A few people seem a bit concerned with how much I have planned to travel while studying abroad, in fear that I was forgetting about the study aspect. But rest assured, all my trips take place over the weekend! Only having class Monday through Wednesday is definitely fueling my ability to take frequent trips, and given this once in a lifetime opportunity, I have to take every chance I get at a new experience!
Considering the relative cheapness of traveling while here in Florence compared to coming from the U.S., now truly is the time for me to be exploring the world! I made a list of countries and cities I was relatively interested in traveling to before I arrived in Italy, and since being here I've substantially looked into seeing all of those locations. As mentioned in a previous blog, I have a few trips already planned! My roommates and I planned a trip to Santorini, Greece, and booked a trip during Fall break to Germany, the Netherlands, Brussels, Spain and France. There are a few other's currently in the works, but most importantly, I wanted to take the opportunity while studying in Florence, to explore all of Italy.
Italy has been at the top of my travel list for years and now that I am here, I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn't full embrace and submerge myself into all of Italian culture. To me that means traveling to other Italian cities such as Rome, Venice and Pisa, but also checking out some of the more hidden gems. Conveniently, the study abroad program I am in has frequent excursions and activities that allow students to get an authentic Italian experience. Just two weekends ago we took a trip to Lucca and Cinque Terre, which have to be some of the most beautiful locations I have ever seen.
Lucca is a smaller city in Tuscany full of renaissance style art and packed with interesting history. The city is surrounded by thick brick walls for times of war, but they remain intact unlike most other cities which tore such walls down. Also, a fun tidbit is that Lucca was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800's and was gifted to his sister to be the princess of Lucca. Aside from its rich history, Lucca is lovely with amazing architecture and a beautiful view from the high towers in the city.
Additionally, Cinque Terre is definitely one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen! Cinque Terre actually translates to "five lands" and includes the villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Located on the west coast of the Italian Riviera, the beautifully terraced homes in the hillside overlook the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the region being a hotpot for beach-lovers and history-seeking tourists, the Italian Riviera is also the home of pesto! With farming families throughout the mountainside harvesting pine nuts, a key ingredient in pesto sauce, Cinque Terre is the best place to get a nice plate of pesto pasta or a quick bite of pesto foccacia (flat bread).
This past weekend I got the opportunity to visit Bologna, another worthwhile Italian city. Bologna is a city full of history and culture as well. The beautifully preserved towers, churches, covered sidewalks, and narrow streets make you feel as if you're actually in ancient Italy. It is one of the most populated cities in Italy as the oldest university in the world, the University of Bologna, is located there. Also home to great tortellini and the Fountain of Neptune, the city is definitely a treasure that all should experience.
After we left Bologna, I was also able to visit a real balsamic vinegar farm in Modena! The farm was owned be a family that has been producing balsamic vinegar for generations. They are one of just 100 family farms in Modena that produces balsamic vinegar commercially, as most simple produce the vinegar for family use. While the balsamic vinegar sold in stores is rarely aged for more than a few weeks, this family produces some vinegars older than 50 years old! While there, they allowed us to taste vinegars ranging from 5 years old to over 50 years old, and they truly do get even better with age! I didn’t know balsamic vinegar could be so delicious, and now I’m worried I’ll never be able to use balsamic unless it’s aged for at least 5 years! Nonetheless, it was a great experience to be welcomed into this family’s home and I might have to go back just to get some more balsamic!
Overall, my excursions throughout Italy have been incredible. It's almost surreal to be experiencing and seeing such beautiful and treasured history. Not to mention, I have yet to have a single bite of food that was short of amazing! I'll be taking a trip with my study abroad program to Rome and Pisa later in the semester and I am sure that both cities will be as wonderful as I imagine they are. Also, to dive deeper into Florentine culture, I'll be visiting plenty of museums, eating at local Italian restaurants and participating in Italian cultural outings as much as possible when I'm not traveling. I can't wait to continue exploring this beautiful country!
A presto! (Talk to you soon!)