemed to indicate that it would be really good. We would’ve all waited in line and bought gelato, but my roommate, another music major, and I wanted to listen to the vespers in Gregorian chant at the Duomo. (For those of you who don’t know, vespers are the traditional evening prayers, sung in Latin [or partially in Italian, in this case], and Gregorian chant is a style of singing from the medieval period which is the typical drone-like chant singing that you may have heard in some movie where they have monks sing.) So the three of us forewent gelato and instead went to hear vespers.
That was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. We understood almost literally none of it, and a few of the choir members weren’t exactly on pitch, but it was still entrancing to hear.
After vespers, I stayed to hear Mass, since it’d been years since I’d gone to a Catholic mass. Of course, it was all in Italian, so I don’t know how much I really gained from it, but it was still almost like time-travelling to be hearing Mass in a Renaissance church.

I’m not sure what we did for the rest of that evening. I think I and a couple of the other girls went to eat dinner somewhere and probably wandered around for a while, but alas, I’m writing this two weeks later instead of the day it happened, so I apologise for the gaps in my memory.

And thus ended day 2 of our trip.

Day 1 of Italy!

(I know it’s been almost two weeks since I was actually in Italy *sniff* but I want to post about my trip, and better late than never, right? There should be one post for each day we were there, and then a couple of overall picture posts. Enjoy!)

The first day we got to Florence was the day that we flew in, so obviously we didn’t have a full 18 hours of excitement like we did on the other days. It sure seemed like it though!! Once we’d arrived at the airport, a lovely young woman from ACCENT (the group? company? that ran our study abroad program) met us and took us outside so that she could manage our taxi situation for us.
Then came the taxi ride.
I’ve heard stories about crazy taxi drivers, of course, but I’ve been in taxis in Boston and D.C. several times and nothing particularly exciting happened then. It was a very different experience in Italy. We practically careened down streets that I’m fairly certain should’ve only fit one car but instead fit about three. At the one stoplight I know for certain we stopped at, a car on the street perpendicular to us attempted to occupy the same stretch of road as our taxi at the same time as our taxi. Pedestrians and cars ignored each other equally, as exemplified by the couple and baby stroller standing in the entrance to the street that our hotel was on who were completely oblivious to our waiting taxi up until our driver practically ran them over.
It was exciting.

After all eleven of us (plus the ACCENT lady) had arrived at our hotel, the ACCENT representative – Lacey, to save typing space – showed us how to maneuver around the hotel (e.g. you leave your key at the desk when you leave, and pick it back up when you come back. And yes, they were actual keys) and we left our luggage in the rooms. She then told us we had roughly an hour for lunch, pointed out the restaurants around the Piazza della Repubblica – which thankfully was right next to our street – and left us to our own devices. All the students ended up eating pizza at the same restaurant together (except for two of the girls who got pasta). This was our first experience eating real Italian food, and it was amazing. Their tomato sauce, as far as I can tell, is literally just tomatoes, so it tasted much sweeter and infinitely better than the American tomato sauces I’ve tried. Their cheese was also much less sharp, and everything tasted fresh, and overall it was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life.

After lunch, Lacey took us on a walking tour of Florence from our hotel to the ACCENT classrooms/offices in Piazza Santo Spirito. Since we were there anyway, we decided to go inside the church of Santo Spirito as our first taste of Renaissance art and architecture. We weren’t sure whether or not we were allowed to take pictures inside, so, alas, I have no photographic proof that I was inside, but it was a pretty darn fantastic way to begin our trip.

After touring Santo Spirito and ACCENT, we all headed back to the hotel to relax and unpack. I honestly have no memory of how long we stayed in the hotel, but we went out again in the evening to explore Florence at night. The hotel was barely five minutes away from the Duomo and the piazza and shops surrounding it, so we didn’t have to go far to find cool things. My roommate, one of the other girls, and I stopped by one of the street vendors near the Duomo so that they could buy hats. Much bartering and examining later, my roommate and I had bought matching knit hats, and we were on our way again. I think we wandered the streets for a while after that, just reveling in the fact that we were in Italy. We managed to circle our way back to the hotel, and back in the Piazza della Repubblica we found another street vendor who sold the other girl the hat she had been looking for at the first street vendor. All three of us were really tired at this point, and were about to head back to the hotel, which is when my roommate and I realised we hadn’t yet had dinner. And so the two of us walked back towards the Duomo, bought yet more pizza from a tiny shop in the piazza (it was just as good as lunch), ate in the common room on the second floor – which was called the first floor and was highly confusing for roughly the first 36 hours – and then made our way up to our room to discover the complexities of using a minuscule shower.

And thus ended our first day in Florence.