Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 2: Marco in Florence

View of Florence and Veccio bridgeIf you're traveling to Italy, you won't want to miss Florence. Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with some wonderful travel memories.

Our first ItalianTravel Memories post covered Pisa, where Marco, the young traveler in our Italian 1 course, visits his aunt and uncle. He then takes the train to Florence where he looks up a friend he met back home. At his friend's place he meets two other students who join him on his walk through the historic center of Florence.

We'll follow Marco's explorations of Florence. For those of you who are doing or have done our Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you a few interesting facts about the cities that are featured in GamesforLanguage's travel-story courses. We typically use the cities' names of the streets, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the other two Italian cities Marco visits, Venice and Rome. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Spain, Germany and the U.S.

In our travel-story course you learn everyday conversational language. In this post, we've listed some additional basic words and phrases in Italian that you may encounter in your travels.

Quick Florence History

The city of Florence (Firenze), considered the birthplace of the Renaissance,Map of Italy and Tuscany  region is the capital of Tuscany (Toscana), one of Italy's 20 regions. It lies in central Italy, about 2 1/2 hours north of Rome by train.

The most populous city in Tuscany, Florence was named a Metropolitan City (città metropolitana) in 2015. This includes the city itself and the large urban sprawl around it.

Early Florence was a Roman city, established in 59 BC by Julius Ceasar as a place to settle his veteran soldiers. Because of its position at the confluence of rivers (the Arno and its tributaries Murgone, Ema, and Greve), this outpost was first named Fluentia. But the name was later changed to Florentia ("flowering").

In the early Middle Ages, Florence was a city state. It had a flourishing textile industry and developed into an important international trade and finance center.

The Medici family held power in Florence for three centuries (from 1434 to 1737). They were bankers to the pope and great patrons of the arts. Lorenzo die Medici 1449-1492 for example, was a poet as well as a statesman, and commissioned works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.

From 1737 to 1859, a number of foreign powers governed Florence (the Austrian House of Lorraine, the Italian House of Bourbon-Parma, Napoleonic France). Then in 1861, Tuscany became a region of the Kingdom of Italy. For six years, Florence was its capital.

Italian Unification (or Risorgimento) was a complicated process that lasted from 1815 to 1871, when Rome finally became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. After unification, the state adopted Italian as the official language.

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which was a literary language spoken by the upper class of Florentine society.

Florence is a beautiful city to discover on foot. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing numerous monuments, art museums and architectural treasures.

Marco's Arrival in Florence

Florence Santa Maria Novella Train StationThe trip from Pisa to Florence takes Marco around an hour by train. He arrives at the Santa Maria Novella Train station in the center of Florence. (see picture)

From there, it takes him ten minutes on foot to arrive at Via Montebello 52, where his friend lives. His place is in the historic center of town (Quartiere 1).

The other four administrative boroughs (quartieri) of Florence lie in a ring around the historic center.

Nearby is the Arno River, which runs through the old part of the city. The best known of the five bridges that cross the Arno is Ponte Vecchio with its gold and jewelry shops.View of Ponte Vecchio and Arno River

  • il tren - the train
  • la stazione ferroviaria - the train station
  • la via - the road, street
  • il quartiere - the district, part of town
  • il centro storico - the historic center
  • il fiume - the river
  • il ponte vecchio - the old bridge

Palazzo Ricasoli and James Fenimore Cooper

Palazzo Ricasoli Hotel in FirenzeOn a walk through the historic district, his friends show Marco the Palazzo Ricasoli, where the popular American writer, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) lived during his nine-month stay in Florence in 1829. (The Palazzo is now a hotel right in the center of town, where you can stay, see picture.)

Fenimore Cooper's most famous novel, "The last of the Mohicans", was written in 1826. He's also known for a series of adventure stories called the Leatherstocking Tales.

Reportedly, Fenimore Cooper loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Florence. He met and socialized with emigrés from various countries and became a kind of celebrity with travelers on the Grand Tour and with American expatriates.

  • la passeggiata - the walk
  • il soggiorno - the stay, temporary residence
  • il palazzo - the building, palace
  • il scrittore - the writer
  • il romanzo - the novel
  • il emigrato - the emigrant
  • il viaggiatore - the traveler

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio in FlorenceNext, Marco and his friends walk past the Piazza della Signoria and the famous "Palazzo Vecchio" (Old Palace). The palazzo has a long and interesting history.

Construction on the building started in 1299. During the centuries the palazzo was used for various purposes, including a prison. Since 1872 it has served as Florence's City Hall. A replica of Michelangelo's David stands near the entrance.

A tour of the Palazzio Vecchio takes you through several courtyards, Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress with secret routes, beautifully decorated Renaissance chambers, and more.

  • la piazza - the square
  • la prigione - the prison
  • il comune - the city hall
  • la entrata - the entrance
  • le rovine - the ruins
  • la fortezza - the fortress

Piazziale Michelangelo

Finally, Marco and his friends take a 15-minute bus ride to Piazziale Michelangelo, a large square in the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) district of Florence. From that piazziale (large square) one has a stunning panoramic view of the city.

Marco's Next Stop

From Florence, Michael takes an Intercity train to Venice. There he stays in a hotel he had booked on the recommendation of his friends. To get to the hotel, he has to take the "vaporetto", or water bus. In Venice he meets up with Claudia, one of the students he met in Florence.

Have you been to Florence and want to share some of your suggestions and travel memories? It would be great to hear from you!

Register, or log in again and continue with the Italian 1 course.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Time to Recalibrate Your Language Learning?

Calipers and Measuring toolsWith summer just underway and your New Year's resolutions half a year behind you, it's time to recalibrate your language learning routine and give it a quick boost. 

Routines are good because they automatically shortcut any procrastination.

But, switching some of your routine around can do wonders for your motivation.

Ever heard of "interleaving"? This technique is used in various disciplines, such as sports, technology, music, medicine, maths, etc. See, The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning (Scientific American)

Applied to learning a foreign language, interleaving means alternating between related skills, topics, methods, materials, etc. Though, the materials should always be on your level of understanding.

Summer, with the warmer weather, longer days, stronger sunlight and its "school's over" feel is a perfect time for mixing things up a little.

EXERCISE MIXES WELL WITH LANGUAGE LEARNING

It's no secret, exercise is good for the brain, especially aerobic exercise. Woman jogging while listening to language podcast

Simply stated in a Harvard Health Blog post: "Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don't."

Even more interesting are these findings: "A new study reports that working out during language class amplifies people's ability to memorize, retain, and understand new vocabulary."

In summer, it's wonderful to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Great favorites are walking, hiking and jogging, and these activities are perfect for listening to podcasts, audio books and audio courses.

Do you have a friend who's fluent in the language you're learning? Walking and chatting is great way to build your friendship while brushing up your language skills.

On rainy days, you can use the exercise bike, elliptical machine, or treadmill, etc. at your gym, or maybe you even have one at home. Yes, they can be boring. But your thirty minutes go by much faster if you're listening to a interesting podcast or audio book. Make it one in your target language.

MIX SOMETHING NEW INTO YOUR ROUTINE

Have You Tried Shadowing?

shadow of tennis playerDone according to Alexander Arguelles' method, Shadowing is a daunting discipline.

However spelled with a small "s", "language shadowing" works on many levels and in various situations. See our recent Blog post. The key is speaking a split-second behind the native speaker on the audio. It's not hard to do and can easily boost your pronunciation and intonation of a language.

Do you like music?

Find a song you like on YouTube and google the lyrics. Play the song until the tune and the words become automatic. Songs are an effective way to improve your pronunciation and intonation of another language.

Not only that, songs are a fun way to learn idiomatic phrases and grammatical patterns that are typical for the language. And, if you sing along (even silently), all the more power to you.

A sample of popular songs:

Do A Little Binge Watching

Couple watching TV in Living RoomTake a break from memorizing vocabulary (if that's what you do). Find films, or even better, a series in your target language and get into the stories.

Watch without subtitles. Or if it's an option, set the subtitles to the target language or to English. In any case, the context of the story, the background music and the visual clues will all help you to get what's going on.

A sample of series or films:

  • German: Babylon Berlin (Netflix; a period drama based on the novels of Volker Kutscher)
  • French: Les Aventures de Tintin (YouTube; beginners); Un gars une fille (YouTube; advanced)
  • Spanish: Destinos (Annenberg Learner; series created for Spanish learners)
  • Italian: Un posto al sole (Raiplay; soap set in Naples)

(You can also watch many foreign TV programs on the internet for free, especially if you use a VPN.)

SUMMER IS GREAT FOR SLOW TRAVEL

If you're heading out to discover new places abroad, try it the "slow way" - stay a few days, a week, or even longer.

Over the years we've done that in close to a dozen cities all over Europe: Amsterdam, Oslo (a few days); Stockholm, Copenhagen, London (a week); Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Seville (a month); Rome (5 months). 

Staying for a time in one place takes some of the stress out of travel. Nowadays, it's easy to rent an apartment even for just a few days. (See our blog post: about short term stays). Also, it's a relief to not pack in five or more top sights per day.

Trastevere BakeryOne of the true pleasures of lingering in one place is that you can explore the city or neighborhood at your leisure. You also have a much better chance to meet some of the locals in your neighborhood shops, cafés, restaurants, at the open market, etc.

In each of the places we stayed, we immediately found a nearby bakery (to get fresh bread for breakfast), a kiosk (for the local newspaper), a couple of favorite bistros (for lunch or dinner), the local open market and shops (for fruit, cheese, olives, supplies, etc.)

Every occasion gave us the chance to use the local language, which we either spoke or had especially learned for the trip. The effort to use the local language whenever we could clearly made a difference, even though some of my Danish, for example, was a little shaky. In many cases, it broke the ice and people were doubly helpful.

Exploring a city or neighborhood by walking has its own charm. For many cities there are apps for self-guided tours (in English, or in your target language). But just walking the city with a couple of destinations a day is wonderful too.

Some cities offer walking tours organized by local guides. (In London, we took a Shakepeare tour; in Paris we enjoyed a walking tour through the Père Lachaise cemetery, it was called “Assassins et Assassinés”.) These tours are often quite entertaining and you learn some amazing things.

Penichette in the NetherlandsThere are also easy bike rentals for walkers who want a change of pace. And of course, short train and bus trips to nearby towns are always a fun adventure.

One last slow travel summer idea: canal boating. We did this several times in France and in the Netherlands.

Although you don't stay in one place, it's a delightful way to get to know a small part of the country. The good thing is that you take your accommodations with you as you move on. Usually bikes are on the boat so you can go off and explore as you like.

The summer is a perfect time to relax, to change gears and try out a few new things. Think outdoor cafés and long walks, bike rides, interesting audio books and films, listening to music. Sneak your language learning into things that you love to do, and have a great summer!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.