While yes, I am a ‘Girl in Florence’ the truth is I am most certainly not the only girl in florence. There are so many cool chicks doing really interesting things in this town, whether it be blogging, tour guiding, instagramming, teaching, I am constantly inspired by the women that I meet who are making it happen, each in their own way. The ladies (yes there are two this interview) that I am interviewing today don’t actually live in Florence but their hearts remain somewhere between the Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens and your neighborhood wine bar, needless to say that love this place. Hannah and Meg are two ‘girls who love Florence’ and blog about it on Florence For Free, a really fabulous resource for those looking to spend less and see more or as I like to say ‘rich in culture, poor in bs’.
name: Meg |nationality: American | profession: Copywriter | favorite drink: Prosecco
name: Hannah | nationality: American | profession: Brand Research Project Manager | favorite drink: cappuccino from Robigli
Where are you both from originally and what is your relationship with Florence/Italy?
M: I’m originally from Buffalo, NY. I first met Florence while doing a study abroad program in Parma—we started the semester with three weeks of art history study in Firenze. Safe to say, I couldn’t shake the Italy bug, so when I learned about the Masters in Art History at Syracuse University Florence, I knew it was something I wanted to do.
H: Growing up in Kansas City I am a Midwest girl through and through. However, my heart found its second home during a family vacation to Europe when I was 16. Foreign country, foreign language, foreign culture, yet somehow I felt like I had come home. Ever since I’ve looked for every reason to return, from my summer abroad in Florence and Rome, to my year and a half abroad in Florence, to frequent return trips to Italy simply make sure it’s all still there.
Would you ever live here? Why or why not?
M: I would certainly live there (again)! Florence feels like home, like family, in the sense that there are some inexplicable things about it that drive you crazy, but you could never shake the love you have for it. Plus, what it unnerves you with red tape, it makes up for it with unending beauty, delicious food, lots of sunshine and strong Negronis.
H: Absolutely! The best years of my life were spent in Italy and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Why? Pear pasta, sunset at San Miniato, dogs in department stores, Botticelli’s in candle lit churches, bus #7 to Fiesole. Shall I go on? Every single day that I lived in Florence, even on the most stressful or frustrating, she never once failed to take my breath away. Living in Florence makes it impossible to not be grateful for each day.
You guys started a wonderful blog, Florence for Free, tell me about how that came about.
M: It was something we talked about during many of our long-distance walks along the city (many of which are now featured on our site!). As grad students, we didn’t have a lot of spending money, so we were always on the hunt for free activities around town. Luckily, Florence is FULL of free things to do—the hard part was finding where and when. We couldn’t believe there wasn’t a resource cataloging them all yet, so we started one ourselves.
H: What Meg said! We believe in the right to see the world, and we want to do our part in making that a more practical option for students, families, and travel hungry souls who are working with a tight budget. We’ve been there!
What annoys you about Florence? Tell me the truth!
M: While living there, I would say that Florence felt a bit like Disneyland for adults—right down to the actual Disney store on Via Calzaiuoli! In the time I’ve been back since, it’s been great to see new restaurants, shops and neighborhoods find a loyal following that are outside the Florentine tourist track. Florence is starting to feel more dynamic, rather than the ultimate Renaissance fair.
H: No brown sugar or vanilla extract at the grocery store. How’s a girl supposed to bake cookies!
Meg my first thought was of the famous ‘Renaissance fairs’ you can often find in the states, it just doesn’t compare – does it? Do you think life in Italy is for everyone?
M: Definitely not! If I’m honest, sometimes I openly wonder if it’s for me. Ultimately I always say yes, but I think it’s a good process to go through. If you want to live in Italy, I think you have to be honest about its shortcomings as well as its beauty. Like any relationship, the honeymoon period will wear off, and you have to ask yourself if you were in love with the façade or ready to commit, warts and all!
H: Meg said it best! Life in Italy presents a unique set of challenges. Living in Italy is hopping on a rollercoaster, holding on tight, and accepting that you’re not always in control. If you’re not into that kind of thing, Italy probably isn’t for you.
What advice would you give a newbie looking to move to Florence?
M: Be prepared not to have things happen according to your schedule. If you want to be there, know you’re arriving on Florence’s terms. Many people want to move there for the slower pace of life, but get frustrated when that also applies to bureaucratic lines, slow mail, and so forth. To make it work, be as prepared as possible, but expect the unexpected. Don’t worry, it’s worth it!
H: In addition to Meg’s advice – download Skype, keep a stash of your favorite snack from home on hand (you’ll need it), and always carry change (Florentines like exact payments).
M: Listen to Hannah—she’s much more practical!
Three finds/places everyone should know about in Florence or Rome?
M: When in Florence: visit Chiostro dello scalzo for a bit of unusual and beautiful art history, have a spritz al fresco at Volume in Palazzo Santo Spirito, and take our Castle Hike from Settignano to Fiesole for the fresh air and amazing views.
H: When in Rome: Watch the sunset from the Orange Garden on the Avventino, grab a street table at Da Francesco to dine like a true Roman, and find yourself in Bernini and Caravaggio heaven at the lovely Borghese Gallery.
Great advice! What’s the weirdest thing you have seen/experienced in Italy?
M: Both have included pigeons—one flew into my face in Piazza San Marco (Hannah and half the neighborhood were witnesses!), and another time one flew in through my bathroom window while I was taking a shower. We both walked out of the bathroom together, and then he flew out the patio door. Everyone says they won’t touch you, but I know otherwise.
H: The only thing weirder than watching that pigeon wing flap against the side of Meg’s face (incidentally the biggest pigeon-phobe I know), was the time Silvio Berlusconi introduced himself to me at a parade in Rome. No one should ever wear that much make-up, let alone a 72-year-old man.
Pigeon wing flap should be a local ring tone! :D, and Hannah I really cannot believe you met the Berlucrony oh I mean Berlusconi?! How have you kept this from me! What can you do here and nowhere else?
M: Enjoy life with this amount of leisure—the best of art, food and wine are at your fingertips in the midst of a walkable community. So the next time the bank is closed when you are trying to run an errand, try to take it as a gift from Italy to enjoy life instead!
H: You can see works of art from all four Ninja Turtles in one day: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. Hey, you can even go visit Michelangelo and Donatello’s burial sites if you get really into it.
The Ninja Turle Reference is ACE! You can’t leave Italy without doing (seeing) _______
M: Taking a train ride—seriously! There are so many different types of people and conversations on the train, and one of the best ways to see Italy is on the rails from a window seat. Plus, navigating an Italian train station is definitely an “authentic” experience worth having.
H: At some point during our stay in Italy, it became a tradition to take our visitors to ride the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica on the last night of their stays. Eventually, that tradition translated to us as we became the visitors. Perhaps good old Florentine superstition has rubbed off of me, but I refuse to leave Florence without a ride on that carousel first.
Italy is full of amazing food, what is your favorite dish and foodie hideaway?
M: One of my favorite things to do in Florence was to head to i’Mangiarino for a giant charcuterie platter and a carafe of red wine. Then, I would spend the next 2 hours eating meats and cheeses, half of which I didn’t even know what they were. Surprisingly, this spot is smack-dab in city center, but any time I visited it seemed to be mostly Italians dining. Pretty much every problem disappeared after a visit there.
H: Trattoria 4 Leoni is always at the top of my culinary to-do list when in Florence. I’m going to have to bend the rules on this question, Georgette, because I simply cannot pick just one dish. Instead, my favorite meal from 4 Leoni – faggotini (pear-filled pasta in a light pecorino sauce), bistecca fiorentina, and ricotta cheesecake for dessert.
For Italy lover’s like yourselves, what would you recommend art/culture/foodwise in the states, especially where you both reside?
M: I’m lucky that there’s an amazing small museum a few blocks from my house—the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD—that is not shy about its admiration for Italian culture. The building was built after a palazzo in Genoa, and it has an incredible collection of Florentine and Italian art (and it’s free! notice a trend?). Seeing the art in person and picturing where it originated makes me feel closer to Florence—so as you can imagine, I’m there quite often. For food, it’s actually pretty excellent having an “excuse” to try out every Italian restaurant in town to find the most authentic one. Finally, seek out Italian language lessons—not only will you get better at la bella lingua, but you’ll meet others who share your interest in Italy.
H: I love bragging about my very under-rated hometown! Kansas City, what most of the world considers a cow town, is actually a vibrant center for culture and the arts. Culturally, KC is known as the home to jazz, barbeque, and Harry Truman. However, it comes as no surprise that my favorite spot in the city is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The encyclopedia museum includes everything from the Romans to Rubens. If the sun is out, enjoy the sprawling lawn among the larger-than-life shuttlecocks that create a giant’s game of badminton with the neoclassical museum as the net. Obviously all that “museum-ing” will work up an appetite, making now a good time to hit up some world-class KC BBQ. If you can handle the lines, the half-gas station, half-BBQ joint Kansas City Joe’s is my personal favorite.
Ok I wasn’t quiet done. If you had to make up a tagline for the city of Florence according to Hannah and Meg, what would it be?
M: “Florence: There’s more beauty than meets the eye.”
H: “Live like the Medici or die trying.”
M: Ha, Hannah wins! Although I could do without all the murder plots—I prefer to only read about those. Thanks for having us, Georgette!