Sunday, October 4, 2009

Florence, or, Hello I must be going.

From Bologna, we headed down to lovely Florence. After our regional train fiasco earlier in the week, we made sure to schedule our departure on a EuroCity fast train. One hour and €24 later, we arrived in the birthplace of the Renaissance.

I called our stop in Florence a "reunion tour", as I spent the summer after my junior year in college living with a host family and studying art in Florence with my alma mater, Syracuse University. My two closest friends were with me, and I spent seven weeks riding a bike with a pink Minnie Mouse bell all over the city, learning about frescos and Renaissance art and architecture and screen-printing fabric and paper. I think that summer really planted the travel bug in me, and that summer's experiences made me realize that living abroad is something essential to my being. I don't think I'd be sitting here, typing this in London, if it weren't for that magical experience.

And so I knew that returning to Florence would be bittersweet; I knew that it wouldn't be anywhere near how I remembered it. My memories of Florence are hot, golden-tinged, sweaty and ripe with the freedom of a twenty-one year old. But this time around Florence was soggy, humid, grey and dirty and full of girls who suspiciously reminded me of myself and my friends seven years ago. All of the same pieces were there – the Duomo, the Baptistry, Santa Croce, San Lorenzo, even my host family's home and Syracuse's Villa Rossa campus - but the magic and passion were gone.

My mother and I spoke of this at one point; two years ago she traveled to Florence after being away for nearly 30 years. An art historian, in the 1970s she lived off-and-on in Florence for nearly two years and hadn't traveled back since. When she returned from her visit, her one comment about Florence beyond how it had changed was that it was emotionally difficult for her to be there as a tourist - not as a resident. I felt this melancholy to a lesser degree as I strolled the streets with the Irishman, and this sort of grief for not finding the Florence I once had – accepting the fact that Florence now belonged to the loud young American girls in leggings, not me – might have been the biggest let-down of all. She's a fickle lady, Florence; she lets people in on a regular basis to call her home, but once you're gone if you don't continue to shower her with affection you're no longer part of her world.

After one moody afternoon, the Irishman bought me a gelato and I vowed to enjoy the time we were spending in a beautiful city with my gorgeous man. And we did - we ate, we shopped, we took the number 17 bus up to Fiesole and looked out over the city, we got lost in the winding streets down near the Arno, and I even stumbled across Angie's Pub - my local watering hole from my student days. The Irishman inadvertantly offended two American tourists which set us on a giggling fit for days, and I came to love Florence again for being such a lovely town to spend some quality time.

PS - anyone planning to visit Florence, we absolutely loved our hotel The Residenza Johlea. A bit of a hike from the train station and about a 10 minute from the Duomo, our room was massive and the Irishman approved because we had a real shower - not one of those ridiculous hand-held European jobbies. It was a relative bargain at €105 per night for a double with breakfast but they only accept cash.

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