On Friday, 25 September, we had a class trip planned. It was for my history class, Story of Florence and we were going to Santa Brigida. To be completely honest, I did not know where Santa Brigida is and I’m still not quite sure, but I do know that it is in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. So we met our British professor, Simon, at the Santa Maria Novella train station and went on our merry way. The trip only took about 40 minutes to get up into the country and it was truly beautiful. We then get the village and he says that we’re going for a walk. (This is a trend with this class, we go for walks up hills.) So we all hesitantly follow him up a gravel pathway. Soon we see a castle like building way up the hill in the middle of a wood and we all jokingly say that we were headed there. However, the joke was on us, we were headed up there. The walk was short, but it was steep, although, so worth it. We get up to the stone building and Simon says that it is still a working monastery with six brothers living in it with their cat, whom we met later. We go inside the courtyard of the monastery and it is a spectacular panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The breeze was crisp and cool, much welcomed after our hike up. The air smelled like thyme and olive trees. The monastery was quiet and so peaceful, surrounded by trees and hills with a small village down the medieval road. The tranquility that we all felt left us in awe and I truly felt the presence of God, it was so surreal.
After relaxing on the grass and enjoying the view, we moved into the cathedral itself which was modest, but beautiful, built in the baroque style. We looked at the crypt and different parts of the church. We then moved just outside the walls of the monastery because one cannot eat in sacred holy ground. Our professor had bought us lunch which consisted of focaccia bread with numerous toppings like tomatoes, mozzarella, arugula and olives. We also got panini of different kinds, mine had a spicy tomato sauce with pecorino and potatoes. Yeah, it had potatoes in it, but it was so good, highly recommend it. So our class talked and ate lunch outside sitting along the stone walls and we were soon greeted by small meows. We all look and see this adorable cat that was looking at us like he wanted us to share. Simon told us that the cat belongs to the monks and enjoys the company of the villagers and occasional tourist. We check the time and see that our bus was coming in about 20 minutes so we make our way back down the hill to the bus stop. Time ticks by and no bus. Then the bus is about 20 minutes late, which is unusual. Simon realizes that it’s Friday and the bus drivers sometimes go on strike to get a three day weekend. What.
So we wait, getting more anxious as time goes on. Simon was simply going to walk home, he lived only about 10 minutes away on foot, so he was not going to come back to Firenze with us. Much to our hearts content, our bus came and we made it back just in time for aperitivo. My wonderful Aussie roomie, Alex, and I cleaned up a bit and went and got aperitivo at a bar down the street from our flat. We both got small beers and sampled local goodies from the buffet. We laughed and talked for almost 2 hours without realizing how much time had gone by.
Saturday, I had a plan to meet up with a guided tour in Firenze to go up to Pisa and Lucca for the day. We took a bus over to Pisa, it’s only about an hour and a half to get into Pisa from Firenze. When we got there, we walked to the Piazza dei Miracoli or Miracle Square where the three main monuments are. Going under the arch and realizing you’re face to face with the Baptistry, the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower. We had a wonderful tour guide from Madrid, Spain named Andrea who spoke fluent Italian, Spanish and English. She and I got to talking after the tour and she actually studied Art History like I am. She was great, we exchanged numbers and she invited me back to Pisa anytime to have drinks with her. We then had about an hour of free time which I used to go get a panino. I found a very small trattoria that had a Trip Advisor sticker in the window. I squeezed through the very small open door and walked up to the counter and looked at a menu. Soon, a very elderly Italian man, probably in his 90’s, greeted me. I ordered in Italian and he started talking to me in Italian and I gave him a very apologetic and puzzled look, but asked him if he spoke Spanish. He said yes, so we continued our conversation in Spanish while he made my panino. It was incredible and, as my roommates and I say, made with love. Panino in hand, I made my way back to the piazza and sat on the marble steps of the cathedral facing the Leaning Tower. It was really surreal, especially with all of the tourists and all the languages that I was surrounded with. I soon heard Boston accents behind me and some Boston fireman were behind me trying to figure out where to go next. I approached them and asked them to take my photo with the tour, which they kindly did. (Although, I did not do the touristy photo.)
Once our groups met back at the gate into the city, we then took the bus over to the small village of Lucca. Luca is absolutely stunning and was originally a Roman city. There are three sets of walls, the Roman ones underneath our feet, the Medieval ones that have also been built upon except for a few towers and the Renaissance once that are still the village walls today. The Renaissance walls are also now a promenade for cyclists and pedestrians. There is also a very famous piazza that isn’t square, it’s completely round because it was built upon the ruins of the Roman amphitheater where gladiators used to fight. Our tour also got to taste bucchelato which is a Lucca speciality cake. Once we made it back to Firenze, I was exhausted and had walked about 8.5 miles. All in all, a pretty solid weekend.