The winners are…
First Place: Siena’s Piazza del Campo at Night
Piazza del Campo is a beautiful public space. We had visited the piazza during the day with our professors but it completely transformed after nightfall. The crowd was less touristy and younger, so the atmosphere was one of a college town. My friend Sameera and I took example from those around us and sat in the middle of the public space with a bottle of wine. It was a clear night and the scene was lively, encouraging people to spill out of restaurants and bars onto the street. Siena is organized in a Y-shape, making the piazza in the middle a natural meeting point, so when our friends also ventured out of the hotel they ran into Sameera and me. Nothing can make you feel as at home as suddenly seeing your friends in a strange city.
Second Place: Private Tour of the Uffizi
The Uffizi, like most museums, is closed on Mondays, but Cornell pulled some strings so we could tour it alone. Seeing this huge gallery empty of people was a completely surreal experience. It was incredible to see the masterpieces that I had studied through books and lectures in person and without the distraction of crowds. Our art history professor Paolo Alei explained how painting developed during the Italian Renaissance alongside science, geometry, and poetry. We also walked through the secret passage from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace, both of which had belonged to the Medici family. The passage is not open to the public and was used as an escape route. It crosses the Arno River on the top level of the Ponte Vecchio, and even passes through the facade of a church, becoming a balcony so the Medici could access the services in private. It was fascinating that even this private passage was filled with artwork, allowing the family to escape from their palace in style.
Third Place: Climbing to the Cupola of the Florence Duomo
Climbing to the top of the Duomo was the last thing we did before leaving Florence and ending the trip. It was an amazing way to experience the space through an interesting procession. Walking inside the cathedral, we got a glimpse of the church interior: just enough to see the dome and make out the tiny people walking along its interior rim. After that came the endless and twisting climb up within the walls. Just as we got tired, we reached the interior base of the dome. It acted as a threshold, allowing us to comprehend the scale of the building for the first time by looking down to where we had come from and looking up to the windows in the cupola to where we were about to go. With the next set of stairs came more twists and turns, but now they were within the structure between the exterior and interior domes. Finally, we emerged into the beautiful, sunlit view at the top. From here, it again became impossible to comprehend the scale of the building. The climb was a repeating pattern of compression and release, a powerful architectural experience and concept, and the final release into the panorama of Florence was a perfect end to the whole trip.
Staying warm in a four-bed hotel room with ten other people after a cold and rainy day in Florence, eating kebabs, and watching Italian MTV.
Driving home to Rome and writing this blog post on my iPhone while looking out the window at the Tuscan landscape and the full moon on the horizon.