The weather in Florence the first week was very mild and sunny. Classes started up on Tuesday June 3rd, and mine were incredibly enjoyable. I will have some separate short blogs specifically about those classes soon. Throughout the month I had classes from 1-8 PM local time, with a small break somewhere in between. This gave me a relaxed morning where I would catch up on the Rachel Maddow Show or Game of Thrones, read a little of the NYT, eat breakfast, and shower before exploring parts of the city. I occasionally just relaxed in the apartment before class as to not exhaust myself or be constantly on the go.

The previous Saturday, Jacob and I wandered around the southwestern part of Central Florence, where we visited the Bobbli Gardens, 10 Euro entry, but which had plenty of great Roman architecture and statues, large hedgerows mazing about, and lots of trees and flowers. As far as parks go, this is the best in Florence.

The next day after that, I went by myself to the Piazza Michelangelo to check out the great view some more, before backpacking into the hills behind the Piazza, where I found a graffiti piece of Jesus wearing some scuba goggles–the first of many figures I found in the city. I kept going until I found a large church and cemetery, supposedly a favorite of Leonardo Da’vinci back in the day. Leaving, I was approached by a pair gathering money and signatures of support for a drug rehab program. I put my signature down, and talked with the girl, who was Slovenian, for a little bit. She was surprised to learn I was American, because I “looked very Italian”.

I followed some narrower paths further into the hills until I was in a somewhat remote residential area, mostly high and medium end villas, surrounded by acres of olive trees and vineyards over the rolling Tuscan hills. On I went, feeling quite the outsider among such wealthy villas and with no real visible pedestrian routes along narrow roads I saw only used by vintage and luxury cars. I was going off rough estimates from my apple map, which without wifi gets pretty spotty. I used the compass on my phone to make sure i was following routes with general directions back to Florence. I finally found my way among the winding roads and hills back to the edge of Florence near the central police building, which was still some several miles away from the river and heart of the city. The whole trek was probably 10 miles or so. I was beat, but I had my water bottle and a couple granola bars to help out.

One of the nights after class I went to a film festival at one of the LDM buildings that was well regarded by the University. They were all short films, usually claymation or cartoon, but splashed with the occasional live actor and scenery. The first few films were really artsy and entertaining, but as it went on the films got more obscure to me. They stopped and talked about each short for a few minutes after but it was all in Italian, and I was likely the only english speaker there. So I left part of the way through, feeling I had taken all I could from it.

Jacob wasn’t feeling well the first weekend after classes, so he was not up for doing any traveling. This then was the perfect weekend for exploring the best of Florence. I waited in line to hike to the top of the tower next to the duomo, then went into the duomo cathedral to check out its impressive and vast space, then waited in line to hike to the top of the duomo itself. As the highest point in all of Florence, the view was spectacular and worthy of the dozen pictures I took up there.

I then went to the church Santa Croce, and saw the tombs of several greats including Gailleo, and Machiovelli. There was also a huge amount of originial artwork and scriptures from centuries ago which I enjoyed, much of it gilded in gold and painstakingly preserved. This was in the Southeastern part of central Florence, and so I made my way north to explore the last area of the city I had not been at all in the Northeast. It was mostly residential, save for a few museums and a park. I ended my day at a gelatto place that my guide book had recommended as particularly great. It was, but I couldn’t tell the difference from the other dozen places I had been to.

And finally on June 8th, Jacob and I went to the smallish town of Siena, a gorgeous medieval city that sloped up and down with charming streets. We checked out the cool square with an old castle in the middle of it and lined with gelato and eateries, before heading to the Cathedral, a brilliant radiant white marble color, second only to the Duomo in Tuscan stature. Inside was just as impressive. Jacob had to wear a thin white sheet over his tank top because exposed shoulders are often frowned upon in these establishments. We ended the day touring an old medevial fort which included great views of the surrounding hills and city, and with a carnival now perched in the middle of it.

The first two weeks of my stay in Italy were exclusively the region of Tuscany, and of that mostly Florence. It is a rich and beautiful landscape with plenty of nice people and things to do. It was nice to just explore the city at leisure and have a cheap outlet of food at grocery stores and markets. The Central Market by the way is a fantastic place to check out lots of fresh and local food of Italian variety, especially in the small restaurants on the second floor. There are countless vendors all over the city selling shirts and jewelry and small items, and even more illegal vendors showcasing counterfeit and stolen goods on blankets in the streets. There is a surprising amount of American music to be heard all over Italy in shops and on TV. Its funny because we were told by our advisors not to wear shirts that showcased American flags, cities, or anything that would make us a target, but I see scores of Italians wearing such shirts and wearing American apparel of all brands. I suspect some of these shirts are meant to be ironic.

My Final blog post for Florence will include some of the night life to be had in Florence and Italy, some more cultural observations, and my various encounters with amazing Italian cuisine.