Faraway Worlds

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Florence: an outsider's experience

Last updated 22 November 2020

Florence was a large Renaissance city and is now a small modern city, with a population of around 300,000. It’s very pretty; artistic but not bohemian. After the dark ages, Florence was the city that showed the world that art, beauty and prosperity was possible again. And now in the 21st century, it’s not lost in the past. It has flourished for 800 years.

There has been wealth in Florence for a long time. You only have to wander through the Boboli Gardens and the palace below to realise that… it’s ridiculously exorbitant. We’re living in an old palazzo from the 19th century. The building is four storeys tall, with 2,000 m2 of floor space, and there are palaces on every side of every road around us. It’s not unusual.

Despite being a mishmash of tourists, locals, students, scooters and bicycles (hundreds of bicycles!), Florence is a quiet town. The inner city is clean with the only cars belonging to residents. And everywhere is the Giglio, the symbol of Firenze.

We have so many favourite places in Florence... There’s the pizzeria with barrels for tables, great pizza and cheap wine. The Boboli Park up on the hill is beautiful. The church I like best is a Baroque one called San Gaetano which you won’t find on any tourist map. The Museum of Archaeology is also a favourite of mine (and probably almost no one else). And of course, a large range of markets, restaurants, trattoria and shops.

One thing we’ve enjoyed about Florence is the way that even though most people who work in hospitality speak English, they’re always happy to accommodate our Italian. They don’t automatically switch to English when they realise we’re foreigners like they do in Venice or Rome. In Florence, we start talking in Italian, and they answer in Italian. Then they ask us something in Italian, we can’t answer, so they switch to English. Then we go back to Italian, and so do they, but they make the process seamless.

It's important to understand that Italians tend to identify with their regions more than their country. Even Italians are tourists when they go to other regions of Italy. Yet while we’re here, Florence has been home. We’ve only lived here for a short time, but we’ve been part of this community during that time. Even though there is a tight niche of Florentines, we feel like we can still experience their city. We’re accommodated and everyone treats us well. To truly belong though… that would be a different challenge. I believe we could live here for the rest of our lives and never feel like we really belong here.

For me, Florence has given me the missing link. I love ancient history and the classical world, and sometimes I feel like that was all lost during the Dark Ages. Learning more about the Renaissance here, and about Florence’s history and all its stories has helped me to find that link between the modern and ancient worlds.

Goodbye, Florence. We’ll always have a very soft spot for you!

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