Firenze and Milano: Where Once in a Lifetime Takes on a New Meaning

Before you study abroad, everyone tells you that you should do it because it’s a “once in a lifetime experience.”

I think one of the scariest parts is realizing that it’s true.

“Once in a lifetime” is such a common phrase that its meaning has lost its dramatic effect. I saw some of the most beautiful sights in the world in Florence, where I spent the middle stretch of my spring break, and it’s humbling to think that in however much time I have left on earth I might never get back to see them again.

Maybe I’m too aware of my own mortality, but traveling has also made me realize how much I don’t know and how much I want to understand other cultures.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

So maybe Florence brought out a contemplative side of me, but wait until you see these views. We spent an entire afternoon hiking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo on our second day and admiring how beautiful Florence is.

Amazing.

Amazing.

I got to know Florence in a very fun way: through its food. “Feast your eyes” on a blog post full of food pictures. Italy definitely encourages having both a dinner stomach and a dessert stomach, so who am I not to go along with it?

First pizza in Florence. "Pepperoni"

First pizza in Florence. “Pepperoni”

Aside from satisfying my stomach, Florence also gave me some of the most picturesque landscapes I will ever see. I never realized how much I love green spaces until I moved to a big metropolis.

It’s not a secret that I don’t walk out of my way to throw my recyclables in recycling cans and I’ve never had a desire to spend a night camping outdoors. After using an ancient stairstepper and climbing the 414 steps to the top of the duomo, I was surprised to find that I was most excited by the greenery and hillsides of Florence. There is a sea of yellow-tinted buildings, but they rest against a backdrop of mountains and rolling hillsides. The stuff paintings are made of.

So happy we made it to the top!

So happy we made it to the top!

From the top of the duomo, you can also see rooftop pools, terraces and table settings. Space is clearly at a premium in Florence, which we found out firsthand while lugging our suitcase up five flights of stairs to our hotel room. It’s obvious there’s something that draws people to Florence. It’s big enough to have a city feel, but small enough to cross by foot in 30 minutes.

Selfies from the top of the duomo

Selfies from the top of the duomo

People are also friendly. Men were most often too friendly. I made a “friend” in one of our waiters when he gave me this note.

I think "go to exit" means "go out"

I think “go to exit” means “go out”

We didn’t have much of an agenda in Florence, and I’m finding that as much as I like trying to plan out every aspect of my future, I like the relaxed, unplanned way of traveling. We were able to enjoy the slower continental pace while walking through piazzas, churches and Florence’s famous leather market.

We spent the next day in Milan, which was probably not the best day to go. Besides the fact that it was hailing, it was a Monday, which meant that all of the museums were closed.

Help me, I'm wet.

Help me, I’m wet.

Milan is much more urban than any of the other cities we visited. It has its own underground system and downtown area, but is also home to cathedrals and ancient castles. I think the old castle was my favorite part of the city, proving that once again anything that’s green and ancient is the way to my heart. I do wish the original moat still existed though instead of the current grass.

Once upon a moat

Once upon a moat

View of the castle from afar

View of the castle from afar

Milan fashion week was in its final days, so we saw some of the set-ups where shows were going on. The city also has a three-block shopping area filled with incredibly expensive designer stores. The funny thing is, the stores were the same on every block. All of the window displays were at their prime for fashion week, and I’m sure all of the increased prices reflected the huge number of fashionistas as well.

A show was going on in here!

A show was going on in here!

Milan's Next Top Model

Milan’s Next Top Model

"Check"er them out

“Check”er them out

"Shoes. Oh my God! Shoes. Shoes."

“Shoes. Oh my God! Shoes. Shoes.”

As I mentioned before, we spent our last day in Florence sitting on one of the very hills I had grown to love. It’s no wonder Michelangelo created “David” here.

Obviously very happy to be here

Obviously very happy to be here

The hills are alive!

The hills are alive!

Seeing good ole’ Davy turned out to be harder than I expected. There are probably 40 copies of the David around Florence, but the real one is kept inside its own gallery away from the elements and tourists who want to climb on it and take pictures by its junk.

Fake David (exposed)

Fake David (exposed)

I bought the tickets online through a third party website (you can already see where this story is going) and to make a long story short, they were for the Uffizi Gallery, which houses original paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio and other famous Italian artists, but not the David like the website promised it did.

Shoot.

I’m glad we saw the Uffizi gallery, but it’s not what I was expecting. Claire and I spent the extra 6 Euros to go see David, because I couldn’t stomach leaving Florence without seeing him.

I’m really glad we did go. It’s hard to believe Michelangelo crafted him from a single slab of marble. The tendons in his hands are pronounced and his every muscle is sculpted with intricate detail, but his face, with its calm and grace, has become an iconic symbol worldwide. He’s also massively tall. 17 feet to be exact.

I ended my time in Florence with more great food, of course. Each time I had gelato, I would ecstatically pronounce, “oh this is the best gelato I’ve had by FAR.” I’m very happy to report that this trend continued throughout my entire trip.

Pasta arrabbiata (tomato and chili sauces)

Pasta arrabbiata (tomato and chili sauces)

"Surprise" cake

“Surprise” cake

Bruschette

Bruschette

Best fruity gelato

Best fruity gelato

Cannoli! (They taste the same, except they put apricots in theirs)

Cannoli! (They taste the same, except they put apricots in theirs)

Always thinking of my next scoop

Always thinking of my next scoop

Gnocchi

Gnocchi

Best creamy gelato

Best creamy gelato

Florence was hard to leave, mostly because it was so beautiful and gave me the opportunity to reflect. Seeing things you might never see again is bittersweet. Jane Austen’s house showed me that more than anything else I’ve seen thus far.

Ciao, Florence.

Ciao, Florence.

So yes, a lot of what happens when you live abroad is “once in a lifetime.”

But at least it happens once.

Until next time,

Allison, who might just start recycling more

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