Sunday, October 16, 2011

Firenze: Renaissance and Rebirth

November is now in full swing and the Christmas lights are being hung throughout Italy so I figured now is the time to publish this post that I have been holding out on for so long. If there is a city in Italy that has captured my heart, it is Florence. It's one of the most beautiful, and awe inspiring cities that a person can imagine ever seeing. Its magic is sometimes hidden under the mass of tourists that flock to see the place where the Renaissance began, the home of artistic masterpieces and breathtaking views. Florence has a special place in my heart for a few reasons. It is a city where you cannot help but fall in love. It has the power to move your heart and soul, and there are few experiences in my life greater than Florence in November. The beginning of the Christmas season is nothing less than magical as you walk down narrow streets filled with lights and love. This can be in stark contrast to the summer when you try in vain to avoid sweating among the masses of tourists that block your path in every part of the city. This contrast is where my story begins my story with Italy began.

I first experienced Florence about three years ago when I decided on a whim to spend all the money that I didn't have as a college student so that I could visit my girlfriend studying there. I had always wanted to see Italy but I had never really experienced much outside of the U.S. except for beach resorts in Central America. I wasn't really prepared for the things I was about to experience. I stepped off my plane and met my girlfriend at the airport in Pisa where we took a bus Florence. I remember looking out of the window into the Tuscan countryside still not really prepared for what I was about to experience. I admit I postponed my experience with a nap the second that I arrived, while she attended class .

When she returned from class I got my first real experience of Italy as I fell in love with the character of the city and it's charming, clean narrow streets. The duomo in the center of city is one of the most impressive sights that you can imagine. As you turn the corner, you are immediately, and unexpectedly, struck by one of the most amazing churches in the world. As you cross the Ponte Vecchio filled with jewelry shops that contain a million pieces of jewelry that would sweep any woman off her feet, you can then make your way to Piazza Michelangelo. There, you can see the entire city from a hill above and become even more enamored with the beauty. It was an eventful week for me seeing these sites, and the week even included a trip to the hospital which, if I remember correctly, was built in the 14th century. My girlfriend burned her leg with hot oil trying to prepare us a Thanksgiving dinner, and while that took away from me ever stepping foot inside the duomo or even seeing the David, it took little away from me loving the trip. Sure, I even missed out on the secret bakery in the morning which I was looking forward to because I love baked goods more than the average human being. It was on this trip, seeing these sites, that I must admit I fell in love for the first time. I had been dating my girlfriend before going to Florence, but it was the magic of the city, and my time there together with her that made me fall in love under the dangling Christmas lights that lit the city in late November.

Fast forward three years to July of this year when I returned to Florence with the same girl having recently broken up. Somehow the city still had the same magic for me, and I could see that it did for her as well. This time was different though. It was summer, and the crowded tourist streets detoured us from certain activities that we wanted to do because it was just impossible. The Jersey Shore cast wandered through the cluttered market. Florence was still beautiful, and the duomo still struck me as always when I turned the corner into the main piazza but this time was different. We saw all of the familiar places that reminded me of the of three years ago, and even went bar hopping this time. We spoke Italian as we wandered through the streets. We even tricked some American students into believing that I was her Italian boyfriend for our own enjoyment, and, of course, they were extremely jealous. We went to Aqua al 2 to enjoy the steaks that won over our hearts and stomachs the first time, but even they didn't have the same effect this time. I had to wonder if maybe this is just Florence in the summer.

The last beautiful place that we saw on our summer trip was the town of Fiesole which rests on top of a Tuscan hill thirty minutes outside of the city. It was at the top of that hill that was the end of our journey together. She sat in my lap in the piazza as we overlooked the city and watched people pass through the quaint town. It's beauty is magnificent just as the city below. Fiesole was the calm after a 10 day storm that was three years in the making. It was Florence in November that won over my heart, and Florence in the summer where that period of my life came to an end. It is a place that has been at the heart of two moments that have been responsible for my growth into a better person, and the last picture left in my mind as the end of a first love. Florence truly is the home of the Renaissance, as it was twice responsible for a renaissance in my life that I am now reminded of every time I pass through it.

I hope everyone reading this will get to experience this city near Christmas time in their life because it is this time of year, not the summer, when the beauty of Italy is truly in full bloom. It is something that I wish everyone could have the opportunity to see, and to fall in love with, just like I did.

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