Read part one of our three part recap of our employee trip to Italy!

Following our adventures in Venice, it was on to Florence!

During our private coach ride from Florence to Venice, we took park in one of the LEAP activities our student travelers enjoy, the Great Renaissance Debate. We broke into teams, learned about some of the great renaissance giants such as Galileo, Michelangelo, and Donatello, and made our case for which one had the greatest impact on civilization. There were costume, a lot of learning and laughter, and a rap song!

Mercato Centrale Florence Italy
Lunchtime in the Mercato Centrale in Florence!

Upon arriving in Florence, we dropped our bags at our hotel and walked down the street to Mercato Centrale, an indoor food market. The bottom floor is full of food stalls to purchase Italian goods like pastas and olive oils, while upstairs is home to several restaurants. Many of us had our first taste of Italian pizza and of course, we had more gelato!

After lunch, we took a walking tour, taking in the streets of Florence. We stopped to visit Il Porcellino, a bronze fountain of a boar whose name means “Piglet” in Italian. According to local legend, you put a coin in the boar’s mouth, make a wish, and let it fall to the grate below. If the coin goes into the grate, your wish will come true. Fun fact: the statue appears in the movies Hannibal, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II!

Ponte Vecchio Bridge Florence Italy
Colorful Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

Our walking tour took us to Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge built over the Arno River. The first bridge was believed to have been built in 996 and was destroyed by flooding twice before being rebuilt in 1345. Today, it is lined with jewelers and art merchants, just as it was hundreds of years ago.

Ponte Vecchio Bridge Florence Italy
Going up! The ceiling of the Duomo of the Florence Cathedral.
Sunset from the Duomo in Florence
A sunset from the top of the Duomo is unforgettable.
Sunset from the Duomo in Florence
The sun was setting on one side of the Duomo – and the moon was rising on the other!

While some of our group continued on to a leather factory, another group of us decided to climb the steps of the Duomo, the dome of the Florence Cathedral. It’s 463 tight, winding steps, but the view at the top is breathtaking. We happened to time it just right and ended up at the top at sunset. With the sun setting on one side and the moon rising on the other, it was a scene we won’t forget.

Sunset from the Duomo in Florence
Cooking class in Florence!
Cooking Class in Florence, Italy
We made our own pasta!

That night, it was time for another LEAP activity, Cucina Fiorentina! We went to a local cooking school and prepared a three-course meal of pasta, meatballs, salad, and a type of sponge cake with a local chef using local,fresh ingredients. We even made our own pasta!

Statue of David Accademia Florence Italy
The Statue of David – stunning.

The next morning, we visited Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David. Photos don’t do David justice. The statue is striking. Every detail is flawless. Our local tour guide provided lots of information on how Michelangelo created this masterpiece while we stood around it in awe.

Tuscany Farm Italy
What a view for lunch!

After our visit to Accademia, we boarded a coach for a day trip into the Tuscan countryside. Our first stop was at a Tuscan farm for a farm-to-table lunch! If you ask, most of us will tell you this was the best meal of the trip (although our Roman pizza experience is a close second!). Bruschetta, pasta, salad, prosciutto, cheeses, dessert… It was delicious!

San Gimignano Italy
Exploring the alleys of San Gimignano!
San Gimignano Italy
San Gimignano’s public square.

From there, we traveled on to San Gimignano, a walled medieval hill town. One of our tour guides, Vanessa, told us all about Gelateria Dondoli, home of the “World’s Best Gelato” – did you know there is such thing as a world gelato championship? – many times over. We could not wait to try it after hearing Vanessa talk about it! Imagine our disappointment when it was closed! Have no fear – there was another gelateria just across the square!

Italian Gelato
Gelato with a view!
San Gimignano Sunset Italy
One last view of San Gimignano before heading back to Florence.

We enjoyed some free time shopping and exploring San Gimignano before boarding the bus to return to Florence. We were tired, happy, and stuffed to the gills with fresh foods and gelato – and excited to travel to Rome in the morning! Check back later this week for the final installment of our Italian adventure!

Learn more about our Educational Travel Programs to Italy.