I have always been a friendly person. I went to sleep away camp by myself, and on the first day made three new friends. I have never had a problem feeling comfortable in new settings, and had mastered the art of small talk pretty early on. So when I signed up for a six month study abroad program in Italy through a school that I didn’t go to, I wasn’t too worried. And I was right.
I met my first friend Sarah within twenty minutes of sitting in the Newark Airport terminal. She then introduced me to her large group of friends, and as I settled into my new home and classes, I continued to meet people until I felt like I had amassed a great group of friends. I expected my nights in Florence to resemble those back home in New York: long nights of partying, weekend brunches, and a constant stream of social activity.
You can imagine my surprise when my six months in Italy introduced me to a side of myself that I had never explored: being comfortable with just myself.
There were so many places that I wanted to see in Florence: the usual tourist spots like the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the statue of David, and the Uffizi Gallery, but above all, I was interested in capturing the essence of the day to day Italian lifestyle. While I tried voicing these opinions, I found myself constantly struggling between what I expected out of my trip, and the wants of the group I was in. I realized that between all of the people I would need to cater to, I would lose the moments I had come to Italy for.
So I decided to pull away from my friends for a bit, and explore the true dolce vita on my own.
My day started at the Mercato Centrale. It was early in the morning and the vendors were setting up their stalls in the giant indoor market, as the local woman entered on a mission: to find the freshest loaf of bread, and the tangiest slices of cheese. Out of the giant room full of tables staggering under their fresh cargo, one table was easily the most colorful. The signore selling dried fruit had dozens of multi-colored baskets on his table, each filled to the brim with strawberries, cherries, pineapples, raisins, mangos, and many more. I chose my favorites and moved on.
The scents were overpowering as the produce section gave way to fresh fish, cheese, bread, and meats. The scene was chaotic, filled with energetic women bartering with the shopkeepers in rapid, yet elegant Italian, as they finagled a fair price. I stood in a corner for a few moments, just watching the scene, and taking this morning ritual in. Though the mood was electric, there was no viable hostility. This act seemed like a slow dance between two partners, and a well rehearsed dance, at that.
I left the Mercato, and wandered down the winding streets, past the San Lorenzo leather market, where all too many tourists lose their heads, (and their wallets!) I made my way towards the Arno river, and slowly walked across the first bridge I could find. The side of the Arno that does not contain the main tourist attractions has a distinctly different feel to it. The streets are quieter, and you are more likely to hear Italian than English, unlike the tourist clogged streets surrounding the Duomo. There are still many things to see in this neighborhood, but the atmosphere is much more relaxed and residential.
Weaving my way in and out of the streets, making my way in the general direction of the Boboli Gardens, I passed by a small shop with a sign in its window: Pitti Vintage. Never one to turn down a hidden fashion find, I quickly entered the shop. The store was divided into a few sections, each one crammed with as many racks that would feasibly fit inside. There was a distinct feminine atmosphere, armed with a giant a cabinet full of lace underthings and strands of pearls, while hatboxes filled another corner with feathers poking out of each side. Guarding the shop was a black pug named Maya, who incidentally has her own T-shirt collection at the shop. The farther I went into the shop, the more intrigued I became. There was an old suitcase full of belts, each one more interesting than the last. There were designer brand pieces mixed within the entire shop, and you got the feeling, that if you dug hard enough, you would definitely be rewarded for your efforts.
After purchasing a colored printed pug t-shirt (trust me, they’re hard to resist), I headed towards my next destination, the Boboli Gardens. Stopping briefly to grab a mozzarela sandwich from a nearby shop, I flashed my student fast pass, and waltzed right past the line for the neighboring Pitti Palace. Walking behind the Palace, straight to the gardens, I passed the main fountain and stepped out into a large open grassy area. Here, life seemed to stand still. Students were hunched over their books in the shade, while lovers stretched out on blankets to luxuriate in the sun. I found a tree with just the right mixture of sun and shade, and sat down to enjoy my lunch, and observe the scene around me. My sandwich had melted slightly from the warm sun overhead, and the mixture of mozzarella, tomato, and balsamic vinegar was mouthwatering. I eavesdropped on a nearby Italian family’s conversation, translating slowly in my head. The youngest daughter had a birthday coming up and she wanted to throw a big party, “una grande festa di compleanno.”
I slowly settled against my tree, and pulled out a book, “A Room With A View,” my assigned Italy reading for my six month stay, and was immediately pulled into a world of chivalry, murder, and suspense. As the day moved on, the sun and the sandwich made a deadly combination, and I started fighting my lethargy. Looking at my watch I realized that it was time for the daily siesta.
When in Rome… (well, technically I was in Florence, but who’s checking??)
I slowly walked back in the direction that I had come from, making sure to walk down different streets, than the ones I had first used. My day by myself had turned into a day with the entire city of Florence.
Mercato Centrale: Via dell’Ariento 87-R Florence, Italy
Pitti Vintage: Borgo Degli Albizi 72R Florence, Italy
Boboli Gardens: Piazza de Pitti 1 Florence, Italy
- One Day in Florence (anamericangirlintransit.wordpress.com)
- The Art of Gelato (anamericangirlintransit.wordpress.com)
- The Simple Joys of Friendship: Living Abroad in Florence, Italy (anamericangirlintransit.wordpress.com)