As I sip away at my morning Brazilian brew, contemplating on the various deadlines I have this coming week, suddenly the delicate scent of coffee hits my palate. The sensation is overwhelming, and I can no longer see the piles of essays and reading lists on my desk. The Oxonian reality fades away and my mind drifts elsewhere: where is this place; so familiar, yet so distant?
And the next moment, the memory revealed itself – Florence.
I remember well how cold it was that morning. Wrapped up in scarf and gloves, I arrived in Florence, ready to embark on a two-week intensive Italian course. As an ab-initio Italian student, Michaelmas’ classes provided me with the basics to get by. They did not, however, equip me with the linguistic competency to raise the issue with the stout, scary landlady about the sulphuric stench from the water pipes, or complain about the lack of Internet connection in my apartment. Great, I thought, these two weeks were going to be ‘hell’ (‘scuse the very bad Dante pun).
But that was not true at all. For the fortnight to come, the city proved to be a real blast. I loved walking the cobbled streets of Florence, wonderfully decorated with festive Christmas lights. We did all the tourist staples: walked around Giardini di Boboli and posed as bathing gods/ goddesses next to the statue of a tub, posed with the bronze boob lady, took group photos at the top of which the whole of Florence can be seen, visited the Galeria degli Uffizi, walked around the duomo, took numerous photos of it from each and every angle possible, became addicted to Crostatine…
Beyond this, we found lots of eccentric little places, from the hipster bar called “B-Bop” not far from the duomo, to an artisan Venetian mask-maker’s workshop. The bookstores we discovered were like nothing I had seen before. One of the most memorable was a tiny store run by a man called Roberto, just off Via Ginori. Aside from the few shelves in this ‘bookshop,’ the volumes were piled on top of each other so high that they formed a maze. Some were taller than a person, and we had to be careful not to knock them and crush other unsuspecting customers. The best thing was being able to haggle, giving the place an intimate, personal feel. Despite my meagre range of vocabulary, I managed to bargain a monolingual dictionary down to just €10. It’s quirky places like these that really made Florence special for me.
Walking the cobbled streets of Florence, wonderfully decorated with festive Christmas lights
Our mission was to try out every single gelateria in town. On one of the days, I single-handedly managed eight cups of ice cream. I don’t even regret it. Not one single bit. Amongst our favourites were La Carraia and Grom. The former, situated just off the Ponte alla Carraia (very close to the Ponte Vecchio), makes the most scrumptious ice cream ever. The pricing, too, was reasonable for the quality of gelato – €2.50 for a cup.
The other students and I went out on the last night to celebrate. After the fortnight of Florentine Steak, pasta, pizza and more pizza, we thought we should try out some other cuisine. Unbeknownst to me at the time, whilst I was merrily celebrating away, sipping yet another glass followed by a couple of pints of Peroni, a few miles away from Florence my flight was taking off. It would not be until late that evening around 1am when I eventually got back to my apartment and started packing did I realise…
Stranded in a foreign land days before Christmas – I’d be lucky to get out! To this day, only a handful of good friends know about this folly.
Especially as the Fifth Week Blues come crashing on us, it’s nice to remember that whatever elitist Oxford commitments we have, there is a magical world out there to be explored. What would I not give to forget about this monotonous grammar worksheet and this week’s 6-page vocabulary list to go back to the “Bel Paese” right now for a cup of coffee! One can only dream…