If you know me (or just follow me on social media), you’ll know that I spent the last month studying at the European Institute of Design in Florence, Italy. I’ve met so many amazing people, visited new and exciting places, learned all about the fashion history of Italy and how it connects to today’s media culture, and eaten SO much pizza and pasta.
So now, with my final piece of actual Italian pizza sitting next to me, let me share with you some of my newly-found wisdom.
I missed home. A lot.
Obviously I had anticipated being homesick, but you just don’t really get it until you experience it. Maybe it was the lack of my mum’s home-cooked dinners, or not having a fridge, or it could’ve been the fact that my single bed was too short and my feet stuck out off the end. Things that wouldn’t seem like a big deal at home felt like the end of the world when I was halfway across the globe. I wasn’t homesick everyday, of course, but when I was, I was.
But I found that cooping myself up in my room and watching Netflix all day (and I mean all day) was less of an antidote and more of a perpetuator. Getting outside, taking a walk, seeing some new sights (or revisiting some old ones), hanging out with friends, and going out to eat was truly the best cure for homesickness, as hard as it was to motivate myself to do those things.
The best places aren’t found on TripAdvisor.
Sometimes it’s good to have a plan. Taking a step outside your hotel and wandering around for 3 hours isn’t always the best way to find a place for dinner or a grocery store or a museum. But every now and then, it is. It’s definitely daunting being in a new city with unfamiliar streets and restaurants and ways of doing things. But some of the best places we found were completely accidental. Here’s a recommendation: if you’re ever in Florence, Simbiosi is an absolute MUST for pasta.
We set out one night to eat at a restaurant on the same street as Simbiosi (via de Ginori, in case you’re wondering), but found that the restaurant that we had intended to go was closed. We kept walking along the street, willing to go into the next place that was serving food—it happened to be Simbiosi. As soon as we walked in, the smell of garlic hit me square in the face (in the best way possible, of course). The decor and music were to die for. But the pasta was the real icing on the cake. Let me tell you one thing—any place with more than just one or two vegetarian/vegan options is a win in my book. This place had about five! And all of them were just as incredible as each other; the dessert that comes after (or before, if that’s your thing) is just as amazing.
Restaurants, cafes, boutiques, lookouts over the city, and even quaint little flower shops often can’t be found on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Venture out of your room, pick a direction, and just start walking.
Florence eats shoes.
I knew I’d be walking a lot in Florence, but at the same time I really had no idea. My footwear options were limited since I went for style over comfort while packing. I took 2 pairs of heeled ankle boots, a pair of tall heeled boots, and my Adidas Superstars. By the end of the first week, my brown ankle boots looked about 5 years older than they had looked at the beginning of my trip. My black leather ankle boots had the sole detaching from the rest of the shoe by the time it came to pack for home. The Superstars were comfortable, but really—did I want to be wearing runners with every outfit? And do not even get me started on the tall heeled boots. Florence was not made for high heels—explain yourself, Salvatore Ferragamo. My advice for packing shoes for winter in Florence? Pack COMFORTABLE, flat, shoes that you can still rock with almost any outfit. Flat boots or loafers are ideal.
Travel, travel, travel!
When I first arrived in Florence, I didn’t really have any further travel plans. Since we had class everyday, we only had a couple of weekends available to see new places. But what’s the point of being in Europe for a whole month and staying in just one spot? So we decided we wanted to dedicate our weekends to seeing Italy. Our first trip was to Pisa. It was a quick 45 minutes on the train and tickets were cheap, so why not? As it turns out, Pisa’s only real attraction is the leaning tower. Other than that, there are souvenir markets and Italian restaurants—just like in the rest of Italy; plus, the day we picked was absolutely freezing. But despite those things, the entire trip only took us about 6 hours and it was well worth it.
The second trip we took was to Venice. Visiting Venice (and riding on a gondola!) has always been on my bucket list; despite having been to Italy a couple of times before, I never made my way there. We did this on our final Sunday in Italy so that we could catch a glimpse of Carnevale, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect way to wrap up our trip. After the 2-hour train ride, we wandered the winding streets, trying on masks and wigs and admiring the intricate hand-blown glass baubles and knick knacks. We were surrounded by people dressed up in amazing costumes and elaborate masks. Finally we found ourselves in Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square. It was filled with confetti and tourists and people celebrating Carnevale. From la Piazza, we made our way to a quaint little pasta restaurant tucked into one of the streets and ate the most amazing pasta. After lunch, I finally got to check “gondola ride in Venice” off my bucket list! It was foggy and cold and amazing. Even though we didn’t get time to make it to everything we wanted to, the whole day was everything I imagined and more.