Planes, trains and taxis — and a lot of walking. That’s how we arrived, but despite the challenges (lost luggage, broken down trains, and pretty toasty temperatures), we’re here!

Day 1 began with breakfast at our hostel, a renovated 16th century palazzo, and a brief orientation to map out our first day in Firenze. As is our tradition, we walked past the Palazzo Pitti and across the Ponte Vecchio to the centro istorico (historical center) of the city on our way to the Duomo, the cathedral of Santa Maria del FIore.  The line to climb the cupola was not daunting, so while we queued up, Curt dashed off to the Mercato Centrale to order panini for lunch.

The climb up the cupola (all 463 steps) is not for the faint-hearted. At the first stage, there is a stop where you can view some of the plaster models for large scale sculptural figures of bishops and saints as well as some of the external architectural elements of the cathedral. At the next stage, we found ourselves at the base of the dome (where it meets the drum) and viewed Vasari’s frescos that span the entire inner surface of Brunelleschi’s structure. More steps, narrowing corridors, people-jams, and finally, fresh air and blue sky. Like Mallory (or at least the myth of Mallory), we conquered our “summit” and a 360-degree view of Florence and the surrounding hillsides. It is a great introduction to the city that will be our home for the next three weeks.

After our descent, we walked to the Mercato Centrale, picked up our panini and a cold drink, then walked over to a nearby park, Piazza Independenza, to picnic on the grass. The panini, by the way, were made up of prosciutto, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes on a crunchy roll. Magnifico!

Next, it was time for errands. A visit to the local  phone shop to rent pre-paid phones, some shopping for sundry items, and a walk through the San Lorenzo Market to check out the wares (lots of leather, ceramics, t-shirts, souvenirs, etc.)

We regrouped at 5:00 for a more in-depth orientation and then a short presentation by Andrea, one of the staff members at our hostel, who told us both about the history of the building as well as the social services that the income from the hostel provides to the community.

Our first group dinner was held at Il Gatto e’ la Volpe (The Cat and the Fox), near the Bargello Museum. Menu items included bruschetta topped with the incomparable Italian tomato and entree items including pasta, salads and pizza.

We then walked to Ponte Carraia, the bridge closest to our home, and the best gelateria in the universe. It was at the bulkhead of the River Arno that we held our first drawing session, under a nearly full moon and with the lights of the palazzi that line the river reflecting in the dark water.  These drawings, executed in less that 10 minutes, will become the baseline for the students to assess their progress over the next four weeks.

Off to bed — buona notte!