Florence: a day in the life

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Jessica Doojphibulpol/Staff

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I open my eyes and hear the construction below my window, the nimble scooters zipping through mobs of disoriented tourists.

I exit my apartment and walk down three flights of stairs before entering the cool but sunny morning air. Giant crowds of tourists block the streets as I try to walk past the Basilica di Santa Croce — the final resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. A morning walk usually includes passing at least three buildings that have full Wikipedia entries. Luckily, it’s before Easter, so the crowds are still somewhat manageable. On the way, there is always construction. Renaissance buildings need upkeep. Italians walk around wearing their dark green or brown jackets, pointed leather shoes and umbrellas, if it is raining — Italians have the magical ability of only ever carrying an umbrella if it is raining at that exact moment.

The cafés look dark from the outside and only reveal their internal hustle and bustle when I walk inside. I’ve been here a couple times, so the baristas begin making my cappuccino the moment I walk in the door. I pay less than four euros for the cappuccino, a croissant and a Nutella-filled donut — Italians love Nutella more than I could have ever imagined. Breakfast in Florence is always sweet, and it’s freshly made before dawn. I stumble through the coins in my pockets to pay the barista, as coins are the de facto currency in Italy. Young, 30-something Florentines rush to prepare my drink, pulling four shots of espresso at once and perfectly timing it with the steaming milk. The cappuccino’s white-tan foam, with bubbles too small to see, rises just above the edges of the clean white cup. A symmetrical six-leaved clover with light brown edges and a white center decorate the drink. After receiving the best cappuccinos in the world, I stand at the bar to eat, because that’s what the Italians do.

I rush to class over wet, puddle-filled cobblestone steps. The tops of medieval constructions poke out above the zigzagging rows of apartments and restaurants. When I arrive, it’s hard to tell it’s a school from the outside, as all the buildings in Florence are aged and statuesque, even if sometimes decrepit. If the lecture is too boring, I can always stare at the angelic figures displayed in the elaborately painted frescos on the ceiling.

For lunch, a few other students and I walk back to one of our nearby apartments. Nothing in Florence is a long walk away. Whether it’s a bit of pasta or bread with tomatoes and cheese, traditional Italian fare is easy to make and always delicious.

After class, we all stroll over the iconic old bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, and across the river. Gusta Pizza, a famous pizzeria, is nestled in the heart of the neighborhood south of the river. The line is long but the service is quick, if not warm. The margherita pizza, lightly drizzled with olive oil and with thinly sliced tomatoes and basil leaves resting upon softly melted mozzarella, is the best I’ll ever have.

I get my evening gelato at about this time. There are a hundred places to go, but I always visit Gelateria Edoardo, right next to the gargantuan Duomo. Judging by its touristy location, it would be easy to dismiss it as a trap, but the cinnamon gelato is some of the best in the city center, in my opinion.

After visiting a few bars, which are all distinctly more modern than anything else in the city, a group of us all head to the “secret bakeries.” Florence is home to about four or five secret bakeries that, without permits, sell their baked treats right out of the oven to young tourists late in the night. They bake the pastries that the cafés will serve in the morning and only operate from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. Silence is demanded for fear of being shut down by the police, and if the late night customers are overly loud or boisterous, they will close up shop. Given our earlier endeavors in the night, silence is more of a challenge than one may think. Nevertheless, nothing beats the taste of warm, Nutella-filled donut for only a euro.

I stroll back to my apartment to top the night off with a view of the moonlight shining off all the glittering puddles in the cobblestone. Florence does eventually go to sleep, but the boisterous students stumbling down the streets don’t believe that.

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.

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