Florence back in 1990 with my mom, Stacia and Kelli
Twenty-three years ago, I spent my junior year in Florence. This week I took a few days by myself for a little reunion with this incredible place.
Every hotel in Florence claims to be centrally located. This dense city is tightly packed with a wealth of paintings, architecture, food, history, sculptures, craftsmanship, fashion and tourists. I can’t imagine a greater concentration of art and admirers anywhere in the world.
During the two-hour train ride from Perugia, I wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to do in Florence. It quickly became apparent that three days is not enough time to get it all done. It was time for an honest talk with myself. Could I return from a stay in Florence without going inside the Duomo? How shameful would it be to walk by the walls of the Uffizzi without going in to awe at Bottecceli’s Birth of Venus? Could I possibly pass up the chance to see the David in person? The answer was yes, because when it gets right down to it, eating, shopping and aimless walking sounded like so much more fun. (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)
Before setting out, I tried to look up some of the best streets to window shop. As luck would have it, I found the website of Maren Erickson, an American woman offering shopping tours of the finest in Florentine leather, silk, paper and gold. I met her at Piazza Santa Croce. We hit it off immediately. It turns out she is from Seattle but lives here six months out of the year. (In fact, her daughter worked at my husband’s real estate company last year.) Bottom line, we had a blast. She took me to some of the most incredible stores where I met some people who have worked in the trade all their lives. It was so fun to breeze by all the tourist traps of mass-produced, cheap goods and find the best that Florence has to offer.
- Ricardo in his silk store selling gorgeous scarves and ties
Nino’s shoe store. That’s him in the middle. Maren is on the right, and the cute girl on the left helps find the right fit.
After a couple hours, we stopped for an apertivo and decided to meet later for dinner. So after a long walk through familiar streets and nostalgic piazzas, I met Maren on the site of an ex-prison converted-into-trattoria where we enjoyed a long, long dinner. It was one of those nights where the problems of the world were solved, and I felt sure that I was in the company of a wise philosopher (and at times was one myself). I’m sure it was due in no small part to the bottle of Chianti that we ordered, but nonetheless, we had such a good time that we made dinner plans for the following night.
Big meals were sort of the theme of my stay. The next afternoon I planned my day around a solo lunch at Zeb. A friend from Perugia told me that it’s one of the best spots in town. I was the first to arrive at this tiny place and sat at on one of the 15 stools surrounding part of the kitchen. Behind the counter was Alberto and his mom, Giuseppina. They were super sweet to me and called me “tesoro” (treasure) when they dropped off a new plate of food. I went completely Italian on them and ordered every single course offered (pasta, meat, vegetables, dessert, coffee). I managing to finish every bite, more out of appreciation than out of hunger. I loved it all. The best plate was the pici al pesto.
The counter at Zeb
Mamma Giuseppina and Owner Alberto
Before dinner with Maren, I took my stuffed self to a couple alternative museums. The Salvatore Ferragamo museum had a really cool Marilyn Monroe exhibit featuring all the shoes she owned by the famous Italian designer. I also learned a couple things about Ferragamo himself. For one thing, he studied anatomy so he could know how to build the perfect shoe. Then I headed to Palazzo Strozzi to peek at a 1930’s art exhibit. I don’t know much about designer shoes or 1930’s Italian art, so both made me feel a little clueless. Then I took a long walk up to Piazza Michelangelo which looks out over the entire city. And who should I see but a copy of the David! I got a little Renaissance art after all.
The next day I had to pack up and head home.
I left Perugia kind of nervous about traveling solo. Sometimes I feel self-conscious when I’m walking around by myself, or especially when I go out to a restaurant alone. There’s no one with whom to share the new experience, and there’s no one to look at when I eat. Sometimes I had to fight the urge not to think of myself as a bit of a loser.
I decided there are two virtues I’d like more of: courage and confidence. The past few days taught me that courage is a choice. I can identify my fears and consciously face them. (This trip offered some opportunity for that.) Confidence, on the other hand, is not a choice, but is a result of acting courageously. In other words, self-assurance was earned once I confronted my fears.