It has been officially two weeks since I arrived back home in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and I am finally sitting down to write my final blog entry. Between unpacking, catching up on DVRed Friend’s reruns, doing a some yard work to pay off my debt to my parents and adjusting to the time zone with plenty of naps, I just simply have not found the time. Now that I have though, I have decided the best way to summarize what I have learned while studying abroad would be in a little How To guide written exclusively for my blog followers. Yes, all seven of them.
How To Study Abroad in Florence, Italy
By: Emily Wood
You MUST pack light. Before studying abroad, when it came to packing for anything from an overnight sleepover, to a weeklong vacation, I usually went by my Aunt Susan’s motto: “If you can close your suitcase on the first try, you probably didn’t pack enough stuff.” When packing for Italy though, I somehow managed to bring four months worth of belongings in one backpack, one weekender bag, and one large suitcase that could easily fit a small child as my brother demonstrated before I left. Most of my friends had two large suitcases so I was very impressed with myself. The backpack was essential for weekend trips. And by backpack, I mean school backpack, not one of those intense “I’m backpacking around Europe for the next few months” backpacks. I recommend bringing nothing more than that because you will probably be traveling for many hours to get to your final destination if you use a cheap flight such as RyanAir and you do not want to be lugging around your Vera Bradley weekender even though you think you will look much more stylish.
Even though I recommend packing as light as possible, do not make the same mistake I did by discarding some “essentials” from your final suitcase. For example, I chose to take out my favorite comfy sweatshirt and sweatpants combo. BIG mistake. You will want those on days when the weather is terrible and even though you are in a foreign country, all you want to do it curl up and relaxxxx.
Moral of the story: even though I am wearing the same outfit in many of my pictures (with strategically different colored scarves to mix it up) and also donated many of the items that didn’t quite last for four months after weekly (and in some extreme cases daily) use, it was worth it to not have to lug around giant suitcases everywhere I went.
Once you arrive to your respective destination, plan your trips early. One of the main attractions of studying abroad in Europe is the fact that it is easy to travel to many other cities as well. My recommendation on this though is to start planning your trips the moment you arrive in your city and receive your class/exam schedule. This is essential for getting the best travel deals as well as being able to meet up with friends from other cities. Amsterdam, one of the most popular study abroad travel destinations for college students, was the one city I regret not being able to visit the most. Unfortunately, when my roommate and I finally started looking around for ways to get there we were limited to only one weekend that would work and our travel options were between a $1,000 flight or a bus that stopped in four different cities and would get us to Amsterdam after only a mere 25 hours of traveling each way. Since we only had three days to devote to each trip this would mean that we would be traveling for 2 whole days and only actually in Amsterdam for one. Fail.
Besides the pre planning and weekend excursions to other European destinations, there are many things that you simply cannot go through an entire semester in Florence without doing. I have written my top ten favorite here for you.
Florence’s Top 10 Must-Do’s:
1. Eat Gelato. Everyday. Doesn’t matter where because they are all good, but a couple of my favorite places were Grom, Café Neri, Santa Trinata, and the place by the duomo with the ceramic pig in the window. The "pig place" as my roommates and I referred to it doubles as a bar at night so you can kill two birds with one stone. How economical.
2. Buy some leather goods at the Mercato Borgo San Lorenzo. We were lucky enough to live right on this street and this is where some of the best leather shopping in Florence takes place. Check out my leather jacket and purse for some first-hand purchases.
3. Dance the night away at Yab on a Monday. Even though Florence is a small city, it boasts its fair share of discoteche and Yab is my personal favorite. The clientele is a good mix of Americans and Italians which ensures a good time. Plus it is small so you can’t lose your friends for more than the five minutes it takes to make a lap of the dance floor to find them.
4. Jog along the Arno River, the river that runs through the center of Florence. My roommate and I used to just run as far as we could down the river either going right or left, before or after crossing it from our house. We got to see a lot of the city this way and enjoyed the beautiful views while getting in some exercise.
5. Take the bus to Fiesole, the town 10 minutes outside the city to hike around and see a stunning view of Florence. Or, if you are lucky enough to meet an Italian boyfriend, have him take you there on a date. I got this idea via Lorenzo when he swooned my roommate with this romantic gesture. Che romantico.
6. Go window shopping on the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) is Florence’s famous tourist attraction that crosses the River Arno and houses some of the finest gold jewelry in the entire world. Note that I said window shop though, unless you are ready to drop some serious dough. The bridge is over 1,000 years old and has survived numerous wars because even the opposing army understands how important the bridge is to Florentine culture.
7. Eat dinner at both the Golden View and Il Gato e La Volpe. AIFS students such as myself were lucky enough to be able to dine at Golden View five nights a week if we wanted with our meal tickets. Even though this restaurant is slightly touristy and Americanized (hence the English name) it has the best gnocchi pomodoro in all of Florence in my opinion. Also, the name of the restaurant doesn’t lie, especially if you are lucky enough to get seated at the window, therefore being right on the river with a perfect view of the Ponte Vecchio.
Il Gato e La Volpe (The Cat and the Wolf) is my other personal favorite. Go with a group of six or more and get the unlimited all you can eat all you can drink for 15 euro each. They will bring out an array of appetizers and pasta dishes as well as bichierre after bichierre of vino rosso or bianco, whichever you prefer. Also, their bread is to die for and they have the absolute best balsamic vinegar I have ever had in my life. In fact, if you do go, please bring a bottle of it home for me since I ran out of mine already. Thanks.
8. Visit the Galleria dell’Academia to see The David. Hands down the coolest, most breathtaking piece of art I have ever seen and I do not consider myself an art history buff in any way. In fact, go to The David as often as possible using your student museum pass…it’s free!
9. Climb the Duomo. Florence’s claim to fame, the Duomo is the 1,000 year old church in the center of the city and second largest only to the Vatican. Before you climb the 472 steps to the top through the claustrophobic hallways where over 50 languages are being spoken around you, take a lap around the outside of the building because even after passing the Duomo every day for four months, I still stopped and gawk at it every time.
10. The most important thing to do in Florence I my opinion is to hike up to Piazzale Michaelangelo with a bottle of wine and just sit there and enjoy the sunset while getting the best possible view of Florence. This encompasses Florentine culture in a nutshell and if you are lucky, you may even get to listen to the awesome live band that plays there on weekends or see a newly married couple stop to take pictures with the beautiful view.