This is such a bizarrely unfamiliar feeling, leaving the city that you have inhabited, learned and above all, loved for the last four months. I still reminisce back on when I first came to Florence, practically bursting at the seams with hope and excitement. I was on the brink of a trusting free fall, diving into what would become the most enriching and rewarding experiences of my life.
I had zero expectations and was uncharacteristically calm about the whole ordeal. 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, en route to what would become my second home, this Zen abyss filled me, and I have not been the same since. But, in the end, any idea or thought I might have had of what this experience would manifest to be was far surpassed. I found a love of experience, rather than things. I gained a global perspective on the world and cultures that is beyond priceless. I have managed to find an unexpected confidence in myself, a shining independence if you will that I would have never discovered otherwise. I have met people, from all walks and origins: from a 80-something Italian man at a hot spring in Siena, to a middle-20’s photographer from LA (formerly from Fiji), traveling the world for a year, to many friends and fellow colligates who immersed themselves in a foreign culture – much like I did.
I found it extremely fitting that I publish the post on the day I depart from mia bella citta, a snapshots into my day-to-day for the last 16 weeks. From the narrow and winding streets practically oozing history to the blinding Tuscan sun shining through the city, to the little moments that makes this place magical, I fell in love with every square inch of the city that gave birth to the Renaissance.
As for my favorite aspect of this enchanting place – I couldn’t name just one. But for any of you that have Italy on the brain, traveling to or just daydreaming about Firenze, here are my highlights.
1. Piazza Michelangelo at sunset. It’s quite a hike, I’m not going to lie to you, but think of it as burning off the (mentioned below) gelato. It is one of the moment’s you will remember forever and truly take your breath away all while providing a god-like view of the cognac-roofed city.
2. Indulging at Gelateria de Neri. Gelato shops are 99 for a Euro in Florence, but there are stark differences in between the good and the bad, this one just happens to be at the top of my “good” list. It’s affordable; the (hippie) employees will greet you with a smile and patience while you try many favors (not to be taken for granted). As a vegan, this was a must due to their decadent and creamy fruit flavors (many are slushy-like at other gelateria’s) and soy-based concoctions that are sure to please. My (dairy loving) roommate swears by the caramel flavor.
3. Take Away Gusta Pizza. This is by far the best pizza I discovered in all of Italy. It is incredibly affordable, no coperto (cover charge) and has the luxury of to-go boxes, which is a rarity in Italy. The beauty is that it is a stones-throw away from Piazza Signoria, which is where you will find a haven of genuine Italians in a city (dare I say polluted) with tourism. Pop a squat on a curb and loose yourself in an Eat, Pray, Love moment. I was in love with the (vegan-friendly) marinara pizza.
4. Discover the magic of “secret bakeries.” Yes I said it, a secret bakery. It isn’t as secret as it sounds (a Google search will reveal it all), but is an absolute must that no tour guide will show you. I didn’t know until I went to Greece, that apparently Florence has some of the best bakeries in Europe. There are just a few that supply to all of Florence and bake throughout the night to provide fresh goodies to the entire city come morning. Located just a block down and to the left of Gelateria de Neri (located on De Neri), your nose will lead you the rest of the way. Don’t be expecting a menu or even English for that matter. You will come across a (most likely drunken) group of Italian’s or study abroad students (such as yours truly) and a somewhat sketchy looking glass door. Consider it a chocolate drug deal. For a euro, you will get a finger-licking good pastry (I recommend the cornetti con ciccolatta) and a cool story to tell. It is contently located to a bunch of clubs, and is open from about 12-5am.
5. Meet David. This is one of the only things that are full on touristy that I will recommend. Located in the Museo di Accademia, the masterpiece of Michelangelo will have you in awe. The David is worth the weight and is monstrously huge in person.
6. Pasta at Dante’s. This place is infamous amounts college students because of the unlimited free wine (if he’s generous, a couple shots of lemonchello) he provides for us. The oil naan-like bread combined with a plate of the best pasta you will find in Florence makes it a must. The prices are extremely reasonable! Drink responsibly because I swear Dante does something to that wine that forces you to get plastered (willingly or unwillingly).
7. The Boboli Gardens. Located behind the Pitti Palace, this massive display of once was the Medici’s wealth is a must-see. It is stunning and is located up in the hills of Florence, giving you a (more than accurate) million-dollar view.
It is so hard to say arrivederci to my beloved city, but it’s not goodbye forever because I have every intention of returning (hopefully) sooner rather than later.
“All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”
As always, thank you for reading, but an extra thanks to following along to this amazing European journey.