Four ways to fall in love with Florence

It was 2001. Two weeks shy of my 21st birthday, exactly 15 years ago. I arrived at the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence after flying halfway around the globe to Rome to start a semester-long etching course as part of my Fine Art degree.

florence- Palazzo Strozzi and Cafe GiacosaGrapes for schiacciata

I had a suitcase and a few Italian lessons behind me — not enough to understand a conversation but maybe to figure out a menu, for the most part. I had no idea where I would even stay the night, let alone live for the next few months. Somehow this didn’t bother me, but it did bother my parents, who to this day still love to tell this story to anyone who asks about how I came to live in Florence:

I was approached by a man in the station with a flyer for his hotel — he beckoned me to come, assuring me, in English, that it was very close by. I also had with me in my scrapbook the phone number of a cheap place to stay (cheap being an important detail as I was on a student budget), which just happened to be a stunning villa on Viale Michelangelo, on the outskirts of town, run by nuns, the Istituto Suore di Santa Elisabetta. But it would involve me having to phone and ask in my very rough Italian for a room — and they might not. Or it might be too far from the centre.

I picked up the pay phone and called my parents in Australia to tell them I’d arrived and ask them for advice on where they thought I should stay, not realising that to them the man offering to take me away sounded highly suspicious (they had yet to ever visit Italy at that point and I suppose they were a little nervous about sending me so far away to a place unknown to them) — but before they could scream at me, stay with the nuns! The phone cut out. And they didn’t know until the next day where I ended up going.

florence-cibreoflorence oltrarnoflorence Arno riverflorence Duomo

I did go to the villa-convent, in its beautiful setting on Viale Michelangelo, which leads up to Piazzale Michelangelo. And, being that it was before a time when smart phones, wifi (I still had to go to the internet cafe to send emails and call my boyfriend and family from pay phones and an International calling card!) and laptops were regular accessories, I scoured the expat hangouts that I knew of at the time, like the English-language bookshop, Paperback Exchange, for signs advertising rooms for rent for students, and found a warm, quirky apartment near Santa Croce to share with a group of wonderful international students that quickly became my new family. When I first walked in and saw three of the girls cooking and congregating in the kitchen around the marble-topped table, I knew it was the place for me.

What I remember most about that time was feeling completely blessed to wake up every morning in Florence. Every day just walking across the river to my etching school, in a converted horse stable, was a revelation. It rained a lot that autumn — practically every day — but even the wet, cold days couldn’t dampen how much I was falling in love with the city.

Actually, that cold, dreary weather I think made Florence even more romantic — being rugged up in hats and scarves is something I still prefer to sweltering in unrelenting heat.

And there are the christmas lights that start going up in November and are absolutely irresistible. The reflections of palazzi in deep puddles and the twinkling, curly street lights in piazza Santa Croce at night time. Foggy mornings. Warm, sticky cornetti with a cappuccino on foggy mornings (and on at least one occasion on a very brisk morning, a cheeky caffe corretto to warm up). Spying (and succumbing to) schiacciata all’uva — the focaccia made with wine grapes that Florentine bakeries make every September and October. The little old couple that make chesnut crepes called necci, one by one, in piazza Santo Spirito once a month on a Sunday. Little glasses of red wine to warm you by flushing your cheeks — particularly after one wet day where I got caught in the pouring rain and my jeans had soaked up puddles all the way up to my knees. It was all these little things I found instantly attractive. I couldn’t get the feeling of Florence out of my head after that autumn stay.

florence-s-fornoflorence piazza della passeraflorence via dello sproneflorence prosciutto il santinoflorence lampredotto

So I came back and experienced Florence in all the other seasons and found many ways to fall in love with it all over again throughout the year.

In the snow, and the view of the snow-capped Duomo from my tiny bathroom window, pots of ribollita to feed an army, truffles, roasted chestnuts and Tuscan kale for weeks on end. Christmas lights. Old ladies dressed in their best in huge (often fur) coats. A warm, juicy panino of lampredotto with salsa verde, eaten on the street. Winter sagre with deep fried things.

In the spring. Watching the landscape — the hills around Florence in particular — change colour and come to life. The creamiest fresh ricotta ever. The open market stalls in Sant’Ambrogio filled with long-stemmed artichokes. Easter holidays, feasting, fireworks. Roses and wisteria peeking out in unexpected places.

In the sweaty, humid summer amongst the crowds and the mosquitoes. Really seriously good peaches and figs and tomatoes that make it all worth it. Panzanella. Melone e prosciutto as an entire meal. Gelato more than once a day. Long days with late night strolls along the river and roof top bars to cool off.

florenceflorence Tuscan figs at the market

Nearly a decade after that first fateful stay in Florence, I started this blog to talk about Tuscan (and other regional Italian) food traditions from the point of view of someone who didn’t grow up with them, but was adopting them and living them every day. It was a motivating side project, a much-needed creative outlet, something to plan for and be excited about every week. It is what led me to dedicate my first cookbook to Florence, fifteen years later — fifteen years of falling in love with Florence, even with all her faults and imperfections.

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Comments

23 Responses to “Four ways to fall in love with Florence”
  1. I adore Florence. The Grand Central Market, the hidden restaurants, the daily gelato, the art….the list goes on

  2. Birgitte says:

    I love this post. I can recognize a lot of your feelings for Florence – only I have/had them for Rome :-) Wonderful photos too! Have a great (once again rainy) day! Baci, Birgitte

    • Emiko Davies says:

      I’m sure if I had gone to Rome instead of Florence to study, it would have had a similar effect on me! There’s something about Italy in general that drew me to it! Thanks Birgitte! x

  3. georgette says:

    I love this post too much for words, and the pictures, wow… I can’t believe you arrived in Florence like that! That’s hilarious and your parents had a right to be worried haha but it all worked out didn’t it. It’s amazing how intoxicating Florence is, even when it annoys you. I always tell Nico it’s the addiction that you have will or want to get rid of, and rightfully so. :)

    • Emiko Davies says:

      The things we did before a time when everybody had smart phones and google became a verb! Seriously, it’s hard to remember sometimes how we did anything?! But yes, Florence really is intoxicating. It really got under my skin, I just had to come back!

  4. Janie says:

    What a lovely story and your photos are gorgeous and now I am seriously missing Florence!

  5. Sheree says:

    Lovely post! Was at that exact bakery a month ago!! Missing Florence and the wonderful city!

  6. Carole says:

    What an enjoyable read, I love Florence although it’s a few years since my last visit. You have rekindled my love for the city and my urge to make a return visit very soon. Beautiful images have captured the essence of Florence perfectly. My only regret – that I didn’t discover your blog sooner.

  7. Wynne says:

    What a gorgeous post! It makes me weep with longing for a city I love SO much. I’ve spent several weeks there over a few years’ time, and can’t wait to go back. Thus far, it’s my favorite Italian city.

    Thanks for the beautiful prose and photographs – I look forward to reading more!

  8. Katie Aguilera says:

    Awww… this was the Florence I had hoped for! Instead it felt stressful and crowded, and there were a few tears shed over our missed tour with you! :-( I hope we can make up for it sometime in the future. I did get a leather jacket from Ben Heart out of it, so there’s that! :-)

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Oh Katie, I still feel so sad about that! Though a good leather jacket is a very good score, indeed! I hope we can make up for it in the future too (perhaps come in the fall, if you can!).

  9. Robyn says:

    I too love Florence & really enjoyed reading your beautiful post with its gorgeous photos. Your words of reminisce echo mine when I recall the joy of life as a naive youngster in Kyoto in the mid-70s.

  10. Valeria says:

    This is so wonderful, Emiko. A long-lasting love story, as you say, despite the imperfections. Isn’t that what real love is after all? <3

  11. Thank you sharing this beautiful post! I stayed in Florence for the first time in February and I cannot stop thinking about it. It was enchanting! Very tempted to study or live there, I have never seen/felt anything like it.

  12. Dana says:

    Wow, I can’t even describe how much I enjoyed reading this post! It’s written so beautifully and the pictures are amazing, and I relate to that special feeling that Florence has given you! I visited Florence a couple of months ago, it was my first time there and my first time in Italy, and I can’t stop thinking about it ever since! Florence has done something to me that I can’t really describe in words…it’s a feeling that won’t go away and all I know is that I have to go back!

    So… thank you for sharing this awesome post :)
    I’m glad to have found your blog!

  13. Lisa says:

    This is making me want to move back to Italy…

  14. Hello Emiko, thanks for sharing your story. I also arrived in Florence in 2001 fir 6 months, I lived in the hills and set up a painting studio alongside nannying for a family. So reading your blog has taken me back to that special time. I was 24, learning how the works work. Enjoying the wonderful food and language. Although my Italian is a little rusty these days! I often reminisce and cherish those years.. best wishes, Shelley Panton

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