Staff Member: Mr Fraser Muirhead
The pupils were greeted with the warm Italian weather when the stepped off the plane at Bologna Airport. This was of course, no match for the warm welcome that was given to us by our host pupils and their families.
Two of the Italian exchange students appointed themselves as our ‘look outs’ and their animated gestures as they saw the group approach was a lovely sight and soon became infectious, as the Dollar pupils were reacquainted with their exchange partners and met with their host families with smiles and hugs aplenty; a fantastic start to our time here in Florence and one which has set the tone brilliantly.
There were some tired faces after a full day of travelling and so it was off home for some famous Italian home cooking and (hopefully) some early nights as the programme begins in full tomorrow. “Buona notte” as they say here…
It was an early start this morning for the group as they made their way to the partner school, ITT Marco Polo, and both weather and the welcome remained warm as the pupils were treated to breakfast and a brief tour of the school.
Then they were off to the renowned Uffizi Gallery to learn more about some of the many works by the Renaissance masters that Florence is so famous for: Alberto, Masaccio, Caravaggio, Giotto, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and many more!
Mimi, the group’s guide, was superb and a fountain of knowledge. She provided encyclopaedic insight into the birth of the Renaissance as well as the influence of the Medici family.
The highlight of the tour was Botticelli’s masterpieces, ‘The Birth of Venus’ and ‘Primavera’.
The pupils then took out their sketch-books and drew inspiration from their surroundings, to document their own favourite works.
The afternoon was spent at The Uffizi before an early night. The group are looking forward to tomorrow as they will be travelling by high-speed train to Rome, to learn about the history of The Eternal City and the spread of classical art.
Not bad for the first two days!
All Roads Lead to Rome!
Rome did not disappoint one bit today, as the group arrived by high-speed train from Florence in under an hour and a half.
Glorious sunshine and temperatures of 18/19 degrees greeted the group as they headed to the Vatican to explore the incredible architecture of St Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s masterpieces, The Sistine Chapel Ceiling and his fresco ‘The Last Judgement’ seated beneath it and containing over 300 figures.
Huge crowds that were gathered in the chapel underlined just how important these pieces are; both works taking Michelangelo over 4 years to complete.
Everyone was then met by tour guide, Francesco, who brought to life the history of Rome through a walking guide tour of its most famous sights.
There was fierce competition as to the highlight of the tour: the sensational Trevi Fountain, designed by Nicola Salvi, the magnificent Coliseum, or Della Palma – the renowned gelato parlour with its 150 flavours of ice cream!
The host pupils met everyone as they returned, and the group were definitely feeling the effects of 15km worth of walking!
Thankfully the hosts had organised to take the Dollar students out for dinner so it was off into Florence city centre for the group to grab some pizza and a further chance to get to know each other. Staff have been impressed at how well both groups have mingled everyone is looking forward to another day of visits back in Florence.
A day of sight-seeing.
The group were treated to ideal weather again as they headed by bus towards one of the most respected schools in Italy – Poggio Imperiale – located to the south of the Arno river. The name of the school translates as “Imperial Hill” and for good reason; it has been a residence over the centuries to countless aristocracy including dukes, duchesses, kings and queens.
The infamous Medici family has owned this villa for many years and its neoclassical façade provides an interesting comparison to Dollar’s Playfair building.
The pupils were treated to a tour of the campus and also had the opportunity to see how the predominately female pupils live and study.
Everyone then had a guided tour of the famous Santa Spirito church, which was designed by the Filippo Brunelleschi before viewing the traditional artisan craft district of Oltarno. The group’s guide Mimi, set the scene brilliantly, by bringing to life the very buildings in which Michelangelo learnt his formidable skills as a painter and sculptor.
Finally, the group visited the Bargello located in the centre of Florence. This building houses two significant sculptural collections by Donatello and Michelangelo, including works such as ‘Bacchus’ and ‘David’ as well as the elegant ‘Mercury’ by Giambologna.
The sculpture court was an ideal opportunity for the pupils to work on their sketchbook drawings before a quick ice cream on route to the meeting point and for the pupils to head off back home to spend more time with their exchange partners and their families.
Siena and San Gimignano.
An early Sunday morning start was soothed by warm sunshine and temperatures that continued to rise, reaching up to 24 degrees. This made for a glorious day of touring by coach around the famous Tuscan countryside to visit the picturesque towns of Siena and San Gimignano.
Siena was the first stop, and the pupils were treated to an informative tour by local guide Rebecca, who explained Siena’s historical rivalry with Florence and how the strategic layout and fortifications reflect this.
Like Florence, Siena desired to demonstrate its wealth and power through building a grand cathedral – The Duomo di Siena – which inspired the even greater building of the Catterdrale di Santa Maria del Fiore by the Florentines. The hilltop cathedral can be seen for miles around and is immediately recognisable through its distinctive black and white striped marble arrangement as well as its pink marble detailing.
The pupils popped into the renowned Nannini cake and coffee shop for a hot chocolate and to buy souvenir gifts.
San Gimignano is smaller and quainter, and the group headed there to finish off the day in a more relaxing fashion. The glorious weather made for a pleasant walk whilst surveying this intriguing hilltop town with its distinctive trademark fortified towers. Picture postcards, cobbled streets and shuttered villas made for an ideal way to finish the day off, and the pupils enjoyed siting on the steps tucking into the town’s world famous gelato in the Piazza Duomo.
After a lot of walking over the last few days, the pupils had the opportunity to rest as they headed to Piazza del Duomo to spend the afternoon visiting the museum, cathedral and baptistery.
The Dome Museum only opened four years ago and the pupils were impressed with the life-size replica of the original cathedral façade. This provided an opportunity to continue some excellent sketchbook work and the pupils excelled themselves with the volume and style of their drawings – taking inspiration from the works of masters such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Michelangelo and Donatello.
The group took a break from their drawings to watch an informative video explaining the genius behind Filipino Brunelleschi’s design for the dome itself, which has baffled historians for nearly 500 years.
After an intense morning’s work it was time for a well-earned lunch before the literal and metaphorical highlight of the day; the ascent to the top of the dome and a chance to survey the whole city of Florence and the surrounding countryside. The weather was perfect and provided a spectacular opportunity for photographs.
After the tour of the dome, it was back to Marco Polo School for a final evening with the exchange students and their families. It was a fitting opportunity to chat more with the host parents who have done so much to make our pupils feel at home.
Tomorrow is the final day, and the group cannot believe how quickly the time has passed.