I studied abroad in Grantham, England for a semester in the spring of 2010. Start from the first blog post to follow my adventures throughout Europe!

Florence and Pisa, Italy

Our coach ride was about three hours long to Florence. Once we got inside the city, I could already tell I liked the atmosphere better than Rome. It was still touristy of course, but there were parks and cute buildings everywhere; it seemed much more small-town. We got settled in at the hotel and decided to go out to eat together. There were 15 of us on a mission to find dinner, which we did at Christiano’s restaurant. It didn’t seem to be too fancy, but Italian was on the menu and that is always okay with everyone. I had a cheese sauce pasta that was pretty good. We also discovered that most restaurants offer free wine to students, which was taken advantage of by some. I also had the tiramisu and that was heavenly. I’m so happy I discovered that I like it! We had fun talking and hanging out and then Sarah, Matt, Sara and I walked back to the hotel together, where we found Clay and Molly and hung out in the SAE boy’s room until that got a little silly.

Monday morning Molly, Sarah, Clay, Chelsea, Sara, Rahcel, Jessi, Ali, Jeryn, Kara, Emily and I all caught a train to Pisa in the morning. The town was pretty small with all sorts of restaurants outside and shops. We went straight to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was so awesome to see! It seriously is leaning so much. Like it looks as though it might tumble over any second. We took all the touristy pictures of course, and Molly had the awesome idea of running at the Tower and acting like you’re kicking it in the air. We got some pretty funny pictures that way and a lot of laughs. Chelsea and I got macked on by some Italian weirdos, but we met a really nice American cyclist team and talked to them for a while and even got a picture with them. We went to the other side of the tower to stand on the blocks and act like you’re pushing it over with your foot. It was a lot harder than it looked, but I got a pretty awesome picture from it. We split up and Rachel, Sarah, Clay, Sara and I got some lunch at a café cleverly named Pisa Pizza. I had a ham and cheese calzone and this amazingly delicious Peach tea.

Once we made it back to Florence, also known as Firenze in Italian, we went to the Duomo Cathedral, the city’s most famous church. We weren’t allowed inside in shorts, so we just hung out on the steps for a bit and then walked around the city for the evening. It was nice to just take it all in. We went to all the markets at San Lorenzo and those were awesome. There was all sorts of leather—leather books, purses, coats, wallets, anything you can think of—as well as ties, scarves, clothes and shoes. I got some really neat souvenirs and gifts. I also found this store called Scriptorium, which is possibly my favorite shop of all time. It was filled with leather bound books, pens, desk accessories, and you could tell it was all legit stuff. I loved it so much, but I figured everything would be too expensive.

That night, we met up with a girl in Sarah and Molly’s sorority who has been studying abroad in Florence all semester. We went with her to a friend’s apartment, which was full of Americans, so that was interesting. An Italian man who the students have made good friends with made a traditional Italian meal, which was different but tasty. Hillary (Sarah and Molly’s friend) took us to a 1-euro gelato place (amazing) and we went back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning Sarah, Clay, Molly and I got an early early start and went to the Uffizi at 8 am. We got in line soon enough to be the second group into the museum, which was set up pretty differently. It was made up of two basic hallways with all sorts of busts lining the walls. Rooms went off from those corridors, and we checked out all sorts of Renaissance art. We saw Buchelli’s The Birth of Venus, which I loved so much. I’ve seen that image so many times and it was huge and beautiful in person. We saw a few works by da Vinci and I really enjoyed seeing paintings by him I’d never even heard of before, as well as a sketch he began but never completed.

We went to a Piazza that holds all sorts of replica statues including the David, as well as originals that we got to see up close and personal. The replica David’s location is where the original was kept when it was first commissioned in the early 1500s. A riot against the Medici family caused a bench to be thrown out a window, and David lost his left arm. After he was put back together, it was decided he would be kept inside and protected from then on. We went back to the Duomo (propely dressed this time) and went inside. It was far less decorated than any other cathedral I’ve been in here, but the outside made up for it. It was elaborately decorated in green, pink and white marble. Every inch had some sort of design on it, creating a breathtaking scene from outside.

We went to the San Lorenzo Cathedral and saw it from the outside since it wasn’t free admission. It was much more traditional than the Duomo, but beautiful all the same. We went through the market again and Clay bought a really nice leather duffle bag he had wanted the whole trip. We went back to the church steps and waited to meet Hillary at 11:30 after she got out of class. She took us to a local sandwich shop and I got a turkey and pesto sub on toasted bread and it was seriously amazing. It was awesome. We went to a gelato placed called Grom, which we had heard had the best gelato in Florence. Wrong! They skimped on the ice cream so much and it wasn’t all that great. But no mind! Hillary showed us the indoor food market, complete with duck and pig heads.

Next up was the Academia Gallery, and Hillary graciously let us borrow her museum card, which allowed us to skip the humongous line outside and get in quickly as long as Sarah and I passed for sisters as Clay and Molly’s cousins. It worked and we got right in! For some reason our tickets were more expensive that way, but I can’t complain. We walked into the main part of the museum and I began glancing around and my eyes were drawn to a beautifully lit area, and the David by Michelangelo hit my eyes. I know I say this about a lot of things, but it was truly breathtaking. I had no idea it was so ridiculously huge. His foot was the size of my torso plus my head. It was so amazing to see the white structure I’ve seen a hundred times in books in real life. That was worth at least the 10.50 euro I paid for admission. That area was lined with sculptures that Michelangelo started but never completed, which is just as cool as a finished sculpture if you ask me. You can see the actual makings of the art and that’s awesome to me.

We looked at another section of the museum’s sculptures and learned that the artists put nails or tacks in their plaster models in order to make it easier to create the replica. There were so many busts lining the walls. We made one last trip to the San Lorenzo market and got a good deal on a lot of ties. And after a terribly busy but awesome day, we made like the Spanish and had a siesta (took a nap) for about two hours. It was glorious and much needed. I decided that since I had only bought small trinkets and t-shirts for myself, I wanted to get something nice and memorable, so Clay and I went back to the Scriptorium shop (after we got lost). I spent about 45 minutes picking out the perfect gift for myself, and settled on a brown leather journal kind of book with lined paper inside. It’s so gorgeous and I’m so happy that I bought it. I’ll have it forever and I’m going to do something special with it. The man who owned the shop was so so nice and he engraved my initials on the front for free! He said he had owned his stop for about 20 years and told me I could order anything I wanted online.

We went back to the hotel and I finished getting ready, then walked with Molly and Clay to Hillary’s apartment where they were staying. They got changed and got ready and we went on a mad search for a pizza parlor we never found, but we went to Gusta Pizza instead which was really good. Molly and I even got heart-shaped pizzas—how cute! It was very good. We saw the Gates of Paradise across from the Duomo, which could be from the third or fourth century. They are made of bronze and were really amazing to see. We went to a pub called Bebop that Hillary recommended, as it was Beatles night. Italians singing Beatles music, how awesome! The band was really good and it would have been much more enjoyable had the place not been filled to three times its capacity. We did not stay long and I went to sleep for my last night in beautiful Florence, ready to tackle Venice the next day!