Written by Eden Comer (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Student Correspondent for CET Florence, Spring 2023
Tomorrow marks two weeks since my plane landed in Florence. The time has been spent jam-packed with activities and learning opportunities. I’ve found that living in Florence, even for just these two weeks, has forced me to not only adjust to new cultural customs, eating habits, and routines but also to adjust the way I view life as a whole.
On a walk before class, I ended up in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata. I had to stop and take a picture of this view of the Duomo!
Florence is known for its incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail. It shows in the quality of the clothes for sale, the art on display, and the daily ingredients that are used for cooking. For example, one fun fact that I’ve recently learned: balsamic vinegar can be liquid gold.
Trip to Castello di Verrazzano
For our first trip outside of the city, CET brought us to Castello di Verrazzano. A beautiful castle in the countryside that is now used for the production of wine, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Our tour guide was incredibly thorough in explaining the steps that went into making the perfect wine, from the aeration in the barrels to the chemistry of the soil the grapes grow in. He teased us for eating our balsamic with bread as opposed to cheese, saying it soaked up the flavor. At the time, I found the whole process a bit silly. All of this for wine? Specific foods that are acceptable to dip in our balsamic? Although it was fun, I didn’t really understand the point of the hassle.
The view from the Castello di Verrazzano, about 35 minutes outside of Florence.
That was until we got to try everything for ourselves. All the students on our program were seated in a dining room, surrounded by a beautiful view of the Chianti region. We were brought wine paired with different meats and cheeses. I pretended to know the right way to pair the items and had a great time doing it! The wine was delicious, and the servers were happy to answer our seemingly silly questions, like what was the right way to hold the glass? What was the difference between the two red ones?
And then, the balsamic was brought out with our tour guide’s recommendation: pecorino cheese. This may have been one of the best things I have ever tasted. I couldn’t believe I had just thrown bland balsamic on salads at home, when it could taste like this! Sitting around the table with the friends I had just made, talking, and enjoying the delicious food, I began to understand the Florentines’ attention to detail in all aspects of their life. Their dedication to taking the time to make things perfect forced me to really appreciate the experience. Even something as simple as balsamic, which I had never particularly cared for before, brightened my day in an unexpected way.
Exploring Florence through the little things
I’ve also found this appreciation for the small things in the practice of aperitivo (my favorite part of my new routine). My roommate and I visited a bar near our apartment in Santo Spirito on a whim. We thought we may have found a more local scene when the host immediately greeted us in Italian as opposed to pinning us as study abroad students right away.
A picture of our aperitivo at a bar in Piazza Santo Spirito.
At 6:30, the place was packed with people. I imagined them talking about their days at work or school, most over a glass of red wine. We got our drinks and snacks and talked about living back in Madison, the places we wanted to go while we were abroad, and about our families. The modern art on the walls, comfortable furniture, and jazz music drifting from a nearby speaker created a cozy atmosphere that I could have spent hours in. And we did! The Florentines value of connection over good food is one of my favorite parts about living here so far.
The legacy of beauty in details in Italy seems to stretch far into the past. Walking the streets of Florence, I seem to find a stunning piece of artwork or architecture everywhere I turn. Palazzo Vecchio has become a frequent spot to meet up with friends as a center point in the city, and I am able to admire the Fountain of Neptune every time I stop by. These incredible monuments have become a part of my day-to-day life, and I hope that I don’t forget to stop and appreciate them throughout my months here.
The Fountain of Neptune in the Palazzo Vecchio. We found this statue on our first night in the city, and loved how it looked lit up at night!
Overall, my time in Florence so far has been teaching me to appreciate the little things around me. I’ve slowed down long enough to recognize them. None of this to say there have been no bumps during these past two weeks. There have been quite a few cultural shocks that have caught me off guard (my incredibly cold apartment, weighing my own produce at the store, wondering why do my clothes take so long to air dry). However, I know that my time abroad will be worth all these small changes, as I learn to see life as a Florentine as opposed to an American study abroad student.
The bust of Benvenuto Cellini on Ponte Vecchio. This is the bridge I take most frequently to get to class.