Last week I flew with Ibby to Rome and then caught a train to Florence where Ibby will be studying art, art history and Italian for a month or two as part one of her “Wanderjahr.”
[A note on terminology. I love the framing implied by that term wanderjahr, meaning “wander year” and brought to my attention by Brook. It is infinitely better than that of the more common but self-defeating “gap year.” A “gap year” is what you take when you want to just drop out for a year before university. A wander-year means new pathways, different vistas and adventure; a gap year means drinks at the bar, working on your ping-pong game and catching up on Netflix series before you inevitably return, unchanged, to your duties.]
In Florence we spent our first day zipping from one possible flat share to another, then visited the art academy and the language institute so that Ibby could register, then visited an art-supply store for pencils, paints, brushes and notebooks. The listing services that offer student accomodation and flat shares (such as Erasmus) don’t make it easy: they won’t allow you to meet your potential roommates, don’t know and won’t ask about vaccination status, and won’t (in most cases) even share exact locations. We did manage to sniff out one location, though, for a single room in an apartment occupied by a mother and daughter. It was beside a community garden and across from a nice hotel, just five minutes from the art academy. Ibby put in a booking request and we waited to hear if it was accepted.
And while we waited we did some walking around. It was September, and Covid was not over, but the streets and monuments were crowded with tourists and with the many wandering packs of university students, newly arrived for a semester abroad and proudly wearing their Florida State (or whatever) t-shirts and baseball hats. We didn’t want to wait in the queue for the Duomo or the Academia, but we did make many passes by them. Here’s Ibby in the Piazza del Duomo. The squat octagonal building on the left is the Baptistery of San Giovanni, which has famous bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Andreas Pisano.
Our own short-term rental apartment was not too far away, in an old stone tower from approximately the 16th century. It had thick walls and vaulted ceilings, but with a modern kitchen and bathrooms. Below are photos showing an interior wall and part of the living room, the tower as seen from the piazza and the view of the piazza from our front door.
We also visited the Boboli Gardens, which is the name for the very large private park that the Medici family built behind their palace, known as Pitti Palace. The gardens were begun around 1550 with work continuing until early 1600, and in 1766 they were opened to the public. They extend up the front and down the back side of a hill that rises up behind the Palace, and they feature formal areas, “wild” areas, fountains, lakes, statuary, topiary, and — of course — a few grottos.
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed into the Palace or any other museums or churches, because my vaccination QR code wasn’t showing as valid. In Florence, entry into any public indoor space requires proof of vaccination through a “green pass,” which consists of a QR code that the propriertor or ticket-taker scans to approve or deny entry. Ibby’s Spanish QR code was displaying green; mine was showing red. So we did more walking. Down the streets, across the Arno and up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a lookout over the city.
[Update: Ibby encountered her first faked green pass, held by a Ukrainian anti-vaxxer who is also taking classes. Apparently it’s not too difficult to procure these fake IDs.]
We also ate one meal at each of the four restaurants on “our” piazza. At the first one, on the first night, we had Florentine steak, which traditionally comes from an old breed of Tuscan cattle called the Chianina, known for their very flavorful meat. (Probably not known to each other that way.) And we learned right then and there how strongly some Italians hold to the belief that the very thick-cut Florentine steak must be cooked rare, with just a few minutes per side on the grill over high heat to establish a nice caramelized crust. Buon Appetito!
On Saturday night we had good news: Ibby’s flat share offer was accepted! We went to see the place on Monday and it was pleasant. Nicely furnished and airy, with lots of light. Ibby moved in on Monday and started classes. And then — way too soon for me — it was time to leave Ibby and return to Barcelona. Here’s a photo from my last-morning walk past Santa Croce.
Arrivederci Florence! A presto Ibby!