Our apartment in Florence is easily the largest we have had in Europe. According to our check-in representative, it is owned by a duchess, who also owns the apartment next door. We met owner Gabriella Schonau a few days after moving in while the TV cable was being repaired, and she said she is German, married to an Italian and lives “outside” of town. That means they live in the rich part, so I give credence to the duchess story.
The bedroom alone is quite a bit larger than our entire Paris apartment, and the kitchen is furnished with all appliances except a dishwasher. Ironically, our tiny studio in Paris offered the most complete set of appliances. But our Florence apartment is all about space. And it is on the ground floor. What a blessing, after climbing 44 steps in Paris, 36 in Nice and 46 in Venice.
The kitchen even features a refrigerator that is almost full size by American standards, instead of the dormitory versions found in the three earlier places. We don’t really use all the space, but it’s nice not having to bend over to open the door.
Adjacent to the kitchen is a real living room with a real couch and a second full bathroom. The fridge and washing machine are located in their own pantry space off the kitchen, and we broke the code on the oven pretty quickly.
Our building is an impressive stone structure said to be about 400 years old. Gabriella said it had been used as the foreign ministry for the new government of Italy when Florence was the capital from 1865-1870. Today the building is occupied mainly by lawyers, a pediatric dentist next door to us and a few other residents, including a group of American coeds “studying” during their junior year abroad.
Our building overlooks Piazza della Independenza, which is lined with other buildings of the same vintage, condition and tenant mix. We are just far enough away from the center of the city to escape the noise and crush of tourists, but only an eight-minute walk to the train station along Via Nazionale and five minutes to the Accademia in another direction.
Our park is actually split in two by April 27 Street or Via Ventisette Aprille in Italian that leads to the Accademia. (April 27 was the date that Florence voted to join the newly formed Italian kingdom in 1869.)
Ventisette is a major bus stop for the local transit system. The College of Florence flanks the side of the park on our end, a student dorm stands three doors down from our building and two four-star hotels are located all the way across the park on the other end where children terrorize the pigeons in a little playground.
A large bronze statue stands in the middle of each side of the bifurcated park. On the side opposite ours stands the monument to Bettino Ricasoni, the mayor of Florence in 1847 and second prime minister of the newly formed kingdom of Italy in 1866. More importantly, he was the creator of the modern recipe for Chianti wine that did not require a wicker basket around the bottle. A moment of silence in his honor, please. We offered a silent toast to his genius on more than one occasion.
The statue on our side depicts Ubaldino Peruzzi, the first mayor of Florence and whose family tree starting growing on Florentine soil even before the Medicis. In 1875, he dedicated the statue of David in Piazzale Michelangelo across the Arno River that is now a major stop for the HoHo bus tours.
Even though we are still in winter, our end of the park attracts a number of groups, consisting of mostly men, mostly Middle Eastern, African, Southern Asian (India/Pakistan) or Eastern Asian (mostly Korean). They gather outside on the concrete benches to drink, picnic, play cards, joke and laugh. Florence is by far the most diverse city we have visited so far, and immigrants represent a huge minority of the center city population.
We also hear more American English spoken here than in any other city we have visited. Lots of coed speak, using the word “like” at least twice in every sentence. No wonder–at least 21 American universities have established programs in Florence, even some not generally considered part of the Ivy League elite.