This is so tough. It’s true when talking about hotels, restaurants, cities, countries. Adventure is wonderful, but so is security and nostalgia and knowing what you are going to get. What if you could go to an all too familiar place and discover something new. I could tell you that this is possible in Italy a million times over and it’s true. But on a smaller scale, such is the case with Florence, especially these days.
I first went to Florence in 1990 on a very quick weekend trip. I was studying in Rome for the summer, but naturally Florence was on my list of places to visit. We hopped on a train one Friday afternoon and headed north. It was hot, sticky and crowded. We stayed in a pensione that was not posh or even charming for that matter. We ate bad food because we didn’t know better. But I was able to see what I came to see and I must say, David did not disappoint (he never does). Other than that, my first trip to Florence was completely forgettable.
Which makes it really puzzling when I tell you that I followed that visit up with a 7- month stay in the city. I chose Florence over Rome for my semester abroad because I was able to live with a family, an experience I thought was going to be over the top and have me feeling like a part of la famiglia in no time. Unfortunately, this was not quite the case. I imagined long conversations at the dinner table with a jovial family who couldn’t wait to learn about our culture from a real American girl. What I got was a family who was basically in it for the money. There was the mother who was obsessed with bridge and resented the fact that she had to provide us with meals (because it took away from her bridge game), the father who was borderline inappropriate, the 20-something year old son who wore too much bronzer and cologne and the grandfather who was not allowed to sit at the dinner table because he had no front teeth and no one could stand to watch him eat. Thank God for my roommate Shannon!
In short, I did not become enamored with Florence as I hoped I would and instead, longed to be back in Rome, a city I loved from the minute I stepped foot in it. However, over the years, my love for Florence grew. I began to spend more time there and finally understood the attraction. Now it seems I try to fit it in to virtually every trip I make to Italy. I have walked the streets hundreds of time, I know every alleyway, every short cut, where to get the best coffee, the best views of the city at sunset and where to get a spritz (or a hot chocolate, or a plate of pasta) that will make your heart sing.
Sometimes when you travel, it is difficult to rationalize returning to the same place over and over again. We all have limited resources- time and money – so wouldn’t it be best to see something new and different? I suppose there is a case to be made for that but here’s the thing: Florence keeps reinventing itself. Adding new fun shiny things that attract my attention and make me want to fly right over (btw- KLM is having amazing deals right now: Boston to Florence for just over $800 – WOW!) The Mercato Centrale – the historic food market for which Florence is famous – has renovated its 2nd floor and has become a giant food hall with so many choices your head will spin. And I recently learned about La Menagere which opened in June. This space, a renovated 16th century building , is a concept store combining a restaurant, café, florist, home goods store and performance space and it seems to be “the” place to go these days. In addition, there are new funky hotels to check out and the artisan tradition seems to be making a serious comeback so there are lovely boutiques to explore on the other side of the Arno.
So yes, maybe you have seen David, the Duomo, Santa Croce, the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi. And no, they haven’t changed that much. But there is so much more to these cities and sometimes it is really comforting to combine some familiar places with new discoveries – all in one city. I am ready for a trip to Florence that does just that. Who’s with me??
Do you tend to stick with old favorites or do you venture out and try something new. Let me know in the comments. And if anyone's up for a trip to Florence, leave me a message!