Florence, Italy

After spending only four days in Florence, Italy, I can honestly say I understand Guiseppe Verdi’s quote: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” I loved everything about Florence: the street music, the food, the wine, the art, and the people. I truly loved it all.

In total, eight of us went to Italy. Phylizia, one of my apartment-mates, has an aunt who lives in Florence. I am so grateful to her and her family. They were all incredibly hospitable and really made Italy feel like home. Her aunt even cooked us amazing food every night!

After flying into Florence, we spent the night walking around the center of the city, breathing in the clear night air and enjoying the freedom of anonymity on the streets. While there are many things to appreciate in Morocco, it is difficult to constantly deal with cat calling and the lack of a night life; few people go out in Meknes after 9, mainly because of safety concerns. However, in Florence the night is full of music, light, and gelato! I quickly discovered my favorite flavor combination: pistachio and yogurt gelato. I must make it clear that I do not like pistachio ice cream or gelato in the U.S. because it never tastes real, but this was definitely REAL pistachio gelato, meaning the color was a natural green, it had a delicious nutty flavor, and it was not too sweet. The yogurt flavor added a refreshing tang that paired well with the more savory pistachio. Moving on from gelato…

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Some places form your gelato into a beautiful flower. If you want, each petal can be a different flavor; however, in the above photo, I went with my favorite flavors, pistachio and yogurt.

One of the major landmarks of central Florence is the Duomo, a beautiful cathedral. It serves as a landmark for finding your way throughout the city. On Sunday, I attended a Mass there, which was all in Italian, but still a surreal experience. Since Florence is a major tourist site, the church provides leaflets with English, German, and Spanish translations of the scripture passages.

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The dome in the distance is the top of the Duomo.

On Friday, my roomates and I split up and went to different places. Two of my friends went to Pisa, and Phylizia and I took the train to Venice. For those of you who know me well, Vivaldi is my favorite composer, and he spent a significant portion of his life in Venice. Consequently, Venice has a special meaning for me. After getting off the train, Phylizia and I wandered around Venice crossing small, cobble stone bridges that link the streets. We explored the paintings of local artists and marveled at the city’s interesting architecture. After lunch, we headed for Saint Mark’s Square. Along the way we passed shiny, black gondolas bobbing in the water.

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Image on the outside of Saint Mark’s Basilica

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I actually walked inside Saint Mark’s Basilica, but I was not allowed to take pictures. The paintings, which covered all the walls and ceilings inside the Basilica, were beautiful and in remarkable condition. As with most Christian religious art work, they depicted scenes from Biblical stories.

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Lion of Venice in Saint Mark’s Square

After Saint Mark’s Square we headed to my two must-sees while in Venice: Museo della Musica and  the Libreria Acqua Alta.

Finding the Music Museum proved more difficult than we thought. Even with a map, finding your way throughout the numerous alleys and streets in Venice is difficult. However, Phylizia and I learned quickly that if you really want good directions, ask the street painters! Once we finally found the Museo della Musica, the inside displayed old fashioned instruments from violins, to flutes, to guitars. Additionally, the museum gave an account of Vivaldi’s time in Venice, including details of his work as a priest and later as a music teacher for underprivileged/orphaned girls.

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The book shop was difficult to find as well, but after asking a few store owners we eventually found it. It is literally a treasure trove of old books, painting prints, vintage postcards and many other random surprises.

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Inside of the Libreria Acqua Alta

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Back in Florence, I attended a Vivaldi concert, saw Beauty and the Beast at the local movie theater (which is more like a performing arts theater), and went to the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s famous David statue.  The detail of the David statue was amazing, in particular the hands. The veins and creases of David’s hands are so lifelike that I could almost forget they were carved out of stone. The Galleria displays an array of Michelangelo’s statues, including unfinished and finished sculptures, allowing people to see just how difficult and long it takes to carve masterpieces from start to finish. In a more causal sense, artists would draw beautiful portraits or pictures on the street using chalk.

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Chalk street art
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Ponte Vecchio bridge is behind me

In conclusion, I loved everything about Florence, especially the cappuccinos and freshly baked pasticiotti . However, when I really think about it, one of my favorite things about Florence was the music filling the air day and night. Musicians young and old sat on side walks or in squares, some playing for money, but some just for the sheer enjoyment of music. On several days, I saw older gentlemen sitting outside cafes relaxing and playing the accordion. Another day, while I was passing through a square, my ears picked up a cellist boldly playing the Pirates of the Caribbean score. Still, on other nights, I heard electric violins or soft, jazzy guitars. The night literally came alive with music and lights as soon as the sun went down.

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Are these making you hungry?

Ciao for now!

[Next on the itinerary is Merzouga (camping in the desert and camel riding!) and then on to Madrid and Barcelona after the program ends on the 29th of April.]

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