Travelling allows people the privilege of experiencing another culture first hand. It is exciting and refreshing and scary at times. Travelling can also be tiring; consuming such large quantities of media and stimuli becomes exhausting! This is especially true when a student is away from the comforts of home for such a long period of time. But what would study abroad be without a little homesickness? This Spring Break I had the pleasure of being homesick in Florence, Italy. Also lucky for me, I was with a good friend to keep me company. We learned quickly that the cultural differences in northern and southern Italy are vast.
We caught a 6:45 morning train from Rome, Termini to Firenze, Santa Maria Novella and arrived promptly at 8:30. We hopped off and headed straight for the Galleria degli Uffizi which is located on the north bank of the Arno river, in central Florence. We entered Piazzale degli Uffizi and were greeted on both sides by sculptures of famous local painters. Among them were Cennini, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Dante Alighieri and many others! Much to my surprise we were shepherded into a line where we waited for an hour to grab a ticket from a machine that reserved our place in line to enter five hours later. I was thoroughly unprepared for this. In Rome the standard is that most museums and attractions are closed on Mondays and otherwise hours are very open and flexible here. Almost everywhere we went to eat or see art we were asked if we had made reservations. A certain amount of preparedness is required. The dress code is a little more formal. Since my friend and I couldn’t get into the Uffizi straightaway we locked our luggage in storage and headed down to the Galleria dell’accademia to see many works, among them, Michelangelo’s David.
As one does in any city they’ve just arrived in, my friend and I got lost on just about every other excursion to or from the neighborhood we were staying in. We were pretty shaky with the bus system and found it hard to keep structured time tables. The first night we went to Trattoria 4 Leoni, known for its pear ravioli, which is just as sweet and savory as it sounds. The next day we went to La Milkeria to fill up on espresso and nutella crepes before trying the Uffizi again. We were given such a late time in the day we would only have an hour and a half to see the art. I figured I’d take what I could get in the name of seeing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Artemesia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, and Caravaggio’s Medusa. In the meantime we went to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, aka the Duomo, and filled up on pizza and cannolis while walking down Ponte Vecchio. The Uffizi gallery was a bewildering experience. To have studied art and art history for so long and finally get to experience the works in person was an absolute dream. Shortly after this we were ushered out of the building at closing time and rushed to a restaurant. Things close much earlier in Florence and there’s not as much available or friendly nightlife as there is in Rome.
Later the next day we grabbed breakfast at a local cafe and headed to Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a fantastic view of the city and the Arno river and in the warm seasons it is a blossoming rose garden! Florence was work because it was more expensive and smaller and more spread out, whereas in Rome there are any number of options for the choices and situations you face every day. Resources are more available in Rome. While I enjoyed my stay, I found I was happy to come back to Rome. I have been homesick for Philadelphia pretty much constantly since I’ve been studying here. However in Florence I was struck with a fascination that I was homesick for Rome. I talked to several of my cohorts about their experiences travelling over spring break and many of them said that they too felt this. I think when we are tired it is natural to crave what is comfortable and what we know. We have only been here a little over two months and yet we have already created a kind of familiarity with the neighborhoods we live and go to school and work in. Some people say that time is a circle. Humankind repeats itself over and over again. We may travel far from where our lives are already set up, but eventually, many of us will want to go back to our place of origin.