Exploring Firenze and Toscana

02 Sep 2011: Friday
Gelato: Wine (and it is amazing!)

It is finally Friday! My first Italian test is finished and we get to meet up with my CP Architecture friend Miche. Miche just finished a summer study class in Switzerland and is now traveling through Europe. Miche will be crashing with us for the next few days. Our first houseguest! We did some sight seeing: Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and the south side of the Arno River. We hiked outside of the city center and up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the most amazing views of central Firenze! A must see!

On the way home, we stumbled upon a great pizzaria! Gusta Pizza (via Maggio 46R) had great pizza, a great atmosphere, and a good price. We got to share one of the large tables with two police officers.

04 Sep 2011: Sunday
Gelato: Matcha (green tea) + Cuor di Pardula (orange, lemon, + saffron) in one cone!

Today was the day of double mass! and it was so great! We went to high mass at Duomo! This was so cool! The average tourist must stand behind a fence half way down the nave. But since we were going for mass (Sar calls it the “Catholic Special”) we got to sit directly under Brunelleschi’s amazing dome, listen to mass in Italian, and smell the incense.

This evening we hiked back up to Piazzale Michelangelo to visit the church of San Miniato al Monte (St. Minias on the Mountain). This church has an adjoining monastery and every evening at 5:30 the monks hold mass. The best part though, is that the monks sing their mass. Their singing radiates through the crypt, below the alter, as the monks sing their prayers. But before entering into the church for mass, we got to witness the end of an Italian wedding. It was very cool to see all of the stylish Italians dressed in their Giorgio Armani suits.

05 Sep 2011: Monday

After class today, Sar, JC, Miche and I visited the Ospedale degli Innocenti, another great building designed by the great Brunelleschi. The Ospedale degli Innocenti, or the Hospital of the Innocent, was an orphanage and a nunnery. Mothers could place their babies on a rotating door and give their child to the nuns to care for. The nuns would teach the child a trade so that when they grow up, they could have an occupation. I first learned about this building in my architecture history class and it was great to see it first hand!

07 Sep 2011: Wednesday

We started our figure drawing class today. All of the architecture students are required to take this class. Now, when I heard figure drawing, I knew we would be drawing people. But guess what they were wearing… nothing! I was slightly shocked when we first started, but I have taken it upon myself to be mature in this situation. I am very happy with how my first pencil sketch turned out and my drawing teacher is very enthusiastic and supportive!

Today was the Festa della Rificolona (festival of the paper lanterns). Tomorrow is the birthday of the Virgin Mary and this festival is thrown to celebrate the eve of her birth and to remember the farmers who would travel out of the hills by lantern light to sell their goods. There was live Tuscan dancing and folk music and each of the young children were holding colorful lanterns (store bought and home made). I noticed one of the first differences between the US and Italy. Let me set the picture: the small children are carrying paper lanterns that had candles on the inside. The kids that are 8-12 years old walk around with pea-shooters and have one intention this night, to shoot down the lanterns and make them catch fire! This would not happen in America! But the combination of the glittering lights and the fun music made for a great atmosphere.

08 Sep 2011: Thursday

Happy Birthday to the Virgin Mary! The terrace of the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) was open to the public once a year to honor this day. JC, Sar, Alex and I got to climb up to the base of the dome, have panoramic view of Florence, and even walk inside the church along the balcony next to the rose window. It was very cool! From this position on the dome, you can really see how the Duomo is the center of Florence. All of the major streets radiate off of the plaza.

09 Sep 2011: Friday

Our first class field trip was today. We visited the small hill town of Monteriggioni, Siena, and ended the day with dinner at Machiavelli’s house.

Monteriggioni is a walled hill town one hour outside of Florence. This medieval town was build by the city of Siena to be a fort against the attacking Florentines. Monteriggioni is preserved very well. Except for the modern shops and cars, you would think you had just traveled back into the dark ages.

Still within Toscana, Siena was the opposing super power to Firenze. It has a beautiful town hall, duomo, and is home to Il Palio (a horse
race around the sea shell shaped plaza). Even though Il Palio is during the summer, you can still see the rivalries of each district (17 in total) because each area of Siena is decorated differently and sport their colors and flags. My friend Arl and I tasted a traditional Sienanise desert. Ricciarelli are soft almond cookies are they are so good!

To end the day, we went to the house of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was born in Florence and became a rival of the ruling Medici family. Machiavelli eventually took over the political scene of Florence for many years before being exiled by the Medici family. Machiavelli was exiled to this house just outside of Florence where he wrote his political masterpiece The Prince. His house has now been turned into an upscale restaurant and produces wine from the same grapes as when Machiavelli lived here 500 years ago. We got to eat some great traditional Tuscan foods including Crostini (toasted bread with yummy toppings), Ribollita alla Toscana (a thick bread and vegetable stew – so good), Tiramisu and the house wine!

JC sampeling the Machiavelli wine!

Bella Toscana!

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