Though the jet lag was intense, the excitement of being in Florence managed to suppress my initial exhaustion. After my first week at the Villa le Balze, I felt like I had been living here for months. The villa rests in the hills of the quaint and charming town of Fiesole. The beauty of the villa gardens and grounds has yet to grow old, but my favorite aspect of living here is the sweeping view of Florence below. In addition to the picturesque setting, the food at the villa is incredible. Two chefs prepare classic home-style Italian dishes that we enjoy as a group—students and professors—making our weekday lunches one of my favorite parts of the day! Although it seems like the Villa le Balze is a place that one would never want to leave, we never hesitate to venture down the hill into the city. Whether it’s taking a day to explore an outdoor market, or grabbing a panino in between classes, living in Fiesole hasn’t prevented us from frequently visiting Florence. The city seems small at times and is very manageable, yet there are countless things to see and do. I have already been able to visit various attractions ranging from the Gucci Museum to a Salvador Dali exhibit. Additionally, as a group we visited the Scuola del Cuoio, a historic leather school in Florence where we saw artisans hand sew pieces of leather into beautiful purses and other goods. Even though there are so many things to see in Florence, one my favorite things to do is simply stroll along the Arno River and take in the surrounding people, sights, and architecture.
While I have been at the villa for nearly a month, it only took me a week to identify what would become the theme of my semester abroad: saying yes. I quickly learned that I would be sacrificing sleep for adventure, but when in Rome Florence! I realized this by the end of our first week when we decided to take a spur of the moment train to Cinque Terre, a chain of five colorful cities situated on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera. We decided to go an hour and a half before our train left and ended up cramming 18 people into a two bedroom Airbnb. Needless to say, we all bonded very quickly, but the trip couldn’t have been more worth it. We hiked through three of the five cities, had incredible fresh pesto and linguine with clams before ending our day wading in the sea in Monterosso al Mare.
Continuing the theme of “saying yes” came a week later when everyone in our program decided to go to Croatia for the weekend. A twenty-four hour round-trip bus ride through the night? Sure, why not. Scaling a canyon and swimming under a waterfall? Absolutely.
While this theme has cajoled me into spontaneous travels, it has also been present throughout daily life here in Fiesole and Florence. Whether it’s something as simple as trying a new food or opting to join my classmates at the local pub in Fiesole instead of catching up on sleep, if I have taken one thing away from my first month abroad, it is that you should simply say, “yes.”