|The Boboli Gardens provide a respite from the frenetic pace of the city.|
My trip entailed three overnights en route in an effort to minimize jet lag or avoid a too-early-trip to the airport. I spent one night in a Country Inn and Suites in Tucson (Southwest USA) and two nights (coming and going) in the Chelsea Wyndham Hotel in Boston (Northeast USA). By the way, I don't think this approach minimized jet lag at all, but at least it gave plenty of transition time to adjust to the fact I was traveling!
|The respect for art is so great that even statues missing crucial body parts are not discarded. Boboli Gardens|
|Street artists offer entertainment. Here's a take-off on Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring.|
|Street artist Blub is prolific. Vandalism is not appreciated. Note the "Why?"|
We had additional lectures on Wednesdays by visiting experts followed by wine and discussion, and a proper British tea every Thursday. But there was still plenty of time to explore on our own so friends and I visited the little town of Fiesole, Brancacci Chapel, Piazzale Michelangelo, the open air markets, and every gelato shop in town. I took a cooking course and learned how to make three sauces, a dessert, and pasta from scratch. There wasn't a single day I didn't eagerly anticipate some upcoming lecture, visit or event.
When I planned this trip, I wanted to live like a local. Too often, we allot four or five days to a city, or in the case of an organized tour, a few hours, to see the highlights. What we miss with what I call drive-by-touring is the heart and soul of the place.
I wanted to immerse myself in Florence so the man down the street would recognize me and return my buonasera greeting. I wanted to know the shortcuts to the Ponte Vecchio and be able to assist tourists who stood on street corners struggling to make sense of their maps. It was important to me to know the heart of the city which resided in its churches; I wanted to worship with the people who lived here. And I hoped to understand and appreciate the soul of Florence--the art cosseted in the arms of this ageless city.
|There's a surprise around every corner!|
And what did this extraordinary thirty-five days of learning, laughter and gelato cost? Less than most people would pay for an organized tour that would have rushed them lickety-split through Florence at a cost of roughly $383 a day (That estimate is for tours organized by Trafalgar and Grand Circle. Tauck, a luxury tour organizer, would have charged more like $500-600 a day).
I paid only $87.88 a day and, believe me, I saw all the museums, chapels, churches, and sights on my list and even a few things that weren't; learned far more than expected about the Renaissance from the best experts in the field; ate the best Tuscan food available; and talked or laughed about all of it with classmates who became friends.
|Our lecture room, surrounded on all sides by books, at the British Institute of Florence.|
Because I used frequent flyer miles, all my flights were free.
My apartment, perhaps the best deal in town if you've got good earplugs, cost €500 for the month. This price was inclusive. There were no additional charges for taxes, cleaning or utilities.
The wonderful class at the British Institute of Florence cost €675 plus €39 for some museum admissions.
The hotel in Tucson cost $42 while the one in Boston cost $186 and $150. I hope never to overnight in Boston again as it has some of the most expensive airport hotels in the country.
If I hadn't bought myself a purse and presents for friends and family, the bottom line would have been lower, but buying a few indulgences for yourself and others makes a trip much more fun.
The figure of $88 a day includes everything--food, transportation, tickets, accommodations, a haircut (It is growing!), gifts and mementoes.