Florence Italy: A Love Affair Continues

view from Ponte Vecchio

The view from the Ponte Vecchio of the Oltrarno, where I spent almost 2 months in 1995 & 1996, and the Ponte Santa Trinita, which I crossed every day

Florence has been on my mind A LOT lately because I will be there in a week from now. This upcoming trip is a very big deal for me because, you see, Florence is not just any historic city to me. It is much more than that…

I first went to Europe when I was 16. I visited my father, who was living in Naples, Italy, at Christmas and traveled around Italy with him. It was so long ago, and, being a teenager, I was not really a great traveler yet, but I still vividly remember walking into the Piazza della Signoria at night and seeing the statues that line the Palazzo Vecchio and being completely in wonder. Even though I knew nothing about the history behind the piazza or its art, I was struck by the power and beauty of that place. That was the beginning of my love affair with Florence.

florence at night

Five years later, I went to Florence again, this time to take a month-long study abroad course in the Italian Renaissance as part of my coursework in art history. The experience could not have been more perfect. I sat outside on the Ponte Vecchio and watched the river at night. I walked the city’s streets alone every day, making my own sense of home there. I saw just about every art work in the city.

Santa Maria Novella

Me, thrilled to be standing outside Santa Maria Novella

I had studied the city’s landmarks in my art history courses back in Minnesota and was ecstatic about visiting them in person, in the way only an art history lover would be. I still remember how excited I was to see Santa Maria Novella for the first time. To me, these were places where important things had happened (things that were meaningful to me) and where treasures like Ghirlandaio frescoes were housed–not just old churches to visit because the guidebook says so.

Because it was winter, most sights were empty of tourists; I felt like I was able to see the real Florence, and I loved it. I left feeling changed, knowing that Europe would become a part of my life somehow.

Study in Florence, Italy

Monica and I spent a lot of time exploring Florence’s nooks and crannies

Exactly one year later I was back in Florence again, this time to accompany a good friend for her month-long independent study on the work of early Renaissance painter and architect Giotto. It was January and it rained a lot, but this time Florence became like a second home, with daily trips to the markets and cafés, long walks, and slow evenings reading or making Italian friends.

I left feeling reassured that I still loved the city, but, due to a lack of purpose in my visit, I was, in a way, ready to move on. And I did–I soon fell deeply in love with Prague and the Czech Republic.

Vltava Prague

Prague also captured my heart.

One and half years later, I visited Florence with my best friend (who was also my roommate in the Czech Republic). It was summer, and I saw a very different Florence. The streets were busy, artists were out reproducing masterpieces on the streets, and tourists were huddled everywhere. We enjoyed it, but the Florence that I had loved, with the smell of roasting chestnuts and places full of Florentines, not tourists, was hard to find.

Florence view

I still loved Florence in the summer, but I much prefer it in the more quiet winter.

I haven’t been back since, not because I don’t want to go or because I have forgotten about Florence. Indeed the opposite is true. However, after that last visit to Florence, my life as an expat in Europe ended: I went to graduate school, fell in love, got a couple of good teaching positions, and spent most vacations traveling to Brazil with my husband. We have gone to Europe together, but just once and didn’t make it to Italy on that trip.

Brazil landscapes

Over the last decade, Brazil has practically become a second home.

For me, Florence is the unrequited love of my young adulthood. I hang on to those memories to keep my connection to the city alive. I walk its streets in my mind. I write about its art. I watch documentaries and read books about Florence. When someone speaks a bad word about Florence or minimizes my love for the city, I jump to its defense. But is this realistic? Are these silly daydreams of something unimportant and disconnected from my present reality? Maybe, but the world is so small now that I can be back in Florence in about 18 hours. In fact, that’s exactly what I will do next weekend.

Will I still love Florence now that I have been to many other places and have grown up?

I think I will.

Please stay tuned for my upcoming post about why I am going to Florence and what I will be doing there.

Images are mine and from Wikimedia.


  • Very evocative post, Jenna. I too love Italy (and Florence) in the winter. I look forward to posts on your upcoming trip; have a great time and take lots of pics for us!

    • Jenna says:

      Glad to hear of someone else who loves Italy in the winter. I know the weather is not the best then, but really, the difference in the crowds and atmosphere is so big. I don’t think I saw tourists in San Gimignano or Assisi when I was there in January!

  • H-Bomb says:

    A beautifully written post, Jenna. I too discovered Firenze at a young age. Well, relatively young, anyway, in my case; I was 23 and was spending a few weeks Eurailing around the continent after the conclusion of a summer law study program in London and Salzburg. But I was a philistine in those days and didn’t fully appreciate the city’s rich artistic heritage or the significance and background of the magnificent sights like Brunelleschi’s dome and Ghiberti’s Doors (I hadn’t studied art history at university and had to catch up later); and so I hope I’ll be able to get back before I’m like really old and decrepit. In the meantime, I will look forward to seeing Firenze through your eyes next week!

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for your nice comment. I also did some extended travel around Europe when I was about that age. It was a great experience for me, as I’m sure it was for you. Studying in London and Salzburg? How lucky were you?!

      • H-Bomb says:

        Yeah, it was a fabulous opportunity. It can be hard to get a good summer job between your first and second years of law school (most of the plum summer associate positions are offered to incoming 3L’s), so I didn’t even try; I decided to give myself the junior year abroad that i’d never had. This was only a summer program, consisting of two three-week sessions (one each in London and Salzburg), but it was still an amazing trip. And I spent enough time in each city that it really felt like living in that city. Plus, my course in Salzburg was co-taught by Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, which was pretty cool in and of itself. That summer really helped firm up my lifelong love of travel, although it’s only been in the last 8 or 9 years that I’ve really been able to travel overseas on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, the 9 weeks of that Eurotrip in 1993 still ranks as, by far, the longest time I’ve been abroad. I do hope to be able to take another trip of equal or greater length someday.

  • Very excited about your upcoming trip to Florence! I was there a few years ago and would love to go back. I know how much you love art and how much this trip means to you. I love that photo of Prague. I can’t wait to go back to Europe but am happy that you get a chance to go back to a place you fell in love with.

  • Leah Travels says:

    I knew that you loved Florence, but I didn’t know the history. Wow…it is very meaningful. No wonder you had such wonderful advice for me. I’ll see you soon. Safe travels. 🙂

  • Andrea says:

    Love the first photo of the Ponte Santa Trinita! Hope you enjoy your return to Florence and it lives up to your memories.

  • I recognize the emotions. It’s amazing how your life gets divided into before, after and between travels. Looking forward to the next chapter.

  • Dad says:

    Jenna, So pleased to see you returning to Florence more than 20 years since our visit there together. I fondly recall your total amazement with the city, its art, history, food and the people. Who knew that first visit would be such a significant factor in your life. Enjoy this visit. I hope your perspective from Florence 20+ years ago rings true today.

  • It is the best time to visit Florence, Jenna! No matter what the weather is that city never looks gray! Wrap up, wear a water-proof coat and enjoy your long walks. It has always been off-peak season, without the maddening crowds, that I enjoyed Florence the most.

  • I have heard so many things about Florence.. someone liked it, someone did not. So I am still hesitating. I will be curious reading about your impressions 🙂

  • Ayngelina says:

    Florence is one of my favourite cities as well, I have been there twice and I am sure I will be there many more times.

  • Bonnie Marie says:

    Bellissimo! So great to see so many Florence lovers ♡
    My story is almost identical to yours Jenna, just twenty years earlier – haha! My Dad, a USAF Colonel, was stationed in Naples for four years and though we moved from our Potomac-side home in the woods reluctantly, we were immediately addicted to the Italian lifestyle – which of course means FOOD!
    I’ve lived in Rome and Sardinia before spending the last 10 years in Florence. I just can’t kick the Italy habit … but who wants to!
    So cool I’ll be meeting you next week!
    Buon viaggio 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Bonnie. My dad was also stationed in Naples with the military. I would love to hear more about your time living in Italy.

  • Alexandra - TeamFlorens says:

    And I can’t wait to meet you when you arrive!!!

  • What an inspiring article my friend and your photographs are stunning…especially the Palazzo Vechhio at night. Wow! As you know, I am so thrilled for you and excited that you won one of the coveted positions on Team Florenz! I wish you nothing but all the success in the world while you’re there and hope you have the time of your life! Congratulations once again my Renaissance BFF!!!

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Jeff. I wish I could take credit for the Palazzo Vecchio photo, but (as I mentioned briefly at the very bottom of the post…), all the photos are from Wikimedia. I did not have a digital camera when I was there last.

  • have a wonderful trip, I cant wait to hear about it.
    I find every trip back to Italy is different – it changes as I change. I try to go with few expectations….and embrace my changing relationship with this county that changed my life in many ways, as it did yours.
    have a blast!

  • Nattie says:

    Oh that looks so beautiful. I’ve always wanted to visit Italy.

    Natalya @ Ruff House Art

  • Stephen says:

    Yeah, Florence is just one of these places that remains beautiful even though it’s crushed with tourists most of the year.

    • Jenna says:

      Agreed. And with some creativity and research, travelers can avoid those areas that are extra crushed with tourists.

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