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Students in Prato We have now passed the two-week mark and our stay has been packed fully with sights sounds and a full measure of other sensory experiences.

Students are well-established in their classes and are busy snapping photos, drawing, working on blogs and reading E.M. Forster. Students in the Intro to Italian Art class have been watching a documentary about the Medici and their influence on Italian art and the Renaissance. It is fascinating — and even more so because we see evidence of the Medici everywhere in Prato. Their coat of arms is displayed on buildings and churches all around Tuscany. We are hoping to visit a Villa Medici next week.

We had a guided tour around Prato to look at the historic buildings, churches and even an unfinished castle. It is so interesting to look at structures that were built and in use five or six hundred years before the birth of our nation!

The Duomo right across the Piazza from the Hotel Giardino is a treasure trove of art. Some of the most famous and celebrated artists in history are represented right here. For example, the exterior pulpit at the corner of the Duomo is the work of Donatello. This is where the sacred relic, the Virgin’s belt,  is displayed for the public in the Piazza only five times per year. We toured the Duomo and also the Opera Del Duomo Museum. It was just wonderful.

By far the highlight of the week was the walk to the Villa Rucellai located in the hills high above Prato. We hiked along the river and climbed to the Villa that still is occupied by a descendant of the original family. It was built and then added to over time. Its current Renaissance appearance dates to the middle of the 16th century. We lingered for a few hours exploring the gardens and the lovely grounds, including paths through the forest with pools, bridges and ancient greenhouse, and a spectacular view of Prato far below.

The Villa has a working olive oil factory. They process the olives from the Villa groves but also the olives from small surrounding groves. The owner told us that they must keep the olives from each family grove separate since each thinks that theirs are “the very best” and must not be tainted by any lesser quality olives from other families’ trees. He gave us a tour of the processing barn and we even got to buy bottles of the most recent pressing right from the storage vat. The next harvest will be in November so we may be able to actually watch the very complex process in action. The family also makes and sells fruit preserves from the Villa orchards. We were able to buy jars of fig, plum, apricot and peach preserves that are delicious right from the jar with a spoon!

After leaving the Villa we walked a short distance to a beautiful little waterfall deep in the forest —  it was the perfect resting place before the long walk back to Prato. We walked about nine miles that day; everyone worked up a big appetite and slept very well that night.

These are a few photos of our week’s adventures. This is just the beginning — so much more to come. I hope the students are communicating about their experiences and that their blogs are reaching family and friends.

Ciao until next time!

– Andrea Brode