GOLDEN DAY NINETEEN: BE MEAGAN BROWN FOR 24 HOURS
Florence is full of thousands of lucky Americans like Meagan Brown: college students who spend semesters in this beautiful city. I met Meagan through her My Adventures In The Land of Tomatoes blog, a wonderful account of her 2009 Fall, where she studied the city’s history, interned for The Florentine, and fell in love with Florence.
Now back at the University of Denver, with memories still fresh, Meagan graciously shares with me her vision of a Golden Day in this beautiful place. She began by writing about what she sees as “the heart of Florence”: the Arno River. Since she lived near there, she’d watch amazing Tuscan sunsets over its bridges, and ride her bike along its banks. “The river has a way of slowing the city down,” she says. “It creates an obstacle so that people walking across or sitting in traffic waiting to move on can have a moment of peace with it, recognizing the worth of it.”
And here’s Meagan’s ideal day:
I would start by the Arno, sitting in the park on the bank by Ponte San Nicolò, watching older Italian couples meander through, stopping at the kiosk for a café. I’d follow the bike path (the best way to move through Florence is by bike) up Viale della Viovine Italia to Piazza Beccaria, then turn left down Borgo la Croce. This is one of my favorite streets in the city, lined with restaurants, gelaterie, cell phone stores, tabbacherie, churches and more. Moving slowly down this street and catching snippets of conversations is like a peek behind the tourism veil that Florence sometimes pulls over itself.
Borgo la Croce eventually deposits me right near the Duomo, on Via del Proconsolo. I turn right and move around the massive cathedral, feeling minuscule in its shadow. I make a full loop around it. Moving by bike is easy in the newly designed pedestrian-only zone.
I’d ride down Via Calziaoli and make a quick left onto Via dei Cimatori to my favorite gelateria, Perché No? I found this place because the woman I lived with in Florence told me she went there every day. I asked her what her favorite flavor was and she didn’t stop talking for five minutes. “Canella, nocciola, cioccolato, mandarino, stracciatella…” Naturally, I had to experience this wonder for myself. I tried the mandarin flavor and fell instantly in love. It tasted as though I had just peeled a mandarin orange and taken a bite. I returned often, to eat my gelato outside, on a corner to the left of the shop. I’d sit on church steps, looking across the street at another strangely beautiful church, the Oransmichele.
When I walk through Piazza della Signoria I imagine I am there in a different time. As though Cosimo de’ Medici just returned from exhile or Leonardo da Vinci was entering the palace to work on a painting. I love sitting on the steps by the loggia and listening to street musicians, allowing the history of the area to overwhelm me.
The Borgo degli Apostoli, that winds down near the Uffizi Galleries, is another favorite street to bike down in the afternoon when many shops are closed and people are home eating long, luxurious lunches. I’d wander by the olive tree, planted as a sign of peace after many were killed there in a bombing meant for the Uffizi. I’d go past hardware shops and leather goods calling my name. Then there’s Piazza del Limbo, and a humble olive oil shop with a large dog sitting outside, and steps leading down to a place where centuries before the original foundation of Florence once was. I go through the alley and am greeted by the Arno River, reflecting the warm Tuscan sun.
For lunch I love to go to grocery stores, to practice my Italian while choosing my panino and paying much less than I would in the center of town. My favorite is simple yet astounding: plain bread, pesto, mozzarella di bufala, and sliced turkey. I have tried to replicate it here at home and it wasn’t quite the same—but believe me, it is a taste bud-defying sandwich. As for dinner, the one restaurant that stood out to me was Perseus (Viale Don Minzoni 10r, near Piazza della Libertà). I wasn’t sure what to expect because it isn’t right in the center of town, but from the first night I dined there I found it enchanting. Waiters wearing matching aprons heartily laughed with one another, the man who led me to my seat told me he and his friends called themselves the “Three Stooges.” There are meats hanging in a display and fresh vegetables and soup heating right as you walk in, enfolding you in the smells and colors of the food.
It’s truly incredible how at Perseus they understand how to cook meat to such a delicate form. Be sure to start with pasta or zuppa. Though the menu is not in English the camerieri are friendly and helpful – they want to make sure you enjoy their masterpieces! I loved sipping table wine (which I recommend) after the meal and simply talking and enjoying the atmosphere. There is no rush to move, your glass is magically refilled and the waiter is gone before you notice.
When going out at night, I would meet my friends at the Duomo or Piazza Santa Croce and move from there. The Santa Croce area is lined with bars and nightclubs to fit anyone’s taste. Any type of venue you can imagine is within a five minute walk of where you are. There are high scale bars and grimy one-bathroom places that serve more beer than anything else and there are clubs filled with Americans, and some with Italians. Anywhere along Via de’Benci, which turns into Via Giuseppe Verdi is a great place to start the night. If you’re taking a taxi back to where you’re staying and it is only women in the cab be sure to ask for the discount for women alone: donne solo because the cab drivers will only give it to you if you ask.
Though Florence is riddled with history, it’s alive and dancing if you know where to look. Enjoy discovering all of it!