Taming Firenze: Chianti

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Some stories need to be told with words. Others with pictures. Chianti is a difficult story to tell with either. It is the humming wind, the fresh mountain air and the rows of grape trees lining the hills. It is the sun and the clouds – the world breathing around you.

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Directly between Florence and Siena, Panzano is a small village in Chianti. That’s where we escaped the hectic city, the flocks of tourists and the narrow streets.

In Chianti, we stretched our limbs and took a much needed break. For two hours, we weaved our way across the rolling Tuscan hills through vineyards and farms.

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After our hike, we rewarded ourselves with a wine tasting and a lunch. Here, we toured a small, family-owned wine cellar and learned about the time, love and care involved in the wine-making process. We then sampled three red wines, a dessert wine and grappa (which was pretty gross, but worth a try if you’re ever in Tuscany).

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The beauty of Italy comes from its traditions – its tight-knit families passing down recipes, land and homes. Food and drink is crucial to Italian culture. In the large, ten-room estate in Panzano I felt that I was being welcomed into a legacy – the byproduct of generations of hard work.

The days in Florence where the tourists barricade the walkways and the selfie-stick-pedaling vendors accost you on the way to school make it difficult to love this place. It often feels suffocating. It feels as if the city has no life left.

To get away for a moment – to catch a breath and see the countryside where Florence found its roots – is to gain perspective. Again, I was reminded of all of the things to love about this beautiful city – about this beautiful home of mine.

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Bonus pictures of the cat that lived in the estate (also featuring our tour guide, Niccolo).

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Taming Firenze: Brussels

“This city of contrasts, symbolic of the surrealist spirit, which continually challenges the confines of seriousness and enchants us just as much as it annoys us.”

Exhibit description at Centrale for Contemporary Art

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If you had asked me what trips I was planning while studying abroad in another country, Brussels would not have been on my list. But for my first trip out of Italy it did not disappoint.

Of course the beauty and innovation of the city was stunning and well worth the trip, but we visited Brussels with a very specific purpose: to see the Philadelphia band Modern Baseball on their European tour.

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My tip to anyone planning to study abroad: if a band you like is going on a European tour, go see them. No matter what city they’re playing in, go see them. Chances are, you’ll end up front row in the smallest, coziest and weirdest venue you’ve ever seen jamming out to your favorite songs with about 50 other audience members – none of whom are from America. You might even get to meet the band.

Aside from the coolest concert ever, it is worth mentioning the incredible food Brussels had to offer. Waffles and chocolate everywhere, fries (or “Frites”) to die for, and beer that puts the U.S. to shame (not that that’s saying much, but, really, this beer was good). Though I will never stop loving Italian food, it was refreshing to trade wine and pizza for beer and sausage.

 

Brussels is a modern city sprinkled with reminders of the past. Yes, there is the ancient beauty of Grand Place and the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, but there is also the modern beauty of crisp office spaces and innovative design.

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It is a creative city investing in art and progress.

There was no shortage of art in this city. In fact, this city seemed to be made of art. From open air galleries, to the Centrale for Contemporary Art, to a Cat Art Museum, one could not miss the creative spirit of this city.

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We understood its diverse and contrasting history from its vibrant art scene. At Centrale for Contemporary Art, we saw pieces about the Manneken Pis, the famous statue of a little boy peeing. We saw pieces about the Atomium, the large structure designed for the 1958 Brussels world Fair. We saw interpretive pieces embodying the spirit of Brussels from artists’ points of view.

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At MIMA, we saw accessible and relatable art. We saw contemporary art from across the world. We saw art from various cultures that all spoke the same message: question everything.

At The Royal Museums of Fine Art Of Belgium, we saw old masters and new. We saw work from every era. We saw realistic works documenting Belgium’s rich history. We even saw a Rene Margritte exhibit, allowing us to see the city through the eyes of one of Belgium’s most famous artists.

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From all of this stunning art I learned that Brussels is a city with Identity. Though it has struggled throughout history for autonomy, it now understands itself. It understands how to balance multiple languages and dialects. It knows how to balance history and modernity. It knows how to balance reflection with progression. It knows itself even if the rest of the world doesn’t.

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