This morning we enjoyed our last breakfast on the terrace at the monastery before boarding a bus to drive to Florence. The drive was about an hour and a half long and let me tell you, it is hilarious to put 40 exhausted college kids on a charter bus because about 5 minutes into the drive, it is dead silent and if you look back, every single person is conked out asleep. We all had a very busy last week of school taking finals, moving out of the dorms, and packing for Italy- add a time change and the most walking we have ever done in our lives on top of that and the bus ride becomes the perfect time for a nap.
Everyone woke up as we arrived in Florence and as we drove toward the hotel, we could already feel a change of pace from life in Arezzo. Florence is full of tourists and the population is about 500,000 compared to the 100,000 of Arezzo so it was much busier. It is home to two famous art museums and a beautiful cathedral complex so it attracts visitors from all over.
From the moment we arrived at our hotel- comically called Hotel California- (the song was stuck in my head the whole two days!)- we hit the ground running and didn’t stop until late that night. At this point in the trip, we met up with Kirk DuClaux, OU’s on-site Director of Italian programs in Arezzo. During the year, he is based in Arezzo teaching classes, but leads the excursions to Florence, Siena, and Rome for summer programs like ours. He used to work as a high profile tour guide for the Italian tourism department and has given Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts tours of the same places he was taking us. Anyways, he is extremely knowledgeable and knows his stuff so we were grateful to have him lead us around the city. However, we quickly learned that he is serious and if you aren’t ready when he says to be, he will take off walking without you. #onlyhappenedonce #thenwelearned #reallifegameoffollowtheleader
The population of Arezzo is about 100,000 and the environment of the town was very safe and quiet and quickly became familiar. By the third day, we all knew our way around and had a favorite restaurant or spot to sit and chat. However, from the moment we arrived in Florence, it was a very different feel. It is a much larger city with the population being right around 500,000. The traffic increased and we had to stay very aware of possible pick-pocketers (good practice for Rome!) and there were quite a few more Americans and British tourists so I definitely heard more English than in Arezzo. Also, many other universities have study abroad programs in Italy so we met/saw students from TCU, Purdue, and South Carolina to name a few which was fun!
We also quickly discovered that everything in Florence was more expensive than Arezzo— the price of our beloved gelato went from 1.80 euros to 2.50 and at one place 6.50! We all walked in, saw that price, muttered a nice Oklahoman “that is highway robbery!” and left. #nothankyou #wewillgetourgelatoelsewhere #wemisscremi
Anyways, modern Florence is built around ancient Roman forum walls and there is a grand piazza right in the middle of the city (as there is with most of these Italian cities- often several grand piazzas in one city). Though the walls have been around for ages, the city is very modern and right in the middle of the piazza sits the Apple store, Zara, a Coach store, and nice restaurants. To escape the expensive price of the restaurants right on the piazza, Ashley, Evann, Keagan, Gillian and I went down the street and had a fabulous pizza to start of the day in Florence before meeting back with the big group for a walking architectural tour of the city. It was fascinating as we realized how old this city really is and how rich the history is.
After learning this background information on the city, our group took off to see some of this fabulous Renaissance art for ourselves. It was interesting to see the progression from the different artistic styles over the years and how the pieces have become more human like and are mostly inspired by Biblical stories and Roman mythology. I won’t bore you with all of the details of the pieces of art (trust me it gets a little overwhelming and can run together), but here are some pictures.
Next, we went to the beautiful cathedral complex. HOLY COW. I took pictures and will show you mine to prove I was there (I took the first and third one), but I resorted to Google to get one that showed the whole thing and the grand stature of it. And of course, the pictures don’t even do the cathedral justice. It was fabulous. I was in awe the entire time of the incredible detail and marveled at the fact that these people were able to build such a massive and decorative structure in the year 1296 (which I think of as being rather primitive). The church took 140 years to complete (understandably, just look at the detail) and is the epicenter of religious ceremonies and traditions for the area.
In the 1300’s, Florence was over taken by the merchant class and quickly became a booming and prosperous metropolis. Florence took on a new role as a capital city and became a functioning and thriving city-state. With all of this prosperity, came money and from that money came commissions from wealthy families for great art.
The Renaissance art era was born in Florence in 1260 and Florence became the hub of merchants and artists.
My favorite thing we did this day was climb to the top of the dome of the cathedral. WOWZA.
As we got in line, the workers warned us that if you were claustrophobic, in bad shape, or scared of heights, that you might want to reconsider climbing to the top. I will tell you that I am not claustrophobic or scared of heights, but the climb up the 496 stairs tested me a bit. We climbed up a dark, spiral staircase for a good 15 minutes to make it to the top and there was really only enough room between the wall and the ledge for me to walk straight forward and that was about it. Now I know why they warned the clausterphobics.. Finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel (literally) and we made it to the top. It was SOO worth it!!
The view was absolutely incredible. Everyone took pictures together and took full advantage of the view since it had taken halfway to forever and a lot of energy to make it up there. I have been to the top of several tall structures, most recently the Empire State building in NYC and I love having a birds eye view of the world below. While the view from the top of thef \he Empire State building is incredible, this one was even better and I feel it is because there is the city to look at, but also the rolling hills and trees and greenery of the countryside and mountains right behind the cityscape. I also spotted a medieval castle and lake far off the in the distance.
After surviving the trek down from the top of the cathedral dome (which was honestly worse/scarier than the way up because it was so steep and slick) we returned to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We had a three course meal at a restaurant who’s name I can not pronounce that was so yummy! I ordered pasta with wild boar sauce (I had no idea what that was and just ordered it for the name) and it turned out to be fabulous.
After dinner, a group of us set out to explore the town and ended up at a beautiful bridge where we sat and talked and enjoyed the night air before turning in for the evening.
It has been a other full but wonderful day and I am headed to bed to recharge for tomorrow. Ciao!