Sitting on a sun-drenched wooden bench in Ditta Artigianale, Florence’s hip new coffee shop, I waited for Nardia Plumridge, the face behind the successful ‘Lost in Florence’ website. She was dashing up the road on her bike to meet me for a chat and a delicious morning cappuccino. The Australian-born writer has successfully found an outlet for her passions here in Florence, allowing the ‘magic dust,’ as she puts it, to make her European dream come true.
As a young girl, Nardia would absorb television documentaries on European history, culture, dance and theatre, amplifying her ‘love affair with Europe, and more specifically, with Italy.’ During a family tour around Europe, it was perhaps fate that caused her to spend her 15th birthday in Florence. ‘That day, I remember having that magic-dust moment and thinking then that I would be back to spend a summer at some point in the future.’
London called for university studies in English literature, with a minor in journalism, and although it wasn’t Florence, it was still Europe, which facilitated occasional visits to Italy. London became home for 10 years, but despite it being an English literature student’s utopia, with access to London’s East End after devouring Dickens or an evening at the Globe Theatre to savour Shakespeare, it was not to be Nardia’s final destination.
‘Before Christmas 2009, I remember walking along a snow-filled King’s Road in Chelsea and thinking that this would be the last Christmas for me in London. I was about to reopen my box of dreams, containing my childhood ambitions, which I had predominantly, but not completely, achieved.’
Indeed, although Nardia had moved to Europe, obtained her degree, travelled and met great people, there were two things she still wanted to accomplish: to live in Florence for three months and to establish a career in which she would work for herself.
Four years ago, Nardia finally fulfilled the promise to her 15-year-old self, returning to Florence for a pivotal three months: an almost instantaneous feeling of belonging not only prompted her to make a permanent move to the city but also allowed her to fulfil her dream of self-employment.
Once settled, Nardia turned her attention to developing her project, focusing on journalism as writing had always been a passion and she had gained experience working for influential music magazines in London, learning to work under pressure, fostering her own ideas, and understanding that writing is ultimately ‘not about you, it’s about your audience. One of the most important things is to be clear about is your voice; about what you are and what you are doing.’
A holiday to Madrid revealed a business opportunity: there is a market for guides that help independent women to holiday in style without being too extravagant. Back in Italy, the result was ‘Lost in Florence,’ which Nardia launched just four months ago. She puts into words the reality of turning down narrow Florentine side streets and coming across something one doesn’t expect. ‘Getting lost nowadays is more acceptable. People actually want to. They are constantly searching for something new.’
Wary of producing something generic, she approached designing her glamorous guides with a commitment ‘to do it well, or not do it at all, with a view to producing independent stories about the people behind the places, the modern artisans in Florence.’ Because ‘Lost in Florence’ is her own project, she is under constant pressure to be thinking ahead to ‘what is coming next.’ Knowing how easy it is, however, to get bogged down in the swamps of social media, Nardia tries to remain focused on what is directly relevant to the website.
Now, even though she believes that she must have been ‘naive, very optimistic and even a little mad’ to even consider following her heart and creating ‘Lost in Florence,’ her passion and hard work are certainly paying off.
September 2014 was a defining moment for ‘Lost in Florence’ when Nardia launched her ‘Lost in Studio’ events, featuring ‘exclusive access into artisan studios for a fun night of creative crafts and wine.’ The lucky participants had the chance to try making jewellery, painting pottery, wielding a calligraphy pen, and learning about wine, even taking home their handcrafted creations (or perhaps a slight hangover in the case of the wine tasting). The overwhelmingly positive response to the events has spurred her to consider making it a regular thing.
Able to return home once a year, usually during Europe’s winter months, to enjoy the summer sunshine in Australia, Nardia thinks that she benefits from the best of both worlds. But at the end of the day, she observes, ‘Florence has a way of pulling people back. I call it the magic-dust … It sprinkles over you and suddenly you are transformed and drawn back in … It’s funny how some places simply connect with your soul.’
Best bar for an aperitivo?
SE.STO at Westin Excelsior for a glam night; Quelo on Borgo Santa Croce for cheap and healthy fare.
Best restaurant or place for bistecca fiorentina in Florence?
I’Brindellone in San Frediano, full of locals and very informal
One place in Florence that makes you happy or inspires you.
The view from the Rose Garden early in the morning every time
The biggest difference between Italians and Australians?
Australians are relaxed, Italians love drama (which I like, I call it the theatre of the streets).
Favourite artwork in Florence?
Currently The Dwarf Morgante by Agnolo Bronzino in Uffizi. Who doesn’t like a double-sized naked dwarf? (Room 64 if you are interested).
Favourite Florentine, past or present?
The honorary Italian Janet Ross: she was an English historian and writer who lived and loved Florence as much as I do.
Strangest thing you’ve seen in the city.
The biking opera singer of Santo Spirito; she sings as she cycles on her way to work.
Pet peeve or something you will never get used to living here.
Someone calling at 11pm to see if I’d like to go out, who calls at 11pm to make arrangements? An Italian, that’s who.
This October, Lost In Florence hosts Open Studio Weekend giving you access to unique studios of Florence: twelve studios over one weekend with pit stops for coffee or wine along the way. For more details, go to http://www.lostinflorence.it.