Written by Virginia, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Florence: Italian Food, Art, and Society, Summer 2019
I had shirts, shorts, and shoes pulled out and ready to pack. “Check the weather,” he said. It was forecast to be upper nineties and humid. Revise. Light and breathable clothes? Check. I sat with my friend as he advised me on how to pack for my first trip to Europe. We laughed and talked. He told me stories of his past excursions, especially of Florence. My story-writing friend described the magic and spirit of the city in only the way a poet can. H glowed with awe at the memory of the Duomo, recalled the beauty of the Arno, the exciting chaos of Ponte Vecchio. Ever the romantic, he created a longing for an old, cobble-filled world I had never known, but somehow desperately missed.
The next morning I was on a place, off to Italy. I watched a few movies, tried to sleep (unsuccessfully, may I add), then finally opened my window. I looked out onto the afternoon sun-bathed Tuscany. The rolling golden hills were not too different from my California home, but they held a different air about them. I spotted a little town. The houses were various shades of white and ocher with red tilted roofs. I waited eagerly for the next town, and then the next. Some towns had big churches, other piazzas, each somewhat similar, but so exciting for me.
At last Florence passed under my window. There was the Duomo, the Arno. As the place descended the Duomo and surrounding buildings grew from toy-sized to intricately decorated architectural feats. It was magical. Then, to my utter confusion, the plane was climbing. The airplane, only a few minutes from landing, was now off to Pisa. I landed, sat an hour, caught a bus, sat another hour, and another bus, then finally arrived at the train station in Florence at ten at night. I caught a taxi, found an open pizzeria, then crashed in bed. In conclusion, my first day on the ground in Italy was rough.
I awoke the next morning to an off-white ceiling. Faint sounds of traffic outside could be heard. I got up, stretched, then opened the window curtains to reveal a pair of green shutters. I pushed them outward (just like in the movies) to a little back alleyway and the garden terraces on the other side. That was when it hit me: I was in Florence. I hurried out to the busy, beautiful streets. I gazed in awe at the bridges, the buildings, the people. I probably gaped like actually, but I didn’t care. I walked down the Arno, past Ponte Vecchio, and finally made my way over to the Duomo. I was in the shadow of this amazing and beautiful and massive cathedral that before I had only seen in photos. I was in awe. I finally understood why people flock here to Florence. This feeling, this reminder of how small you are and what amazing things you can achieve. This reminder of how beautiful things can be, this is why people come here. To walk in the footsteps of Dante of Leonardo da Vinci, shaper of our world, is why people come here.
Later that day I met the other students in my program. We went out and ate gelato next to the Arno. As I licked my spoon and breathed in the evening, sun-tinged air, I realized that even my poet friend could not capture the spirit of Florence. It is something one must experience to truly grasp, and here I was. I was, perhaps, finally experiencing the spirit of Florence