Riomaggiore and Manarola
Assisi is about a three hour train ride from Florence in the province of Perugia. I went to see the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (St. Francis) but what I found was much more. Assisi is a beautiful small town with medieval buildings. It was rather quiet and peaceful, despite the hoards of tourists visiting in buses. The remains of an imperial fortress (Rocca Maggiore) sits at the top of the city. 

The basilica is a world heritage site and an important place of religious pilgrimage. Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis and he is buried within the basilica. The site was absolutely incredible. The white cathedral is built into the side of an enormous hill so there are two parts of the basilica; an upper and a lower section. The frescoes tell the story of the life of St. Francis. The basilica was built to honor St. Francis after his canonization in 1228. 

Assisi is home to many other beautiful churches such as the Cathedral of St. Rufino, Basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare) and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. I really enjoyed wandering around Assisi and exploring the many levels of the city. I climbed to the top of the fortress of Rocca Maggiore and from the top I witnessed breathtaking views of the countryside with white-capped mountains in the distance. I never wanted to leave.
To commemorate the ending of my Florentine experience I climbed the 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo to say goodbye to Florence.
I spontaneously hopped on a train to Pisa one afternoon. Unfortunately I went a little too late and wasn't able to go into any of the churches or the leaning tower (which is incredibly expensive for what it is). The area around the Duomo is lovely and the building itself is incredible.

Honestly, I really had no intention of visiting Pisa, but its a short and cheap train ride from Florence. I decided that I probably should go visit the leaning tower and the cathedral. The tower is actually the bell dower or the campanile of the Duomo and was of course meant to stand upright but started to lean after the construction. The Duomo and the tower stand in the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) I absolutely loved the name. There were so many people out here enjoying the sunshine.

The Duomo is called Santa Maria Assunta or "St. Mary of Assumption". The baptistery behind the Duomo is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and is the largest Baptistery in Italy and is even taller than the Leaning tower! 

Also in this are is a the Campo Santo, a huge cemetary and I wish I could've gone inside. It is supposed to be incredibly beautiful inside and one of the most beautiful cemeteries, which is hard for me to believe since I stood inside the cemetery in Buenos Aires and was amazed.

I wasn't in Pisa long enough to really even remembe
One night we rented a Fiat and drove to Prato, which isn't far from Florence. Kate and Bryanna drove and it was quite an experience! Florence is not an easy city to drive in at all! There are so many streets where cars aren't allowed, and even fewer roads allowable for rented cars. We drove in circles trying to find acceptable roads and had to fight the GPS which kept taking us to the city center which is a no-go. 

We finally made it to Prato and saw the bands Cinderella Breakdown and the Cowboy Prostitutes in a little bar in what seemed the middle of no-where. All I know of Prato is that there are a lot of round-abouts and the GPS likes to tell you to go around the "round about, all the way around the round-about and then continue around the round about". All in all it was a pretty fun night and I am super glad I didn't have to drive!
Life in Florence is certainly interesting! My internship is quite an experience. It has been my responsibility to completely design a 16 page newspaper for students studying abroad, with very little direction as to where to start! I've learned a lot about Italian business here and my friends and I have tried to lend our knowledge (or made up knowledge) to help with their business strategy. It was nice to have my own project and especially a branding project for a newspaper, which I already have a lot of experience with. The internship has not helped with my Italian at all, but it is very flexible and allows me to travel and see the sights during the day and work on my own time! Definitely a plus.

My apartment leaves much to be desired for. Our washer + shower flooded recently and we have a odd mosquito infestation (I think they are drunken mosquitos for they are very easy to kill). Also... we have discovered a pervert who stares inside our window and.... for better lack of words "pleasures himself" which watching us sit in our room. Now, we can't open our windows and we live in a cave. We are pretty much terrified we will run into this psycho on the street one day and are relieved to be out of the apartment soon. Some people are just sick.

Also, we went to the Vagina Monologues where our classmate Dominque had a role in. I never would have imagined myself going to see the Vagina Monologues but I laughed hysterically through the whole thing. The women did an excellent job and also touched on very serious topics. I found myself laughing, then sobbing and repeat. Sometimes, I find myself so wrapped up in my own life that I forget about the problems people face around the world. They brought light to the issues going on in the DRC where rape and abduction is a extremely serious problem and how women are trying to break the silence. Their presentation was extremely powerful and it made me feel stupid for worrying about things such as not being able to afford to dress as nicely as other people. It made me think again about what is really important. I'm really glad that I met Dominique and was able to see her in the Vagina Monologues. 

Two of my friends have also gotten PR and DJ jobs at local bars, so I have had the enjoyment of going along to "support their work". We just celebrated St. Patricks Day and I got to paint Shamrocks on everyone's faces and drink my first green beer! Also, tragically I lost another pair of boots to the streets (I figured it was time to throw them out since I busted my knee falling).
xxxx Story to come soon!
Much has happened in the last few weeks. Several sets of parents have visited which makes me sad that I have had no visitors! But oh well. I've been trying to explore Florence during the week and then take trips on the weekends. Florence is such a beautiful city and there is always something new to see.

My apartment is right by the Uffizi gallery and several times a week there is a singer outside. Kate and I sometimes get a bottle of wine and listen to him sing American songs. It's always really nice, and sometimes I can hear him from the window in our room.

I've also spent time in the Oltrano area (across the river) because it's less touristy than the rest of Florence. There are often markets and the beautiful church Santo Spirito.  

Museum | Opera di Santa Maria Fiore

"Rising up to the skies, so large that it covered the entire Tuscan people in it's shadow" - a quote about the Duomo

This museum houses all the artifacts taken from the Duomo and also explains the history of its forever changing outer appearance. There are many famous works of art in the museum such as the original bronze panels from the Baptistery's Gates of Paradise (Ghiberti). Michelangelo's Pieta also stands in the museum which was meant for his own tomb. I was surprised to see The Magdalene by Donatello, a very powerful piece that I had been wanting to see for a long time. The name of the basilica means "our Lady of the Flower".

I learned some interesting facts about Florence and the Duomo. It was built on the site of another cathedral and the land was chosen because of the water available for Baptism. Also, I found it interesting that the spatial relationship between the Baptistery building and the main cathedral holds a lot of importance. The Baptistery could have possibly been a Roman temple before its conversion. However, it's shape (octagon) is also important because it represents the "eighth day" life after death, which I had never heard about before and found it very interesting. 

Spedale degli Innocenti

The Hospital of Orphans was one of the first orphanages and established during the Renaissance to combat the high rates of children abandonment in the 1400s. Silk merchants were responsible for beginning the establishment during the Renaissance after the Plague with the goal of creating an "Ideal City". 

The museum inside the old orphanage is an art gallery contains paintings relevant to the hospital. Important paintings are the "Madonna with the innocent child" with the architecture of the hospital in the background of the painting and the "Adoration of the Magi". Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures during this section of the building. 

There was a wheel in front of the building where children could be left. The women would hear the child crying from a window close by and would take them inside. What really struck me were the "markers" that mothers sometimes left with their babies. These markers were little broken coins, or jewelry, pins, notes-- anything that might allow them to reunite with their child someday.  

Archaeological Museum

I always get into trouble at both museums and cafes!! Here I got yelled at for trying to wander into the Etruscan Pavilion outside. I'm sorry I'm curious?

The National Archaeological Museum of Florence was a really awesome yet strange place. I had to wander around for a good 15 minutes before reaching the museum trail. I was thinking "oh good... i paid four euro to get lost in a building." There were large Egyptian sections and also Estruscan sections from excavations in Italy. There are also collections from Rome and Greece. I really enjoyed the Egyptian section because I was not expecting to see mummy's in Italy. I saw the sarcophagus's and then looked down to be face to face with a mummy! I was so shocked. I don't think I have ever seen a decaying mummy body before. It was really interesting.

I was also happy to see the real Chimera of Arezzo (a city I previously visited).
After Arezzo I hopped on the train to Camucia/Cortona. Cortona is a province of Arezzo in Tuscany so it is very easy to do both cities in one day. Cortona is incredibly beautiful and is perched atop a hill overlooking Tuscany (altitude of 600 meters... which I climbed). The streets are slanted and there are many narrow alleys and steeps climbs. Cortona is one of the oldest hill towns in Tuscany and also an important Etruscan town. 

During my spontaneity of a Sunday excursion I failed to take note of there being very few buses on Sunday from the train station of Camucia up to the mountain of Cortona. Standing below the city I could not bear to end my trip short. It didn't seem far from below, so I decided to hike it. I was completely exhausted by the time I reached Cortona. It was not a straight shot like I assumed. I had to follow a winding path, while cars dodged me, up the hill. I was the only soul walking that street, for obvious reasons. It was quite a hike! I think in the end that the journey was worth it. On my way I passed huge villas and vineyards, and breath-taking views overlooking olive fields and mountains. 

Being quite exhausted, I didn't give Cortona all the time it deserved to really explore it. When I reached the city after my long venture it began to rain and being Sunday most everything was closed save a chocolate store called Cocoa. I definitely want to go back someday. The book and movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" was set in Cortona because of the incredible scenery. Despite being winter, everything was green! Hope you enjoy the pictures.