A surprise Andrea Bocelli performance and other happenings in Florence

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By Maddie Rosa*

I have been in Florence for a little over two weeks now, and I cannot believe how quickly the time is flying by.  My mom is coming to visit me (yay!) in only nine days, which means that my time here in Italy is almost half way over.  Even though I am only entering my third week in Italy, I feel so comfortable walking these streets and really do feel like I am at home.  I don’t even know where to begin because every day is truly amazing and unique, nothing is ever the same and there really isn’t a routine in the best way possible.  One of my roommates, Sarah, and I don’t have class until 1:15, and class is only Monday-Thursday, so we have all morning and afternoon to explore the city, sleep in, try something new to eat, basically do whatever we want!

view of Florence
Florence, Italy

We went and got museum passes last week at the Uffizi Museum that allow us to visit up to fifteen museums as many times as we want for the entire calendar year.  Oh, and without waiting in the lines that wrap around the entire block.  So naturally, we went to go see Michelangelo’s David.  It was SO unbelievable and so breathtaking.  The Accademia Gallery, the museum that holds the David, is relatively small with other beautiful and famous paintings and sculptures that are so old it’s hard to believe how amazing they still are.  I can’t even describe the feeling that seeing this monument brings upon you because it is something so unique and really is one of a kind.  After learning about it when I was younger in school or in some relatively boring history class throughout the years, it now makes sense why people are so passionate about art and its history.  The fact that somebody hand-crafted such an enormous piece of stone is mind blowing and has caused me to appreciate even more the love the Florentines have for this city. 

Starting class is what really made me feel at home in Florence.  Having a little bit of structure to my day has helped me adjust, get on better sleeping schedule, and realize how short my time is here.  We had our midterm on Monday to mark two weeks of class, and the June session being half way over.  I am taking Intercultural Communication, and the main objective of the course is comparing and learning the differences between Italian and American culture.  My teacher’s name is Kate, and she is British which brings even another culture into the mix.  It is so interesting and 100% worthwhile to learn about other cultures.  It has opened my eyes even more to how different everyday life is across the globe and the different stereotypes that are created.  We are even pairing up in class and creating a survey to find if what we have been learning about Italian culture is true (according to Florentines), and we had the chance to interview some of them yesterday in class.  I really think that learning the differences between the two cultures has helped me avoid culture shock… for the most part.  At least until Monday night.

ponte vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

Monday night, Florence was celebrating the relighting of the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city and the only bridge that was left standing after World War II.  This bridge was built in 1345 and is the biggest, most famous one in Florence, perhaps even across the world.  The entire city was out on Monday night to watch what seemed like an attempt at a play on the river with fireworks, speedboats, pedal boats and people with costumes.  At the end of the ‘river show’ which of course started about 35 minutes late (we are on Italian time, after all), it was announced that Andrea Bocelli would be singing on the Ponte Vecchio.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he is a famous Italian tenor and singer who is also blind.  So, after being overwhelmed with our lack of personal space while watching the show on the river, we decided it would be best to just listen to Bocelli instead of trying to see him.  Well, just as we were walking away, we heard a band marching down the street.  It sounded like the same band that marches in the Medieval Florentine Soccer Matches (it was), so we just thought we should stand and watch them parade through town because they’re fun to watch.

What we didn’t realize is that they were really marching in Andrea Bocelli, we were just feet away from him!! So, whether we really wanted to or not, we were walking onto the Ponte Vecchio, mostly just moving with the flow of the crowd, to get as close as we could to Bocelli and hear him sing.  After just a few minutes of being in the most crowded mob of my life, he began to sing, and just as quickly as he started, it was over.  The lights of the bridge were turned back on and he cleared out surrounded by his body guards.  However, the rest of us were stuck to fend for ourselves in the mob of madness, and I was really wishing I had a personal escort off of the bridge like Bocelli right about then.  I wish I was exaggerating when I said there was close to 4,000 people on that ancient bridge, and they don’t even allow cars to cross over it most likely due to the weight it can handle.  I was standing on the bridge, at this point separated from my friends, with the weight of people from every direction pushing against me that I was seriously afraid of falling over and being trampled.  At that moment, more fireworks went off, BUT I was not able to see the water from where I was standing.  I swear it sounded like each cobblestone was falling from underneath the weight of the crowd, and I was paralyzed with fear for what felt like an eternity but was really more like seven seconds.  Leave it to me, the world’s biggest chicken, to be convinced the bridge is collapsing.

Even though it was a huge taste of culture shock, it was worth the experience.  How many people can say they stood feet away from a famous Italian singer? 

In the last two and a half weeks, I have traveled to Cinque Terre, Portofino, Venice, and this weekend I am heading to the French Riviera and Monaco/Monte Carlo.  I cannot wait to take my first out of the country trip and submerge myself in yet another culture and way of life for the weekend.  The food, wine, sites and people have all been so amazing.  Walking the streets of Florence has been described as “stepping into a time machine,” and I can’t wait to see what this trip “back in time” will bring.

venice photo collage
My trip to Venice (clockwise from top): Piazza Santa Croce at the opening procession for the first soccer match of the year; Venice scenery; view from our Gondola; and Spaghetti Seppia Nera—or spaghetti with black ink! A specialty Venice is famous for, spaghetti cooked in squid ink. It was SO delicious (once you get past the color!)

*Madeline Rosa is a UI junior majoring in communications and human relations. She is currently studying abroad on the Lorenzo de Medici program in Florence, Italy.

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