The big cup of coffee in bed every morning. The cold beer sitting on the terrace. The taste of mango, avocado and tomatoes on olive bread and the reassuring feel of pen to paper as I pour my world out to you, drip by drip. These are the things that make me feel at home. These are the moments I can simply be. And whilst worry has crept back trying to steer me out of this path of joy into one of safety, I’ve fought back. Told the dark force that, this time, it won’t win. I will. From now on.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Letting go of the shackles. Putting myself in the face of excitement.
It’s always wonderful having a loved one visit you in your new, adopted home. It’s even more wonderful when that loved one is someone who brings a little bit of joy into your life each and every day. We’ve needed it, Hannah and I. We needed that little dash of escapism; a chance to both just shake off our stresses and allow ourselves to feel totally, utterly happy. I wanted to take her away from reality, just the two of us, in this dream of a city. And oh, it was absolutely idyllic. Because Hannah? She’s one of a kind. She has one of the warmest hearts you will ever come across. She just radiates positivity and passion; she makes you feel like you can do anything. Those dreams you had? She tells you they can be a reality. And for that, I adore her. Of course, me being me, I had an itinerary planned for every step of the weekend (which I had re-written about twenty times, please note). I just wanted it to be perfect. I wanted her to experience all of my favourite things, the places that filled me with passion and the sights that took over my soul. So, in true Amber style, I present to you my Top10 Picks for a long weekend in Firenze. And believe me – this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what this blissful city has to offer!
Step 1 – Gusta Pizza (obvs)
She landed Friday evening. We greeted eachother like long lost lovers (much to the amusement of the conservative crowds around us) and took to the arno for an adorable moonlit stroll. After refusing to ever return to Gusta Pizza from pure shame (the Wednesday that shall never be spoken about), I plucked up the courage so she could experience THE best pizza in the whole damn world.
Step 2 – Santa Spirito Cocktails
Long story short, Gusta put us back under his spell and we ended up downing cocktails and prosecco in Santa Spirito and then falling into the depths of questionable life choices (aka hitching a ride with a 60 year old Italian guy on the back of his motorbike home). You stay classy, Cardiff galz.
Step 3 – Gelato o’clock
Fast forward through the after effects of consuming all the alcohols known to man (hint: worst hangover of 2015) and we’re putting on our brave faces to take on Firenze the next day. First stop; gelato (because, you know, our stomachs weren’t quite ready for a full Italian breakfast). It’s not a visit to Firenze without sampling the Pink Grapefruit in Bar Gelateria on Via Dei Calzaiuoli. I mean, seriously. It’s like little spoonfuls of heaven and I will never get bored of it. Sitting in my favourite “gelato eating” spot on Piazza Della Repubblica whilst listening to some idyllic street music; it fixed the hangover up a treat.
Step 4 – Get to the top of the city
Luckily, the sun gods had blessed us with a beautiful weekend. Florence in the sunshine; there’s nothing like it. The city lights up in a mirage of sparkling golds, intoxicating you with every footstep. So where better to drink it all in than the top of the city?
Typically, being a stunning Saturday, the queue for the actual Duomo was ridiculous… but the Bell Tower? Not so much. It’s a pretty good second option, if you ask me.
414 steps later (on VERY tricky stomachs) we finally reached the very top. And that moment. The moment you’re surrounded by the 360 degree view of pure beauty… it’s like a punch straight in the stomach. There’s nothing quite like it; those that follow this blog will know how much I love seeing a city from its highest point. And I’ll let you in on a secret; getting the Duomo itself basically within touching distance? I think it bumped it up to first place.
Step 5 – Lunch in Florence’s best sun trap
Climbing up and down 800 stairs is hungry work, you know? So our next stop HAD to be a bad-ass sun trap and a meat and cheese platter (hello Italy). And what better sun trap than Piazza Santa Croce?
Dondino Winebar sits perfectly on the square; aka, right in the middle of the action. Sat outside as the glorious sun beat down, gorging on the most stupendous meat and cheese board known to man was another level of dreamy. Worth every single penny; the board for two was MORE than enough for both of us.
Step 6 – Snap Happy
You’re in Santa Croce? Well, you HAVE to get your standard Firenze snaps in the Fotoautomatica. For 2 euros, they make a gorgeous little momento for any trip.
Step 7 – Getting ho-mantic on the Ponte Vecchio
Screw the cliches; sticking a love lock on the Ponte Vecchio is pretty damn adorable. Especially knowing every time I stroll past (which is at least twice a day… love my life) I will be reminded of this delightful weekend and my amazing girl.
Step 8 – Breakfast Italian Style
Fresh faced and bushy tailed (in other words – hangover free), we enter Sunday. JT Cafe opposite Palazzo Pitti offers some of the creamiest cappuccino and freshest breakfast panini this side of the arno. Worth paying a little extra to stay in, the ambience is classy and contemporary; couple that with the most welcoming staff and you’re on to a winner.
Step 9 – Soak up the Art
We all know that Florence is the number 1 place in the world for art. Besides all the awe-inspiring galleries and museums we have here on a regular basis, we also have some of the most impressive exhibitions gracing the city. Until April, I feel pretty blessed to say we have Van Gogh Alive in Piazza di Santa Stefano. For those who don’t know, the exhibition is a “multi-sensory experience”, taking visitors out of the normal context of a museum and into a more alien environment; in this case, a church. A once in a life time opportunity, I knew this was the place I needed to take my guest.
Now this. For once, I was rendered speechless; a huge fan of his work, it was easily one of the most overwhelming, beautiful experiences I have had to date. Standing literally in the middle of his work as it was cast across alters, pillars and vast stone walls, you found yourself being totally struck down by emotion. As the exhibition charted his descent into madness (highlighted by the dramatic changes in his work), powerful music echoed throughout the building. Classical melancholic pieces juxtaposed with spine-tingling opera (amongst SO much more) added this sweeping sensation that simply blew you away, whilst projections of profound quotes made throughout his life threw you into an out of body experience. The staggering combination of art, music and poetry was truly out of this world. If you do anything with your time in Florence the next few weeks… make it that.
Step 10 – Step outside of the city
Now granted, this is hardly OUT of the city, but I do believe taking a few moments out of the centre is also a pretty sterling way to make the most of your time here. Florence is surrounded by all manner of extraordinary places; no least the quaint town of Fiesole.
In as little as twenty minutes on the bus you can find yourself in a whole new world; oh, and the view across Florence? Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular.
Picture winding roads and panoramic scenery at every angle. Rustic churches, adorable hill-top museums and authentic restaurants. Peace and quiet. Traditional Italian markets. For half a day it really does make an excellent break; a different side to Florence that you might not anticipate on such a short trip.
Now, any of you who know Florence (or are lucky enough to live here) will know these tips are merely a drop in the ocean in comparison to the reams of activities on offer. But for us? This was pretty special.
In fact, it couldn’t have been better. Not only was it sublime to spend these precious days with my best friend, but watching her marvel at the pure splendour of the city reminded me how remarkable it really is.
Because it is remarkable, this whole thing. And I couldn’t be prouder to say this place is my home.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
When I first met Amber at a work event, I’m ashamed to admit I felt slightly intimidated by her. This beautiful, well-turned out girl who was definitely far too cool for me with my day old, melted-off face of make-up, scruffy hair and not so great dress sense.
I imagined we were worlds apart… Turns out I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Because despite not having known Amber all that long, it’s become very clear that this girl belongs very firmly in my ‘tribe’. Because she just gets it. She gets me. Our thoughts on life, who we are now and who we want to be, align in so many ways. We’re both grappling with out sense of self, striving to become our better selves; to become more than we are now.
And that feeling, that feeling of finding someone living life to the same beat as you – with the…
I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself the past few days. I guess it’s a little mixture of winter germs infecting my tired body, missing family and friends and realising this will be my first christmas “alone” in three years. I feel like an absolute fool for saying it (because come on, I’ve finally got everything I’ve always wanted) but I can’t help it. These sad, draining winter blues have come out in full force.
I think as well (despite already making new friends since I’ve been here), I find myself starting to feel lonely rather than just alone. I’m so used to being fully integrated into the community, knowing everything that’s happening, who’s doing it, where’s the place to be and when. Now I am this outsider, going along with my own business and then desperately trying to break my way in to that circle. My number one New Year’s Resolution is going to be to change that. I’m in Italy for Christ’s sake, I want to feel Italian. That means embracing the language, having more Italian friends, joining classes, going to see Italian films… but more on that another day.
But this isn’t going to be a post where I just moan about things that I can totally change. Nuh uh, I’m going to follow the trend and pull out my gratitude list for the week. Because come on, there’s so much more to be thankful for in life than weepy about.
1. Serial – OH MY GOD. Have you ever become so obsessed with something it is literally all you can think about? Yeah, that. I was only introduced to Serial a week ago (yet somehow found the time to bring myself up to speed ready for today’s finale) but I can honestly say it has taken over my life. I narrate everything in Sarah Koenig’s voice, I am constantly running through every single possibility in my mind, I research the case outside of the podcast. I mean, I can’t even… did he do it? Is he innocent? I DON’T THINK WE’LL EVER KNOW! But for real, walking around Florence with my headphones in listening to this intoxicating story is just the best ever thing.
2. Good food and the absence of men – Yeah, these two have to go hand in hand. As y’all have worked out by now, I am loving the food here. Love love loving it. I’ve never eaten so much in my whole life and I just don’t even care. When something tastes so damn good, how can you limit yourself? Luckily, I have no one to impress and my wardrobe pretty much consists of shift dresses and baggy jumpers SO who cares if there’s a bit more cushion for the pushin?
3. My job – I count myself lucky every single day that I have come here and secured the job that I have. I was always intending on coming here just to teach, but then I saw this job and it just encompassed everything I love in life. It’s exciting, I am so incredibly supported and it is teaching me so much.
4. Fleur – Fleur and I have only been friends for about a year… maybe a little longer if you include the press nights I used to go to before I started at WNO. But she gets me. She really, really gets me. And I get her. No matter what the other person is going through, the other person will be feeling it too. I can email her something ridiculous like “Ah I just don’t know, I’ve been feeling kinda like… I can’t explain. But it’s making me like… oh I don’t know” and she’ll reply “OH MY GOD ME TOO!” Fleur makes me want to be a better person. We encourage the best in one another, and I think we guide eachother to the people we really, really want to be. I’ve told her things I’ve never really admitted to myself, sent her work that I’d always been too scared to write. Basically, if she was a man I would TOTALLY marry her (sorry if that’s kinda weird Fleur).
5. I am being reunited with my family in a week – This one’s funny really. Back “home” I would be away from my family for months at a time… and I’d always be excited to see them, sure. But actually, I’ve only been away for three weeks (four when I get home… ish). But jesus, I can’t wait to see them. And I’ll be home for two weeks… that’s like the most time i’ve been home in years! Plus it’s the perfect amount of time to cwtch up with all my home comforts before feeling ready to come back and totally throw myself back into the Italian Life.
Someone I haven’t known all that long, but whom I would class as a very good friend, has just done something crazy. Amazing. Terrifying. Admirable. Brave. She has left the place she knows, where her friends are, where she had a fabulous job, where she called home, to live in a city she’d never visited, in a country she’d never been to, where they speak a language she doesn’t know. She’s young and has her whole life ahead of her, and I absolutely love how she is walking her own path instead of waiting for one to appear in front of her. She was at a crossroads and instead of playing it safe or choosing the easy way, she is doing something incredible. I’m jealous. I’m sad too.
It’s not often you meet someone you think you really relate to. Someone with lots of common interests. Someone you enjoy…
So just over a week ago I graciously turned the glorious age of 23. I celebrated this joyous occasion in true, sophisticated adult style lol jk I spent it downing gin and being the drunkest prinny there ever was.
But really, whilst I started 23 by screaming at the top of my lungs “nobody likes you when you’re tweeeeeeeenty-threeeee” with tears rolling down my tired face, the reality is this is shaping up to be a pretty delightful year already.
I spent the morning of my twenty third anniversary of birth writing the things I’d been grateful for in the year previous. The first attempt didn’t result in much. I mean, I can’t help but associate the past year with heartache and turmoil. Anyone that knows me will know it hasn’t been the easiest year, to put it bluntly.
Yet, on reflection, these amazing moments and experiences started to come to the service. I’ve spent 22 working in one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world and worked with some seriously exciting clients. I’ve made brand new friends for life (whom have managed to bring joy to my world every damn day). My darling sister married the love of her life (and I was maid of honour) and found out she was expecting not one baby, but two (finding that out was the best moment of my life, period). I finally felt young again, and totally let go of all my inhibitions (mostly ending in fairly dramatic results) whilst having the most fun I’ve had in years. I started writing again, giving me that feeling of utter tranquility I so desperately crave. And (perhaps most ridiculous of all) I was offered an incredible job in Italy.
Really, it hasn’t been all that bad!
What about 23 – what do I want for this year?
I’d been meaning to post this long before now (but, ya know, my laptop has decided to pass on to pastures new and I’ve been kinda busy moving to Florence and all); my top 23 aims for 23. Things to do, rules to live by… basically the steps I need to take towards making 23 the best year yet.
1. Go headfirst into the Italian adventure and make the most of every moment.
2. Say YES more and stop being such a lazy git (even though sleep feels so, so good right now).
3. Stay true to myself, even if the Italians do think I’m a Disney loving psycho.
4. Start writing fiction again – either short stories or a novel.
5. Dedicate more time to the blog (once my god forsaken laptop comes back to life) and try to grow it as much as possible.
6. LEARN ITALIAN!!!!!
7. Start getting fit again – pregnant whale ain’t a good look hun.
8. Know Florence like the back of your hand so you can say stuff like “Oh you just HAVE to try the aperitivo in this place!”
9. Visit the cities outside of Florence.
10. Start dancing again.
11. Be the coolest damn Auntie in the whole world.
12. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable – you don’t have to have all the answers now.
13. Let the barriers down and stop being such a hard faced bitch.
14. But equally, never settle for less than what you deserve.
15. Find ways to deal with stress and adopt the care-free attitude of your new home.
16. Start freelance work for an Italian site or publication in your spare time – write, write and write some more!
17. Take photos of EVERYTHING. In years to come you will want to look back on every single magical moment you experienced here.
18. Buy a baby blue bike with a wicker basket and cycle around like the cutest monkey in all of Florence (plus working dat ass – win win).
19. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to make new friends – form a strong social network.
20. Find the best gelato, pizza and truffles in the city and treat yourself with their sweet, sweet goodness.
21. Read every single night for at least an hour – get that creative mind going baby.
22. Send regular updates back home and keep in touch at least once a week – you’re lucky to have such an incredible family. Never forget that.
23. Remember that you’re only human – if things don’t work out how you want them to in life, it really isn’t the end of the world. Embrace the chaos.