By Michelle Campbell
Some of the many perks of studying abroad with Florida State are the excursions that are included within the program. Every semester our director, along with some of the professors, takes the group to towns located within Tuscany to show us a little more of the countryside that surrounds our Florentine home.
The first day trip consisted of a bus ride to San Gimignano and Volterra. We all met at a piazza near our apartment building and claimed our sets on the bus. Most of us took a short nap before our arrival at San Gimignano but I decided to stay up and watch the buildings and highways turn into rolling hills and winding roads. Not many people realize how beautiful the desolate areas of Italy really are.
During the spring and summer months, passing a giant field of sunflowers is not uncommon. Since it was the middle of January when I went, the colorful vegetation was scarce, yet the greenery and vastness was still a sight to see. When we arrived at our location, everyone got off the bus and followed our professors to the nearest The hour that followed was filled with information about the town as we walked around, intently listening while exploring the small streets that lead to an outlook of the countryside.
After getting our group picture, we went into local museums and churches where our professors gave us more information about the beautiful structures. When they had run out of facts to fill our heads with, we had just enough time to spare to climb one of the towers or check out the medieval torture museum. I opted for the tower since it was a lot cheaper than the museum. The view included an aerial perspective of the whole town below along with much of the surrounding area. The town itself seemed to be deserted. Because it was January, there were no tourists besides us within sight. As we passed by a few locals going from museum to church, I noticed that most of the shops were closed. I plan on going back at some point during the hot summer months to see the streets filled with people and the shops open for business.
When we boarded the bus once more, our director informed us that we would soon stop for lunch. Little did we know it would be one of the best meals any of us was going to consume within our lifetime. The restaurant stood alone, about ten minutes outside the walls of San Gimignano. We all sat down at long tables with our stomachs empty and growling. Our director advised us to go easy on the bread and oil laid out before us in order to make room for what was to come. The first course was lasagna. Not just any lasagna, but the BEST lasagna ever created. I can assure you this is no exaggeration because everyone from Spring ’12 FSU Florence program still has dreams of this lasagna that make our mouths water. To explain the dish in words would not do it justice.
Shortly after we had all licked our plates clean, the servers replaced them with ones containing chicken and vegetables. Dessert was vanilla gelato with a blueberry glaze and fresh blueberries. The lunch was overall amazing but the lasagna is the one dish that everyone still talks about post Florence. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the restaurant and failed to find it listed online, but if you or anyone you know is planning on dinning out in San Gimignano, I highly suggest doing some research for the best lasagna in town.
With our bellies uncomfortably full, we made our way to Volterra. The town proved to be just as barren as San Gimignano. Our professors took us into the local church and museums once again but we also climbed to the top of one of the towers as a group. With a little time left to explore, some friends and I went to the different piazzas and looked for shops that were still open. The sun was starting to set as we boarded the bus back to Florence. I could see how tourists could miss the small towns seeing as they were pretty tough to get to without proper transportation. I would recommend anyone staying in Florence to explore the surrounding towns because they are hidden gems within the well-known region.
Michelle Campbell is a student at Florida State University, and a Spring 2012 alumni of the Florida State in Florence program. Michelle will be reliving her individual travels and group travels with Bus2alps during her four months studying abroad. You can read more at her blog, http://funinfirenze2012.blogspot.com/.