1. The Food The food in Florence has exceeded my every expectation. One of the main reasons I decided to study abroad in Italy was the cuisine but I was unprepared for just how AMAZING it really it. Everything is fresh, natural and hand made. I’m talking fresh bread, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, prosciutto, salami, and olives… and that’s just the antipasti! Then comes the pizza, the ravioli, the lasagna, and the tiramisu. Totally blows my mind. My mouth is watering while typing this… it’s that good. Can you tell I love food a little (too much)?
2. The people I was told before my departure to keep my eyes on the ground and to never, EVER talk to strangers. Luckily, I had a hard time following these directions because if I had, I would have missed out on some truly wonderful people and opportunities. I’ve made friends with everyone from the man who makes my espresso every morning, to the staff at my favorite grocery store, to the man who lives a floor below me who I ride the elevator and exchange recipes with each each week. The people are warm, friendly, passionate, and absolutely hilarious! I’ve had people go out of their way to give me directions, serenade me in the streets for fun, and I’ve made some great friends who have an amazing attitude towards life in general. I’ve always wanted to live in Florence, but the people have made me want to stay.
3. The Duomo The Florence Duomo; Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower) to be exact, is breathtaking. I walk by it every day on my way to school and each time it manages to stun me a little bit more. The red and green colors, the statues and carvings, the paintings edged in gold, and the bronze doors command attention. Shops and cafes are built around it like an industrial shadow, but if you are in the plaza the only thing you can focus on is the structure. Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery, and the Dome itself steal the show. It’s easy to get caught up in daily life trials and goings on, and sometimes with school and work I forget to stop and enjoy. But that’s why I love the Duomo so much. It makes me stop even just for a minute and say to myself, “Sam, stop stressing…you’re in FLORENCE!” It’s the little shock I need to keep my eyes open, keep exploring, and keep enjoying every minute of the experience.
4. The Gelato I know, I know. Gelato should technically be in the food category. But if you’ve experienced Florentine gelato then you completely understand why it needs its own… it’s that good. In the first few hot months of the study abroad experience I think my roommates and I averaged about two cones a day. Chocolate, hazelnut, tiramisu, pistachio… there just isn’t a bad flavor. Of course, being seasoned Florentines at this point we have our favorite place and we usually don’t stray from their version of the delicious treat. But gelato cravings can (and do) strike anywhere and luckily there are hundreds of tiny vendors all over the city to assist. Lucky, lucky me.
5. Piazzale Michelangelo The Piazzale Michalangelo is a famous square seated at the top of a large hill. If you climb up all of the steps leading up to it, you are rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of Florence. There are shops, food trucks, and restaurants at the top along with some beautiful statues. But the view is the best part. For exercise, instead of going to the gym, I like to run to the top of the hill and then sit and enjoy the piazza for a little while before running back home. Sometimes at the top musicians play and people grab a bottle of wine from the vendors and just sit and relax. It sure beats every other workout I’ve ever had. It is a great place to run, sit, talk, take pictures, draw, or just hang out. And the view will just make you melt.
6. San Lorenzo Market Instead of huge shopping super centers like they have back home where I live in the US, Florence has a huge indoor market. There are different vendors and stalls selling fresh meats, cheese, seafood, vegetables, dried fruit, fresh baked bread, wine, and homemade pasta. Aged cheese and balsamic vinegar can be tasted and purchased along with some organic olive oil. Instead of one stop shopping, getting everything from apples to toothpaste within a few feet of each other, at the San Lorenzo market everything is stretched out, and you meet with knowledgeable and helpful people who sell amazingly good food for very little money. I never spend over 15 euro (about $20USD) and I buy all the food I need for the week. It’s like being transported back to the good ol’ days, visiting your local butcher and baker for your groceries. It isn’t always convenient, and it takes a lot more time than food shopping at home, but it is ten times more fun and ten times more fresh.
7. The Shopping Jackets, wallets, and bags… oh my! Vendors line the streets with everything from aprons to scarves to books. The leather stands are my favorite. The soft leather jackets that hang from the ceilings call to me, and I can spot the gleam of the jewelry carts from a mile away. The best part: bartering! Bartering is socially acceptable in Italy and you can talk down a good leather piece at least a few euros (which is something I have become quite skilled in). Surrounding these street vendors are high end boutiques, thrift shops, and brand name stores. It is honestly a shopper’s heaven!
8. The smells I know this is a weird one, but I love the smells of Florence. The smell of garlic pouring out of a restaurant, the fresh pastries when walking by bakeries, or the rich espresso smell when frequenting my favorite coffee shop. All these smells have become the perfect background to my experience here. The smell of wine in the vineyards I have toured is amazing, and the smell of the markets with all their spices and fruit always seems to make me hungry. Keep your eyes AND nose at the ready when visiting Florence!
9. The wine Mama-mia… the wine. Chianti, Sangiovese, Brunello, Sagrantino, and even the house wines at local restaurants blow any wine I’ve ever had in the Statesout of the water. Whether its rich and complex reds or sparkling whites, Italians know their wine as much as they know about their pasta (which is VERY well, mind you). I am taking a wine tasting class to further my knowledge as well as my enjoyment of Italian wines and I have not been disappointed. A traveler would be remiss if they skipped out on sampling some local vino!
10. The Uffizi Museum The Uffizi changed my life. I spent all day and took a tour of it and I am still unsatisfied. Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael and more grace the museum with their extremely beautiful and complex pieces. My favorite part of the museum was Botticelli’s Primavera, also known as the Allegory of Spring. It is a tempera panel painting depicting various mythological figures. I stood in front of it for a very long time and I know I will never forget it. Absolutely one of the highlights of my study abroad experience in Florence.
These are only a sample of the hundreds of things I have fallen in love with in Florence. This city has charmed me with its rich history, beautiful art, passion for food, and its warmth. Thanks to ISA and the wonderful people I have met on this journey, this experience is the best in my life!