Study Abroad: Flaunting Florence

John-Paul Heil, Study Abroad Columnist

        I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since spring break!  Things here are really speeding up, for better or for worse.  Still, the past few weeks have been busy here.  After Syracuse (where I left off last time), we left Catania and traveled to Palermo, the capitol of Sicily, which was absolutely amazing.  The food alone made the entire trip worthwhile.  In Palermo, they make deep-fried rice balls filled with meats and cheeses called arancini—you could purchase about a half-kilo arancino for 1.50E, which is a fantastic price.  But the sweets were really where it was at: the cannolis were absolutely breath-taking.  Filled with candied fruit and the greatest ricotta filling in the world, I could have eaten these forever.

        The best night in Palermo was also our last—our hostel owner took us to the “underground scene” of Palermo, which was a lot less mosh-pit, hard-core dancing and a lot more playing foosball and crepe-making.  My roommate and one of our German friends ended up playing a very intense game of football with eight Italian university students, which our other friends (another German, an Austrian, a Frenchman, and an Argentinian) cheered them on.  It was an absolutely unforgettable experience.

        After we flew back, we had mid-terms, which are always fun.  Ash Wednesday in Florence was an experience to be sure—they don’t put the ashes on your forehead here; instead, they put them on your hair.  We took a tour of Santa Croce, home of the tombs of Michelangelo and Machiavelli.  I finally made my way to the world-famous “secret” bakery later that week—they make absolutely fantastic brioches!  The Saturday of that week, my roommate and I traveled to Assisi.  We saw the bones of St. Francis and traveled around a bit with a Franciscan friend of mine.

        The next week was an exciting one.  On Tuesday we had a pizza-making class and that night, at the secret bakery, I was briefly interrogated by the police.  I never received an explanation why, but it was an experience to be sure.  The next day we took a tour in an Italian restaurant, which was built on the foundations of the Florentine Roman amphitheater—extremely fascinating.  Thursday a big group of us went to the Boboli Gardens.  I’d been there before, but that experience was absolutely incredible.  The views of Florence and the whole experience of being in the gardens are absolutely unbeatable.  On Friday, I spent most of the day exploring Florence: I saw Dante’s house, the Academia (including the world-famous David), and a bunch of churches.  On Saturday, I traveled to Ravenna, home of some of the most ancient mosaics in the world and the resting place of Dante.  Sunday I went to Fiesole—although, as I later found out, it was the residential area of the city and not the interesting part of the city.  Monday (the day I’m writing this), St. Patrick’s Day, we had an olive oil tasting, which was intellectually interesting, though I encourage all of you to never, ever do shots of olive oil.  It’s bittersweet entering our eighth week—it feels like my journey is still only beginning!

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