Sitting on the stoop of my soon to be Italian apartment, I surveyed my new neighborhood and attempted to sort out my bearings. Within the span of four hours, I left Budapest, flew into Milan, hopped on a train to Florence and hailed a taxi to my new home. I was meant to meet my landlord, Maurizio, at 11am to get into the apartment and it was now 1pm. Just as I was about to search for a café with wifi, a vespa screeches to a stop right in front of me and my name is being called out from underneath a shiny helmet. “Amelia! Amelia! Ciao cara, come stai? Tutto bene?” This was followed with a warm greeting of a kiss on each cheek and a hug as if we have known each other for years. Oh Maurizio. He is the quintessential Italian man. Short, perfectly plump, almost bald, with round black-framed glasses, and a welcoming smile. This kind little man carried my enormous suitcase up two flights of very steep stairs and welcomed me to my apartment – all in Italian. I learned two important things that morning: how to tell a taxi driver my address and the meaning of Italian Time.
Florence is a long way from the picturesque waterfront of Pakostane, the rocky beaches of Budva, or the impressive mountains of Bosnia. I was suddenly in a new world, which was just as special and beautiful. Once I was somewhat settled and unpacked I decided to explore. Florence is a walking city whose streets are far from organized as the grid of Manhattan. Narrow alleys zig-zag and cross paths with piazzas and bridges. Florence is old – left unchanged since its peak of power and glory. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to the powerful Medici family, who have left their mark on the buildings here. As I walked the streets and crossed over the Arno River, I felt simply amazed that kings, emperors, and famous artists all walked these same streets. I have spent a large part of my scholastic career studying European history. I have written countless essays on Italian nationalism and the Renaissance. Now, it has all come full circle and I am here living within this grand city. My senses are alive and buzzing and the space in my heart for history and culture is overflowing. I am actually here.
I live in the Eastern side of Florence, away from the throngs of tourists and walking tours. My neighborhood is known as the traditional artisan quarter where specialty shops are nestled in the narrow streets. Still today, this area is home to leather, book, art, and antique shops and galleries. In this part of town, craftsmen and shop owners take part in the famed siesta; from three to seven in the afternoon the neighborhood is lullabied to sleep and the pace of life slows down. Starting at five the church bells commence, slowly wakening the sleeping homes as if their purpose is to be an alarm clock. Well-rested and energized, the neighborhood comes alive once again, ready to start the night.
The next chapter of my life and journey abroad had officially begun. Once darling Maurizio handed over the keys and called out “ci vediamo” from his Vespa, I was on my own and ready to begin leaving my own mark on this city. I am no longer a wandering traveler or a tourist. I am a member of this community, reciprocating the energy, beauty, and pleasure Florence gives to me.