I’m back from what feels like a very long one-week blogging hiatus. Life has been wonderfully busy, where even the dullest moments (like taking out the trash) are filled with profound beauty and endless exploration.

I wasn’t able to write last weekend because I was sans computer in the Swiss Alps having the most exhilarating, fun-filled, picturesque, three days that I’ve had thus far in my life.

With a group of friends, I took an eight hour bus ride to Interlaken, where we gobbled up mounds of authentic fondue, learned to make chocolate at a cooking school (and quickly devoured that too), sledded forty-five thrilling minutes down an enormous mountain guided only by moonlight, visited Zurich, took a hike, stumbled upon ancient German ruins, and…wait for it… paraglided through the clouds over the incredibly stunning Swiss Alps. (I can barely stomach going down an escalator, so the thought of paragliding was absolutely horrifying to me… and also the best thing I’ve ever done).

After a phenomenal weekend away, I’m back in Florence, and like anytime I step foot outside of these city limits, I’ve returned with an entirely new prospective and appreciation for this unparalleled city. After Switzerland, I feel completely rejuvenated from that fresh mountain air, but I’m fondue-ed out, and ready to realign my loyalty with my beloved spaghetti.

Almost every weekend, I’ve travelled at least for the day and a night. There is a group mentality that I’ve picked up on amongst study abroad students here towards seizing every single moment so as to experience as much of Europe as possible (and sometimes even Africa). Every Monday the professors go around the class and ask, “dove siete andati durante il fine settimana?” (where did you all go over the weekend?). Responses never fail to include cities scattered across the entirety of Europe. It’s strangely easy to feel like staying in Florence is commonplace and even a little bit boring. I know… can you imagine?!

I am infinitely grateful to have been able to travel to so many fascinating places  (Interlaken, Zurich, Rome, Pisa, Lucca, Verona, Venice, Siena, and San Gimignano). For many students, frequently traveling outside of Florence and experiencing the beauty that is Europe was the initial goal of studying abroad, however, for me, it wasn’t. My original objective was to spend so much time in Florence that I become completely and utterly enveloped and swaddled up tightly in the warm, welcoming, rich, aromatic, and tasty culture here.

This weekend I reminded myself of this intention, and was adamant about staying in this beautiful city that contains more than I could possibly see, experience, or eat in seventy-eight lifetimes.

Last night, it rained harder than I ever thought possible. I considered turning on my rain-sounds white noise app, just to cover up the natural, cats-and-dogs pelting rain outside.

But this morning, I woke up to the most miraculously, crystal-clear, brilliant, blue Saturday sky. What a great day to be in Florence.

After making a quick breakfast at our apartment, Ruby and I decided that the garbage sitting under the kitchen sink had long past reached its expiration date. We gathered up our trash bags and took them outside where we dumped them in the city garbage receptors 300 meters away from our apartment (I’m trying to learn the language of the metric system).

That walk to the trashcans is one of my favorite parts of the week. We pass quaint gelaterias, hip bars, ancient buildings with antique terraces, incredibly innovative street art, and the unbelievable Santa Croce Church, which houses amazingly intricate frescos along with the tombs of Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Galieleo (not to name drop or anything).

Today, on our way back from dumping out the garbage, we decided to go inside the Santa Croce Church, instead of simply admiring it’s outside beauty from (the close) distance of our garbage cans.

Ruby had been in the Santa Croce before with her Art History class here, so she was able to spare me the time and energy of reading the explanatory plaques on the wall, and she gave me a condensed, more lively version of the most interesting facts about this 13th century church.

While I was admiring Michelangelo’s elaborately decorative and enormous tomb, a group of five monks asked me to take their photo on one of their iPhones. Not only did I get to learn about the incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly exquisite history of the church, but I also learned that monks love selfies too!

When our stomachs began to rumble (as they seem to do about every twenty minutes here), we headed a few steps around the corner to La Prosciutteria, where met up with our friend Sofia. Ruby and I shared a decadent, artfully displayed board of prosciutto, salami, ham, several types of cheeses, roasted vegetables, olives, different breads, and some fig marmalade to top. This gluttonous feast was considered to be a “sampling plate” for two, but in reality it was so enormous, it could have fed my teenage brother.

Of course, lunch wasn’t complete until we got our gelato fix from Gelateria dei Neri (a place that was recommended in the Florence guide book my parents got me for Christmas). The three of us all ordered the “burro di caramello” flavor (butter caramel). It tasted rich and delicious like Werther’s Candy in ice cream form (aka heaven really is on earth, and it’s in a gelato shop right by my apartment).

We tried to walk off our lunches with some good old-fashioned window-shopping. We wandered through the leather market, gawking over the artisan bags, and snooped through the chic racks of the Italian boutiques and department stores. Along the way we listened to street musicians and watched brilliant chalk artists create temporary masterpieces on the cobble stone roads.

Somehow our shopping turned into yet another excuse for a snack break, as there was a coffee shop on the roof of one of the department stores (thanks for the recommendation Andrea!). We sipped on espressos and munched on our complimentary peanuts while looking out at the café’s breathtaking view of the Duomo, the cathedral in Florence and the most iconic monument in the city.

We attempted to climb to the top of the Duomo (where you get a panoramic view of Florence) but the lines were far too long, and we decided to wait until a weekday rolls around and all the tourists get out of our city 😉

We each went back to our apartments to regroup before we’d meet up for dinner later, where I’d indulge yet again in Florence–in another new restaurant, on a street I’d never walked down before, with waiters that could become future friends, and dishes that I hadn’t yet tasted that could very well be my new favorite meal.

Florence, what more could I ask for?

Willa Giffin studied abroad in Florence, Italy in Winter 2017: