The Study in Studying Abroad

This past Saturday was my first official day truly exploring the city. Melissa and I, armed with our Nikon’s, headed out into the winding streets of Florence to visit some touristy areas, but also just to spend the afternoon wandering with no set destination. We walked along the Arno River through the Ponte Vecchio, which is the most famous bridge known for its jewelry stores specializing in gold. The views are beautiful, besides the obnoxious street vendors trying to sell you selfie sticks every which way you turn. We crossed over to the other side of the river and walked along the main road. While the city of Florence itself is not that big, as with any metropolitan city, the farther you get out of the center, the more authentic and residential the city becomes. While we didn’t venture too far onto the other side, I do want to head back that way one weekend and find a restaurant where more locals may be.

View from the Ponte Vecchion.
View from the Ponte Vecchio.

We crossed back over to the main area of the city and began to aimlessly stroll down side streets and alleyways. Passing stores like Ferragamo, Gucci, and Emilio Pucci, just to name a few, makes Florence feel like an epicenter of the rich and fabulous, but also not so far away from the expected. The fashion here is chic and simple, despite the glamorous brands. While Americans are known for their more relaxed style, now that I’ve been here for a week, it’s easier to pick out Americans and specifically students. It’s not that as Americans we don’t try to fit in and dress the part, as many Americans I’ve seen look nice, but the way the Italians pair a floppy hat with leather boots and a long tweed jacket seems much more effortless and natural. The streets are lined with stores ranging from high end brands to H&M, and while passing the stylishly designed window displays is feeding my clothing obsession for now, I’m sure I will come home with a few Italian pieces for my closet.

Reflection of the Santa Croce.
Reflection of the Santa Croce.

Tuesday was my first day of classes and it was a little weird going back to attending a class lecture for the first time in 8 months. In addition, with the exception of my Italian class, all of my lectures meet once a week for 2 ½ hours. Even though the time can get to me, especially first thing in the morning, my classes genuinely seem interesting so it should be an enriching semester, with a little break from my usual Journalism and Communications classes.

One class I’m specifically looking forward to is my Travel Writing class. Everyone in my class, and by that I mean the 15 other students, are some type of English of Social Science major. This is nice as even though everyone comes from a different background, we all have similar interests a lot to offer to the course. In addition, my professor use to work for BBC as a travel journalist and will be bringing in one of her colleagues to critique a piece of our work. I’ve recently become quite interested in this genre of writing and am beyond excited to not only read and learn from some of the most iconic authors, but also receive feedback from someone working in the industry.

The other class I have on Tuesday is Italian. Even though I took Spanish for 7 years, they are not as similar as everyone makes it out to be. While I doubt it will be one of the more riveting or unique classes, I’m hoping I can learn more than what I already know. That shouldn’t be hard though considering all I can currently say is Ciao and Grazie. One aspect of the course that will be beneficial is that I can apply the phrases and what not in the environment I’m living in, whereas with Spanish, I never had the opportunity of an immersion experience.

I have to take an art class in order to graduate and purposely saved it for Florence, since art is definitely not my thing. I’m taking a course called Palaces of Florence, which is actually more of an architecture course. We have field trips every class, which besides making the time go by faster, will be super interesting and will allow me to see even more of Florence. Even though I’ve never really been interested in classes such as this, being able to learn about art and architecture while physically looking at the structures my professor is lecturing about , in a city renowned for it’s architecture, certainly won’t hurt.

I also saved one of my history courses for abroad and signed up for a class called The Social World of Renaissance Italy. This class is one of my more crowded ones with around 25 people, I’m guessing since it counts as a history credit rather than an elective. This class focuses on the different periods of the renaissance and the specific people and social groups within the era who shaped that time frame.

Lastly, and certainly the best, is my Pairing Food and Wine class. Each class we cook one meal, which can be anything from risotto to veal, and sample it with two different wines. We aren’t just learning about cooking techniques or what different wines taste like, but also the art behind how food and wines work together. I’m definitely not a cook by any means (I once swore off cooking after attempting to make and eventually burning a batch of rice at school…) so I can’t wait to learn professional techniques, terminology and sampling methods. And I mean is there really any better country to be doing it in?

The first day of class our Professor, Marco, took us to the Mercato Centrale. The Meracte is a two story, 200 year old building, and the bottom floor is a Market where you can buy fresh meats, fish, fruits, vegetables and many other delicious foods. Upstairs, is an open market of restaurants, wine bars and tables. Marco told us about all of the different restaurants before taking us to one of them to sample some food. Our plates had mozzarella, salami, dried pork, prosciutto, ricotta, and a baguette paired with fruit juice and chocolate for dessert. Safe to say this class will be the best ending to my school week.

Food sampler plates at the Mercato Centrale.
Food sampler plates at the Mercato Centrale.

Melissa and I along with our friends Anna, Francesca, Hollie and Grace went to the Mercato Centrale for dinner tonight to celebrate our first week of classes, and decided it’s going to be our new Sunday ritual. While the food we had with class was amazing, I ate the best plate of pasta in existence and I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to Barilla. It was spaghetti with truffle sauce paired with a chianti red wine and I topped it off with hazelnut and white tahity gelato for dessert.

While I’m obviously planning to travel to other countries while I’m here, going to places like the Mercato and finding cute, hidden restaurants and hot spots, makes me want to take full advantage of all the time I have here in Florence. For example, after going to an extremely American bar the other night to watch the SuperBowl, on our way home Melissa, her friend Tommy, and I went out to find a secret bakery. There’s a few bakeries around the city, in hidden locales, that start making pastries for the next morning really early in the morning. So around 3 AM, Melissa’s friend took us to one he had been to. We both got chocolate creme croissants and even though a lot of study abroad people know about them, it’s still fun to say we were able to go out and do that. I’ve heard many people say that they regret not spending more time in the country that they chose to study in and I definitely don’t want to be one of those people. Florence has so much to offer in terms of food and culture and I hope I can find my own favorite places that make me feel like a local over the next few months.

Secret Bakery goodies!
Secret Bakery goodies!

Ciao for now,

Emily

All Photography by Emily Houston

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