My Semester Abroad Florence, Italy Lauren Golden View of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo For five months I had the pleasure of calling Florence, Italy my home. Florence is a small city packed with rich history, architecture, food and culture. When I first arrived in Florence, I was overwhelmed. I had no clue where my school was, how to get around, where to get my groceries and I did not speak a word of Italian. The map of Florence became my new best friend. I was eager to know this city inside and out as soon as possible. At first every street looked like an alleyway, Vespas parked along the street the streets are cobble stoned and extremely narrow. Cars seemed to squeeze their way down the street, as Vespas speed by. During my first week in Florence I was either dodging the vespas or hugging the building as a car drove by. Soon enough I learned to walk the streets with confidence like the Italians, I knew where I was going and no longer needed to rely on the map. I even tried to adapt the Italian style by wearing black leather boots and a pashmina. I enjoyed being a tourist in my own city and visiting the important sights. There was so much to see. Florence is filled with magnificent art and architecture. The famous David by My Street, Via Dante Alighieri Michelangelo is absolutely breath taking. The first time I walked into the room at the Academia where David stands I was struck by its magnificence. It is unbelievable that a thing of such beauty could have been created from a large slab of marble. The Duomo is the central church in Florence that greatly impacted architectural history. I climbed the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, where I was rewarded with fabulous views of the city. The Galleria delgi Uffizi is one of the largest art galleries filled with famous artwork like; Me, Climbing the Duomo Botticelli’s La Primavera, and Tizian’s Venus of Urbino. Giardino di Boboli is one of my favorite places in Florence. The garden of Boboli is behind Pitti Palace. It is very calm and relaxing, I would often go there to hangout on a sunny day. As an Agribusiness Management student the Mercato Centrale, Central Market, was a focal point of the city for me. I visited the market almost everyday. The market is filled with scores of different vendors. Upstairs is filled with fruits, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts. All the produce was extremely fresh; it looked as though it came straight from the farm to the market. Downstairs was mostly filled with meat, fish, cheese and bread vendors. It was interesting to compare the different products sold at the market with the supermarkets at home. There was a larger Me and my friend in Mercato Centrale, in front of a fruit stand. variety of cheese and more different cuts of meat than I have seen at any supermarkets at home. For example tripe, lining of a cow’s stomach is common on sandwiches or served in a tomato sauce. In the mornings I would get “due Cantuccini”, two almond biscotti and “café macchiato”, espresso with a little milk, from the oldest vendor at the market. I drank my coffee standing with the locals, some of them could finish their espresso in one gulp, and I sipped mine. Florence has many restaurants, but they all serve Italian food. I thought that was the strangest thing, considering my home town has Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, and American restaurants. My favorite restaurants were the ones that very few tourists visited. Mario’s is a tiny restaurant only opened for lunch. It is extremely reasonable and they serve Tuscan specialties. The “bistecca alla Florentine” is a huge cut of meat, almost like a porter house steak. They serve it rare, but I ask mine to be medium. It is Bistecca alla Florentine served rare. only seasoned with salt and pepper, yet it was one of the juiciest and flavorful steaks I ever had. Another favorite place of mine is Teatre Sale. Teatre Sale is owned and operated by the chef of a very exclusive restaurant in Florence. The dinner is served buffet style. The chef would announce the dish in Italian as it was coming hot out of the kitchen. Everyone would rush up to the kitchen window to get the chef’s latest creation. Half the time I had no clue what I was eating because there was no menu and the chef only spoke Italian. I was the only American there, but all the food was delicious. After dinner the guests were treated to either a concert or poetry reading by a local artist who was invited to perform in exchange for a free dinner. I attended Lorenzo de’ Medici University. I studied Italian Food, Wines of Tuscany, Jews of Florence, and Italian Language. The Italian Food class focused on the unique dishes of the different regions of Italy and allowed us to actually prepare the Italian dishes with fresh ingredients from the Mercato Centrale. I often tried to replicate the dishes in my apartment much to the appreciation of my roommates. The Wines of Tuscany was more challenging than I A homemade dinner of sausage and beans, and a big salad. expected. It was very interesting to learn about the process of wine making and how grapes in different areas can make different wines. Each wine has its unique characteristics and flavor. The wines vary depending on age, year, and aging process, as well as the climate and soil composition. It is interesting how wine more from the same grapes in the same region varies from year to year depending on the average temperature and rainfall. Wines of Tuscany class Vineyard to the left, and me, to the right standing next to an old wooden barrel to age wine. took a field trip to a small vineyard in the Chianti region of Tuscany. We were given a tour around the vineyard and in the manufacturing facility. The Italian Language course was very helpful. I learned the basics, how to ask questions, and order at a restaurant. The study of Jews in Florence was fascinating. I learned about a small minority of the population n that made a contribution beyond there size. A great synagogue was built in 1872. Today it is still used by the Jews in Florence, and it is visited by many tourists each year due to its unique architectural designs. Almost every weekend I traveled to another city or country. I had no idea traveling required so much planning, research and time. I traveled by train, car, bus and plane and stayed at a wide range of accommodations from hostels to a five star spa. Before each trip I would study my travel books. I enjoyed finding the quintessential restaurant of each country and city I visited. I was on a mission to savor traditional cuisine of each region I visited in Europe. For example in Amsterdam I went to a tiny pancake house and in Barcelona I went to Cal Pep, a tapas restaurant crowded with locals where I sampled an assortment of regional delicacies. I learned a valuable lesson. First, always know where taxis are and most likely to be found in a city and second, never say it’s too late until it is too late. Getting to our destination always seemed to be part of the adventure. My first trip was to Interlocken, Switzerland by overnight train. I was not prepared for how small the train car was and having to share the small car with strangers. When I went to Athens, Greece I almost missed my flight. I had a very early flight, the taxi company was not answering their phone and we had no On the overnight train with my friends. way to get to the airport. My heart was beginning to beat faster, the time was passing and still no cab. I was running all around the city running out of time. Finally I caught a cab and arrived at the airport within seconds of the gates closing. If we were leaving from Kennedy Airport in NY they would have never allowed us to board the plane. Finding accommodations was often a challenge. I had to remember I was a student on a budget. Although luxury hotels are easy to find in Europe the challenge is to find a comfortable hotel that is not expensive. In Ireland I stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast that was more reasonably priced than a hotel; and in Vienna I stayed at an apartment style hotel. Since they did not offer maid service each day the rate of the room was less then an average hotel room. Occasionally I stayed at a hostel, which was generally the cheapest. I found many of the deals on websites. However, on my last trip I treated myself to a beautiful hotel in Forte dei Marmi, Italy. Our hotel was right on the beach, walking distance from the town and our room had a great balcony and the most comfortable beds. It was definitely a luxurious way to end the semester. During the past 21 years of my life no five months have been as memorable and rich in experiences as my semester abroad in Florence, Italy. While living abroad I learned to be open to new experiences; whether it was trying different types of food, going paragliding, exploring a new city with just a map and guide book, or biking through Tuscany. All of these experiences have impacted me. I am now more assertive, independent and ready for all types of adventure. Eating Pasta at Dinner.