My personal connection with Florence started almost 20 years ago. On my way back home to Germany from a bus tour to Rome, our driver stopped in Florence for two hours, and the city captured my interest immediately. I knew one day I would come back for longer.
Then, six years ago, I returned for a month to take an Italian language course. I shared an apartment in the Oltrarno with two other girls, and together we went on adventures: exploring the Italian lifestyle or just having simple dinners made of mozzarella, prosciutto, and olive oil in our Italian apartment. In the morning, on our way to language school, we would cross the Ponte Vecchio and order a cappuccino at our favorite bar — our morning ritual to begin each day. Every time I caught a glimpse of the Duomo’s majestic cupola, I had to pinch myself and remember that this was real, not just a dream. Florence treated me so well.
I fell in love with Florence, made friends there, and kept returning.
But at the beginning of this year, my husband and I decided to work in the city as photographers and live there for part of the year.
Apart from the museums, for which it is rightfully world-famous, here are my personal Florence favorites:
Everything about the Duomo
Florence’s Duomo Baptistry complex have a special place in my heart. Whenever I walk through the piazza, my mind wanders hundreds of years back in time and the stories of the past seem to unfold in front of me. I never notice the crowds of people — instead, I see the workshops of stonemasons, carpenters, and other craftsmen involved in the building of this masterpiece.
I hear the sound of chisels hammering white marble blocks and I see Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and my adored Renaissance painters walking by. How different the whole piazza must have looked during its various stages of completion. It’s hard to believe that the Duomo’s facade was only finished 130 years ago! Time and time again, I find the history and stories of this part of the city so inspiring.
The expat community
As an expat, it’s easy to feel at home in the Tuscan capital thanks to Florence’s warm-hearted expat community. Each of us, at some point in our lives, fell in love with the city (or a Florentine) and stayed — which makes Florence a hub of happiness. I’ve lived in several different places over the past 15 years and can always tell if a city is full of people who adore it. From what I’ve experienced, expats living in Florence never take its beauty for granted; they remain in awe of the city’s rich history and traditions, while staying open-minded to emerging trends … which is partly why Florence’s creative scene is so rich.
I also love that there is so much support for everyone in our expat community. I have never experienced anything like it in other places, and there are useful resources available here that make life as an expat so much easier. From the Anglo-American bookshop to the English news magazine “The Florentine,” to the wonderful blogs about expat life and the various expat social groups — they all help kick-start la dolce vita.
The stupendous views
Oh my! Florence and its views … whether from rooftop terraces, from bridges over the Arno, or from Bellosguardo (a still-secret spot), the views can take your breath away. In addition to all that, there is also Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers the most incredible view of the city and overlooks the many churches of Florence and the Arno River.
It’s as if you could reach out and touch the Duomo’s cupola — all of the city’s beauty is laid out beneath you. The best time to enjoy it is around sunset. Take your time to walk up the hill; it’s a nice stroll. Then, once you’re up on the huge Piazza, sit on the steps, enjoy the street music, have a drink, kiss your loved one, and take in the glorious sunset. For me, this is one of the most beautiful views in the whole wide world. I never tire of it.
Hills covered with pines and cypresses
Florence sits in the Arno River’s valley. So, from many spots in the city, you can catch a glimpse of the rolling hills of Tuscany! Olive groves, pines, and cypresses galore — it’s all just a short walk away.
There are many, many places to enjoy a superb plate in Florence, but my absolute favorite is Trattoria Mario, near the Mercato Centrale. In a tiled room that looks more like a butcher shop, you share a table with locals, world travelers, and workers who are just popping in for a quick lunch — all while huge chunks of bistecca, a Florentine speciality, are proudly served. But I don’t visit for the bistecca; I come for the luscious pasta dishes (I usually order the ragù meat sauce, and pasta or risotto with seafood on Fridays) and for the traditional atmosphere.
It’s not unusual to wait in line for 20 to 30 minutes, but once you’re in, it’s loud and crowded, and the rules are strict (don’t dare ask for ketchup or espresso). But it’s what keeps it so traditional, and it’s exactly what draws me in again and again. I hope it never changes.
After six years of having lunch at Mario’s in irregular intervals, my husband and I were stunned when Fabio, the man who organizes the seating, started to recognize us. Now, we’re greeted as if we’re old friends and shown photos of his children. While Fabio is the biggest fan of Florence’s soccer club (the walls are covered with photos, news articles, and banners of his favorite team), we remain the biggest fans of Trattoria Mario.