And so ends another week at Temple Rome! Midterms are done! The semester is flying by quickly.
Looking back on my experience so far, I would say that one of the best parts of studying abroad is the fact that I can walk around Rome, but also experience other cities in Italy as well. Two weeks ago, I took up a classmate’s offer of spending a weekend in Florence with her and some of her friends. I bought my train ticket, packed my bags, went to Termini, and headed north.
Florence, called Firenze in Italian, is a city in Tuscany, which is a province in central Italy. It is almost two hours north of Rome and has an area of over 100 square kilometers (40 square miles; Rome is an area of almost 500 square miles) and has been around since the time of the ancient Romans.
Firenze is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (15-17th centuries C.E.) and was home to the wealthy Medicis, a family who held power in northern Italy. One of the Medicis commissioned works from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo.
I was in awe when I exited the train station on Friday morning. Everything I saw was like looking at a painting. Such grand architecture and brilliant colors complementing the beautiful Florentine sky!
My classmates and I stopped at a local restaurant, where I tried a maiolona pizza. I thought I liked meat-lover’s pizza in Boston, but let me tell you, when it comes to pizza, the original really is better!
I managed to finish the whole thing in one sitting and decided to sleep it off at the place we were staying afterward. After I woke up, we went to see the Arno river to see the Ponte Vecchio, which is Italian for “old bridge.”
And this is no misnomer: it really is an old bridge, dating back to medieval times! Hard to imagine that it was the only bridge not destroyed during WWII. It is currently a major center for jewelry shops in Florence.
For dinner on Friday night, my classmates and I tried some Tuscan cuisine: charcuterie! I tried a lot of different breads and cured meats. I never had charcuterie in the United States, so it was good to try it in Florence!
Enjoyed some Tuscan cuisine with a Florentine charcuterie board! From left to right: bread with olives, slices of mortadella, bread with tomato-chili paste, some olives, slices of prosciutto, some sheep’s cheese, pieces of spicy salami, and some roasted vegetables.
The next day, I took another train north, this time to the city of Ferrara. We had a guest speaker one day in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, one of the classes I am taking a Temple Rome this semester. Sara Prestianni is a photographer and advocative for migrant rights. She focuses the effects of migration policies in north Africa. I was fascinated by her talk and heard that she and her colleagues would be presenting at an International Festival at Ferrara on Saturday afternoon.
I knew I was going to be in Florence for the weekend, and it was only an hour away via train, so what was there to lose? Unfortunately, by the time I got to the venue, I asked one of the festival staff about the event and she said that the place was full and could not fit any more people.
At least I got a cool-looking program about the Internazionale a Ferrara! I hope I can read it in its full Italian one day.
I wasn’t going to let my efforts to get from Florence to Ferrara go to waste, so I walked around the city for an hour. I was happy that I got to see a new place on a sunny day. The famous Castello Estense, which is a medieval fortress surrounded by a moat in the center of the city, was so beautiful in the sunlight!
I bought some postcards at a local gift shop. I love collecting postcards everywhere I go; they make great decorations for my bedroom wall! I brought the postcards from Ferrara to class along with the Internazionale a Ferrara 2019 program to class after I went back to Rome. I showed all my souvenirs from Ferrara to Professor Rinelli, who teaches Immigration, Race, and Immigration in Modern Italy. He said that it was unfortunate that I couldn’t see the festival, but he looked amused when I showed him my postcards from the city.
I walked back to the Ferrara train station and went back to Florence. I met my classmates for dinner at another restaurant. There, I tried a maialino – pasta with pork sauce. Two for two with the good food, Firenze!
On my last day in Florence, I decided to do a bit of shopping. Florentine leather is known for its high quality and high demand in the global market. There are leather good everywhere, sold both in the vast outdoor markets around the city and in smaller indoor shops along the sidewalks.
I strolled through the San Lorenzo market, a major outdoor shopping space in Florence. I got curious about the large building in the middle of the market, so I went inside and was surprised to find in the bustling Mercato Centrale (pronounced mur-cah-toe chen-trahl-le) of Firenze!
I was fascinated by all the food stands. It reminded me a little of the food court at my local mall, only each shop had its own unique history of being founded and run by artisan chefs. I stopped by a fried food station, where I grew curious about one of the items they had on their menu: fried rabbit.
I spent €10 on a special combination of fried foods: fried chicken on the bottom with some fried rabbit on top, sprinkled with bits of fried vegetables and a few lemon slices. (Don’t worry, Mom: I’m eating my vegetables!) To this day, I’m impressed that I didn’t get any of the batter crumbs on me as I ate it while sitting on a bench near the market entrance.
This was my first time trying rabbit. I’ve had boar and venison in Titignano last month, but fried rabbit was really quite something! I could tell it was rabbit because it was the meat that didn’t taste like chicken; trust me, I know what chicken tastes like. It had a mild flavor but a strong aftertaste.
After my spontaneous lunch in the Mercato Centrale, I resumed my stroll through the shops at San Lorenzo market. I stopped at a few outdoor stands to buy some gifts for friends and family in the States (get ready for some real Florentine leather from Hui!) and to buy some new accessories. I think the felt hat and silk scarf fit me quite well after I take off my ponytail!
I decided to spend my last hour in Florence seeing the Arno one last time. As I headed toward the Ponte Vecchio, I noticed something I had missed on my first visit on Friday evening. There was a statue of a pig that I looked up on my phone a bit later. It is a bronze statue called Il Porcellino (Italian for “The Piglet”). I saw people placing coins in its mouth and rubbing its nose. Turns out this is a tradition in Florence, and feeding the Porcellino some coins before touching its snout is supposed to bring good luck!
Il Porcellino (“The Piglet”) in the middle of Florence. I saw people putting coins in the boar’s mouth. I read that rubbing its nose brings good luck. No wonder why the bronze looks a bit different on its porcine snout!
The river looks absolutely stunning in the afternoon sun! I’m glad I decided to revisit the bridge and enjoy the view at a different time of day. Time seemed to stand still by the Arno that afternoon, and I could have sworn I was there for hours until my phone screen lit up with a reminder that I had agreed to meet my classmates to pick up our luggage at the hotel half an hour before catching our train back to Rome.
It was a wonderful weekend in Florence. Such a rich culture and history in a small city! Very different from Rome in its atmosphere and scenery. I’m happy I got to experience it firsthand. I bought some things for myself as souvenirs. I think of Florence every time I wear my leather jacket. It is the first leather product I’ve ever owned, and the shopkeeper said that it will last a lifetime. Just like the memories of this weekend in Florence.