My first two weeks in Florence (Firenze), Italy have been amazing! After a bit of a delay in leaving Chicago on the sixth due to the frigid temperatures in the Midwest, I made it to Florence on the evening of the seventh. I checked in to my apartment the next morning. Our apartment is much nicer than we expected! It has internet, its own washing machine, a TV, 1.5 bathrooms, and 2 porches facing a beautiful courtyard.
The ninth was our orientation at Santa Reparata International School of Art (SRISA). Thankfully I live very close to the campus, so it won’t be hard to run back and forth between classes and my apartment throughout the semester. Much to my surprise I learned that SRISA only has 18 students studying at it this semester! It is a big adjustment after being at UW-Madison for the past year and a half. There are also 30 or so Washington University students who are studying at the SRISA facilities, but have their own professors who traveled with them and will be teaching them art separate from the SRISA students.
The evening of the ninth the students were treated to a five-course dinner by the professors of the University. It was absolutely amazing, but I don’t know if I am going to be able to have five course meals every day of the week as I’m expected to do! The one thing I can always save room for is gelato, though…which I have been able to get my fill of these past two weeks!
The tenth of January was our first school field trip, which was to San Gimignano. San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany (north-central Italy). There we explored the city, toured the Collegiate Church, climbed one of the famous towers, which was part of the city hall, and visited the Galleria Gagliardi (a small contemporary art museum).
The first weekend I spent exploring Florence with my fellow classmates (four others whom attend UW-Madison as well). I bought fresh fruit and cheese at the Mercato Centrale (a famous farmer’s market at the city’s center), walked down to Ponte Vecchio (the famous bridge of Florence filled with many fancy jewelry stores), and ate at a variety of restaurants and gelaterias (gelato shops).
The next Monday and Tuesday were spent with our Italian professor, who was providing us with basic Italian language knowledge, so we would be prepared to live in Florence for the next four months. Monday we spent walking around Florence and learning the language needed to buy food at a market place. After the market, we crossed the Arno River and climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo, which had an absolutely amazing view of the whole city. We also toured a church overlooking the Arno River and the rest of the city of Florence called, San Miniato al Monte.
Tuesday was spent in the classroom learning more vocabulary and watching an Italian movie about gay marriage in Italy, which was very interesting! Tuesday evening there was an art show opening of one of our professor’s, which was beautiful. He played with mixed media and the idea of a space being art in itself. I think it’s amazing that we have such talented professors teaching us about the world of art.
The fifteenth was our first day of classes! I had Italian in the morning, which was basically a review of our two-day intensive Italian workshop. In the afternoon I had Discovering Florence Through Photography. In this course I’ll be able to walk around Florence taking photographs in black and white film and then I will develop the film myself. I’m very excited for this course because I’ve never worked in a dark room before.
Thursday was my second round of classes. I had Food and Culture first in the morning. In this course we will be visiting farmer’s markets to learn how to tell which food is good to buy, taste-testing a variety of Italian foods, and cooking meals ourselves! Sounds like we’ll be getting the best of everything! In the afternoon I had my first Contemporary Italy class, which focuses on the history of Italy from 1945 to the present. I have never been a fan of history courses, but the professor is so enthusiastic about history that I think I’m going to enjoy this class a lot! He has a great booming voice and uses exaggerated hand gestures and makes every little fact seem fascinating.
Friday started our three-day weekend (we never have class on Friday’s which is great!). A couple of the other SRISA students went to Venice for the weekend, but I decided to stay in Florence with two of my roommates and explore the city more thoroughly. Friday we visited the San Marco Cathedral and Museum in the morning. What I love about all of these cathedrals in Italy is that the architects and artists involved in their construction managed to use every single surface as a piece of artwork – the floor, the walls, the seats, the stairs, and even the ceiling are covered in beautifully detailed artistic flair. In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Semi-Precious Stones, which exhibited a variety of intricately decorated black granite and cabinetry. Afterward we went to Galleria dell’Accademia, which holds the famous David masterpiece by Michelangelo. Although I had previously seen it in person earlier in my life, I was still blown away by its magnificent detail and towering height. This is honestly one of those art pieces that is talked up around the world, but for good reason. There’s no way to describe it in words, you just have to see it for yourself.
That night we walked around Florence, window-shopping. Leather is big around here, so the majority of us have been looking for leather goods to buy as souvenirs. I got Snickers gelato at a small gelateria near the Duomo, which was probably the best gelato I’ve had so far here in Florence.
Saturday morning we went to the mercato centrale again to do some grocery shopping, then in the afternoon we started our tour of the Duomo campus. We started with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is free to the public. The we bought a ten euro pass which allowed us access to the Santa Reparata Crypts, the Baptistery, the Museum of the Duomo, Giotto’s Campanile, and access to the top of the Duomo. The crypts had some of the excavated mosaic pavement from Santa Reparata, the original cathedral of Florence, which were very interesting. The two big items in the Duomo Museum were the Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise and Michelangelo’s Pieta Bandini, which were breath-taking to see in person.
We climbed Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower) next and were able to take some amazing photos of the city from the top. Before climbing to the top of the Duomo we took a break and walked through the Baptistery, which again was beautifully decorated from the floor to the ceiling. Climbing the Duomo was quite the experience! We had to walk up 463 stairs in one-person wide corridors with two-way traffic! The trek to the top is definitely not made for claustrophobic people. About halfway up, we were able to walk around the base of the dome to look at the ceiling painting more closely. At the top, we again were able to take more amazing photos of the city with the sun setting over it.
We called it a weekend after that and I spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday relaxing and trying to catch up on sleep! Even though Florentines live a very laid-back lifestyle, I still haven’t adjusted to the times of meals and bedtime, so I’ve been napping a lot during the ‘siesta’ time every afternoon. Thankfully I’ve been able to avoid coming down with a cold and I hope that luck continues!
I honestly am loving it here and am so glad I chose SRISA as my study abroad destination. With such a small group of students and professors it has been so easy to make fast friends and I haven’t been given much of a chance to be home-sick, since I am surrounded by fellow American students (even other UW-Madison students), who are in the same position I am.