This is what it means to live the dream. Imagine getting up each morning and opening the front door of your posh Italian apartment building to find a fresh fruit market and quaint stone fountain ready to greet you.

Picture walking to class on the Ponte Vecchio, passing street painters, sweet smelling bakeries, varying types of boutiques, and famous Renaissance landmarks. And now that Carnivale is just a few weeks away smiling children throw confetti along your path.

This is what it has meant to live in Florence, Italy for the past few weeks. Although carrying our groceries across busy piazzas while avoiding pushy Italian men who tell you your eyes are similar to the brightest of the stars, has been challenging. Nothing beats fresh tomatoes and peppers for your evening’s make-shift salad and pasta dinners enjoyed with new friends.

School is an afterthought; however, several of us have found our classes to be not only interesting but challenging as well. Many art history students find themselves in a new location around the city for each class as they admire the artwork and architecture that decorate the ancient area.

Students in the wine tasting class found themselves a bit tipsy, admiring a bella vista from high above a city landmark.

Planning trips at small internet cafes takes up much of our time. This weekend my friends and I will visit the wine vineyards of Tuscany and travel to Lake Como, the rumored home of George Clooney.

Of course, we’ve gotten pretty used to celebrity sightings by now. A few students rubbed elbows with Leonardo DiCaprio at the Italian premiere of “Blood Diamond” in Rome.

I missed Leo because I was still overly emotional about seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time.

It is incredibly moving to personally witness something that you have read about in books and learned about your whole life. Even more touching is trying to grasp how one solitary man could have created such a masterpiece on his own.

Visiting Assisi, the home of Saint Francis, I became just as emotional. It is, perhaps the most peaceful place on Earth. The cobblestone streets and breathtaking landscapes put me completely at ease. I could have stayed in those moments forever.

Although traveling is important, living in Florence is an experience in itself. The sights and sounds of the city are quite amusing at times. Just the other day, while I was in front of the Duomo, one of the greatest architectural accomplishments in all of Italy, a small gypsy woman came up to me begging for money with a picture of her son. Although we are told not to give them anything, sometimes it really is hard to resist.

Gelato and Nutella have replaced most of the main food groups in our diets, and it is not unlikely for any of the young Fairfield women to have at least three Italian men following her by the end of the day. It is all worth it if she finds a great pair of white leather boots in the open market near the Piazza de la Republica, or can get a free glass of red wine from one of her many admirers.

Fashionistas rule the city. Italians like to look their best, and that is one custom I have certainly gotten used to.

This is only the beginning, but I already have a feeling that my parents and friends will have to beg me to come back to America. Living in Italy is an escape from reality and perhaps the real secret to being truly alive.

Ciao ciao.

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