After a month of self-imposed isolation in the hills around a Tuscan Castle, I got off a bus and stepped onto a street clogged by construction and full of giant buses, Italian cars and mopeds. It was a jarring welcome back to the real world. That “real world,” however, only lasted for as long as it took me to walk to the end of the block and cross the street.

From there the roads began to narrow and branch out into a web, with both busy thoroughfares connecting the city’s many squares and a lattice of winding alleys stringing between them. On those littler avenues you might find a sleepy barber shop or little produce stand, but more often than not they were empty. Just the occasional local stepping out of their apartment building and getting on beat-up moped. Their sputtering engine only briefly severing the otherwise near total silence—silence in the middle of one of the most visited cities in Europe.

There was also chaos: around the Duomo, in front of the replica of David, in the seeming endless lines for one museum or another. Tourists like me daily occupy the city. We’re distracted by pretty bridges, street performers and the smell of Italian cooking. We are the audience to a perfected performance and trying to see it all before the curtains close.

On some piazza near the river, however, a church loomed over me and a city which bustled around it. Buses and scooters, business people and students, all with places to go, leaving only the tourists aimless enough to stop and look up.

Those were the moments I looked for on this, my second visit to Florence. I did visit the Uffizi gallery and enter the Duomo, neither of which I had done previously. Photos of those:

The major sights aside, what I enjoyed most was wandering the fringe of the historic city.

Up on a hill, I found a place my family had recommended. An overlook that gazed over the entirety of Florence. They’d watched the sunset from here, but I had arrived at midday.

I appreciated the view, but, not feeling like going the way I’d come, I set out in the opposite direction, away from the city. The street next to which I walked meandered gently on the ridge of the hill, lined by wide old trees and charming houses. I walked for a while, until I realized I was headed away from any other connections to the lower city. I started to turn around, but in the process spotted an intriguing side street.

I know I’ve written about it before, for sure in one of my exchange posts about Prague, but I have a certain philosophy when it comes to exploring a new place. I amble into intersections with no strong feelings about which way I’d like to go, then let the slightest whim guide me one way or another.

In this case, an Italian-car-sized path climbed between two houses further up the hill than I knew I could go. I followed it through a neighborhood quietly alive with the sounds of kids playing in some nearby schoolyard and the birds singing in a park where the road concluded.

It wasn’t just a park, though. Paths crossed the grass and the hedges towards the walls of a church, walls that held one of the most amazing cemeteries I’ve ever visited.

Cimitero delle Porte Sante

Though it doesn’t boast the long history of many famous European cemeteries, Cimitero delle Porte Sante was founded in 1848 and it is absolutely full of spectacular headstones. Many are still diligently cared for and decorated with bouquets and candles. (A tendency I’ve often noticed in countries more Catholic than Protestant.)

I wandered the cemetery and its surroundings until close to sunset, ending up in the grass of a rose garden with my notebook in my lap. Once the sun had set and the park had closed, I headed back through the city. I took my time getting to the hostel, savoring the city during my last night there and my last night in Italy.

To be honest, Italy isn’t the part of Europe I dream of when I’m away. So far that credit goes to the north and the east, like Slovakia, Finland and the Netherlands. That said, there is something irresistibly romantic about its haphazard cities, effusion of art, and all those scattered gardens. On the colder days of this past winter, I’ve missed the feeling of the sunset on my face that last Florentine evening and the hikes I took amid the Tuscan hills.



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