I chose Florence

Drinking in the city (in a good way)

Valentina Wurth
September 11, 2014

When I first arrived in Florence, for my semester abroad in August 2012, I behaved much like I was on an extended spring-break vacation. It was a period of pure debauchery and I’m sure I only helped perpetuate the stereotype of the American girl gone wild while abroad. It was my senior year of college, and except for a B in one difficult math class, I had maintained straight A’s my entire undergraduate career. I felt like I deserved to party prior to entering the ‘real world’ of full-time jobs and bills. The labyrinth of stone walls around the city became my Renaissance playground, the wealth of clubs and bars my toys. It took me about three months to realize Florence deserved much more than being treated like a one night stand.


In my first semester in Florence, I lived in a house with 25 other undergraduates and being together seemed to exacerbate our reckless behavior. After a while though, I grew bored of drinking every night and living like a vampire. My life felt hollow. I had only about a month left in one of the world’s most gorgeous cities, and I’d barely explored it. I had wasted the whole experience doing things I could have easily done at home—and for a lot less money. I hadn’t visited the Boboli gardens, gone off to the Tuscan countryside or done any of the things I thought I would have done at that point.


I stopped drinking and spent some time on my own, going up to piazzale Michelangelo and writing in my journal for hours, taking unaccompanied day trips.  I wanted to figure out who I was, away from the place where I grew up. I wanted to slow down when everything felt like it was changing around me, and in an age-old city like Florence, it was easy to pretend I had all the time in the world.


A week prior to leaving for Florida for Christmas, I decided that I would return to the city in January for another semester. I had already taken all the required classes I needed to graduate and going back to my university campus felt so anticlimactic.


In January, I did something I didn’t think I could ever do: I moved into an apartment by myself. It wasn’t actually an apartment: it was a garage that had been turned into a room and I shared the kitchen with the owner, but it was centrally located and I wouldn’t have any roommates. When I lived in student housing, we had a maid come in once a week to clean up and change the bed linens. In my new living quarters, the single window in my room didn’t reach my knee, the hot water lasted exactly 3 minutes and 52 seconds (I counted several times), I had to boil water to shave my legs, there was no Wi-Fi, and the landlord never once turned the heat on during that particularly brutal winter. I rejected the claim my mother made when she visited me in March: ‘Valentina, I think you’ve developed a taste for masochism.’ I didn’t mind sacrificing a few creature comforts if it meant I got to live in Florence.


I loved the city. It made me a better version of myself. I was hardly ever home, exploring every crevice and stone, cherishing every moment. I became what my friends call ‘a real human being,’ or what most people call, ‘a little more conscious.’ I began recycling and turning the lights off when I left the house and engaged in other socially responsible behaviors.


A plethora of travel authorities advise tourists to skip Florence, seeing the city as nothing more than the Disneyworld of the Renaissance, and I suppose if I had spent a few days in the city, I would have come to the same conclusion. However, living in the city taught me to stop chugging life like a vodka shot.


It takes something special to cause a person to change direction and move to a foreign country, but doing so forced me out of my comfort zone and provided a unique way of growing up that I don’t think I could have done back home in America. There, everything was done for me. Here, I had to do everything myself and the experience gave me the chance to be the independent, complex human I wanted to be.


Florence is my true birth city because it is the one I chose. 

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