A Stairway to Heaven

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My return to Florence

Last week, I wrote about my day-trip to Venice. This week I am happy to report I took another day trip to Florence. It may seem like I spend a lot of my time traveling, but there really isn’t anything new to say about school. Everything at school has been pretty consistent week to week (except the one day I got called out to do an accounting problem in my management class, that was a little nerve-wrecking but I managed to get the correct answer). It is also a little more fun to talk about my fun trips then the stress of studying every day to prepare for mid-terms. Anyways, lets get back to Florence. 

Personally, I absolutely love small quaint Italian cities more than big touristy cities. However, of the 3 major Italian cities I have visited (those being Milan, Venice, and Florence) my absolute favorite is Florence. As a lover of art and history, Florence is a city full of art and history. It is very touristy, but that does not bother me too much because I get to see such beautiful artistic pieces and architecture. Stepping out of the train and breathing in the Florence air felt like I was back in a place that felt like home. Much like Venice, this was not my first time in Florence, but ever new trip brings a new story and memory to tell.

My fondest memories in the city aren’t actually things I can discuss. They are conversations and feelings I had while I was with my friends, and inside jokes that would be absolutely difficult to explain to someone who wasn’t there. However, for this trip the fun times are not conditional to a “you had to be there” comment. Much of my experience in Florence was acting almost like a tour guide to my roommate since this was her first time in Florence.

The surprise I loved most

Unlike my Venice trip, this was not just an impulse decision of “let’s go to Florence this weekend.” I had thought about this trip very carefully. A few weeks before the Friday trip, I got a text from my old high school Italian teacher. He sent me a copy his itinerary for the 2 week trip he does every year with a small group of his students. I had to pleasure of participating in that trip back in 2015 and 2016. He has been a big part in my decision of studying abroad, and certainly heavily influenced the location of my study abroad experience. I was glad to hear that he was hoping we could meet up whenever it seemed most convenient to me. I left the idea very open-ended and didn’t mention if I would or would not meet up with him. As soon as I saw the Florence trip on Friday October 5, I knew that was the day I would surprise him. It wasn’t hard to get my roommate on board, especially because she really wanted to go to Florence. I did not mention anything to my old teacher (whom we refer to as Prof), and decided it would be best to surprise him. 

Upon arrival, I walked to city center where the cathedral is located. I took a picture of the cathedral and sent it to Prof. He was more than happy to see I was in fact there to see him. I arrived a few hours before he and his students did, but we eventually did see each other. It was almost like a scene out of a film. I was walking with my roommate eating a gelato when we passed by a bag shop and this man was already walking out with the bag he had purchased. Of course it was Prof, he gets his wife an Italian leather bag every year he does the trip. It was such a delight to see him again.

The eternal steps leading to the top of Florence

My roommate and I decided to spend the rest of our time with Prof and his students. It was really cute to see their expressions and amazement when they would see anything. It was also nice to see Sam, another one of Prof’s old students that I had met before. Sam is studying in Rome for all 4 years of college. There is lots to do and see in Florence, but the one I have a love/hate relationship with is the bell tower. I love it because when you reach the top you are able to see the entirety of the city. I hate it because to get that view you have to climb 414 steps. Ye, 414 steps in a spiral shape enclosed in a narrow bell tower with people going up and down. It sounds painful, and it in fact is very painful. It has been 2 days since the trip and my legs are still sore from the climb. At a certain point my feet felt heavy, they felt like I had 2 cinder blocks tied to my feet that I had to drag up every step. The good thing is that there are 3 breaks in between the stairs. What I mean by that is just 3 open areas (no stairs) where people usually stop to catch their breath. I have gone up this bell tower two times before Friday, and it still feels extremely difficult. 

As I said, Prof’s students were really cute. The cutest reaction I saw from them was when a group of them were climbing up and they reached the second break. I assumed they were just sitting to catch their breathes, but then one of them said “that climb was totally worth it.” At that point, I looked at the cluster kids, smiled, and laughed. I told them there were still about 200 steps left. They all looked at me like I was crazy and then they got up and went up the remaining stairs left. However, their sentiment is correct. The climb up is completely worth it. The feeling accomplishment you get after conquering 414 steps is something you don’t feel all the time. But the best feeling is when you finally step out onto the balcony-like top of the bell tower and the rush of wind hits you. Then you look out, and the view is absolutely breath-taking. If you weren’t already struggling to breath after going up 414 steps, the view of this ancient city steals what little breath you had left. 

Pretending to be Italian 

The bell tower is my favorite and most challenging part of Florence. However, my second favorite thing is the leather. Florence is known for its leather industry, and it is no secret that the best place to get the best price is in the San Lorenzo Market. My first time to Florence, Prof told us to speak Italian not English when trying to buy something. Tourist usually get a much higher price for any leather goods because they just accept the price they are being given. He told us that they were open to negotiating a price if you attempted to. I was no stranger to this strategy. In 2016 I bought a leather bag that was big enough to fit my 13” laptop for €60 instead of €120. That was my proudest moment, so I was more than ready to pay less than what I was told. I told my roommate to let me do the talking since I had mastered my fake Italian accent (when speaking Italian not English). 

We would walk by every stand and the salesmen all tried to get us into their stand. They would speak to us in English because that is usually the safest bet for them. I would pretend to not understand them until they spoke to me in Italian. Once they asked where I was from I just said Treviso, which is where Prof takes his students to do the exchange program with a high school located there. I managed to negotiate down the price for my bag and the wallet I bought for my brother, as well as 2 bags and a wallet my roommate bought. It is a little concerning how much I enjoy negotiating prices, but maybe that is why I am a business student haha. It’s a lot of fun pretending to be Italian so you’re not scammed into paying more. It is a fun experience bickering with the salesmen to get them to lower the prices for you. Tip: if they won’t budge then just say no and start to walk away, 9 times out 10 they will start to lower the price. Another tip: always say lower than what you are willing to pay, if you want to pay 15 you say 10 and they will usually meet you in the middle.

Parting ways once again

This trip started as a surprise visit to see Prof, but it turned into a trip full of nostalgia for me. The highlight for me always going up the bell tower. I complain about it a lot, but I love the feeling I get every time I am up there. It was also really nice to see Prof again and to see these students really enjoying themselves. That two week trip I took with Prof really changed my life and opened my eyes to a passion I did not know I had. I learned that I really love to travel and experience new cultures first-hand. I wouldn’t have known that without that same trip those Bonita Vista kids are doing. I wouldn’t be studying abroad in Milan without that two-week trip in 2015 and 2016. To say that Prof has had a huge impact in my life is an understatement. Every time he sees me he says he is proud of what I have accomplished and I always feel thankful to him for all that he did for me in my formative years as a high school student. It was hard to part ways with him again and it was hard to leave Florence again. But like all good things, they must end. I am really grateful to have seen Prof at least once during his two-week stay, and I am happy to see that his program and skills as a teacher continue to inspire and change students lives. I will always have such fond memories in Florence, I think that is why it is one of my favorite Italian cities I have visited thus far. I always see something new, I experience something new, and I always have a hard time saying good-bye, that seems to be my curse.

Photos of my trip

A view of the outside of the baptistery and the cathedral.
The roof of the cupola inside the cathedral.
Inside the alter inside the cathedral.
The roof of the baptistery located in the city center across the street from the cathedral.
The view from Ponte Vecchio.
A view of the cupola of the cathedral from the top of the bell tower.
Me at the top of the bell tower next to cupola of the cathedral.
A view from the top of the bell tower.
Inside the Leonardo Da’Vinci interactive museum.
A wider shot of me in front of the cathedral.
Me appreciating the fact that there were no people around the cathedral.
Prof and I at Ponte Vecchio.
Prof, Sam and I at Ponte Vecchio in Florence.