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Santa Croce Basilica
Santa Croce Basilica
Original photo by Katherine Lynch

Follow Her: To Florence, Italy

From January 3-15, in the short window before my spring 2022 classes began at Emmanuel, I had the surreal privilege of taking a January term at the Florence University of the Arts in Italy! Over two insane weeks, I took classes, explored the city, and learned a little more about the world. Of course, there were Covid-19 complications, and there’s so much I didn’t have time to see, but in general, it was an experience like no other and I want to take some time to share that with you today.

As opposed to a “regular” study abroad where you stay the whole semester, a J-Term is only two weeks long. I only took one class (Introduction to Digital Photography), and it ran for six hours every weekday to compress a semester’s worth of learning into that brief timespan. Taught by David Andre Weiss and armed with a camera on loan from my aunt Georgia, the word for this class is humbling. I realized just how much I rely on automatic features and built-in technologies to make my photos come out well. Still, I learned quite a bit I never would have learned otherwise, and I now have a foundation of photography knowledge to beef up that LinkedIn.

If I had one big regret, it’s that I booked my one class for the AM hours. So I spent 8:30 to 2:30 in a classroom every day, so by the time I was out of class, I only had an hour and change of daylight left (gotta love those 4:30 sunsets in northern hemisphere winters). That severely limited the amount of sightseeing I felt safe doing, but I maximized what I had and went to as many churches, museums, and landmarks as I could in my limited time.

Pictured above is the famous Santa Croce Basilica / Museum, one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. Every wall and corner has a statue, fresco painting, or altar piece more impressive than the one before it. Though I must say, it was a little awkward because one of the church’s most famous selling points is its graveyard where dozens of saints and cultural luminaries like Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and so many others with tiles on the floor are set aside to specifically honor other important people who wanted to spend eternity here. Not that I blame them; the place is gorgeous.

On a day trip to a town outside of Florence called Lucca, we looked over the whole city from the top of Guinigi Tower. The group I was with included a few fashion majors, so we spent most of our time window shopping in various retail stores, but I was able to spend half an hour at Saint Martin’s Cathedral with its own astonishing art and architecture. Everything that wasn’t in the church itself was in its sister museum which included sacred robes, elaborate monstrances, and far too many sculptures of John the Baptist’s severed head. (Seriously Florence, I get he’s your patron saint and all, but it’s creeping me out.) After coming back to Florence, we went out to dinner at Trattoria Za Za, which according to our trip coordinator is famous for great food and insane reservation wait times, but honestly all I remember is that I said the biggest, loudest curse word of my entire life on the walk back to the hotel from there when I realized I’d left behind my aunt’s camera. 

Ponte Vecchio is another famous Florentine landmark. You may remember it from an anecdote in history class: this is the bridge that Adolf Hitler refused to destroy during World War II. All of Florence’s goldsmith and jewelry stores are concentrated here as you go across the Arno River. On the other side of the river are cultural landmarks I only got glimpses of like the Pitti Palace Museum and Santo Spirito Basilica, allegedly one of the most meticulously made churches in the world. The major highlight on this side of the river was the Piazza de Michelangelo, a square with a panoramic view of the city. We climbed up around sunset, just in time for evening prayers at San Miniato al Monte, yet another majestic place of worship. Watching the sun set over the entire city was one of the most magical moments of the entire trip.

I only caught a glimpse of Santa Maria Novella, and had to more or less stay in the retail area as opposed to the museum, but even that was impressive in its own way. During the Black Death, monks here would make rose water, believing that it could dispel the illness. Medicine has come a long way since then, but it has provided a foundation for a centuries-old perfume tradition. They are still making the perfumes given to queens as wedding presents, along with fragrant candles and potpourri. It was a must on my souvenir shopping, and I hope I can go back and see the rest of this beautiful place someday.

Then there’s the big one: The Uffizi Art Gallery, one of the greatest art museums in Europe. Determined to soak everything in, I spent two days here—fear of navigating a strange city at night be darned. Some of the most iconic artworks in the world are on display here, including The Birth of Venus by Boticcelli, Artemisia’s painting of Judith killing the evil General Holofernes, Caravaggio’s Medusa, the infamous Niobe Room, and hundreds of others that before I’d only seen in photos or in textbooks. It gave me a greater appreciation for my own local art museum, and inspired me to spend as much time as I can at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the MFA while I still have my Fenway student pass.

There are so many more palaces, theaters, libraries, monuments, museums, and gardens that I couldn’t schedule, but I desperately wanted to see. There are dozens of reasons why I want to return some day, but for now, I’m immensely grateful to CIS Abroad, Romina who was the trip counselor, Jill Meleedy at the Emmanuel College International Programs Office, and all of the friends I made on this trip. On the off chance that Paige, Madeline, Armeen, Jaedyn, Lizzy, Anna, or Zoe see this, I want you guys to know that I miss you so much, and I hope you’re doing well back home in the States. You guys are the best, and I’m hoping against hope that we’ll get to meet again some day.

Katherine Lynch

Emmanuel '22

Katie Lynch is a Communications Major in Emmanuel College’s class of 2022. ADHD, NVLD, bisexual, and bibliophilic. I spend most of my time in libraries, theaters, museums, or problems of my own making.
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