An Introduction to Florence – Trust me, I’m an Expert.

When I think of Florence, my mind immediately goes to Dan Brown’s Inferno – the book, not the movie that only got 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I doubt there will be some villain attempting to solve the overpopulation problem of today, I do look forward to seeing all of the art and history to be found in this city.

I completely overthought this blog post for the longest time, and finally came to the realization that I just needed to start writing when I googled “Fun facts about Florence.” While I do not want this blog post to just be another list of fun facts, provided some intriguing information that I thought I would share here. My favorite five facts that I discovered on this fantastic website are as follows:

  1. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of Florence on April 15, 1452.
  2. Pinocchio, the wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies, came from Florence. Le Avventure di Pinocchio was published between 1881 and 1883 by Carlo Lorenzini (pen-name Collodi), a Florentine by birth.
  3. On November 30th, 1786, under the reign of Pietro Leopoldo, Tuscany was the first modern European state in the world to do away with torture and capital punishment.
  4. Florence was severely damaged during World War II by the Germans, who blew up all its bridges except the Ponte Vecchio as it is alleged Hitler declared it too beautiful to destroy.
  5. Tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt, and it’s been this way since the 12th century, according to popular legend. That legend says that during the historical rivalry with Pisa, the Pisans thought blocking shipments of salt would force the Florentines to surrender in whatever battle they were involved with at the time. Instead, the people of Florence just made their bread without salt.

Florence, or Firenze as the locals call it, has been a capital of art, science, mathematics, music, and food. From the extensive research I have done (which included staring in awe at pictures of the city, playing the video game Assassin’s Creed 2, scoring a solid 3 on the AP European History test sophomore year of high school, reading a few books by Dan Brown, and compiling the list you just read), I would say I’m practically an expert. Of course, I am kidding. I feel like I know very little about the city, yet cannot wait to immerse myself in its environment. Nearly a third of the world’s art treasures are kept in Florence, and the history of innovation that has occurred in Florence, from designing the harpsichord to designing early tanks, Florence has fostered the growth of brave adventurers, famous nurses, musicians, authors, and mad scientists.

I was nearly jumping out of my chair while writing this due to the excitement I felt to be able to breathe in the air of this exceptional city, so I had to go ask some CR alumni about their experiences in Florence. The first story I heard had to do with a CR9’er who wrote about Galileo’s middle finger in one of her initial blog posts and how the team was able to bond over finding the finger in one of the museums once inside the city. I then told the person I was speaking to that I was looking for a little bit deeper stuff than that.

“It’s such an underrated characteristic that the city is walkable. Navigating Florence is possible just by looking at the skyline since very few of the buildings are extremely tall. You’ll know exactly where you are base on where Il Duomo is relative to you,” Matt Williams explained to me. He explained to me that the city exists without major public transportation because everyone can just walk everywhere, and walking through the streets is an incredibly enriching experience. He also told to me that going into museums was a fantastic way to learn more about the culture and history of Florence, but his favorite way to understand more about the city was simply by walking around. While the paintings and works of art in each museum are beautiful, mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation, and the Florentines are no exception. Street artists and performers can be found scattered throughout the cobblestone streets – which are apparently not the most fun to walk around on – and they bring the city to life. Matt explained to me how tons of places in Europe have fantastic museums, beautiful buildings, and interesting histories; the one thing that no two cities have in common is the people that live there.

While talking about traveling with the amazing people of the Familia sounds like nothing but a great pleasure, almost every single Cultural Routes alum has told me that the experience starts to feel long, and it is definitely challenging. While I will walk away with a newfound appreciation for different cultures and a much greater understanding of the world, doing so in a group of 16 nineteen-year-olds will not be an easy task. By the time we will arrive in Florence, our vulnerabilities will most likely be exposed to each other, and we will know just how to encourage each other and just how to give tough love to each other. That tough love can hurt, but it will ultimately provide growth for everyone involved.

I know that this tough love will be at its peak towards the end of the journey. Since Florence will be the second to last city of Cultural Routes 10, we will all be close to the point where we know exactly how to exploit each other’s weaknesses, which is a scary thought. However, this knowledge of how to “push each other’s buttons” is precisely what will bring the Familia so close together. As we near the end of the adventure, I know that Florence will provide the perfect setting for furthering our cohesiveness and for the advancement of our global understanding. I am eager to step into the famous city, but I am even more eager to further step into the Familia and create life-long friendships with this team of stellar individuals.

-Kyle Hepting

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