There’s a really incredible charm about Florence. When I arrived the first day, I could feel it when I walked to my apartment or went to the grocery store. Everyday since, I’ve known there’s something special about Florence, but it took me a long time to figure out exactly what it was. Traveling to other cities helped my search. Through contrasting personal interactions to living the differing lifestyles, this “thing” or “essence” or “aura” began to crystalize.
When I went to Paris, I felt lost. Taking a metro to another metro to another metro to get a museum was exhausting, and then having to take two other metros to get to dinner became frustrating. Wandering the streets of Spain looking for dinner at eight was fruitless. No one starts eating until nine or ten. This lifestyle of late wake-ups, midday siestas, and midnight dinners wasn’t for me.
Upon every weekend spent away, I always looked forward to getting back to Florence, settling into its subtle, yet unique atmosphere. Everything in Florence is walkable. From museums to parks to restaurants, neither a bus nor train is ever really needed. Wanting dinner at eight isn’t absurd, nor is walking to class at nine in the morning.
It is on these walks in the morning that I really get to experience the authentic Florence. It is from these walks that I’ve met the locals and have truly gotten to learn what gives Florence that unique and special feel.
As I leave my apartment, I walk directly into Piazza Della Signoria, home to City Hall and adjacent to the Uffizi. In the morning, a couple of tourists will stroll around, but will always be outnumbered by the moving vans and trucks delivering the day’s food and goods to the local vendors. And as I walk towards the Duomo on the main street connecting the two squares, I am constantly forced to avoid passing trucks and cyclists. The tourists that show up hours later and overwhelm this tranquility are still leaving the comforts of their hotel or Airbnb. They never see this side of Florence, the side that upholds the tourist culture on its espresso-laden back.
For me, I finally felt like a local when I stopped at my local market for breakfast. It’s a small grocery store, located in a wall right on my walk that sells fruits and vegetables. On mornings when I want breakfast, I will stop here and get a clementine and a banana; its nothing too fancy, but enough to hold me over until lunch. More importantly, it’s enough to allow the owner to start to recognize me. We never really speak because I don’t speak Italian and she doesn’t speak English, but one morning, a couple of weeks ago, she saw me walking up. She stopped sorting the strawberries and instead, starting sifting through the bananas until she found a perfect one, lightly spotted without any green. Then she grabbed a clementine and handed it to me.
It was a tiny and likely insignificant matter to her, but to me it made me feel included. It made me feel like I was a regular, someone who belonged, someone who has become part of her Florentine fabric. It was from this that I realized what I loved about Florence. Yes, its small and historical and quaint and beautiful, but more importantly, the people really care. Once the tourist glow fades from my American face, I begin to be seen and treated as a local. It is as a local that one truly feels at home. Even when I walked to my apartment feeling as lost as a tiny fish in the sea, I still subconsciously realized that this was my home and with that, I felt the beautiful pull of belonging.
Noah is a current student at Tufts University studying at Florence University of the Arts in Italy, during the Spring 2016 term.