Feels Like Home: Quiet spots for Florence students

By Delia Binetti

Studying abroad means you might be a long way from home, but finding those comforts in your new environment will make your experience more enjoyable. Three students studying abroad this spring shared their favorite spots to unwind and why it means so much to them as they adjust to living in Florence.

Odeon Cinema

In Florence, it is easy to find ourselves overwhelmed by the non-stop hustling of the city tourists as well as the working locals. Carly Gesell, currently a junior from the University of Michigan, was able to find her hidden gem around the corner of a school building where she attends her classes. The Odeon Cinema, a multipurpose library and movie theater, is located in the center of the city, surrounded by stores, restaurants, and apartments. Odeon was recently renovated and has become one of the main attractions for students coming from abroad but also from within the schools of Florence. Whether you're interested in watching a late night movie or needing a cozy study spot, this cinema has it all. 

“I was looking around the city for bookstores, and I stopped in and discovered this beautiful place where you can watch movies or pick up a coffee and study all in one place,” Gesell said. “I usually go there by myself because I like to go in between classes or in the middle of the day when not everyone else is around. I’ve told so many of my friends about it and said that we should go together since I think it's a fun place to bring new people that haven’t seen it before.”

Coming to Florence from Ann Arbor, it is more difficult to find the places that feel like “home.” But for Gesell, it was possible to locate a spot that resembles the comfort and tranquility she finds when studying or relaxing at school in Michigan. Gesell said one of her favorite things about the cinema is its versatility and its selection of seating options.

“There are tables and desks of all different sizes and big theater chairs, which makes it comfortable,” Gesell said.  “If you can't find a table, it's really nice to be able to still sit in one of them and read or do work. I usually study at the libraries at home, but they are nowhere near as nice. I usually try to spend a couple hours at Odeon when I want a nice little break from walking around Florence.”


Piazza Santo Spirito

“Oltrarno,” which translates to the “other side” of the Arno, is famous for its local restaurants, shops, and hidden piazzas. For Butler University junior Katherine Keller, the neighborhood of Santo Spirito quickly became one of her favorite places that she first discovered when arriving in Florence. Besides the general attractions, the market that occurs every Sunday in the piazza of the neighborhood is one of the most popular events for tourists and locals to attend. Around the borders of the tents, tables of coffee shops and restaurants are filled with pedestrians who stop by to soak in the sun after walking through the stands of local shop owners who come to sell their produce and other products. 

“I was wandering around and I was told by Milva to get lost," Keller said. "I stumbled upon it, and it wasn't until later that I discovered it was Santo Spirito.” 

Usually, most students are placed in apartments that they share with others, so it can be hard to find  time to be alone. Finding those opportunities can mean pushing yourself to explore and get out of your comfort zone. For Keller, Santo Spirito offers her support in different ways that most people might not find until they travel to the other side of the Arno. Keller said she enjoys exploring the neighborhood by herself or with her friends and tries to find the time to relax outside of her apartment, even if it involves just sitting in the square. 

“During the quieter hours of the day, it’s super peaceful. It’s a completely new situation from what I’m surrounded with back at home,” Keller said. “It depends on what kind of day I go, but sometimes I even go there on my runs or just to buy some fresh produce. Sometimes I will go for hours on end just sitting there in the square.”

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

Classes offered at the Lorenzo de Medici Institution provide a vast variety of opportunities for students to be able to explore the city with the help of their professors and the assignments that they are given. For Savannah Downing, a junior at Iowa University, her hidden gem was discovered while participating in her photography class. She stumbled upon Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, which is located close to the outskirts of the city near the train station. During the day, most tourists come and go, either to arrive in the city and explore or say their goodbyes. Downing said Santa Maria Novella was busy yet quiet at the same time, which created a good opportunity to take photos and people-watch during her first week of classes in Florence. 

“I usually go alone since it’s a nice peaceful place to be by yourself,” Downing said. “There’s a hidden bench where I usually go and study, but a lot of the time I find myself watching people go about their days.”

Being a music therapy major, Downing also found herself fitting right in when she heard a violinist and an opera singer performing in the middle of the square. 

“Back at home, I spend a lot of time in the music building. There’s always music playing,” Downing said. “I’m naturally drawn to it and it reminds me of what I'm comfortable with. Santa Maria Novella makes me feel a similar feeling when I am there.”


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