Entering the streets of Florence filled with tourists, street vendors, and cars was a shocking difference from the quiet alleyways of Riomaggiore, where we had been just that morning. It was a welcome wake up call though, as we knew that our midway “break” was over and it was time to get back to work on delving into the history, art, and culture of European cities. And man, Florence is filled with all of that. Walking to our hotel, our line of suitcases turned a corner to come into view of one of the most magnificent and detailed cathedrals I have ever seen, and it was right down the street from our hotel. That’s just how Florence is. You can’t escape its art, beauty, and culture. Like you would ever want to.
When I think of Florence, I think of the view from the top of the Duomo. When you are looking down on the city, it becomes even more apparent how close the buildings are to each other and how narrow the streets and walkways are. When you are down there, it can get overwhelming. You are constantly being bumped by tourists, or honked at by cars and motorbikes, or being asked to buy a light up flying toy (very hard to resist). At the top though, things are quiet. You can see the surrounding Tuscan hills and the tops of red roofs carving out the streets. The Duomo is beautiful and a magnificent example of an architectural feat (as Connor and Brent will remind you), but I think it serves another important purpose as a getaway from life. When you need to take a break from trying not to get hit by cars and fending off random men selling you roses, try to get to the top and just look. I appreciate the Duomo as a historical building and a piece of art, but also as a means of escape and peace.
When I think of Florence, I also think of staring up at The David, and being asked by Peter why I thought it was so beautiful and amazing. I knew that it was special. I knew that it made me feel something along the lines of wonderment and awe, but I could not put my finger on why beyond “its so big,” or “it looks so real”. Thats when Peter told me that he read somewhere that the feeling that comes from looking at art or listening to music is as close to looking at divinity as we can get. That made me change the way I think about art. Maybe we don’t always have to explain why something is beautiful. Maybe sometimes we can just say that it is.
Lastly, when I think of Florence I think of our waiter at the Ok Bar where we ate every morning. Often times he would seem frustrated by our large group’s disorganized ordering and uncommon requests, but he gave us what we needed and did it efficiently and without complaint. We learned on our last morning at the cafe that he works that job all day long, then goes to work all night at another hotel, and goes from there to take care of his mother. Without knowing his story, I would have written him off as just another grumpy waiter. Now I see him as the perfect picture of selflessness and sacrificial love for others. From this almost-stranger I learned yet again the danger of making snap judgements on people and the importance of asking questions to dig deeper into the lives of others. CR is special because you learn this lesson from the rest of the 17 that are traveling with you, but also from the people you briefly meet along the way.
Being in Florence was a dive back into fast-paced learning and growth while surrounded by some of the most famous museums and works of art in the world, but also a reminder to slow down and look at the little things around you like people and views because they can teach you just as much.
Also- my hotel room had THREE balconies this time. Just wanted to throw that out there.