A hillside escape!

Last Sunday, we were able to get an early start on the morning and headed straight to the hills. Just a 20 minute bus ride from Florence, Fiesole is a small, hilltop town that overlooks our hometown below. We began our morning at the archeological Roman and Etruscan ruins with a walking tour by Charlie. It was incredible to be walking next to buildings and structures that are over 2,500 years old! We had so much fun exploring and imagining what life would have been like in the past.

As you can see from the pictures, there is an amphitheater that still stands in great condition today (and is still used for events!). There are also ancient Roman baths and temples from the various civilizations that lived here, often built right on top of the previous inhabitants!


We were also lucky enough to catch the Sunday markets in the main town square. There were many products from cheeses and meats, to old maps and hats. Our students especially loved the hat stall, where some found a new sense of fashion in this hillside town! It was a great escape (including getting some refreshing breeze that doesn’t quite reach Florence) and definitely a fun way to spend a Sunday morning!

Hitting the beach at Viareggio!

Last Saturday, we took a trip to the beach to escape the heat of Florence and headed due West to Viareggio! We rented chairs and umbrellas in an area that had many different activities, from volleyball to a pool to shopping, Viareggio has it all. Some students went shopping in town and enjoyed lunch near the beach, others went straight into the water to cool down.


After spending some time in the water, we decided to get a Summerfuel volleyball tournament going. Students played fiercely in the sand and had a great time! There is nothing like a beach day to relax and gear up for another great week of tourism and learning!

Cooking in the Cucina!

Some of our students are enrolled in afternoon cooking classes where everyday they make a new Italian dish (or two) and get to taste their craft at the end of class! So far, students have made dishes from pastas, soups, and desserts, such as tiramasu (credit: Celia for her insight into the class products). In addition to cooking, the students have participated in various tastings including: cheese, gelato and bread! These kids certainly don’t go hungry!

Since not all students are enrolled in the cooking class, we thought it would be fun to get everyone into the kitchen at least once! We enrolled the students in a gelato workshop where they mixed different flavors to create some original, homemade gelato. Some flavors included: chocolate, blackberry, and vanilla with fresh fruit. Students not only participated in making the gelato but also got to taste it! It was gelato fun!!

Fun Friday in Florence!

Last Friday, we had quite the day! Students woke up early to line up for entrance to the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s famous David is housed. After waiting waiting patiently and taking turns to grab a caffe, we finally entered and were stunned by the impressive statue. Charlie gave us some background on the statue and pointed out some interesting details, such as that one of David’s hands is abnormally large to act as a buttress to support his heavy left arm. Students took many photos, explored the rest of the museum and then headed out for some free time in the city!

After a day of exploring the city, we had a lovely boat trip planned after dinner. A gondola-type boat (though slightly bigger to fit all of us!) pushed us down the Arno River at sunset for some amazing photos and time to bond as a group. It was an incredible experience to float under the Ponte Vecchio, waving to tourists as we floated by. Students enjoyed this exclusive look at the city!

Finally, some students joined a few of the RAs for a free concert in an enclosed piazza by a local Florentine band. It was a lovely end to a fantastic day in the city. Ciao!

Our 2nd week in Florence!

Every week we do rotations of activities so that all students can enjoy the sights in smaller groups. These activities take place after their morning classes and before lunch. The rotations also give the students a chance to have some free time in the city and pick the activities that they enjoy most. This week we had the options of seeing the Santa Croce church, going to the Gucci museum and drawing in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria.

At Santa Croce, Charlie gave the students a tour and talked about the unique architecture as well as famous paintings and even tombs.

We were not allowed to take pictures at the Gucci museum, but we sneaked one picture of the kids!


When we took the students to the Loggia dei Lanzi, we first explained the history and stories behind some of the statues, such as Perseus and Medusa and Hercules and Nessus. Then, they were given paper, a drawing board and a charcoal pencil and were able to find a space in the outdoor museum to sit and draw a statue or building in the piazza. We were hoping that through this activity, students could see art in a different way and begin to think about the statues, the stories, the work that went into them and the artists who created them. We were so thrilled to see the art they came up with and the time they took to create their drawings. It was a fun experience for all!

In addition, we went to the Galileo museum on Thursday. We saw some original models created by Renaissance scientists, including Galileo himself. One of the most fascinating objects on display, however, was Galileo’s preserved fingers!




It was another great week in Florence. Stay tuned for photos of the gelato workshop from last night and our visit to see Michelangelo’s David soon!

An incredi-bowl night!

Monday night, some students decided to hit the alleys of Florence…bowling alleys that is! At Crazy Bowling, Florence, we saw some pretty talented bowlers. Students had a lot of fun hanging out and participating in something completely different in their temporary hometown! Check out our bowlers here!

Sunny Siena Sunday

On Sunday, we took a bus straight South to a nearby city called Siena. We spent most of the day walking around, shopping, and having lunch. Students liked the free time they had to explore, and especially shop! Others spent time bonding and just hanging out as a group!


Some students visited the Duomo of Siena with our resident Art Historian, Charlie. We learned that the church was actually unfinished (thankfully) because the original plan would have been too heavy for the hill to withstand! You can still see where the original structure stands. It is a very impressive building, even unfinished!

We had just missed the famous Palio, a traditional horserace between the city’s 17 districts. For the Palio, each district chooses one horse to bring pride to it’s neighborhood. They lavish this horse with banquets and celebrations before the big day. Finally, it all comes down to a 90 second race around the town’s center piazza. The jockeys ride bareback and sometimes don’t even make it to the finish line with their horses! It is a huge event and while we missed the race, we were able to catch some parades of the various districts gloating their colors and symbols with drums and flags.



A splashing Saturday at the spiaggia!



After a very hot first week (think 100 degrees with humidity), we were all aching to get to the beach! A bus and a train ride later, we arrived in Cinque Terre (which means 5 lands literally translated). Here, along the cliff-like coast, there are 5 beach towns just a hike away from each other. We went straight to the biggest one, Monterosso, to jump right into the clear, blue water. Students lounged on the beach, jumped off the rocks into the water and worked on their paddle boarding skills. It was the perfect way to cool off after a hot week in Florence.

Here are the students ready to get on the train to take them to the town, Monterosso.

Some students rented a paddle-board for the day. They tried to cram on as many people at once as they could but quickly realized that was not going to work. Others tried their paddling skills and were quite good…until they fell off! Overall, it was a very fun, beautiful day at the beach.


Some of the girls got their hair braided on the beach:




Since it was the 4th of July, when we arrived back in Florence we surprised the students by taking them to the American Diner for milkshakes. It was a great way to end a relaxing day!