Florence, Firenze to Italians, is fantastically rich. Rich in culture, history, art, music, theatre, you name it. Rich in community, in spirit, liveliness, and authenticity. The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, of famous artists like Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, & the mecca of European art and culture. It is the place thousands of tourists each year flock to, if only to partake in its mesmerizing beauty, witness its breathtaking views, and understand its rich religious and cultural history. From the banks of Arno River to every distinct piazza in town, the grand central mercado, the street musicians, upbeat vendors, and the blocks of designer stores with their array of displays, Firenze is a world all on it’s own.
On our 7-hour drive up north from San Giovanni Rotondo, I was bracing myself. I knew nothing about Florence other than the fact that it is the self-proclaimed “birthplace of art” and that LMU has a study abroad program in the city. A second side-trip away from Rome just meant another hotel, getting used to another city, etc. I was excited, but didn’t know what to expect. For instance, I didn’t even know that Florence was in the region of Tuscany – yes, that Tuscany, Diane Lane’s Under the Tuscan Sun Tuscany, and that meant beautiful scenery and fresh, organic food and oh, of course, the wine. On the drive up, we passed fields upon fields of grape vines and small wineries along the roadside. The mountains were in clear view, and everything looked straight out of a movie. It was a long trip, but at least it was a scenic one.
We drove off the highway and into the main part of the city around 5 in the afternoon, early for Italian time. My first glimpses of Firenze were buildings, narrow streets, and a few monuments/cemeteries sprinkled about. Nothing special. But as we drove further and further in, towards the city center, I noticed something different. It wasn’t the cobblestone streets or flocks of tourists milling about from store store. It wasn’t the crazy amount of traffic, of busses and mopeds speeding about as if they own the road. It was the plazas (or piazzas, as the Florentines call them; not to be confused with “pizzas!”), sprawling out on every other corner, large spaces dotted throughout the city where people gathered and musicians played and vendors sold their goods. All of the roads seemed to lead into a piazza, and for a while it reminded me of a huge, untangle-able web. How were we ever going to navigate our way around this place? As soon as we arrived to our hotel–a rustic, authentically-Italian lodging called the Croce di Malta (also located right in the city’s center! So I definitely recommend it for anyone traveling to Florence)–I wanted to collapse on my bed and call it a day. But something else compelled me, & I went exploring. I discovered the hotel had a rooftop bar open in the late afternoons, which not only serves local wines and beers, but provides a breathtaking free view of the city. As soon as I discovered the roof, witnessed its amazing colorful view and got a sense of the “bigger picture” that lay beyond me, I realized… Firenze is magic, in so many different aspects. Photos couldn’t do it justice but here is my attempt at trying to capture what has possibly become my new favorite city in the world. Enjoy!
(& that was all in just the first two days! More to come, soon.)