June 6 - August 6... Study Abroad! Two months of Florence in this entry

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June 6th 2005
Published: February 1st 2006
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The Arno at nightThe Arno at nightThe Arno at night

One of my favorite areas to be and view.
Wow.. I'm going to attempt to put two months of happenings within Florence in this entry.

I knew after living in the North of Italy for Summer 2004, that I wanted to return to this amazing country, so I was thrilled to find a program that fit what I was looking for. I enrolled for 2 month long semesters at Santa Reparata International School of Art near the city center of Florence and decided upon taking their Italian language classes. For the first month I would be taking intensive intro to Italian, and the second month I would take a normal speed class... and I loved it!

But I'm getting ahead of myself!

Arriving into Florence was pretty simple... it was another trip alone across the world for me, but this time with no nasty layovers... but I have decided the Paris airport (CDG) is horribly laid out. I will be solving that problem by avoiding it for layovers in the future.. lol. On the second leg of my trip actually into Florence, I met a bunch of other students who were arriving as a group to study at my school. Before the plane landed, I had new friends! We all split a cab and headed to find the school. From there, we got our apartment assignments and all went to go get settled in.

My assigned apartment was near San Lorenzo, on the top floor with a 90-ish stair climb. It was a 6BR/2BA and my roommates had all arrived before me.. and somehow I ended up with the largest room! Lindsey would be my roommate who I would share the apartment with both months.. the other 4 were only there for a month, after which new roomates came. It wasn't that hard to get acclimated to the apartment...just the heat! When you don't have air conditioning in a heatwave that even the American papers have mentioned.. you appreciate a/c back at home that much more! Finding local grocery stores and hauling foods back always proved to be a battle, but it all built character. 😉

School was about a 7-10 minute walk away from the apartment and the campus was really cozy and welcoming. There was a center courtyard, a campus dog (Italian Grehound) and 2 campus cats. It helped to make it feel like home. There were 3 classrooms, one of which doubled as the library, and several
Me and the PigMe and the PigMe and the Pig

Rub it's nose for good luck, and land a coin from its mouth into the grate below for good luck!
art/photography areas. It was the perfect size, I felt. The teachers were all great, and the immersion learning of living in the city was very successful I felt. The first month I took Italian for 5 hours a day (with a lunch break in the middle) with 2 different teachers. One in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. The second month it was only for 2 1/2 or 3 hours a day. One thing I appreciate about study abroad programs are the 4 day class weeks which leave the weekends open for more travel.

Once I was settled in, I got in touch with my friend, Marco. Thanks to him, Italy came alive. I had met him through some student boards prior to my arrival, so it was nice for the cultural exchange, and he showed me places around town that I would have never seen on my own - and because of him, I can say I even got to zip around Florence on a moped!

It was also nice to be able to see my best friends, Kevin and Brittany, as well. In addition to Kevin's 2 brothers, they were both studying in Montipulciano - 1.5 hours south of me by train. They came into Florence a few times to hang out.

I'll always remember the walk to school. I had to walk through the San Lorenzo market which was full of carts with leather goods, clothing, jewelry, and tourist trinkets. "Bella!", "You have beautiful eyes!", and "I make you good price!" were common things I heard on my morning walk. It was flattering the first day or so.. and then you get very annoyed with it. You learn to ignore them... which is a unique experience on it's own. I'll remember which stones to avoid on the sidewalk near San Lorenzo because they were lose and which side of the street to walk on to maximize shade in the hot sun. Even down to the little places I'd grab a quick lunch at during the day and the grocery store that carried the most amazing spumante ever.. at less than 3 euros a bottle.

It was interesting.. and sad to me to observe tourists. Not so much the lost older couples as they stared at maps trying to figure out where they were.. but instead the ignorant Americans. The ones who spoke English loudly thinking it would suddenly make someone who didn't speak english have the ability to understand. They're not deaf! Better yet were the people who would become annoyed at Italians in smaller shops who did not speak English. No wonder the world feels as they do about us as a group! But I had a larger pet peeve on my list. It was other American students! Florence has the highest concentration of American Students studying abroad than anywhere in the world. Add in the tourists.. and there's alot of Americans there. ..but it was at night when they embarrassed me most. Walking down the streets in the day.. you'd recieve many little fliers for the local bars and pubs, many boasting 5 shots for 5 euro drink specials. Nothing wrong with that.. the rum e pera (rum and pear) shots were actually quite good. The problem was the DRUNK Americans at night. See, Italians don't drink to get drunk.. well, most don't. They drunk to relax with friends. It is the American students who get drunk.. make noise.. and take away from the charm of the city at night. For this reason, I went to the pubs.. but
Maracana - Brazilian Dining!Maracana - Brazilian Dining!Maracana - Brazilian Dining!

Roommate dinner! Katie, Sarah, Me, and Lindsey. This place was really neat, the floor was sand and there were palm trees and brazilian flags.
not as often as most, and it was never to get drunk. The Italian approach made much more sense to me. Being American in Florence did have it's advantages though. Because of the stereotypes that all Americans waste incredible amounts of money on alcohol.. we did not have to pay a cover charge into the clubs.. and the Italians, who were known to only have 1-3 drinks max, would have to pay a 20euro entrance fee that included 1 free drink. That's just the way it was.

Instead, I liked to just take in the nightlife. I enjoyed going dancing all night long, or when I wanted a calm night.. I went to the arno or for a stroll near the Duomo and Piazza Della Signoria. The Arno at Ponte Vecchio was best at night though. There were 2 guys who would perform there nightly, and the whole bridge would be filled with people enjoying their music. Mostly, if not all cover songs, and at least 90% being in Italian. I loved it. I think I enjoyed it most because it was Italians on the bridge.. and not as many tourists. Part of me going to Italy was to find a sense of belonging in the country and to acclimate myself... I didn't want to be an outsider. Sitting on the bridge is one of my favorite memories... the feel of the evening air and just the contentness in the air. I wish I had a way to bottle that scene up and bring home forever.

It's funny... It's January 2006 as I type out this entry, and I think about those pesky mosquitos that were all over the city. Scars from the bites are still on my legs.. wow. That's what I think I would change about Florence if i could. Mosquitos are bad... really bad there. And there's 2 types. They have the normal mosquito like we have here in the south.. and then there are tiger mosquitos. They actually have stripes.. and are alot more vicious. They usually bite only the feet and legs, but with me, they would leave small water blister type welts that itched/stung like nothing I have ever felt before. I would sleep under the covers to keep them from attacking my face so i could keep the window open for air. it got incredibly hot in that apartment at night. I should have probably bought stock in VAPE while I was there too... it's a mosquito repellant plug in. It probably wouldn't be passed by the FDA or health department here, but it sure did help to keep those buggers off of us!

I have not meant to complain about Florence if it seems like I have. It really is a charming city. I just hate to see tourism engulf a city. It's charm is still there, but I fear what it will be like in the years to come.

I loved the Italian way of life. The stores close for an afternoon nap.. and they stay open a little later as a result. Wine is cheap and served with meals - house wine was always good. (of course my Italian friends were pickier having had the best of Tuscany, I'm sure!) Everyone strolled the streets around 10pm, and one night I even stumbled across a beautifully sounding men's "choir" singing in a piazza. It was almost like they gathered there to sing just because. No uniforms, no form to where they were, they just were in almost a circle singing with the most beautiful harmonies you have
Trattoria 4 LeoniTrattoria 4 LeoniTrattoria 4 Leoni

Brittany and myself at my FAVORITE place to eat. Their pear pasta in cheese sauce and asparagus was amazing!
ever heard. I was lucky enough to get a small portion of a song on the video of my camera.

Another interesting thing about Florence are the illegals there... the africans and the albanians, and the societies approach to them. Albanians are seen as being at the bottom of the social pyramid.. and they really do look similar to Italians. of course, I could tell the difference by the time I left, but not initially. I had talked to my Italian friends about it, asking why things were the way they were.. about Albanians being considered so dishonest and like scum.. and he couldn't tell me why. Just that that was how it was. When I told him I couldn't tell the difference from an Italian and an Albanian, he told me I would eventually be able to. Strange how he was right. It was the Africans who, as a result, were more visible to me. Obviously because of their skin tone. The came northward looking for work, and many of them all piled into small apartments to sleep in shifts when they were not on the streets trying to work. They would sell fake designer goods on sheets..
At the festival at the FortezzaAt the festival at the FortezzaAt the festival at the Fortezza

Me, Kara, and Danielle. The festival was awesome, dancing everywhere, bands, people. It lasted a couple weeks and was a blast!
because when they carabinieri would come by, they would have to quickly carry their items away like they had not been trying to sell anything. It was an entertaining cat and mouse game to watch.. albeit a sad one. Even more disturbing were the Americans who would believe the goods were true designer items that they were getting a good deal on. ...or the ones who thought you'd still have to pay alot for a good replica. I had a friend who took pride in informing would be buyers right before they shelled out the cash.. as to how much money they were about to waste. She didn't do it to be catty, but instead to save them some money. Some listened.. some would still purchase the items. Very interesting indeed.

Art was EVERYWHERE in the city, I know that's not shocking though. I loved looking at each of the individual artists' works, and their interpretations of the buildings in the city. A fun thing to watch in town were the spray paint artists in the piazzas. Using crumpled paper and circles of different sizes, they produced amazing works on paper of space and fantasy scenes while people watched.
At Central Park DiscoteccaAt Central Park DiscoteccaAt Central Park Discotecca

Mateo, Roberto, Me, and Marco
My favorite one of these such artists was up at Piazza Michaelangelo. I have Marco to thank for me initially finding this place too. (Although I probably would have on my own too, but then again, maybe not considering the distance.) This piazza was at the top of a hill and provided an amazing sunset view of the city. It was definately one of the places I took my friends to see when they were in town visiting.

Wow.. I've written so much already.. I'll let the pictures finish speaking for me. Hopefully the smiling faces in the pictures let you know I'm not alone in my love for Florence.. ya know, I still wake up sometimes feeling like I can just open my door and step out onto that street.

Italy gets into your blood and will always be a part of you.

Additional photos below
Photos: 52, Displayed: 30


At MoyaAt Moya
At Moya

With my Italians: Marco, Me, and Ricardo
The Fish PubThe Fish Pub
The Fish Pub

Courtney, Jen, Kristin, Sabrina, Josaline, and Me.

Protesters fill the streets demanding better on-the-job conditions.

31st January 2006

Saw you were in Italy
I couldn't resist looking at the photos on your site,As i went to Italy in 04. Florence was my favorite! Thanks.

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