John-Paul Heil, Staff Writer
Hello, America! So now that the absolutely nutsy week that this has been is finally dying down, I thought I should finally get rolling on this whole “study abroad column” thing I’m apparently doing.
I flew into Florence around 2 p.m. on Monday (Sunday for all you ESTers out there), after a four-hour layover in Frankfurt (which did not help jet-lag). My first impression of the city was a rushed one: as soon as our driver arrived, we were given an impromptu tour of the city (most of which I missed — evidently Italian traffic laws are more lax (read as: non-existent) than in America). After glazing over the orientation packet, my roommate and I went off to a great restaurant near the Teatro Verdi, where I had my first glass of wine. After a straciatella (chocolate chip-ish) gelato, we all hit the sack — I had been up for about 48 hours on an hour’s sleep, and drinking Chianti wine is like wrapping yourself up with a blanket and taking sleeping pills. The next day was mostly orientation mixed with exploration. After a brief orientation at AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study) and a great lunch at a little sandwich shop near school, we took a walking tour of Florence, which eventually ended at the Duomo. After some more gelato and mass at Santa Croce (near the Ponte alle Grazie on the eastern side of Florence), some of the students and I went to dinner at this fantastically chic place near our apartments. Gorgonzola gnocchi and salami pizza never tasted so good.
Day three was more orientation: seminars on cultural differences and travel opportunities around Europe took up much of the day. However, we also got the chance to go to lunch at a great cafe near school — AIFS paid for a full five-course Italian meal for all of us. SO MUCH FOOD. We made dinner at the apartment that night using ingredients we picked up from a supermercato — fresh prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches.
Day four saw the start of classes, all of which look pretty darn cool. We went to mass after class at the Dominican church of Orsanmichele (Dante’s church, what up, represent) and ate at a little pizzeria called the Restaurant of Sinners after mass. Had my first beer ever here!
Friday morning, we traveled to the Duomo (the cathedral of the Diocese of Florence) and climbed 800-ish stairs to the very top of the cupola. The stairs were made for someone much shorter than I, but it was totally worth it. After our first Italian class, we headed back to the Duomo for a guided tour of the church and the baptistry. After all that was done, we went down into the crypt, which was PRETTY COOL. We turned in early, because we had a big day coming up.
Day six, Saturday, was our first trip — this one was to Pisa and the city of Lucca. We all got on some buses with a few hundred kids from California, early in the morning, and headed out. Pisa was pretty darn awesome — surprisingly, the Leaning Tower itself was not the personal highlight of the trip. Though the famous tower was pretty darn cool (except for the hundreds of tourists trying to get THAT SHOT), the coolest bit was when we got to go up into the baptistry near the Pisa Basilica.
The baptistry had two levels: a lower level where most of the tourists hung out and an upper level, closer to the dome, where the acoustics were a-ma-zing. After a bit of arm-twisting, the staff agreed to let us go up to the second level, which was amazing. After that, we left to go to the small city of Lucca (#topgear). We only had a few hours in Lucca, so we stopped to get some lunch and then walked to the walls of the city. By the time we walked the entirety of the city walls, it was almost time to go, so we went back to the bus and headed back.
That’s pretty much the very, very, very bare bones of what has been perhaps the most life-changing week I’ve ever had. Florence and Italy in general is absolutely fantastic — it’s everything I could have wished for and more. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m excited to see what lies ahead.