After about five long days in Pescia, I have arrived back in Florence and settled in with my homestay! The last week in Tuscany was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Each day was packed with amazing activities and outings. I don’t think I will be able to cover everything we did, but I will talk about some of the highlights!
In Pescia, we stayed at a beautiful villa/bed and breakfast comprised of about five different farm houses (where the bedrooms were) and one main kitchen/restaurant. The villa grows its own specific wine that we drank at our first dinner at the villa. It is served in very small amounts because it is extremely potent. We dipped homemade biscotti in the wine (it looked kind of like apple cider vinegar). The villa looked exactly like I expected… olive orchards, pommegranate trees, vines covering yellow walls, the works! It literally looks like a painted image on a platter my mom probably bought in Santa Barbara.
We began our Italian classes this week, and had a three hour lesson each morning. My teacher is amazing, her name is Anna, and is very enthusiastic! The three Italian teachers commuted from Florence every morning to teach us (they will also be our teachers here in Firenze as well). After our Italian classes, we would go on excursions through Tuscany.
The first highlight of the five days was our walk to Collodi, the town where the author of Pinocchio lived. On our hike there from Pescia we picked wild blackberries, and saw an ostrich (pictures above). The hike was strenuous but fun, and definitely made me feel a bit better about the (at least) 5 course meals we were eating each day, and the two glasses of wine per meal habit I have developed… Once we arrived in Collodi, we visited a sculpture garden/park based on the original Pinocchio story, and it was extremely quaint and beautiful. After, we walked across the street to a gorgeous 17th century villa and garden called Giardino Garzoni. This was truly one of the most magical moments of the last five days. The pictures could not possibly illustrate the beauty of this place. It reminded me a little of Versailles, but with an overgrown, rustic, Italian feel. We got to spend about an hour wandering around the grounds, as it was closed to the public so that our group could view it privately.
Possibly the most intriguing part of my walk around the garden was when I stumbled upon a pathway with a sign that read “Viale dei Poveri”, which means “Street of the Poor”. Along the way were inset sculptures of impoverished Italian people; a soldier in a tattered uniform, an old begging woman, and even a young woman with a dead child in her arms. It was a really interesting illustration of how the bourgeois romanticized the poor through the art in their homes. As I was wandering around the garden with Stephanie, we imagined all the debauchery that must have gone on deep in the garden during parties and events. It reminded me of Fragonard’s painting, The Swing.
The next day we took a bus to a nearby village called Stiapa and went on a hike to a medieval town called Pontito, with a population of literally 35. This hike might have been one of the most intense experiences of my life. We walked through the gorgeous Tuscan forest for a bit, but towards the end of the trail, things got a little harder. Pontito from afar looks like an upside down fan, situated in a vertical way, set into the landscape of the mountains. On our hike, we had to literally CLIMB up the mountainside to get to the town. The trails at certain points became tiny little pathways along extremely steep cliffs, and we had to turn sideways to walk along them! I was dripping with sweat by the end of it, completely bitten up by bugs, and my legs were in SUCH pain! It was pretty relieving and exciting though to reach the village, which (again), was one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen, but once we got up there, we had to climb to the top of the vertical town itself to get to the church bell tower. Once we saw the breathtaking view of Tuscany though, the hike was completely worth it.
Another major highlight of the week was our trip to Lucca, another nearby town, and its central medieval fortress called Montecarlo. We had a private tour of the 14th century fortress, led by this ADORABLE old Italian man named Walter, who actually OWNS the entire monument! Possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen (you know, in my long 20 years of living…) was the sun setting over the Tuscan countryside from the top of one of the towers at Montecarlo.
Today I moved into my homestay back in Florence. I am living with another girl on the program named Meredith (she is incredibly sweet, and from California!), and we are living with an older couple right by school and Santa Croce. The husband is an artist and lives part time in another town close by (I think that is where his studio is), and the Signora owns a contemporary art gallery across the Arno! I am absolutely thrilled to be living here! I cannot wait to visit the gallery… hopefully I will be able to work with her in the space, or even just observe her. She speaks very little english, so Meredith and I have been struggling a bit to understand her and speak with her in Italian, but I know my language will improve so much living here. She might purposely be trying not to speak English too much so that we are forced to become more comfortable with Italian, which is a little difficult, but I appreciate it. The apartment is absolutely stunning- art LITERALLY from floor to ceiling. So stylish! I think I will really love living here.
More to come…