Kristina Brewers Florence Blog

Week eight in Firenze

What a great week! I spent Wednesday night through Monday afternoon in PARIS! How amazing. My mother flew over to meet me and we began a whirlwind trip through the city of lights. When I got back to Florence I was exhausted but in a great way. To begin the trip we were amazed to find that we had a great view of the Eiffel Tower right from our hotel room! So of course we snapped a few shots right off the bat. I can't even tell you how many photos I now have of that landmark because it's so beautiful, I just couldn't stop! So the first day that we were there we spent at Disneyland! We had so much fun. At first I thought to myself, I can go to Disneyland back home. But going to EuroDisney was well worth it. It wasn't quite as large as the one in California but still had all the greatness that IS Disneyland. :) The second day of our vacation we chose to do a hop on hop off city tour that led us around to all the major sights and we were able to get off at any given place, take pictures or go inside in some cases, and then just catch the next tour bus at that stop. It was a great way to see all the major points in Paris. Among my favorites were the Paris Opera House, Invalides, and Notre Dame. I got many, many great shots of all of them and more and can't wait to get some of them printed for an album. The third day of our trip found us touring three Chateaus or castles in the countryside of France. First we saw Chenonceau which was lived in by Catherine di Medici. It was very nice, although the front was being renovated so it was not as picturesque as I had been anticipating. The second was Cheverny. It was incredibly beautiful, and one wing of the chateau is still being lived in by ancestors of the original owner! And finally we were able to see Chambord which was this stunning gothic monstrosity! It had these great spiral staircases, and several separate wings of apartments. This chateau was used as a hunting palace for the king and his subjects that were worthy enough to be invited along with him. If you ever get the chance, this tour was well worth the cost and included a fabulous lunch in the village by Cheverny. And last but not least, on our last full day in Paris we toured Versaille. Unbelievable. I can't even begin to describe how elaborate and how beautiful this palace was. Built by Louis XIV, called the Sun King, it is laced with gold and mythological art in every conceivable space. Admittedly I have always been fascinated by Marie Antoinette, married to Louis XVI. So of course Versaille was the highlight of my trip to Paris. Along with the palace of Versaille with it's famous Hall of Mirrors... we were also able to tour the Grand Trianon, and the Petit Trianon as well as drive by and see Marie Antoinette's hamlet where she pretended to be a shepherdess and get away from court life. We also had lunch on at a small restaurant on the grounds of the palace which was fantastic. Very worth seeing if you are ever able to! So, you can see why I was so exhausted when I returned to Florence! But my time in Paris reestablished how grateful I was to have received the funding I needed to be able to make my study abroad experience happen. If I had gone with my original thought about there being no possibility that I could ever win the Gilman Scholarship, I wouldn't have spent this amazing weekend in Paris! So keep that in mind while you are debating back and forth about participating next year. This trip has been incredibly rewarding in so many ways. I can't believe there is only three weeks left... and next week is already Thanksgiving!


Week seven in Firenze

So week seven brought us.... Pizza Making! We went to one of the restaurants that participates in the voucher system called il Teatro. The vouchers, by the way, are completely worth it so if you are coming next year definitely sign up for that! Unfortunately they already had dough ready to be smoothed out into a pizza so we weren't able to learn how to make the actual dough. But we selected our own toppings, placed and removed it from the pizza oven and the best part of all, we got to eat it! SO fantastic. I'm not sure I will be able to come home and eat american pizza any longer because it is so much better over here. In our Italian life and Culture class we signed up for our group presentations this week as well. Each week we have been having lectures about different aspects of the Italian culture. Such as, the divide between northern and southern Italy, the italian family, the Catholic Church, and of course the Mafia. We're separated into groups of three and have picked one of our lecture topics and will be given contact information to interview an italian citizen about our given subject. I think we are all looking forward to being able to speak with someone who lives here about some of the issues we've been learning about. Well, really short post this week, it was a pretty quiet week around here. Up next week.... I travel to Paris! By the way, I apologize for the formatting. This program doesn't like my Macbook Pro! :)



Week six in Firenze

Week six down already! We're over the halfway point and can't believe it. All I can say is that if you planning on coming next year, make sure you come with the mindset of enjoying every moment to the fullest because it flies by so quickly! So this week was a pretty busy one. Our Women's Studies class was able to go to a conference summary at the Palazzo Vecchio (in the Salone dei 500, the room of 500!). The summary was of a conference being held at the Palazzo this year to talk about the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Women and Human rights conference coming up next year. It was both empowering and inspiring to listen to all the amazing panelists talk about there plans and hopes for the future of Women's rights. Among others that spoke, including the mayor of Florence, Dr. Muhammad Yunus was on the panel. If you've ever taken one Sociology with Leslie Minor you learn about him and what he did for the women all over the world, so it was quite amazing to be sitting in a room with him. We all left the conference feeling empowered to go out and make a difference in our own communities and all plan to begin to help Women's rights in some small way when we return home. Also on the agenda for week six.... Michelangelo's David! There are not words to describe the sheer size, and impression of this statue. Until you are able to stand in front of it and see it for yourself you could never know the beauty and the enormity of this piece. I was so impacted by the David that I felt as though I could sit and stare of it for hours on end. To be quite honest, that one piece of art is enough to compel me to come back again and again to Italy. Believe me, you will not be disappointed, and if you are on the fence about whether or not to sign up for this program and come next fall, the David alone would convince you because it is simply something that everyone should see before they die. It is beautiful beyond measure. And rounding out our busy, busy week six was our class trip to Rome! Wow! It was spectacular. The first day we were able to tour the Vatican City. Whether or not you are a religious individual, again, this is a place to see if you ever have the chance. The size of this place makes you see why it can successfully be called its own city. And St. Peter's is the most impressive, and most enormous church you could ever imagine. You could spent days in there and still never see every piece of art, or sculpture encompassed in that one huge building. The Sistine Chapel was quite impressive. We were all taken aback at the fact that it was much smaller than we had originally thought. It seemed to large when you see it in pictures or in your text book, and while the ceiling is certainly tall the room itself is really quite modest in size. The second day we were able to tour the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, and the Pantheon. There aren't words to describe how it feels to be standing amidst architecture that is roughly 1900 years old. To know that these places were built and sustained entire population so very long ago is incredible. The Roman Forum was almost eerie. You had a sense of the lives that were lived around that time and the buildings, arches, and pillars still standing were so majestic that it was hard to believe they were built in a time that had no modern conveniences. Next up was the Coliseum which was beautiful. I have to say that it was an ethereal feeling to be standing in the arena that once held Roman Emperors. It's easy to see that part of the past as a certain type of fairy tale, it's an entirely different thing to be seeing the evidence that it was a reality. We also saw the Pantheon, which was impressive as well. Unfortunately, in Rome as in any other city that has many tourists, there are money traps. In Rome one of those traps are the guys dressed as ancient romans standing outside major landmarks, such as the Pantheon, and taking pictures with unsuspecting tourists. Four of us fell victim to this, and after all was said and done, we had paid two of these gypsies a total of 15 euro! What a rip off. But on the flip side it was quite a funny experience that we'll all probably laugh about for a long time. To round out our tour of Rome we were also able to see the Trevi Fountain as well as the Spanish steps. Both of which were beautiful. All in all the trip went well, of course staying in a room with 9 other ladies was interesting, but we all survived, took some amazing pictures and made some great memories. Next week we have pizza making (and eating!) and a few of us might go to the Cinque Terre again.... can't wait! Keep the emails coming and if I can help any of you with your own path to Florence please feel free to contact me at Ciao!


Week five in Firenze

Ciao! This week found us all in an Italian cooking class! All I can say is..... amazing food! We were taught how to make fresh Gnocchi, which is a pasta made mainly with potatoes and flour. The sauce we made was a pomodoro (tomatoes) with veggies and veal..... so good. We also learned how to make a type of Caprese. In Italy there are many types of Caprese, which usually center around tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil. This particular type also included some eggplant and it was delicious! And last but certainly not least, we made Tiramisu! The translation is literally 'Pick me up'. I assume that it's called this because of the coffee that the lady finger cookies are soaked it. In any case, it was incredibly easy to throw together and tasted fantastic. I think it's safe to say that our cooking class was an enormous success. And of course we got to eat the whole meal when we were done.... It was definitely worth the time! Classes are still going well. We've been learning much more about the culture and the customs of the country which has definitely helped us to adapt and to understand certain things that we may not have necessarily been able to before. Each week we have what they call and "Italian Life and Culture" class which is in a lecture form. Each week the topic is different and so far they've all be quite interesting. We've learned about the ancient history of the city of Florence, of course a bit of the political climate of the government here as well as it's roll in the media, and of course we've learned about the italian family. It's very common for italian children to stay at home with there parents until much later than american children! Both for economic reasons and because of the close ties that families here have. And you wouldn't believe there views of marriage and fidelity! Suffice it to say, they definitely do things differently here than back home. As much as I love it in Florence I definitely prefer certain things about the American way of life! This upcoming weekend we're taking a class trip to Rome! We're all very excited to see everything there and to get a way for the weekend. We'll all be staying in a hostel so it should be an interesting experience to say the least! I'll be sure to post a quick summary of the trip when I get back. Ciao!


Week four in Firenze

Well, this week found us taking a curiosities tour of Florence! Local legends, ghost stories, and interesting facts about the city! One of the stories we heard of was about a young woman who was in love with a man her father did not want her to marry. So he married her off to another man. As the story goes, she starved herself into a coma and everyone believed she was dead. When she revived and realized that everyone thought she had died she ran to her husband's home and tried to get in, upon seeing her he believed he was seeing her ghost and would not let her in. So she ran to her father's house, and he thought the same thing so he too, turned her away. She then ran to the house of the man she loved and after hearing her story they began living together. When her husband found out about it he demanded that the church make her come back to him because they were obviously still married, but the church, having declared her dead at the request of her husband, said that the women who was his wife was deceased and that they did not know who this other woman was, so she was free to go. So she and the man she loved lived a long and happy life, or so goes the legend. It's believed that on the first tuesday of each month you can see her ghost run through a piazza she crossed through back then. So the first tuesday of November will most likely find a small group of us sitting in the piazza trying to catch a glimpse..... We also had midterms this week! Nothing too crazy although the Art History midterm was a bit intense. But we all did better than we thought we would. I guess learning about famous artwork is easier when you can study the original pieces firsthand! Hopefully they will continue to offer Art HIstory courses and anyone coming in future years will have the same ability. It's been simply amazing to flip through our textbooks and pick any given piece of art and know that in most cases that original work is just around the corner! Each week we've been touring museums and seeing the things we're learning about and that has been fantastic. So far we've seen the Bargello, San Marco, the Uffizi, the Apollonia, as well as much of the architecture we've seen just walking around of course! We've also climbed the Dome of the the Florence Cathedral, the Duomo. That was beyond amazing, and once at the top, it was breathtaking. If you come, definitely climb the Duomo. It's worth the entrance fee. Up next is the Accademia, which is where Michelangelo's famous statue of David is at. I think we're all really looking forward to seeing that! We've already done so much and we're not even halfway through the trip! I think we're all really looking forward to what's still in store for us! Until next time....


Week three in Firenze

Hey everyone! I know, I'm a little, ok quite a bit, late with this prior weeks blog post. Sorry it was a busy week and weekend and I just didn't get back around to it! So let's see what week 3 brought us... Well on tuesday night we went to see "The Marriage of Figaro" at the opera. I was only able to stay for the first half because I had quite a bit of homework for the next day, but what I was able to see was AMAZING. Even if you aren't into theatre or the opera, if you have the chance you should absolutely see an italian opera. It was fantastic!

Classes are getting more involved and are, somewhat surprisingly, just like classes at home for the most part. I know how crazy that sounds but you can't help but think that when you come to Florence, the seat of the Renaissance, and study Art History that it's going to be easier, and way more fun, then learning it in a classroom back home in Bend! And while I would agree that it is by far more fun, it certainly isn't any easier. For the week 4 blog I'll talk a little bit about the test we had... it was pretty intense!

A couple of us girls learned a few valuable lessons this week as well. While doing your laundry at the lavanderia (laundromat), do not do so alone. Florence, in general, is relatively safe. But don't be fooled into thinking that you are perfectly safe just because you're in a beautiful place. On two separate occasions myself and two of the other ladies with our AIFS group were accosted and made very uncomfortable by the same man at this particular lavanderia. The first time two girls were together, the second time one of the two girls ran just around the corner to pick something up at the store leaving the other girl alone for a short time. So from here on out we travel in pairs and do not separate into groups smaller than two or three. If you are planning on taking this trip, the smartest thing you can do is just adopt a confident air and be award of your surroundings and of course you should always use the buddy system.

Our second lesson was, again, about the train station! I think I mentioned it in a previous post, but in case I did not, whatever Sophie and Phillipa (program coordinators here in Florence) tell you... IT IS NOT SIMPLE! :) It can be quite complicated and more than a little frustrating. We missed two trains this weekend trying to get to the beach (Viareggio, go if you get the chance!) and by the time we got there we were too stressed to do much of anything the first day. But we did master them on the way back which felt pretty good! It can be done, it just takes some effort.

Well, that was week 3 in a quick nutshell. If you are thinking about coming to Florence next fall, it's never too soon to begin planning. If you have questions talk to the study abroad advisors, they can give you plenty of great information. Start applying for grants and scholarships early because you never know how much of your trip you will be able to get paid for! Also, if you think you might be eligible for the Gilman Scholarship you might start looking into the requirements. There is a link to their site on the Florence information page, go to their website and learn a bit more about it. Applications will begin being accepted in February 2010, but you can get a jump start on your essays so that you will be prepared to send your application in with plenty of time to spare! And don't worry about not knowing whether you will be receiving the Pell grant before the deadline, they will review and select recipients and then verify their financial aid status so apply even if your not sure whether you'll receive the Pell grant or not. The application process can be intimidating but it is more than worth it!

Again, please feel free to email me at if you have any questions or are thinking about coming here next fall and want more information. I would be happy to help anyone that wants to study abroad because it is a fantastic, once in a lifetime opportunity! I will be more on the ball about posting by the end of week 4... in a few days! Ciao!



Week two in Firenze

It's been a rather busy week for us all. Classes have really begun (You know how the first week is always syllabus review and light homework!) and we're all finding our way around the city and getting our own routines down. Some of us have coffee every morning, while some of us roll out of bed and dash to class in the hopes of not being late! But I think that the completion of our second week here brought with it a sense of comfort in our surroundings. We've all traveled the city by foot pretty extensively at this point and getting lost on your way to your intended destination is the exception now instead of the rule. Of course we all still have much to learn about the customs and idiosyncrasies of this great place!
Speaking of getting our bearings here's a great story about the train station that proved to be both funny and educational! A group of seven of us girls decided this Sunday to go to Viareggio so that we could see the beach and swim in the Mediterranean (Which I still can't quite believe!). One of us had checked the times that trains left from Santa Maria Novella station and when they returned. The first train leaving was at 10:57. We met at the train station at 10:30 assuming that would be plenty of time to grab tickets from the self-service ticket stations and get on the train. Lesson one: Show up an hour early just to be on the safe side. Lesson two: When using the self-service ticket station, know that you must have exact change for your ticket, otherwise you will be given a slip of paper that you must then take to the ticket office and get your change from an agent. Lesson three: The trains leave on time if not a few minutes early. Assume early. Lesson four: Running through the station, cutting the line to stamp your ticket and rushing onto the train before it can leave without you only works if the train hasn't already been long gone, therefore making you look like a bunch of dumb americans for having rushed to get on a train that won't leave for another hour. And the last, but highly valuable lesson we learned? Have more than one person check the train times so you have an accurate accounting of when you can go and return on a day trip. All in all it proved to be quite comical and makes for a great story, but no one ever likes to have to learn the hard way! :)
This week we took a day trip to Pisa and Lucca which was quite fun. The earlier part of the day, which we spent in Pisa, was very wet and windy, but nonetheless worth it as it's basically required that you see the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you are coming to Italy. But the real gem of the day was when we got to Lucca. This city is one of the only walled cities whose walls remain completely intact. And although it's quite touristy to do so, we were able to rent bikes when we got there and ride around the area atop the walls for about an hour. If you have the chance, do so. It was well worth the 2.50 euro it cost to rent the bike. And it was such a great work out! Most of our group did the bike rental and every one of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, so add that to your list of must do's.
Classes are going well here. I think we're all finding it quite amazing to be learning about Art History while we physically view everything that we would normally only see photographs of. If you are an Art History buff this city is most definitely for you.
Just one quick piece of advice before I hit the books, if you are thinking about taking this study abroad trip next year, start planning now! Apply for the Gilman early (if you qualify), and begin looking at other scholarships now as well. There is so much out there and the more help you can get the better. So far it's been extremely worth the work it took to get here!
Until next week...



First week in Firenze!


Hey everyone! Well we made it through our first week here in Italy!

We flew out of Portland last Friday at 8:30 am and arrived in Florence at 9:25 am... the next day! Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, our connections were very tight and two students weren't able to make it on the flight from Frankfurt to Florence and were placed on a later flight. For those of you thinking of going next fall I would highly suggest the flight package through AIFS. It was great knowing we were going as a group and there was someone there specifically to meet us! You are able to schedule your own flights and transportation but I would suggest leaving the hassle to the program coordinators. It's worth paying a little extra!

When we arrived, grabbed our luggage and met up with Sophie (The AIFS coordinator here in Florence and she's fabulous!), she got us all situated and put into taxi's headed to our respective apartments. That was an experience! The driver's here in Florence are CRAZY! Our taxi driver tried to turn several senior citizens into hood ornaments. And don't ever walk out in front of a car or a bus, they won't stop for you. You learn that very quickly here!

Our apartment is great! I know that some of you who may be considering coming to Florence next fall are probably worried about the living arrangements because you have to share rooms with someone else, but most of the apartments have quite a bit of space, and are not bad at all!

Our first week as been so busy that I'm still not sure it has sunk in that we're actually in Italy! We have done several walking tours, along with a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano. Both were stunningly beautiful. In fact every place we've seen so far looks more like a movie set then actual cities and towns.

We also started classes, of course, and are looking forward to studying Art History in the city of the Renaissance. What better place to study all the classics then in a place where you can actually view them, right? For the Italian life and culture class this week we were given a treasure hunt that took us all over the city looking for different things that will prove helpful to us while we're here, that was quite fun. And it certainly helped us get more acquainted with the city we'll be living in..... for 3 months! Still can't quite believe it.

As we begin our second week here, we look forward to continuing to absorb new experiences and change in ways we never imagined. Just one week has proven to me that this experience will be life-changing. If you are considering this opportunity I would say unequivocally to do it. There are several different avenues of funding open including but not limited to the AIFS scholarship and the Gilman International scholarship. It may seem like a far off possibility but going for it will prove to be so worth it!

Check back each week to read about the experiences I'm having and to learn more about how I was able to make it happen! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at Ciao!