Florence is a love letter to the secret artists, tentative writers and hopelessly romantic wanderers of the world. She is gently rolling hills and curving waters; she holds cathedrals of art and temples of religion with equal care and love.
It’s easy to fall in love with Florence but it doesn’t happen immediately, at least it didn’t for me. On that first day, I entered the city from high above it – took her in all at once. The view was familiar, I was clearly standing in the same spot as myriad photographers before me, and perhaps that’s why I didn’t fully trust it.
To get from my perch to the banks of the Arno, the beautifully pristine river that bisects the city, I followed a path through flower gardens filled with playful, large bronze sculptures, allowing time and space for us to slowly introduce ourselves to one another.
I was one of a group wandering together in a pack. We were on a mission so once we selected which bridge to cross, our pace accelerated. I felt hurried, off balance. My flirtation with Florence cut short, hand slapped away. I tried snapping photo after photo to come back to it somehow but it caused me to lag behind so I slung the camera over my shoulder and stuck with the group. I would be coming back to this town two more times without the group so I gave into the flow and followed along.
We went to museums, the Uffizi among them, walked ancient streets, waited for each other, wandered off a bit, passed by the Duomo then all met back to return to our accommodations. It was lovely. I had done Florence and it was … nice.
But I was wrong; it was so much richer than that. It helped tremendously to be guided for that part of the trip, but the real gifts were revealed when just one friend and I had time to wander our own way.
For the first half of the day we saw what we felt we missed: a more thorough examination of the Duomo – we walked its looming circumference and marveled at its stunning beauty, but never entered; a more leisurely stroll along the banks of the Arno; and an extended stay at a cafe sipping espresso and people watching. We chatted up street artists, purchased a few souvenirs and took some photos.
As we sat for lunch, al fresco, with a view of street life, the magic began to reveal itself. It’s fun to get swept up in the activity of the city, to be guided this way and that by shiny things and crowds, but to truly know a place, one must become still. Lunch gave us that opportunity.
Seated in one spot, resting, taking it all in, Florence began to open her arms, show us her heart, share her pulse. We ate in near silence as we chewed slowly and simply observed life around us.
Get to know Florence slowly, romance her, seek out her treasures, ask her the right questions and follow her leads.
It’s important, as a traveller to have some objectives – some points of interest you’d like to see or experience. But it’s far more important to let go of plans when a city, such as this one, invites you to linger in secret little places you didn’t even know existed.
There are many ways Florence invites one slow down and notice life. The river, the Arno, hosts rowing clubs on weekend mornings. Street artists set up along the same river to work and sell their efforts. Any bridge across the river will offer you the most magnificent sunset on the water, but the preferred perch is the infamous Ponte Vecchio, full of its padlocks of love and star-crossed lovers with selfie sticks.
On Sunday mornings operatic choral music can be heard throughout the city but most notably, and perhaps most suitably, near the Duomo.
The gardens are never as crowded as they should be which is an especially nice secret and the best shops are off the main thoroughfare.
Unlike any city I have been to in Italy, Florence is perhaps the most welcoming and accepting. But you must invite her in. And if you close your eyes, you can feel her hand in yours as you wander her streets.