The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
A Historical Approach to Florence

BY SUSANNA CAMPBELL ’23

During Year 1 of IB History, we have examined the causes, events, and consequences of both World Wars. As true historians, however, my classmates and I knew our interests were not limited to this content covered in class, and we were teeming with excitement for our next opportunity to look back in time. Florence, a city bursting with Medieval, Renaissance, and World War II influences, was just the place to satisfy our interest. 

Day 1, November 3: Settling In
At 10:30 on Wednesday, November 3, our group finally convened to meet our chaperones, Mr. Kirsch, our history teacher, and Ms. Jovanovic, our school counselor. We loaded onto the bus, and the ride to Milan passed by quickly thanks to our loud speaker and delicious packed sandwiches. At the Milan train station, we managed to load all of our suitcases on the train (to our surprise!) and settle into our seats. Conversations about past Academic Travel trips immediately started, with Mr. Kirsch chiming in to tell us about his favorite gelato shops and hidden corners of the city.

At 3:00 we arrived at our hotel, medieval and eclectic in style, so we immediately adopted our historic lens. Located on the Piazza dell'Indipendenza, the hotel was just a stroll away from Florence’s city center. So, after being released for free time, my classmates and I took advantage of this location to hit a local gelato shop and marvel at the Cathedral of Florence. 

We ended our day with a true taste of Florence, as we ate multiple pasta dishes for dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant. While meandering through the streets back to our hotel, Mr. Kirsch pointed out the replica statue of David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. We were amazed by the size of the sculpture and couldn’t wait to see the real statue the next day!

 

Day 2, November 4: The Sites of the City
On our first full day in Florence, our group started off with an early breakfast in the hotel, where we all enjoyed homemade cappuccinos and croissants. Fueled for the day ahead, we then met our guide, Matilda, and immediately set out on our walking tour. Although we walked the same way to the center as we had the day before, my classmates and I could now spot the various pieces of history around us with the help of our guide. One of the most striking was the colorful altars scattered throughout the streets, dating back to the 1500s. As our tour progressed, I felt as if I was moving through history; we started with the medieval Old Medici Church, then moved to the Renaissance-era New Cathedral, and lastly walked over the reconstructed Vecchio Bridges demolished during World War II.

After a quick lunch of panini overlooking the Arno River, we set out on our guided visit to the Uffizi. Our guide once again enlightened us on the dense history behind each painting and its subjects, adding a personal touch to the beautiful artwork before us. Next up, free time! In a quick two hours my friends and I shopped, ate even more gelato, and perused the local markets.

We topped off our day with a guided tour of the famous David statue by Michelangelo, but this time our guide was our own teacher Mr. Kirsch! Delving into the talent and effort behind the sculpture, Mr. Kirsch brought the stone figure to life. 

Hungry from our day of walking and touring, we all were excited for our Asian cuisine dinner. Over dumplings and rice dishes, our group recapped the day, strengthening the bonds between us historians!

Day 3, November 5: Becoming in Touch With Tuscan Culture
After our new morning ritual of sipping on cappuccinos in the breakfast room, we loaded the bus for our visit to the American Cemetery. This cemetery was specifically dedicated to American World War II veterans fighting for the independence of Italy from Nazi rule. Our visit translated what we learned in the classroom to real life, as we could now physically see the consequences and effects of war before us. 

Astonished by the sheer number of graves and the beautiful landscaping surrounding them, we understood the amount of recognition these soldiers deserved. Furthermore, through our guide, we were able to hear the stories of various notable soldiers, from undercover missions to Medal of Honor winners. Extending our preliminary classroom knowledge, the guide used the large exhibitions and artwork of the cemetery to show the process of the Italian liberation. 

We ended our visit with a game to match the symbols of various divisions of the military with their correct name, and we all won prizes of memoirs by famous American soldiers fighting in the area.

After our somber morning, we arrived after a short ride through winding, rural Tuscan roads to a local olive oil farm with an accompanying villa. We were immediately welcomed into the dining room of the owners, with a spread of meats, cheeses, and vegetables before us. These aperitivi were followed by a wonderful pasta course made with their very own olive. We could taste the difference! We then performed an olive oil tasting featuring the local Tuscan-grown products. We were amazed by the quality and flavor of the homegrown olives, aware of all of the love and effort put into each bottle. 

As we said our farewells to the owners of the olive farm, they took us down the road for one final view of their beautiful property and their companions, various farm animals. An already amazing day was magnified by a stunning view of the rolling hills and cute encounters with dogs, goats, and even a donkey!

Concluding our tour of the Tuscan countryside, we took a short bus ride to the nearby town of San Gimignano. Surrounded by medieval architecture and quaint shops, we were transported to a different time. We visited artisanal shops selling jewelry, old books, and trinkets.

Tuscan Countryside

In order to commemorate our final night in Florence, our group enjoyed one last pasta dish, and no one could resist taking a bite out of their neighbor’s dish as well! While discussing our plans for the future, our chaperones encouraged us and told their own personal stories. At the end of the meal, I couldn’t believe how much closer I had become with the group as a whole even in the span of two days. 

But our already great night was about to become better. As a surprise, our chaperones allowed us to fulfill one of our group’s last unsatisfied wishes: a visit to the American 1950s-themed diner. There, we all laughed over our milkshakes and group games of foosball, pinball, and air hockey. 

Day 4, November 6: Saying Our Goodbyes
Making use of our extra time in the hotel, my friends and I took a longer, relaxed breakfast, savoring the taste of one last cappuccino. With our suitcases packed, our group was all a little sad to be leaving the city we had just gotten to know so well. However, we had one last stop in mind to complete our authentic Florence experience: the market. Our class knew of the extensive stalls and products featured at the Florentine markets, but we had no clue the variety it contained. Strolling through the large food market, we could hear our stomachs growling at the sight of various handmade pastas, freshly cut meats, and locally grown vegetables. Then, at the numerous leather stalls outdoors, we viewed the famous high quality Italian leather. There, some of our group bought belts and brightly colored purses.As we boarded the train back home, we left Florence with full bellies and tired legs, but all of us reflected on this greatly rewarding trip.

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