A smart man once said, “You can never go back home,” – he said this in Spanish, but I’m told this is what it translated to – and I think I fully understand what he meant after this trip. I think it’s human nature to remember certain places, especially those places with a lot of emotional memories tied to them, very idealistically.
Italy is a country renowned for its food, culture and sights, which is exactly why my best friend and I planned our revelrous return. We studied in Florence our second semester of our junior year at college and vowed we would revisit at some point once we had conquered the rest of the world and become wildly successful. While only some of that statement is true, we planned a trip over this past Valentine’s Day weekend anyway: what better way to celebrate your friendship and reminisce about beautiful memories?
I arrived a day before my friend and to be honest, was a bit nervous to walk around ‘our’ city alone. I have been on a ton of solo business trips and am generally not anxious in new cities, but for some reason, I was overwhelmed by this emotion. I walked around in awe, staring up at the Duomo, still wondering how anyone built such an intricate, massive structure thousands of years ago and how people have kept restoring it so that it remains such an epic structure. I walked around like I had seven years prior: with my mouth agape and my neck straining upward. I will never fully understand how such amazing architecture was built with such limited mechanical resources.
It took less than 3 hours to walk around most of the city – this was once a place that I thought was larger than life and in my naïve head, at one point, almost unavigatable. After a day of wandering, and continually being asked if I wanted to buy a “selfie stick,” I decided that I would wait until my companion arrived to discuss these city changes and ended my day with a $6 bottle of Chianti Classico and a bowl of fresh ‘cacio e pepe’ pasta.
My partner in crime arrived the next day and we started our afternoon by catching up and outlining our must-do list for the next 5 days. The hardest thing for me was having to break it to her that most of our ‘old stomping ground’ spots were in fact out of business and nonexistent. This was exceptionally hard to accept, as we had naturally created a Google document of our itinerary based solely on eating and drinking at the places that we had once frequented.
First up was “La Busola,” an amazing pizza restaurant that we often ate at while living on via del Parione. It’s a very unassuming place with amazing wood fired pizza [please note that most of my critiques in life are based on a good pizza]. The pizza was delicious, the pizza chef was a flirt and we once again enjoyed our first delicious meal in Firenze.
Day two was filled with our favorite pastimes: shopping, eating and drinking vino rosso. We visited the Mercato Centrale in search of dried strawberries and schiacciata, in short, what we survived on during our study abroad. What we found was something a bit unexpected. Mario Batali’s Eataly had taken over the second floor of the central market where our “fruit man” used to reside – we panicked, and in doing so, needed a drink.
We sat down under the indoor heat lamps and absorbed what had become of the drafty second floor of the mercato that we once knew. I can’t blame Batali for capitalizing on an opportunity that I’m sure rightfully presented itself, but I can say that I do resent the fact that the ‘same’ Eataly exists in New York City.
We made our way out of the Mercato Centrale to make leather purchases from the vendors that surround it for our loved ones deprived of good quality back home. The San Lorenzo open market felt different too – the quality of products felt cheap and the merchants were more desperate. Blame it on the recession, I suppose. We slithered through the pushy vendors, being able to haggle ourselves great deals. We then basked in our purchases during aperitivo at ‘The Golden Bar;’ a beautiful beginning to our night on the town. Across the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio, This bar is situated perfectly across the Arno overlooking the Ponte Vecchio to watch the sunset slowly set on the famous bridge, giving the entire city the appearance of a golden glow.
A church references the location of everything in Florence – Santa Croce locates our most important destination. Our pizza chef at Caffe Italiano is still there – we both giggle with excitement. We aren’t sure if he remembers us specifically, but he does make us heart shaped pizzas and mumbles the words to American 80s rock songs like he did before.
Breakfast on our best day was at the infamous ‘Mario’s.’ We were seated family-style. The menu is posted on the counter and it’s expected that you know what you want when it’s asked of you. We ordered a liter of wine, and were questioned if we knew the amount that actually was, before continuing to order a kilo of steak. We can both attest to the fact that this is the best Bistecca alla Fiorentina that we have had anywhere in Florence. We salivated as we waited to eat and listened to our tablemates chit-chat in Italian. As we sat and ate our delicious meal, I noticed a pet store behind us. During the trip I had realized a noticeable increase in the number of dogs walking around, but it had now really resonated that society had changed since I had been here last – this change, however, was truly refreshing.
In between the main aspects of our trips, there were many espresso and siesta stops along the way. I do miss the less commercial Firenze. It was only until after I returned to the states that I truly realized that commercialization has happened here for the same reasons it has anywhere else: to provide.
Florence will forever be a beautiful city with a special place in my heart, but it will never be the city that I lived in for 6 months when I was 20 years old. If a city remained the same for seven years, it would surely crumble, and we have history to prove that. I know that I got exactly what I had hoped for out of our excursion; I was able to spend time with my best friend in a city that has contributed so much to my character. Florence, we will meet again, and I can’t wait to see what you have to throw at me next time.
Where to stay:
I need to plug Airbnb – this is my second time reserving an apartment with them and it was an incredible experience. Alessandro and Azadeh were so kind and amazing in reminding me all that Florence had to offer and where to find the best of the best.
Where to buy:
I Medici, a San Lorenzo institution still churns out quality leather goods. And their staff are helpful, honest and straightforward.
Tur Son Ton, an amazing leather jacket shop on via dei Servi - the jacket I bought looks like it was literally sewn to fit my body and the quality is spot on.
Where to Eat:
Aside from all the places discussed above, check out Zazas (next to Mario’s) Try the eggplant parmigiana or the rigatoni Sorrentina and feel really special if you’re allowed to eat upstairs (where the locals tend to be seated). Il Due Fratelli has amazing, warm 3 euro sandwiches to go ... the staff isn’t bad to gawk at either.
By: Senior Editor Kimberly Romanello