22 October 2011

Side Trips Outside of Florence

There is so much to do in Florence, but this is Tuscany! (er...Toscana...it sounds fancier that way, no?) Famous for its lush, green landscape with an abundance of vineyards and sunflowers, getting out into the countryside can be refreshing for the soul after spending most of your time inside the city. The town of Fiesole is probably closest to Florence - just 5 miles outside - and boasts some breathtaking views of Tuscany, but I personally went a little further away from Florence for my side trips. A lot of cities in Italy can be reached by train, but the taxi driver that dropped my mom from the airport into Florence agreed to act as our chauffeur for half a day for the following day - taking us to some of his favorite places to visit. (Something tells me taxi drivers doing this isn't out of the ordinary...but Mario was very friendly and it wasn't too expensive to "rent" him for the day) Below are the 3 towns we visited that morning.

San Gimignano

Our first stop of the day was in San Gimignano which is known as the Manhattan of Tuscany - and it's not hard to see why (if Manhattan was smaller, with stone buildings instead of concrete and glass). We got here early in the morning, which was quite charming. Me and my mother walked the empty streets (save for a few locals going about their business) filled with magical morning light, we walked into one of the pastry shops and watched the shop-owners preparing their goodies for the swarm of tourists that surely were there hours later. The ceramic shop was fascinating as well with all of its bowls and plates for various foods and occasions that flooded into the shop's basement. It was just full of every shape of vessel, in various designs, that you could imagine! Morning was the best possible time to visit San Gimignano - it felt as it probably was centuries ago.

The outline of San Gimignano in the distance

19 October 2011

8 Museums/Landmarks to Visit in Florence

Living in another country, such as Florence, is so odd in that it's easy to become numb to the masterpieces and World Heritage Sites that you walk by every day. This life becomes your "normal"...you start living life from another perspective. I love getting to know a city well enough that I no longer need a map - and I got to know Florence very quickly. I loved exploring new streets and shops, and I always pushed myself to walk a little farther than I had the day before. The last week that I spent here was full of discovering many of the cities museums and popular spots, not just the top 2 or 3. When leaving a country, I'm always painfully aware that I may never come back (although I always tell myself I will), so I saw as much as I could in the time that I was there and left feeling like I had seen much of what Florence had to offer. Now here is my list of favorite museums and landmarks located in Florence, Italy.

1. Galleria dell'Accademia

Perhaps, most famous for displaying Michelangelo's original David statue, the Galleria dell'Accademia has many other outstanding art on display from masters such as Giambologna (and his original Rape of the Sabine Woman), Botticelli and Perugino. David is definitely the star of the show - situated in a place of prominence, at the end of an illuminated hallway. Seeing this original masterpiece is breathtaking, not only because of its history, but also because of its towering height! At 16 ft. tall, this statue commands attention and admiration. When you are finally able to break your eyes away from David, check out what else the museum has to offer.

Go see the real thing in the Galleria dell'Accademia instead of settling for this copy which
stands in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (where the original used to stand)

17 October 2011

5 of Florence's Most Beautiful Churches

Just because Florence is a small city, doesn't mean it deserves any less time than a city such as Paris or Tokyo. Florence is full of gems just waiting to be explored - and its churches are testimony to that. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the grand and intricate to the quiet and unassuming. I loved visiting as many of these churches as I could - and with Florence being so small, you could easily visit a couple in a day. Here are 5 of my favorites:

1. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

This Basilica, also known as the Duomo, is the focal point of the city. It's a huge, imposing structure and was a sign of Florence's wealth and strength. Its dome remains the largest brick dome in the world. I loved walking by this church frequently, admiring its sheer size and the intricate design of the facade. I got the chance to go inside as well, and while beautiful, the Duomo is much more impressive on the outside than on the inside. If you get a chance to go up the bell tower, you will be rewarded with a sweeping view of the entire city.

The Basilica's dome - a feat of engineering.

16 October 2011

Favorite Spots in Florence pt. 2 - Piazza della Signoria

While the Santa Croce was just a hop, skip and a jump from my apartment - the Piazza della Signoria was even closer. The first time I stumbled upon this square, I was amazed! The magnificent Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria (to its side), with its grand sculptures, is not something I'd expect to find one block up from my apartment. Most alleys in Florence are very narrow and the buildings pretty high, so to come across a wide open piazza such as this creates a sense of awe.

15 October 2011

Favorite Spots in Florence pt. 1 - Santa Croce

The Basilica of Santa Croce was literally a five-minute walk from my apartment,and I visited this spot at least once a day. Not only was it great to get away from the apartment, but it was also an ideal place to get homework done and people watch. As I sat on the steps of this church, I saw tourists come and go - meeting up with their friends after a few hours of exploring the city, showing off various artwork and leather goods they had "negotiated a good price for." I saw locals stop to enjoy their lunch, perhaps with a friend that worked in a nearby shop. This became one of my favorite spots as it wasn't as crowded as, say the Duomo. I could sit peaceably and daydream, draw...or perhaps get to that bit of homework...or not.

14 October 2011

7 Things I Learned While Living in Florence

I can't deny that my brief time spent living in Florence, Italy was different than the romanticized idea I had in my head, but at the same time I would not change the fact that I took a risk and went for it anyway.

Accademia Italiana - my Florentine school.

Not just having been in this city for an afternoon, like most tourists, living the Italian life took some getting used to. I had to get used to living in a country I'd never been to before, figure out how to get to my school and buy my necessary supplies and wander the streets in search of markets that sold more than just fruit and crackers. Here are some things I learned in the short time I was there in 2007.

13 October 2011

The City That Never Sleeps

I've always dreamed of going to New York. I even considered going there for college. As a girl having spent her whole life in the suburbs (albeit near Los Angeles), the idea of the big city with endless opportunities seemed fantastic. So, in 2007, after being miraculously accepted to study abroad in Italy with Accademia Italiana , I finally got the chance to see the Big Apple for myself.

12 October 2011

Paris and London - the first time!

Oh, what to say about my first trip to the places most people dream about? Do I mention how exhausted I was the first day, falling asleep at dinner without even realizing it? Or perhaps how we, two crazy post-high school girls, sang Disney songs, "Tutti Frutti" and "Ice Ice Baby" around the whole country? How about when my mom had us visit the sewer museum (and saw stuffed rats in the gift shop!) or how we left France on its most exciting day - Bastille Day - and spent the afternoon in London instead?

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