Exploring the charm of Florence

Liz Tubman

Florence is a city full of crooked cobblestone streets, pigeons and tourists. It makes an interesting mix. At times the city can be incredibly frustrating, but at other times it is absolutely enchanting.
I remember my first day in Florence: It was incredibly hot. My friend and I were exhausted from the 10-hour flight and slightly unsteady after the crazy taxi ride from the airport.
We managed to pay the driver without getting ripped off and lugged our bags inside the entryway of the “pensione” where we were staying for the first few weeks. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice the tiny elevator until after we had dragged our huge suitcases up four flights of stairs to the lobby of the pensione. That night we wandered the streets looking for a place to eat for at least half an hour before finding a reasonably priced restaurant.
I remember thinking back on that day and wondering how in the world I could have felt so lost in such a small city. By the end of the three and half months, I knew Florence like the back of my hand. The streets that at one time seemed like a senselessly laid out maze were now so familiar to me I didn’t even feel the need to carry around my map anymore.
It was a process becoming a part of this city, melding into its daily rhythm and routine. I was caught off guard one morning when an Italian woman standing next to me at the bus stop asked me for directions. To my surprise, I was actually able to answer her in coherent Italian, and she even smiled and thanked me for my help. I had crossed over:; I was no longer a tourist, but I had become a sort of honorary Florentine.
Two of my favorite things about Florence – and Italy in general – are the wine and the coffee. These are staples of Italian life and we embraced them. Wine is everywhere in Florence. We were served wine every night at dinner, and at a restaurant it’s cheaper to order a bottle of house wine than a bottle of water.
In the piazza Santa Maria Novella, just around the corner from our pensione, there’s a wine stand run by a very nice Italian man would sold many two-euro bottles of wine to students in my program. It wasn’t a normal weekend in Florence if a bunch of us didn’t get together and sit in a piazza somewhere and have “un po di vino.” One night we even ended up sitting on the bank of the Arno River.
Coffee is another wonderful thing about Italy. There are bars and cafs on every street corner where you can order a cappuccino or a double espresso at any hour of the day. I discovered a bookstore on one of the main streets near the Duomo with an upstairs caf where you didn’t have to pay extra for a table, like you do at most places in Italy.
I went there at least twice a week and ordered a cappuccino to help me through my reading for class. One of the baristas who worked there was especially friendly (and just happened to have an amazing smile). Whenever I came in, he always asked how I was doing, and if my friend and I ran into him on the street he would always wave and say, “Caio!”
One day near the end of the program I randomly got my picture taken with the friendly barista by a friend of his that came in. The next time I came to the caf, the barista proudly showed me the picture and told me he was going to frame it and put it up on the wall behind the counter.
That’s how I left my mark in Florence: Somewhere there’s a photo of me and a handsome young Italian man floating around in a bookstore caf. All things considered, my time in Florence was a pretty amazing experience.