Study Abroad

Florence Weeks 6-7 (+ Mantova + Verona)

The past two weeks have been very busy, filled with a lot of schoolwork and traveling.

Photography class was a handful as usual. Now that we’ve learned the entire process, there was a lot to balance between exposing, printing, and loading the camera, and taking more photos. A couple of my prints were finally dry enough to take home and scan.

I went out and took a new one of the Duomo while sitting on the ground trying to balance the camera between my knees. It turned out a bit blurry since I had to hold it for over 2 minutes, but I kind of like the effect. 

The whole week it was pretty rainy and cold. This made doing laundry very difficult since we don’t have a dryer. I hung my clothes on our line but they just ended up getting soaked. Oh well. 

On Thursday, some friends and I went out and tried a more local Italian bar. It was so much more pleasant than ones overflowing with study abroad students. 


Friday, I spent the entire day catching up on work since midterms are coming up. I’m participating in the Lexus Design Award, a product design competition based in Milan, as one of my projects for studio. The deadline was Sunday at 1 am, so I was hard at work finishing up all of the components. I saw this lil guy first thing in the morning, which helped start the day off well. 

Saturday morning we got on a bus at 8 am with the other study abroad students to take a weekend trip to Mantova and Verona. After a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Mantova around 11 am. We dropped our things at the hotel and headed out for a couple of guided tours. First up was the Basilica di Sant’Andrea, a very large and beautiful Renaissance church at the heart of the city. 

Next up was the Palazzo Ducale, a palace with 900 rooms and 15 gardens just across from the church. We were given a very long tour of just a portion of the place. My favorite part was looking at the ceilings in each room; they were all incredibly beautiful and different. 

After the tours we were given free time to relax and have dinner. Everybody was so exhausted from the bus ride and tours that they fell asleep for a couple of hours. As much as I wish I could have slept too, I had to work on my project for the design competition. Later we headed out for dinner. We weren’t too satisfied by our lunch, so we were determined to find a better dinner, and we succeeded. We walked into a plaza of several restaurants, all of which looked too fancy and expensive for us. Luckily, we were only half right. Though it did end up being very fine cuisine, it was totally affordable. Not to mention, a man out front gave us a card for a 10% discount and free bottle of Prosecco. None of us could complain. It was exactly what we needed after such a long day. 

We had an incredibly comfortable night’s sleep and came down for breakfast at 7:30 the following morning. There was a complimentary buffet filled with pastries, jams, Nutella, cold cuts, and more. The day was off to a good start.

We loaded the bus and left for Verona, a 45 minute drive. This time, we just had one tour with the two supervisors from our school around the city. It was a beautiful day and nice to tour around the city rather than inside of historical buildings.

One of our first stops was Juliet’s balcony. Though it was exciting to see a site in Shakespeare’s work in person, the small courtyard below was overflowed with tourists. We were just able to squeeze in for a photo with Juliet and leave soon after. 

After the tour, we were finally free for several hours to explore on our own. We had a delicious lunch in a little café and went off to roam the city. 

We walked for a while until we ended up at a ledge that overlooked the river and city. The sun was shining, and there was a woman singing and playing wonderful music in a nearby park. It couldn’t have been a more perfect place to lay down and relax.

Later we stumbled upon a great brick bridge with plenty of windows and places to climb up to and see the city. 

After a fantastic day in Verona, we were back on the bus at 4 and headed home. Again most people fell asleep almost immediately, but since I had the project due that night, I forced myself to stay up and finish. 

We arrived to a beautiful sunset view from the bridge near our apartment. It made me feel so happy that I chose Florence for my study abroad location because no matter how nice some weekend trips are, I really don’t think many places can beat Florence. 

I submitted the project at 12:53 am, 7 minutes before the deadline, and immediately passed out, dreading my 9 am class across the city. 

Week 7 started off with a very long day working on my packaging project due Tuesday. This made me really wish I had a studio to work in. I had to cut foam core on the floor of my apartment and walk 25 minutes to a print shop before it closed at 8. Whereas at home I could easily cut at my desk and print in or nearby studio. It's different, but it deters you from working late into the night which is nice!

This week I made a conscious effort to go out and speak with Italians because I felt like I hadn't been practicing enough. It worked out better than I imagined! I was able to sustain several conversations totaling to at least 5 hours, so I'd call it a pretty solid milestone. 

On Friday I tried out a delicious new Florentine restaurant called La Giostra. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. Upon sitting, we were given glasses of Prosecco and a gourmet appetizer platter on the house. Turns out, this is the restaurant of choice for many visiting celebrities, as we saw at least 100 photos on the wall with the owner. We decided to get a photo too. 

Later, we dropped by a local Italian club where I'm sure I was the only American in the entire place. It was a bit overwhelming to try to speak Italian with all of the noise, but I managed to have some pretty good conversations by the end of the night. 

Saturday night, my roommates and I had a really nice family dinner. Elna made mac n' cheese because Stella had never tried it before. It was absolutely delicious. After, we went to a different club, where I got to practice a bit of Italian again. 

I had to spend all of Sunday working on my Materials midterm project, which was a very boring day compared to the preceding few days. Luckily, I'll just have 4 days of midterms before visiting Bordeaux for the long weekend!  

Julia Ainbinder