At home in Florence

There’s a weird thing that happens to time when you travel. It slows down. I’ve just had a look at the calendar and realised it’s only two weeks since we arrived in Florence, but it feels like twice that long. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but certainly it seems as though we have been here much longer than that. So having been here two long travel weeks, perhaps its time for a post about the apartment and the neighbourhood.

First the neighbourhood. We chose the Oltrarno (literally “the other side of the Arno”) because we though it might be a bit quieter than the busy centre of Florence. That was exactly right – every time we cross the river into the centre of town, we are confronted with hordes of tourists, even at this early time of year. But our neighbourhood is much quieter, populated mostly by locals and students. Our street, the Via Maggio, is a relatively broad avenue that bisects an area that is otherwise a warren of small lanes, and it dates back to the second half of the fourteenth century, when wealthy Florentine families began building their palazzi here, presumably to escape the urban press of Florence’s centre. Today you still walk past houses that bear the names of the families who built them – Velluti, Corsini, Biliotti, Michelozzi, Pitti, Capponi, Ridolfi – whose early investment in the street paid off a couple of hundred years later, when the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany moved their court from the Palazzo Vecchio to the vast brown pile of the Palazzo Pitti, just a few yards away. The wealthy elite piled more investment florins in, and soon the Via Maggio became one of the most aristocratic streets in Florence.

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So on one side we have the grandest of Florence’s palaces and the enormous Boboli Gardens that ascend the hill behind it. On the other side, and just around the corner from our apartment, is almost its antithesis, the Piazza Santo Spirito. This square is dominated at its northern end by the blank white facade of Santo Spirito church, in front of which is a broad raised platform, where locals and students gather to chat and enjoy the odd burst of winter sun. The piazza itself has a small fountain in the centre and a row of trees that are bare at this season, but which will no doubt provide beautiful shade in the summer months. Along this same side there is a row of restaurants and cafes (for some reason there are only two on the other side of the square). Every day, a small group of stallholders set up a market at the southern end of the piazza, selling fruit and vegetables, clothes, shoes, and assorted knick-knacks; on Sundays, this becomes a full-blown market covering most of the square. All in all, the piazza has a homely feel to it, quite the opposite of the bombastic grandness of the Palazzo Pitti.

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That’s the neighbourhood. Now for our apartment. We’re on the third floor of number 32, and a plaque on the facade of the building tells us that this particular palazzo was the residence of one Gioacchino Taddei, apparently a noted chemist and pharmacist, who lived here during the 1800’s. His picture is on the wall above my desk in the main living room of the apartment. Originally the apartment occupied two floors, but it has now been split into two separate spaces, accessed via a common main door. It turns out that the apartment above is rented to two gay guys, an Englishman and his Italian partner, who introduced themselves a few days after we arrived. We’ll look forward to getting to know them better.

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Our apartment is actually huge, far larger than we really need. The living room must be sixty square metres at least, and is filled with a charming collection of mismatched furniture that gives it a lovely, eclectic feel. Three big windows look over the street and let in floods of light in the morning (until the sun disappears behind the buildings opposite!). There are two bedrooms, both large, and both with their own bathrooms, that look into a kind of internal courtyard. The kitchen is small, but workable – although the absence of an oven had us perplexed for a bit – and we have already made a few excellent meals. All in all, the apartment will be a great base for us to explore Florence and the surrounding area over the next couple of months.

As I said at the start, we have only been here a couple of weeks, during which we’ve mostly been settling in, getting to know our new home, and generally not doing much. Except visiting the Uffizi, the Bargello, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Boboli Gardens. And the Mercatio Vecchio. Oh, and day trips to Fiesole and Lucca. So maybe we haven’t been as slack as we thought! I’ll write some more on our various museum explorations in a separate post – probably several, since there is so much to see in this town.

Although we have been eating at home quite a lot – that was the point, after all, of renting an apartment – we haven’t completely neglected the restaurant scene. We’ve already decided on our favourite restaurant in Piazza Santo Spirito, a little trattoria which seemed very welcoming on our first night here, and that offers an excellent if limited menu of good quality Tuscan fare. Since we are that rarity, tourists who have come back to the restaurant twice, we have become welcome guests whenever we turn up. There’s an easy sociability about the place –  one lunchtime, Robert got us chatting to a couple of young Americans, Rocky and Brendan, who turned out to be here on their honeymoon! That led us to spending a couple of very pleasant evenings with them before they headed off to Venice, the next destination of their whirlwind tour. I suspect we will have many such encounters before we are done.

So that’s a quick thousand-word introduction to our life here. As yet we aren’t quite into a routine, and there is lots still to explore, but we do feel as though we have settled in and we are actually “living” in Florence, rather than just passing through. Which is a nice feeling.

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