Our contributing blogger Lisa explores what it means to travel like a local in Italy.
I always knew I’d miss the days of living in Florence; the lifestyle we had of jet-setting to a different country almost every weekend, indulging in breads, pasta and gelato because the phrase “when will we ever get to live like this again?” was uttered almost daily. All of it. I knew I’d miss it, but I never realized how much I’d long for it. Crave it. There will always be opportunities for the big things – like traveling, learning a language, eating out at new restaurants. What I miss are the little things, like walking along the cobblestone paths and knowing that a little man would be playing the tunes of Andrea Bocelli on my walk home from night class. Or watching the sunset from our rooftop deck as we huddled with blankets and plates of pasta. I knew I’d miss the traveling, but I never realized how much I’d miss the little things that only a true local can appreciate.
The opportunity to study abroad is something that I appreciate so much more now that I am out in the “real world,” as us post-grads like to say. In the real world, you’re lucky if you get two weeks vacation time. Living in Florence is so much different than just visiting it on a vacation. Sure, you get to participate in all of the “touristy” things, like climbing the Duomo, touring the Boboli Gardens and visiting the statue of David, but you miss out on the little things, the things that only the locals would know, like the “Secret Bakery” that gives out pizza slices and pastry treats for only one euro in the wee hours of the morning. I was fortunate enough to experience Italy in all its glory, which is why I wanted this post to capture some of my favorite parts about living in Florence, and not just traveling through it. So this post is dedicated to those who can’t or don’t have the opportunity to spend four months in Florence like I did, but still want to submerge themselves in the culture by taking a trip. Consider it my “living like a local” guide to Florence, featuring all of the little nooks I learned along the way.
If you’re looking for a true, authentic Italian meal, try out a little mom and pop café off the beaten path, away from the main squares. The best meals of my semester were spent at Il Gotto e La Volpe, a hidden gem. The savory sauces of the pasta and the rich, creamy homemade balsamic vinegar is unlike any other. For many reasons, this restaurant will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the first meals I had in Florence, and it was also one of the last meals I had at the end of the semester. When I was feeling homesick during the first couple of weeks, it was the place that one of my tour guides took me to for a girls-night-pick-me-up. In fact, it was the restaurant I took my family to when they came to visit on their first night. One night after a few glasses of wine, nearly everyone in my abroad program serenaded the waiters at Il Gotto e La Volpe to a few off-key Backstreet Boys songs.
It would be impossible to visit Florence without eating pizza. There’s a little pizza shop across the Ponte Vecchio called Gusta Pizza. They make their pizzas in such a way that you don’t know where the sauce ends and the cheese begins. They even make the dough in the shape of a heart upon request!
Right outside the Duomo is a restaurant with the most amazing hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. It tastes as if milk chocolate bars were melted into a mug and then topped with whip cream. While I can’t recall the name, it’s hard to miss with the large outdoor seating area. I sat here with my mom when she came to visit me. We spent a leisurely afternoon sitting outside and I remember thinking how natural it felt. In Florence, the pace of life is much slower compared to what I was used to in New York. There’s not as much rushing around and the people are more relaxed.
What I took away most from my experience in Florence was to appreciate the little things. No matter where you are, or what country you’re living in, it’s important to connect with your culture. Form a bond and immerse yourself. Be a local and a tourist. Do the fun and exciting things, but take the time to truly enjoy the everyday things. Most of all, wherever you are, be all there.
All photos are copyright Lisa Glover.