Tuesday, November 24, 2009


This past weekend, ISA took us to Florence and Arezzo. We left on Friday morning and spent a few hours on the bus, stopped for lunch, then spent another 45 minutes traveling before we made it to Florence.

Albergo Firenze, our hotel, was in a great location -- right in the center of the city. We all brought our stuff to the hotel, then met downstairs a half hour later for our first tour of the trip.

My group had a fabulous tour guide...I wish I remembered her name -- she was so knowledgeable. Our first main stop was Piazza Della Repubblica, which is complete with a merry-go-round. :) The merry-go-round was originally only put there for an event that was going on, but it stuck and now it remains there permanently

Next we saw the Duomo area...look at all of these amazing, historical buildings all in the same picture!

Giotto’s Campanile

The Baptistery

Peek at the Duomo

La Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore


Brunelleschi's work on the dome ceiling

Il Palazzo Medici

My roomie and I waiting in line to get into the Galleria Dell'Academia to see Michelangelo's David statue

Highly illegal picture of the David statue

After our time seeing the statue, we went to check out the leather market. Florence is known for its leather, and there is a huge market that sells everything from leather purses to jackets to boots. I didn't end up buying anything from the market, but later in the weekend I did buy a small leather purse from a street vendor.

Me, Sarah, Kristin, Courtney and Ana. Funny story -- everyone in this picture except for Kristin goes to the same school as me and we are all in the same grade...but none of us knew each other until this semester! And now we're best friends :) At least we will all have each other at home to reminisce about this semester with...that way we don't bore our other friends from home who aren't here!

We ate dinner the first night at a restaurant called Yellow Bar. My friend Courtney's friend studied in Florence last year and recommended it to us...it sounded touristy to me, but it wasn't. It was really good -- a very lively atmosphere with inexpensive, great Florentine food! It's known as being a popular hangout for young people (because Florence has so many college students). I had green and orange pasta with cream, ham and mushrooms....mmm

My table and I also shared Bistecca alla Fiorentina, one of the signature dishes of Florence. Basically, it's a HUGE piece of steak (it's always shared -- my table of 7 shared one order and we had some left over) that's cooked very rare and seasoned simply with salt, pepper and olive oil. I am not a steak eater, but I knew I had to try some...and it was actually very delicious! Nevermind the fact that it was practically still "moo-ing" at me from the plate (I've never seen meat that was so rare) but I did enjoy it. We all better have -- since it's such a huge piece of steak, it cost 39 euros ($58)...but we split it so it ended up being cheap per person

For dessert, we were told that we must try the restaurant's signature dish -- cream puffs topped with melted chocolate. They were amazing!

The next morning, we met our tour guide in Piazza della Signora

This is where MIchelangelo's David statue used to stand. Since it is now in the Galleria dell'Academia, they've placed a fake David statue in its place (it is practically identical)

Our guide took us to this statue of a wild boar. They say that if you rub the nose, it ensures your return to Florence someday. So of course, I did it!

Next she took us to the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"), which boasts the best view of the city and the Arno River

View from inside the Uffizi Museum

You are not allowed to take pictures inside this museum, but here are pictures that I found online of some of the things that I saw. The Uffizi houses a ton of classic works of art, from Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"...

Photo source

to Botticelli's "Primavera"...

Photo source

...Giotto's "Madonna in Maestà"...

Photo source

...and many, many more! I particularly enjoyed the visit to the Uffizi because I took Art History back at TCNJ and I LOVED the class so much, and many of the things we studied are in this museum and in other parts of Florence.

After the museum visit, we were all starving, so we headed out to find a little trattoria that Courtney's guide book said has a great, inexpensive lunch. Trattoria Bordino was tucked down a little side street right off the Ponte Vecchio, and it was very homey on the inside

Again, no food pictures! I'm slacking, I know. We got a two-course lunch for only 7 euros...I had Riso al Burro, which is rice with butter and cheese, and then a dish that I can't remember the name of (it was similar to beef stew -- pieces of beef with potatoes and peas in a thick sauce.) I don't know what got into me because I'm usually not the best with trying new foods, but with the exception of the peas, I really enjoyed this dish.

After lunch we went to Biboli Gardens (view from the garden entrance)

View from the top of the stairs

Then we climbed to the top of a little lookout area for the best look at the countryside from the gardens

It became a joke on this trip that out of all of us, Sarah is the only one who doesn't have curly hair, which rarely ever happens since curly hair is more uncommon than straight. So Sarah snapped this picture of the rest of us :)

On our walk down from the top, we saw a tree with a ton of leaves below it, so naturally, we had to stop and take pictures

Then we walked back over the Ponte Vecchio at sunset...it was so pretty

After walking around for a bit more, we got gelato from what Courtney's friend swears is the best gelateria in Florence. There are two other gelaterias that the guidebooks recommend to be the best, but this one is what "insiders" (as they say) know is truly the best in Florence. Gelateria dei Neri did not disappoint...I got half pistachio (my go-to flavor) and half chocolate/orange, which is probably the best gelato flavor I've tried to date

After our gelato we went back to the hotel and relaxed for a couple hours, then went out to dinner at Trattoria la Casalinga, a little local place off the beaten path that one of our ISA program directors told us about. He said it has amazing food and great prices, and is one of his favorite restaurants in Florence...so of course we had to check it out! He gave us perfect directions to get there, and we ate soooo well...I'm still dreaming about that meal! I got Ribollita soup, which is another Tuscan specialty. The word ribollita means "twice boiled"...this soup starts out as minestrone, then the next day it is reheated with chunks of bread and served with a big drizzle of olive oil on top. It was delicious...full of cannellini beans and vegetables

For my main course I was once again feeling surprisingly daring, so I decided to try another Tuscan specialty -- cinghiale, or wild boar. I had pappardelle al cinghiale, which is pappardelle pasta (my favorite!) with a wild boar ragu sauce. Delicious! I was proud of myself for trying something like this...I'd definitely order it again

And that was our day and a half in Florence! I really enjoyed this city a lot...it is tiny enough that you can get a good feel for it almost immediately, yet there is still so much there to see. I was so glad that ISA included all of our museum visits and tour guides in the trip for us -- it would have been a hassle to get those all figured out on our own, and I know that our guides wouldn't have been nearly as good as the ones that ISA uses. Also, we never would have found Trattoria la Casalinga if it weren't for Andrea (our ISA director)...so that in itself made the trip worth it. ;)

The next morning we woke up early and headed to our next destination...Arezzo!