la Storia ed i Sapori dalla Bella Città

In the past I have traveled to many cities in a short period of time. On each of these vacations, I have fallen specifically in love with one of these cities. The only problem with loving every piece of a place so much is that I am unable to fully enjoy the city succeeds it.
Six years ago when I went to Italy, the first city I visited was Venice. The charm of the canals, the grandeur of the Palazzo Ducale, the quaintness of Murano and Burano, and the friendly, convivial nature of the Italians all sponsored my adoration of Venice. The next city on the itinerary, Florence, just didn’t compare.

But now, I’m beginning to second guess the validity of that assertion. Although I still have beautiful memories of Venice locked away in the corner of my mind, my current experiences in Florence are causing me to become even more attached to this city than I ever was to Venice. The way Florence manages to be simultaneously religious and civic, historical and hip, and quaint and bustling with activity, is just so tantalizing. It literally seems as though every corner I turn leads me to experience a new, beautiful piece of Italian life. (Or maybe that’s just because there are so many side-streets…)

Anyway, my first week here has been equally spectacular and exhausting. I have made plenty of time to explore the historical center of Florence, the surrounding areas, and the Villa Natalia at the expense of sleep: Between hours of walking around, early morning classes, and late-night studying, I’m not sure sometimes whether jet lag is making me sleepy or if I’m just physically tired. (However, I am sure my best friend’s name at the moment is Espresso.)

Although class starts di buon’ora della mattina, the greatest thing about my Art History lessons, is that classes are held “on-site”– in other words, in the various museums/churches of Florence. My classmates and I meet Silvia, our professor, in the Piazza San Marco at 8:45 am (prima che il tempo diventa piu caldo). She walks us to different areas of the city, and acts as a sort of human audio-guide along the way. It’s exciting to learn about the history of the city. Walking around, not only the contrast between Gothic-aged and Renaissance-aged buildings becomes more apparent but also the significance of the path you walk takes on a greater meaning. For me, it was once easy to look at an intricately constructed, yet massive piece of architecture and think — wow, whoever made this was a genius. But now, when I see these buildings I wonder — How did this building come to be? Did the artist actually get to construct his vision, or rather was his creativity constrained by the desires of his patron?
The religious and civic conflict that once occurred in all cities of Italy, for example, became literally apparent to me after learning the history behind the buildings constructed in different sections of the city. The separation of the Duomo and the building where the Guilds would meet literally displays the struggle and separation between city and state.

This is where the guilds once met. Interestingly, this building used to hold grain before it was a town-hall! (It had a monolithic, crude design before the embellishment of the arches and addition of the statues)

This is where the guilds once met. Interestingly, this building used to hold grain before it was a town-hall! (It had a monolithic, crude design before the embellishment of the arches and addition of the statues)

The Duomo at night-- because it was too beautiful not to share.

The Duomo at night– because it was too beautiful not to share.

This weekend, I went hunting for a supermercato, because I needed conditioner, laundry detergent, and hand soap. After walking into a new section of the city with some friends, we found “Esselunga,” and had a great time looking around the poorly-organized aisles for the items we needed, and translating the Italian display cards. (I personally got stuck in what is comparable to King Kullen’s sweets aisle, trying to decide which biscotti looked the most delectable.)

Yesterday, I explored the side streets of the historic section of the city with some friends, and searched for non-touristy gelato places. (If you ever do end up in Florence, you must go to “Perché no?” because the gelato is so fresh, and not overly creamy. (The name of the gelateria is as great as the gelato itself: In Italian, the response to the question “would you like dessert” is not usually “Sure”, but rather, “Why not?”– Perché no?).
On our hunt for gelato, I also found a little fresh fruit stand.

Thank goodness my handbag is too small and too stuffed to fit any fruit in it, otherwise I may have spent an excessive amount of euro on everything here.

Thank goodness my handbag is too small and too stuffed to fit any fruit in it, otherwise I may have spent an excessive amount of euro on everything here.

I spent the greatest 30 cents of my life on the juiciest, sweetest peach.

My afternoon in the city yesterday ended with two more savory flavors: the tastes of home and coffee. Earlier in the week Mena, my Italian professor from Brown, emailed me to say that she would be in Florence; in the late afternoon we met up and drank cappuccinos on a rooftop building overlooking the Piazza delle Signorine. Through our conversation, we realized that we coincidentally are living right down the street from each other! As Mena said to me in English through her Italian accent, “It really does seem like a small world, Emily. First I am teaching you Italian at Brown, then I am seeing you in Italy, and now we are living so close together.”

Arriving in Florence.

Ciao a tutti! Sto adesso a Firenze. Finalmente.

Leaving my house at 3:30pm on July 29th, I’m writing to you at 5:37 pm on July 30th from my desk, while I look at the city of Florence from above through the window that is shining slanted rays of the mid-afternoon sun on my desk.

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But before I get ahead of myself, my flights here were relatively painless. In JFK, I met up with another girl in my program who had the same travel agenda as I did. We made fast friends while waiting out the hour delay of the first leg of our journey. Once the plane tooke off, the 8-hour flight seemed much shorter than I thought it would: this is probably thanks to both the movie screening of Silver Linings Playbook, and the fact that I missed my afternoon coffee and was actually tired when the cabin lights went off.

Arriving in Rome at 8:20, Maya and I made the executive decision that an espresso stop was worth power walking to the gate of our connecting flight.

At 10:30, we were in a taxi on our way to Villa Natalia.

I’m not sure what I really expected this Villa to look like, but I can honestly say that even if I had imagined a beautiful image, that the Villa in real life would have surpassed it.

The estate is absolutely gorgeous:

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I hope to find the time later — or more realistically, tomorrow — to explore more of the grounds, because the estate really is too beautiful to not examine every nook and cranny… on our way back to the Villa Natalia, I found a pea (or lima bean?) garden!

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My room was equally perfect. With ample closet space, air conditioning, and an airy, spacious feel, I am thus far very satisfied. (Although I suppose anything that closely resembles/ contains a bed looks good to me after only a short 2 hours of sleep…)

After unpacking my (less than 50 lb!) suitcase, Maya and I headed into Florence via bus from the Villa to Piazza San Marco. It was surreal to walk around the city with the simple agenda of finding a place to eat. With 6 weeks ahead of me to hit all the must-see, touristy spots, I rather paid attention to the Italian people as I strolled: listening to the beautiful Italian language envelop me, I was surprised and excited to understand drips and drabs of conversation. Although I did accidentally misdirect a tourist who was looking for l’Accademia…

We finally chose a lunch spot an hour later and dined with margherita pizza in the back of a hand-painted ristorante off the Piazza San Giovanni. I managed to carry on conversation with the waitress in Italian, and successfully relate that we were two students studying abroad for six weeks etc. etc.. Although, I wasn’t able to understand what Za – Za (il nome della ristorante) meant — I feel as though it imitates the buzz of a bee in Italian, but you can let me know if you think otherwise!

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We decided to walk back to the Villa instead of taking the bus, as to further explore the side streets and get a better idea of the layout of the city. In reality we explored the shops and street markets…

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But all in all, it was a beautiful afternoon. Even more beautiful was returning to my room and realizing that when I woke up the next morning, I would still have oodles of time in Florence.

Arriverderci for now, I have to run to my first Orienation dinner.

But I’m looking forward to showering in this cute little contraption afterwords,

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and even more so, I’m excited to sleep soundly, and wake up in the morning refreshed and ready to start my studies.

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