I’m not sure that I can adequately relay the abundance of beauty that I encountered in Florence. It exceeded my expectations in every way imaginable. After learning that I had arrived a full week early for classes (oops), I booked the most spontaneous trip of my life to visit my hometown friends in Italy. Less than 12 hours later, I boarded an early morning flight to Milan Bergamo, which is actually a couple of hours outside Florence, as it was the only Italian airport out of which RyanAir was operating. The sun was only beginning to rise by the time I landed, reflecting pale shades of pink and yellow along the horizon. When I finally pulled into the Santa Maria Novella, Firenze train station, I immediately noticed that the cobblestone streets were veiled in a light dusting of snow. To my dismay, I realized that I’d forgotten to check the weather forecast prior to my departure. Suffice it to say, as a kid from California, that I was woefully unprepared for one of the coldest weeks of my life. I’d only packed a thin jacket, which did little to deter the wind chill, and so I reluctantly set off towards the city center hoping I’d quickly find a decent coat.
I had just departed the train station when Grant, a high school friend of mine and enabler of this endeavor, reached out to me wondering whether I’d made it. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was only a 10-minute walk away. “Fa molto freddo. It’s the caffe,” he said, verbatim. My phone died within blocks of reaching him, so I started employing the help of strangers and asking where “Fa Molto Freddo” was located. It wasn’t until a kind and multilingual shopkeeper pointed out to me that “fa molto freddo” literally translates to “it is cold outside.” “It’s an affirmation, not a location,” she clarified through hardly contained laughter. I’d spent the better part of 15 minutes quite frantically screaming, “Fa molto freddo!” at confused Italians before this lovely women directed me to one (of many) caffes in the near vicinity. Lo and behold, Grant was sitting in the window in plain sight. Communication between the two of us has never been our forte, but I’m still incredibly thankful to have had a familiar face in such a faraway place. This minor mishap certainly lent to a humorous start of my stay.
Florence is geographically condensed into a very walkable city. My hometown homie and fabulous host, Natalie, lives in a centrally located apartment by the Duomo, the world’s fourth largest cathedral. It’s a remarkable structure, built in the traditional Gothic style of the 13th century, that took two centuries to officially complete. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is not only a city that values art but also a place where artists flourish. It’s evident on the streets and firmly entrenched in the architecture. The food here is absolutely beyond praise. One of my favorite meals was down the street from the apartment at an unassuming sandwich shop called Pane e Toscana (“Tuscan Bread”). The sandwiches are served on giant traditional Tuscan flatbreads called schiacciatta, and they have an entire section of their menu dedicated to vegetarian options. Other standouts were Gusta Pizzeria, where your pizza is made right before your eyes in a wood-fired oven, Osteria Santo Spirito, which had the most phenomenal homemade pasta/gnocchi, and Trattoria Zá Zá, where we ate at the recommendation of our epicurean friend, Hanna. I had the best chocolate and gelato of my life at Venchi (dark chocolate with almond paste and hazelnut filing) and Rivareno Gelateria, respectively. We also spent an entire afternoon wandering through the crowded stalls of Mercato Centrale and ruminating our many lunch options at the second-floor food court.
The Galleria del Costume in Boboli Gardens was one of my favorite highly-trafficked tourist destinations. It’s an entire institute occupying the Palazzina della Meridiana of Pitti Palace and dedicated to fashion from the 18th century through the present. My favorite exhibit was one displaying famous wedding dresses, illustrating the changing style throughout the decades from 1910 to 1980. The entire Boboli Gardens grounds date all the way back to the 1400s: originally a plot of land purchased by Luca Pitti, before the Medici Family commissioned the landscaping of the garden as we know it today. It absolutely blows my mind that there is such a rich record of European history offering us a glimpse into the lives of people who lived far before our own existence.
Inarguably my favorite excursion of the trip was hiking to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset. It’s a vantage point that provides an unobscured view of the entire city. There’s a basilica at the very top, San Miniota al Monte, with a neatly kempt cemetery on its grounds. We wound our way up an impressive amount of stairs as we navigated the quiet Florentine streets at dusk. I recently learned that twilight is the period of time between day and night when it’s still light outside, but the sun has already set below the horizon: it’s the peak time for sunset splendor. And it was simultaneously one of the most stunning and soothing sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. A mesmerizing melange of purples and pinks set against a periwinkle sky. The kind of moment that inspires deep appreciation for this privilege to travel to these perfect little corners of the world.
What a marvelous thought that so many people before me have enjoyed this beautiful city and all that it has to offer. It’s a feast for the mind as well as the eyes. I will cherish the memories from the time that I spent here, and I’m returning home with an optimistic outlook and a reinvigorated sense of adventure.