Illustration by Anastasiia Zubareva

J-Term Guide: Florence

From the Duomo to Galleria Degli Uffizi: A taste of J-term in Florence.

In between the pine trees that create a passageway toward the Villa La Pietra, the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral — better known as the Duomo — comes into view from a distance. The Villa, formerly owned by Arthur Acton, was donated to NYU following his death, and it has been home to the NYU Florence campus ever since. A 20-minute bus ride down the hill from campus will lead you to the city center. The rainy January weather makes the city look like it’s been washed anew. While it’s cold, it’s not freezing — the temperature usually remains above zero degrees Celsius. “It’s one of the best times to be there. Villa La Pietra looks beautiful when it’s raining because there’s a lot of mist that’s covering everything on campus,” said junior Sangeetha Mahadevan.
Florence, or Firenze in Italian, once the capital of Italy, is so well-preserved that you will find yourself walking through paved streets while glancing at architecture that seems to have stood still while the world moved on. A lot of the buildings are painted in shades of yellow and are complemented by green French windows resembling the Tuscan scenery. Considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was once home to great artists and scientists like Dante, Michelangelo and da Vinci. The influences of these various individuals are spread out across the city and instill a sense of inspiration in the students who visit Florence.
“I felt like I found myself in Florence,” said Mahadevan. Florence is a small, walking city with most of the main attractions within walking distance of each other. Furthermore, walking will help you discover the essence of the city and how it has developed historically.
“When you walk around, you’ll discover little things at every corner. There’s a metal piece sticking out of the floor on the ground … and it’s something they used to close the gates back in medieval times,” said junior Evgenija Filova, who spent a semester in Florence.
The city’s central attraction is the Duomo, a stunning cathedral with a tiled dome and white, green and pink marble walls. Junior Taiki Sugita recommends climbing the Duomo as it offers an incredible view of the city. Florence is also home to a plethora of museums, including the famous Galleria Degli Uffizi and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze. However, if students have time, Filova recommends visiting Museo Stibbert, a museum that is down the hill from campus that houses a collection of weapons and armor. Mahadevan also recommends the Arcetri Observatory, where Galileo’s telescope and his observations are replicated.
Visiting the Ponte Vecchio is also a must as the unique bridge that is built over the river Arno is decorated with small shops that line both its sides. Filova also enjoyed sitting on the bridges and watching the city light up at night.
The entire city will lie before your eyes from the viewpoint of the Piazzale Michelangelo, located on a hill on the other side of the River Arno. There is also a replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David in the piazzale.
As for parks, look out for the Piazza Santo Spirito and the Piazza della Annunziata. Nature lovers will enjoy visiting the Giardino Boboli which is alongside the Palazzo Pitti. Filova also recommended going to Fiesole, a village on a hill outside the city where many people watch the sunset.
If students want to take day trips or weekend trips outside of Florence, other cities and towns like San Gimignano, Pisa, Sienna, Venice and Verona are recommended. Check Italo and Trenitalia for special offers to get cheap train tickets.
In January, Florence hosts the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem. “People dress up in medieval costumes and they walk across the bridge and play instruments,” said Sugita.
Eating gelato seems to be one of the most prominent culinary experiences in Italy. Gelato stores on the other side of the River Arno, which runs through the city, are recommended by students. Mahadevan also noted that she was pleasantly surprised with the vegetarian options offered in Italy, whether it was pasta, pizza or panini. Filova warned that there are a lot of tourist traps and noted that restaurants open at specific times.
“A lot of restaurants in Florence around touristic spots will be expensive and will not have good food. In Italy, restaurants have specific opening times. [For dinner] they open around seven, for lunch, they are open from 12 to two, so from two to seven, the restaurants will not be open. And some of them only work for dinner or for lunch,” explained Filova.
“A nice place is Piazza Santo Spirito, the restaurants around there are very good and they usually [are in] the Oltrarno. It’s my favorite restaurant in Florence, it’s called Lix Li — it’s very close to Piazza San Marco,” she added.
As a final tip, Filova shared that from her experience, if a restaurant has a handwritten menu, then that means it’s probably good.
Thirangie Jayatilake is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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