Three years ago, I toured Italy for my senior class trip. We visited Rome, Assisi, Florence, Padua, Pisa, and Venice. At the time, I didn’t like Rome much. I appreciated the history of the city, but it was too big, too crowded, too urban. It probably didn’t help that we were in Rome for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. As a high school senior, I loved Florence. It felt livable and manageable compared to Rome. Florence seemed more familiar to my suburban frame of reference than cosmopolitan Rome.
This weekend, I traveled to Florence with seventeen other Notre Dame students. As we walked into the train station, I turned to a friend and said, “This big group could either be really wonderful or really terrible.” Fortunately, things worked out well. Once we arrived and split up into smaller groups, everyone managed to visit the things that they wanted to see. And we didn’t lose anyone either!
Traveling with Notre Dame kids was so relaxing. Normally, I find myself making itineraries, gathering maps, highlighting guidebooks, and reserving tickets, but for this trip, I didn’t do any work. Cate booked the hostel, Matt figured out the bus system, Joey bought the train tickets, Kathryn and Killian got recommendations for restaurants from friends who had studied abroad in Florence, Tommy researched bars, and Kelly chose museums. I just followed along. As I was packing for the trip, I debated whether or not to bring my computer, my phone charger, my blowdryer. I didn’t bring any of those “maybe” items because I knew that I could count on someone else to come prepared.
Some of the Sights:
–Santa Maria Novella: The name of the Firenze train station, and also the name of major Florentine basilica designed by Giorgio Vasari. The church’s biggest art attractions are a large crucifix by Giotto and a bronze crucifix by Giambologna in the famous Strozzi Chapel. I liked the massive stained glass windows behind the main altar.
–Ponte Vecchio: We took pictures on this bridge when we arrived on Friday night. The girls loved window-shopping for fancy, sparkly jewelry at the shops built into the bridge.
–L’Accademia: Michelangelo’s “David” spends his time at L’Accademia. Fourteen-foot-high Dave stands at the end of a long hallway filled with Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures called “Prisoners.” It was great to listen to the Rick Steves’ podcast tour of L’Accademia and to listen in on some of the English and Italian tour guides. Michelangelo lived until he was 89 years old. During his distinguished career, he was a sculptor, a painter (Sistine Chapel, anyone?), and an architect (St. Peter’s Basilica dome). He had completed the Pieta by the time he turned 24, so he started early. I had been to L’Accademia to see David on my last visit to Florence, but on that trip, I walked right past the Prisoners. Looking closely at them, I was able to see Michelangelo’s rough chisel marks in the marble and to think about how he sculpted freehand from front to back of the marble block, revealing the figure within one layer at a time.
–Basilica di Santa Maria dei Fiore: This gigantic church is commonly known as “Il Duomo,” a reference to its massive red brick dome. For the steep fee of eight euro, we had the pleasure of climbing 463 very steep stairs up to the top of the dome. I’m no fan of heights or enclosed spaces, but the trek was worth it. What a view!
–Uffizi Gallery: We spent the afternoon in the Uffizi, one of the most famous art museums in the world. Again, the Rick Steves podcast tour was invaluable. The gallery is arranged roughly in chronological order, from medieval through to renaissance. It was interesting see the development of perspective (thanks, Giotto) as we strolled through the centuries, and I was excited to see some pieces I recognized like Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and Da Vinci’s “Annunciation.” I definitely would have appreciated the experience more if I had some background in art history, so I’ll be brushing up on my terms and artists before hitting the Vatican Museums in Rome.
We didn’t make it to Santa Croce or to any of the Dante places in Florence, but I had seen those areas of town on my earlier visit.
We ate really well in Florence, thanks to Rick Steves and to recommendations from former Florence study abroad kids. Gusta Pizza, our lunch stop on Saturday, had actual Italian guys whirling pizza dough in the air behind the open counter. Delizioso!
Three years after my first visit to Firenze, my opinion of the city has changed. This weekend was fun and I really enjoyed traveling with all the Notre Dame kids, but I can’t imagine preferring Florence to Rome. Although I haven’t been exposed to a huge variety of places in Italy yet, I absolutely adore Trastevere and its neighborhood-within-a-city vibe. After living in Rome for ten days, Florence felt small and quiet compared to Trastevere’s funky atmosphere and Rome’s global feel.