After a weekend to recover from a very busy half-term, staff and students who were Florence-bound met at Arden on a rather chilly Monday morning (10th April) for the start of what proved to be a fantastic five day visit. We arrived in Florence via Gatwick Airport and Pisa - our accommodation was the family owned and run Hotel Albion which proved a huge hit with everyone. After a few minutes to sort out our suitcases we enjoyed the opportunity to stretch our travel-weary legs on the first of many walks around the city. Ponte Vechio was the destination of choice – a stunning location and where better to enjoy our first taste of Italy’s famous ‘gelato’. We certainly wore off any calories consumed with a long walk back to the hotel where a wonderful evening meal awaited us. It had been a long day but an enjoyable one. It never ceased to surprise us that we’d begun the day at school and ended it enjoying the many delights Florence had to offer.
A few bleary eyes were on show in the morning but the delicious buffet breakfast soon worked its magic and we were ready for our first full day which began with a guided tour of the city taking in many of its famous sights. The afternoon was spent at a more leisurely pace when we visited the Giardini di Boboli the highlight of being the fantastic views of the city which were truly stunning. A quick turnaround at the hotel saw us refreshed and ready to walk to the restaurant where we enjoyed a lovely meal in a lovely atmosphere. A leisurely stroll back to the hotel rounded off a very pleasant day.
Wednesday was undoubtedly a highlight for many – a visit to Siena. Our tour guide was passionate about the city of her birth and her enthusiasm was infectious. We listened intently to her descriptions of its history and the districts (contrada) named after animals – apparently she was immensely proud to be from the Giraffa (Giraffe) district! We were also told about the world-famous Palio de Siena – a horse race around the medieval square which is held twice a year. After lunch we visited Siena’s Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta which enchanted us all – it was truly breathtaking – a memory many of us will remember for a very long time. After the coach journey back to Florence, another exceptional meal was provided by the Hotel – authentic Italian food and very well received after a long but happy day.
We spent Thursday in Florence taking in many of its famous landmarks including Palazzo della Signoria. Many more steps were added to our Fitbits vertically as well as horizontally as we ‘enjoyed’ a climb to the top of the tower (Arnolfo) but the effort was worthwhile as we were rewarded with wonderful views of the city. In the afternoon we saw at first-hand many famous works of art including the Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery. Our evening meal saw a return to the restaurant we’d enjoyed earlier in the week but this night was extra special we celebrated Mrs Bennett’s birthday with a rousing ‘happy birthday’ sang superbly in Italian by our students!
All too soon Friday dawned and with it our imminent departure. We thanked the hotel staff for the fantastic care they’d taken of us during our stay – they had made us feel incredibly welcome, provided wonderful food and allowed our students to practice their Italian at every opportunity. Our coach took us to Pisa where we visited the Piazza del Miracoli, taking in the tower and the neighbouring Baptistery. After a lovely meal in a local restaurant we arrived at Pisa airport and our return flight.
The whole visit had been enjoyable and this was due to the behaviour and engagement of our students. They were a joy from start to finish – they listened to and complied with any requests without protest (which was particularly useful when crossing Italian roads), they tried their language skills out wherever possible, dressed appropriately and were keen to embrace everything the visit had to offer. They were all fantastic ambassadors for Arden and we couldn’t be prouder of them.