Ah, Florence! Or Firenze, depending on whether you’re an English speaker or Italian speaker. The enchanting city in Italy where many a romantic has envisioned themselves, hand in hand with their lover. It’s also a city that broke my heart back in the early noughties, for many reasons. While most associate Florence with art, history and the Renaissance, I don’t. So, instead of a standard travel post I thought I would write about all the ways I was disillusioned and Florence broke my heart. Also, apologies for the poor quality image below. It was taken back in the days when digital cameras were not common and you couldn’t re-snap the photo if your eyes were closed!
One of the things I was desperate to do in Florence was visit The Duomo. After all, when I pictured Florence, the domed orange roof was usually what I visualised. Thankfully, I purchased a ticket for a sightseeing trip that included entrance. What they didn’t tell me when I purchased the ticket was that, since it’s a religious building, I would need to respectfully cover my shoulders. I didn’t take a cardigan and my black halterneck dress was pushing it. Our tour guide suggested I borrow something from someone to cover up.
A couple of elderly ladies took pity on me and loaned me a cardigan. I have mixed feelings about this. It’s great that they were so kind and loaned me something so I didn’t miss out on living out one of my dreams. On the other hand, the cardigan looked like an old lady’s garment and I remarked to my sister at the time that it was “well warm.” The Duomo itself is surprisingly stuffy inside. I didn’t stay long. Perhaps only five minutes, just to see how beautiful it was and then I left. But what a breathtaking five minutes they were! They’ll stay with me forever.
Come on, it’s Italy we’re talking about! Of course I wanted to sample the cuisine. This trip was in the days before food allergies and those weird hives and wheezes I get when I drink alcohol, so I was able to go to an ordinary restaurant and tick off “Eat authentic lasagne and drink red wine at a genuine Italian restaurant in Florence” from my bucket list. I chose a little cafe, down a cobbled side-street and took a seat outside so I could enjoy the sunshine. The elderly waiter took my order. I was actually able to order in Italian, which made me feel super-proud too. I took a selfie, in the days before selfies were popular, of myself drinking red wine. And then my order arrived.
You’re expecting me to say it was rank, weren’t you? Well, it wasn’t. It was the absolute best meal I had ever had in my life. I savoured every bite and it was truly delicious. I took another selfie and then decided to visit the toilet before leaving, satisfied that I had just eaten probably the best meal ever. I honestly wish I hadn’t because I almost got to taste that lunch all over again. Have you ever seen Trainspotting, with the scene with the “worst toilet in Scotland?” I wonder if they filmed it in this restaurant? I took a glance at the kitchen on my way back out and it wasn’t much cleaner.
I want to say that I also saw some gangsters organising a crime while I was leaving the restaurant, but that would just be hyperbole. They were just really suspicious-looking people in suits who went quiet when I walked past. I really need to calm down my writer’s imagination.
In honour of my travels and the freedom I was discovering in my 20s after having a hellish time in my teens, I decided to get a tattoo. I didn’t want it to be something really obvious. What I wanted was something pretty and unusual that I would never get bored with. It had to be something that symbolised joy and high spirits. I recall wandering around and almost losing our walking tour, while trying to get ideas for what kind of tattoo I could have. Then I saw a statue of Guido d’Arezzo, the man who basically invented the musical note. It was perfect for me! I love music. That will never change. And it would look so cute on my hip.
Unfortunately, the thing about belly tattoos is that, if you’re a woman in your early-20s, there’s a good chance that you haven’t had all the children you’re ever going to have and your belly will stretch. I told myself it was fine. I was never having children. I was probably never going to find a man who would want to have a baby with me, so I could get it on my hip and it would be fine.
Except it’s not. It’s far from fine. It’s stretched out of shape, faded to a really gross colour and has a stretch mark through the middle. When people see it, they usually ask “well, what is it?” That’s never a good sign. What was once a beautiful symphony is now more like a fart. For the first few years after I got it, it was a cute little reminder of my travels though!
I left school at an early age. This was because I had some health issues and partly because I thought I would learn more useful things out in the real world and I stand by that decision. I learned all the most valuable lessons outside of a classroom and travelling was one of the most enriching things I’ve ever done. However, Florence changed my opinion about education. Florence is so rich in history and culture and art and I learned a lot while I was there.
I started to wonder if I had reached the time to return to my studies. I always planned to pick them back up later in life, but “later” was a sketchy area. The most important thing I learned in Florence was that I really didn’t know that much and I was developing a passion for learning that I simply didn’t have in my school-aged years. I suppose there were positives and negatives that I took from this trip. I felt uneducated and perhaps a bit stupid. However, I did become open to the possibility of going back to my studies, even if it took me a long time to decide which direction I wanted to take.
My Husband Wasn’t In Florence
One of the things I wanted to do was go back to Florence with my husband a few years later and make some new, romantic memories with him. This was after the onset of food allergies so I didn’t want to go for a whole week. We took a cruise around the Mediterranean the year before I fell pregnant with Luke and one of the stops was Livorno. I was so excited! This meant we could go to Florence for the day and we could enjoy the city together. He was going to buy me some jewellery at one of the shop on the Ponte Vecchio.
Unfortunately for us, the universe had other plans. We sailed into a storm the night before we were due to dock in Livorno. We had no idea it was coming. I don’t think the crew did either. I remember being thrown around the cabin and having to cling on to Alex in bed so I didn’t roll out onto the floor. Yes, it really was that bad. When the storm passed and the sun rose, we got up and I checked my BlackBerry. I switched it on and it said, “Welcome to France.” Livorno isn’t even close to the French border, for those who don’t know. We just weren’t meant to be there.
Have you ever been to Florence? Share your memories in the comments!