Stepping out of the safety of my little Italian apartment, curiosity, excitement and new possibilities consume me. Left or right? Left will take me to Florence’s top designer shopping street, via de’ Tornabuoni. Home to the big-money buyers, the suited and booted, stiletto strutters looking for their latest Gucci or Armani collection piece, it feels a world away from my English hometown. Right, and I will be on the peaceful cobbled street towards the iconic Ponte Vecchio, standing over the deep green waters of the enchanting river Arno, weaving its way through the city. With a calm breeze in my hair and the Tuscan sun on my back, Florence is at my feet.
Entering piazza Signoria and feeling nothing but pure joy as I look around wide-eyed at the magnificent statues that fill the square. Wandering the Uffizi corridors on the first Sunday of the month with a rush of exhilaration, soaking up the frescoed ceilings and marble figures, brought to life by the sun beaming through the endless rows of bay windows. Standing in the Botticelli room, a moment I had long dreamt of, since my first of many hours spent studying his works in detail, finding his paintings far more impressive in the flesh than any art history book could ever convey. Gazing up at Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia, far bigger than I ever expected and showing off his masculine physique to the paparazzi below like a giant celebrity on the red carpet, every detail so intricately carved, from the taut veins in his hands, to the piercing look in his eyes, he could come to life at any moment. This city has art and culture around every corner. I was living my Renaissance dream.
My honeymoon bubble of a foreign life of plain sailing, whiling away the days in Florence’s blossoming rose garden wasn’t all roses, however. The weekly shop now feels like mission impossible as I desperately try to squeeze past all the people packed onto the Ponte Vecchio, ducking selfie sticks as I go. Revving engines, horns of impatient drivers alarm this English girl taught to look both ways before crossing the road in the face of ordered, predictable traffic. Polite queuing is not quite so valued here: an Italian lady barges her way past me just to get a few inches closer to the Duomo entrance. I am puzzled by the scarcity of places to sit on a sunny day, other than on walls or hard ground, and having to pay to enter most parks, a painful concept as I think back to the miles of green, grassy countryside back home.
But as I sit up at my favourite place, piazzale Michelangelo, the golden sun beginning its daily descent, I stare down at the picture-perfect sea of colour glistening before me, admiring every stretch of this beautiful city I have come to so deeply love. Couples embrace, looking lovingly at one another and then towards the magical city. I can see piazza Santa Croce, where I swapped tea for my first taste of macchiato, the street with my favourite gelato for a warm evening instead of a kebab at the end of the night, the bar with delicious aperitivo where my friends and I pile our plates and get disapproving looks. Tagliatelle al ragù, wine at lunch and an americano at dinner: this was now my life. Amidst all this blissful chaos stands the Duomo, majestic as ever: I’m reminded of that surreal feeling when I first set eyes on it and realised this was my new home.
Stepping out of the safety of my little Italian apartment, curiosity, excitement and new possibilities consume me. Left or right? Left will take me to the street I walk to work every day, past the jazz band beneath the statue of Justice, past the man washing the window of the Parenti, to the bar across the street where Mirko always greets me. Right, and I will be on the bustling cobbled street towards the iconic Ponte Vecchio, fit to burst with visitors grabbing their tourist bargains to take home and show their friends. With a calm breeze in my hair and the Tuscan sun on my back, Florence is at my feet.