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Mamma Mia, That’s a Big Church!

When the taxi driver dropped me off at my new apartment, and I saw it was adjacent the Duomo, I was relieved. My sense of direction is questionable at best, so I knew this location was a stroke of good luck and perfect for me!

Il DuomoThe Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as Il Duomo, was my next door neighbor. Imposing and majestic, the cathedral sprawls over the enormous piazza and is the heart of the city of Florence. The terracotta dome can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and between its size, and the accompanying bells from the Campanile, I never became lost. Well, almost never.

Of course, I knew that I would be alone on this adventure. This thought stayed with me as I wandered through the narrow streets and explored along the Arno River.

Unlike the “Cheers” bar, no one in Florence knew my name, and certainly no one would miss me at the end of the day if I didn’t return to my apartment. But Florence is an extremely safe city. Aside from pickpockets, the crime rate is low, and violent crime is very rare. I never felt uncomfortable, day or night, walking in my new city.

I skittled around my new neighbor, the Duomo, many times a day, just as Michaelangelo had as a child. I could never resist looking upward at this most famous landmark, now serving as my beacon. It seemed surreal to call this home.

Whose life was this? Oh yeah, mine!

I had given myself the month of October to explore. The anxiety I had experienced over the Atlantic Ocean had abated immediately upon arriving. Jet lagged and sleep deprived, perhaps, but I felt deliriously happy to be in Italy!

Initially armed with five words in Italian, (bango, grazie, buongiorno, caffé and vino), I confidently put off language class until November.

FlorenceI had wondered just how good my own company would be. Would the fact that I know entire soliloquies from ‘Camelot’ and ‘Carousel’ be enough to keep me entertained, or would they eventually drive me mad?

Striking up conversations with others was pretty much out of the question, as my limited Italian was, well, limiting. Any long conversations were those I had with myself.

Each morning I learned a few new phrases (thank you Google Translator), and would step out of my door with a map in hand and a route in mind. Living on Via Calzaiuoli, I was immediately immersed in sensory heaven! Bomboloni, cannoli, focaccia, brioches and cantuccini sent their decadent aroma through the streets, and I suspiciously eyed the thin Italian girls consuming pastries with their cappuccino.

Throngs of beautiful Italians walked by me in their painted on jeans and gorgeous leather coats. Stunning women rode bicycles in stiletto heels whilst talking on their cell phones and smoking. Stay-at-home fathers tended to their small children, and kissing couples were everywhere. Art exhibits and musicians rotated through the main squares, and I was quickly falling head over heels in love with my neighborhood.

Life lessons from the first month in Florence:

  1. If you worry about looking foolish, living in a foreign country is probably not for you.
  2. Know thyself, and like thyself!
  3. A smile and a kind greeting go a long way in any language.

After about two weeks of flying solo, I decided to join an English speaking tour to the Tuscan towns of Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa. Half way through the family style lunch at a beautiful, organic farm and vineyard, it hit me.

For the first time it felt awkward to be alone. Surrounded by couples, groups of friends and families on vacation, I suddenly felt out of place.

The Leaning Tower of PisaBy the time we arrived in Pisa, it had been a huge day. Having climbed to the top of the tower years before, I opted to watch the sun set instead.

An American woman from the tour plopped down beside me.

“Are you traveling alone?” she asked. “My friend and I noticed you earlier today.”

“Actually, I’m living in Florence,” I answered, and we introduced ourselves.

“Well then,” she said, “you must meet my friend, Nancy. She’s an amazing woman, and she just moved here too. You’ll love her!”

“Ok,” I said, not too convinced.

Little did I know that meeting Nancy Lou was another bit of Florentine serendipity! And there it was. Five minutes later, I made my first, and ultimately my best friend in Italy, while the sun set, across from that tower that, well, leans a bit.

This article is part of a summer series by Lisa Condie. The first article in this series can be found here: The Decision.

Lisa’s next article about Italy can be found here: Easy for You to Say

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