Birthplace of the Renaissance
We took a train from Rome to Florence. There are three types of trains in Europe. The inter-city trains, the regional trains which will travel from one town to another, and the fast trains which are designed to take you to farther destinations at greater speeds.
We took the fast train arriving in Florence in about an hour and 15 minutes. We took a cab to our hostel.
NOTE: Hostels in Europe are not what many believe them to be as popularized by the terrible hostel movies. In fact, mine is a five- tar hostel that has individual and group rooms with private showers, pool, gym, laundry room, Wi-Fi, and dining area.
Our hall constantly smells like Mr. Bubbles bubble bath and has the pink walls to match. We took a walking tour of Florence which is much more condensed than Rome and getting around the city center is not too difficult.
Our first stop was at the Basilica di Santa Maria Del Fiore, or as the Florentines simply calls it, Il Duomo. Designed by Brunelleschi this architectural feat of the Renaissance serves as a focal point for the city and also a great guiding reference. From the Duomo we went to the Piazza della Signoria. In this large square there is a lot to see.
The Palazzo Vecchio( located in the Piazza della Signoria), which was the government office for Florence for much of the Renaissance, more importantly; you will see the outdoor sculpture of David. There are several other sculptures including Donatello’s Perseus slaying Medusa.
NOTE: To prevent pigeon droppings (and the oil from your skin) from destroying the bronze statue, the statue has been connected with an electrical current to send a little shock to tell you not to touch.
There are also guards there 24 hours a day who will probably come over and scold you. Nevertheless this square hosts several sculptures and is worth seeing. The Uffizi is also here. The Uffizi was the former administrative office of the Medici family. The Medici family was one of many aristocratic families that ruled Florence during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In here you will find all of the great works by notable Italian artists.
The Uffizi also serves as a great place to really identify the difference between Medieval art and Renaissance art. For the Botticelli fans out there, you can also see 2 masterpieces, Venus and La Primavera. One could easily spend days exploring the Uffizi.
NOTE: The Uffizi has strict security protocol, one must go through metal detectors and have their bags X-rayed.
In this case, less is more.
They don’t let you take any pictures in here so you really won’t need a lot, except for money for the gift shop. The gift shop offers a wide variety of items, really a marketing genius, you can get copies of your favorite prints, jewelry, many great books that you can’t get in the States, and yes; tissues, you can blow your nose into Botticelli art. The Uffizi also provides a nice view of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).
NOTE: This bridge is amazing and has lots of history. It used to serve as the market but the aristocracy couldn’t stand the smell from the butcher shop, so they passed a proclamation establishing that only gold could be sold here.
If you’re gonna splurge, this is the place to do it! The shops here open around 9 a.m., and if you’re around when they open, it is like watching several treasure chests open because the windows are covered with slope-fitting wood.
The Ponte Vecchio is also the only bridge to be spared from bombing by Hitler during WWII.
If you’re looking to get away from the less touristy stuff, cross the bridge and walk a few blocks from the main area. This is where you will find hip young Italians strutting themselves in the latest fashions and find shops that sell several hand-made items. So if you’re looking for something that isn’t an Italian soccer jersey or leather purse and is exclusive to Florence; this is the place to go. However before you get to these shops there are several wonderful restaurants that have outdoor dining areas over the river. Several of them serve to tourists and offer reasonable prices — the perfect place to capture the Tuscan Sunset.
Florence literally has a lot to do, but what makes it tricky is that there are several little side streets and despite the city center being small, the average tourist or student studying abroad may miss some really cool places. I encourage you to walk down (with a friend or two), the streets less traveled. It is on these side streets where you will stumble upon the old limestone buildings where wealthy families used to live. You can see some great sites, and learn some unique Florentine history like where the unbaptized people of Florence were buried or where the Amidei family beat the son of the Buondelmenti family to death when he decided not to enter an arranged marriage.
Since we were in Florence, part of the cultural education was to participate in a wine tasting. While the FDA in the United States considers alcohol a drug, the Italian equivalent considers it food. There is not really an alcohol consumption problem when you take this into mind. The instructor was named Pino, (rhyming with vino), and he was just the greatest. He started out explaining that although wine is meant to enhance food, it should be taken seriously and not over consumed.
We tried three wines from Tuscany, one white and two reds. We learned how to differentiate the smells from the wine, fruity or flowery and the spices used. We learned about the swirl and how quickly the drips ripple down the glass and how that indicates the sweetness of the wine.
Then we learned how to evaluate the texture. A good Italian wine won’t have any sediment in it. If it’s a white wine, you should be able to hold the wine glass over your watch and still see the time. If it is a red, hold it against your white napkin and the napkin should display rich reds and plum colors. Then the taste, this isn’t the time to gulp the contents of the glass. Taste it on its own. Then taste after eating cheese, then taste after eating meat. Decide what you like based upon your individual pallet.
NOTE: White wine and tomato sauce don’t pair well with one another because of the acidity in the tomatoes.
After this education on wine, we really understood that wines were meant to enhance food and vice versa. I have been to wine tastings before but never that were as in-depth and educational as this one. We also tasted balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and learned how to identify quality products.
We have the majority of our classes at the Kent State University building in Florence. The concept of a university is really a British and U.S. idea. In Italy, a university may have a building of classes on one street and a few blocks another building of administrative offices. It is just a concept to get used to which will add to one’s cross-cultural competence.
We also have a free day of travel coming up later this week where we have to organize our own transportation, look at some sights, and get to know the area we choose to go. I am going to Siena which is about an hour bus ride south of Florence. Stay tuned to see what I find here!
— Ryan Geiger, graduate student