I watch the sun set slowly behind the cypress trees, creating a layer of blue and pink clouds, rosé and lavender shades embracing the city as if to protect her from the dark of night.
I cannot believe that it has already been a year.
When I first got here the plan was to stay for only three months.
I’d left Denmark in the aftermath of a dangerous cocktail: a pressing notion that I was not where I was supposed to be and a spontaneous idea to make reality of a dream I’d had since I was just a kid.
Moving to Italy.
Only a few months after the thought first entered my mind, I was sitting on the steps in front of the pastel colored cathedral of Florence.
I’d risked, but not lost my job to get here in search of somewhere that felt like home.
At least for a little while.
But whilst I felt like I was were I was supposed to be, since that very first night on the steps of the Duomo, it took much longer for Florence to truly feel like home.
Like with a lover or a friend, the bond between a heart and its home needs to grow over time. The first exhilarating affection is exciting, but it takes a while to get to know each other to see if deep appreciation, respect and love is growing underneath the excitement of the new.
That is why I stayed. Why three months became six, six became nine and nine turned into a year.
I didn’t leave earlier because I felt I hadn’t quite understood Florence yet.
I’d seen the city, but I couldn’t really read her soul.
Sometimes I wondered whether it’s even possible to really know a place, to make it your own, when it’s temporary for so many people in it.
You see, in 2018 alone, Florence counted almost 10 million visitors*.
As a result there are times when the local spirit of this city, that actually counts less than 400.000 inhabitants and is suitable to that in size, feels a little distant.
As if you’re looking at a piece of art tucked away in a glass vitrine.
In the hot summer heat the narrow streets are crowded and only few Italian words are spoken around you, as the locals have fled the city for the summer, off to the sea or the hilly Tuscan country side.
And tried to get closer to Florence by meeting her at night. That way we’ll be alone, I thought. Maybe she’ll open up to me.
Because as hot and crowded as this city may feel in the midday sun on a Saturday in August, as fresh, free and beautiful does she light up at night when the piazzas are empty and cooled by a light breeze under the sparkling stars.
For months, I’d work inside all day and roam the streets on my own at night.
I made friends with the locals working in restaurants, gelaterie and little convenience stores on my way home – learning about hidden gems and Florentine history, whilst making it feel perfectly safe to walk by myself in the early morning hours.
After three months like this, I felt like I’d gotten a few steps closer. I’d made friends in town, talked to everyone from tourist guides to yoga teachers, to street artists and bartenders, seeing as much as I could of the city hiding inside the vitrine.
But no matter how close I got, I still felt like I was on the wrong side of the glass, looking in.
As time passed by, the same thing that distanced me from the true soul of Tuscany’s capital was also what suffocated me while living in it.
Coming from the quiet, danish country side, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of people on such a small space.
And I was not the only one.
Io non ci metto piede nel centro storico, the locals would tell me. I do not set foot in the historic center.
In my first weeks there I was shocked to hear this. Angry almost. How unfair, that this beautiful city would be seen only by those visiting, not by those living in it. How could they not wish to be closer to the monuments, the history, the art?
But after living and working there for a while myself, I do not blame them.
Albeit being beautiful, living in the historic center can feel at times like you’re trying to live a normal life in the middle of Disney Land.
But there must be more to it than that, I thought.
This city feels too enchanting, to be nothing but a picturesque exterior for tourists to admire.
And too special to give up on so quickly.
So once again, I decided to stay.
But I also decided to get out of the center – to live somewhere greener and quieter with a little more air.
This is when I found my castle on the hill.
And everything changed.
I finally found a space to breathe, to truly live and see the city from.
A place to escape the crowds when I was not in the right mind or mood for busy piazzas.
Somewhere that let me enjoy the wonderfully slow paced rhythm of my new, Italian life.
Up here I found a place that truly felt like home, and between the cypress trees in my garden and the view of the Duomo from above, my perception of Florence changed.
The city itself was still crowded and intense, but suddenly it was so much more than that.
It was long walks in local neighborhoods, on streets that made Fiat 500s seem bulky.
It was food markets and local families, going about their everyday lives of juggling school and work and endless afternoon activities.
It was yoga lessons in town with follow up dinners, enjoying the bustle in the city and the opportunities it brings, always knowing that there’s a little piece of quiet, Tuscan paradise to return to.
The colors from up here inspired me to write and film and record sequences of pretty words that made sense to me while watching the sunset.
Down here in Italy, up here on the hill, I created a safe space that was just for me. To breathe through the challenges that led me here and to grow through the changes that followed.
At the same time, dinners with the family downstairs and long winter days in front of the fire suddenly made it clear that I was no longer alone in Florence.
Somewhere between the hot midday sun in August and a cold Monday in December, the glass vitrine crumbled and Florence became home.
And suddenly I understood what my Italian friend had once told me about living in this city:
I don’t even see the tourists.
Once you know the history of the place, you see it’s beauty and only that.
I walk around looking at every single stone or facade, and for all I know, I’m here all by myself.
PS: How would you like to hear the “Streets of Florence” read to you as a podcast, so you can enjoy a little piece of Italy while cooking dinner or driving to work?