Florence For Free

Florence holds rich history from the Italian Renaissance era, and all of the landmarks, churches and museums located around the city center are extremely popular for both locals and tourists. On the first Sunday of every month, Florence opens some of its spectacular museums for free admission. My roommates and I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of this.


Accademia GalleryGalleria dell ‘Accademia

One of the most well known pieces of art in Florence is the statue of David. Sculpted by Michelangelo in the 1500s, this statue now represents freedom and independence. David’s statue stands at the end of the museum’s hallway entrance and is one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve seen. David is a must see when visiting Florence!

IMG_3719-1.jpg
Michelangelo’s Statue of David
IMG_3729.jpg
Other artwork includes: More marble sculptures and golden panels like this one

Pitti Palace | Palazzo Pitti

This palace housed the grand dukes and the King of Italy back in the 17th century. Today, the layout of the palace remains as it was centuries ago and still holds some of the furniture, paintings, sculptures, and my favorite, the extravagant ceilings that belonged to the royal families. The palace has many different exhibits inside and out, and serves as a good break from the painting-filled museums around Florence.

IMG_4968.jpg
The White Room
IMG_4985.jpg
A glimpse at the intricate ceilings and chandeliers found throughout the palace
IMG_5017
Behind the palace: Boboli Gardens
IMG_5038.jpg
Giardino del Cavaliere – Filled with colorful flowers at the right time of the year

Uffizi Gallery | Galleria Uffizi

Arguably the most famous museum in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery houses hundreds of paintings and pieces of art from the Italian Renaissance. The building was constructed in a U shape, seen in the picture below. The long hallways are corridors that have smaller rooms branching off, which hold majority of the artwork. A private room separates Leonardo da Vinci’s work from the rest, which was my favorite exhibit in the gallery.

IMG_5405-1.jpg
Uffizi from the outside
IMG_5048-1.jpg
Inside Uffizi corridor
IMG_5043.jpg
Sculpture: Hercules and Nessus

Medici Chapel | Cappelle Medicee

This building serves as a remembrance of the Medici family (Royal family that ruled Florence until the 1700s).  Here, burials for members of the Medici family are displayed throughout the first floor, as well as various bones held in trophy-looking cases. The dome holds a tall, circular shaped room covered with designs from floor to ceiling. The Medici Chapel is one of the less well-known museums in Florence, but is worth a quick visit.

IMG_8249.jpg
Medici Chapel
IMG_8236.jpg
Inside the dome

 

Spring Break

Feeling adventuresome, my roommate Lauren and I put together a full schedule for our week off from classes. With plans to travel to four different countries, we began our busy journey in Berlin.


Berlin, Germany

A city full of rich history from the time Hitler came to power. We downloaded Rick Steve’s Berlin City Walk audio tour and learned so much about the city. The tour took us a few hours but was highly informative and I would recommend it to anyone traveling in Berlin.

The Brandenburg gate was originally built to separate west and east Berlin. It has now become a symbol of unity and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Berlin.

IMG_6169.JPG
Visiting the Brandenburg Gate

The tour led us through many historical sites in Berlin, a powerful one was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. Numerous cement blocks that seemed to go on forever reminded us of a maze. Our audio tour had us imagine the cement blocks as if they were tombstones filled with bodies. The atmosphere was quiet and eerie as we walked through the maze of blocks.

IMG_6205.JPG
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

One of the most interesting places we went was the Berlin memorial wall. The original wall, which separated the east from the west, is still partly preserved. In the middle of the memorial was a wall of faces of those who died attempting to cross the wall. Being in the very spot where the wall once stood and the amount of history that once surrounded it set off an indescribable feeling.

Berlin Wall memorial

Ireland

Our first stop in Ireland was a huge landmark in a small town on the western coast. On the cloudy day, the green Cliffs of Moher appeared brighter than ever. One of my favorite trips from my travels thus far.

Cliffs of Moher

In Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse proved to be a fun stop for a rainy day. This self guided tour taught us about the ingredients in Guinness, how it’s made, and how to properly taste and pour the perfect pint of Guinness. We ended at the gravity bar, which was solely made up of glass windows that overlooked the entire city of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse tour

Gogarty’s bar, on Dublin’s famous Temple bar street, was one of our favorite night life experiences of Dublin. This traditional Irish Pub has a touristy flare; live musicians play Irish music as tourists fill the bar with beer, singing and dancing.

Gogarty’s Irish pub on Temple Bar street

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Being the (1940s) history fanatic I am, our first stop had to be the Anne Frank house. I booked our tickets a couple months out and for good reason, the lines to get into the museum grew increasingly long throughout the weekend. I was able to tour the secret annex the Frank family hid in for two years during the time of the Holocaust. The audio tour led us through the house to the bookshelf that was once used as a hidden door. We continued up the steep stairs into the annex and explored the many rooms. An extremely eye opening experience and easily the coolest museum I’ve ever been in.

Anne Frank house – Narrow building, fourth from the left.

Seeing the locals traveling around by bike inspired us to rent bikes for the weekend. We hesitantly started on our own. The locals are crazy bikers and move extremely quickly in all directions along the confusing bike paths. We eventually got the hang of it and biked throughout the canals, into Vondelpark, through the museum square and outside the main city area. The next day we took a bike tour and learned all about Amsterdam’s history. It was a pretty cool way to see the city!

Traveling as the locals do

Brussels, Belgium

No trip to Belgium is complete without picking up some chocolate. Mary’s is hands down some of the best chocolate I’ve had.

Delicious Belgium chocolate

Belgium waffles!! Our sole purpose for visiting this country. Of course, the chocolate, fries, and beer weren’t a terrible addition to this quick stop.

Belgium waffles

Although not the most relaxing spring break I’ve been on, it’s easily one of my favorites. I checked many places off my bucket list from this week abroad.

Ancient Fiesole

Fiesole, Italy – A small town located 30 minutes north of Florence is easy to travel to by bus. Lauren (one of my roommates) and I took a day trip to this quiet town to explore the hills of tuscany. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus in the city’s square, which was smaller than any square in Florence. It seemed as though the town was deserted since the only people we saw were those getting off the bus with us. As we made our way along the windy main road, we found ourselves practically scaling the buildings as the sidewalks barely existed. We reached some amazing views of the hills and could see for miles since Fiesole lies at the very top of a (Tuscan) hill. Both sides of the city looked onto beautiful views; at one overlook, we were able to see the entire city of Florence.

A look at the city of Fiesole

 

One of the most popular sites in Fiesole is the Archeological Area. Within the area, there are a couple museums and ancient ruins including: thermal baths, temple remains, and an amphitheater.

Thermal Baths – Built in the 1st century BC, three of these thermal baths were created for the Romans to enjoy. The temperature of water varied among the three baths, and each one held a different purpose.

These arches served as the entrance into the Roman baths
The first was used as a cold water bath
From left to right, the ancient Romans built a pool with hot water (warmed by the hot air from the two ovens) and a lukewarm bath

 

Temple – Serving as both an etruscan temple (6th century BC) and a roman temple (4th century BC), some of these ancient ruins are still preserved today. Archeologists suspect the etruscan temple was destroyed and later built on top of to construct the roman temple. The staircase shown below led to a sacred room used for worship and other rooms served as storages as well as an altar room. The temple was likely destroyed by a fire in the 1st century BC.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from inside the temple area
The heart of the city is located right next to these ancient structures

Used until Longobards (the long beards) arrived at the end of the 6th century AD; the temple site was then turned into a burial ground. Many of these graves were discovered in the early 1900s and goods made of iron, glass, bronze and baked clay were found inside the burials.

Discovered in 1988, this tomb dates back to the beginning of the 7th century AD. “The man was lying on his back, with some personal objects near him: a knife, an iron belt in two fragments on his pelvis, an iron axe and a glass goblet.”

 

Roman Amphitheater – Used for orchestra and theatrical performances, this Roman Theatre was built between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. Its ruins had been visible for many centuries and was eventually uncovered in the late 1800s. Seen in the picture below is an underground passage that led to a covered gallery (a total of four passages still remain intact on either side of the amphitheater). Although the passages don’t lead anywhere now, they are pretty neat structures to view.

Called a “vomitoria,” this passage serves as an entrance and exit to the amphitheater
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The amphitheater looks into a breathtaking view of the Tuscan hills