We have just arrived. It’s amazing to be back in Florence – the sights, the sounds, the scents… Feels surreal to be back here in the midst of it all. Our apartment looks out over an internal courtyard and we can see the chefs and kitchen staff coming and going through the back door of their neighbouring restaurant. All day amazing smells have been wafting up into our open windows – rich meaty ragu and sweet pastry cream.
There is a half-restored fresco on the highest part of the boys’ bedroom wall, up towards the vaulted ceiling. Love living in an old palazzo – makes us feel like royalty!
The guy upstairs is a bit of a heavy walker, but he seems to be gone most of the day so that’s fine.
We’re so close to the Duomo – right in the thick of the action. Everything’s within really handy walking distance. Love it!
There seem to be a few mosquitoes about, so we might have to put on the odd bit of repellent, just until the weather cools down. Do mozzies hibernate? I don’t know.
Looking forward to picking up some school supplies and getting started on the homeschooling in earnest. It should be a fun challenge doing school without any books!
We’re pretty well set up now, a week into our stay. We discovered that our apartment was woefully ill-equipped for a family of six, so on our third day we took a trip out to Ikea (they run a free shuttle bus from the train station every weekend) and stocked up on teaspoons, a high chair, and a few other essentials. Nice and cheap, and now we’ve got what we need.
Turns out that there are more than a few mozzies. After a night of being bitten mercilessly, we pushed aside our gentle ideals of citronella and organic repellent and went straight for the hard stuff: we’ve got two noxious plug-ins billowing out their poisonous fumes 24/7. We can see evidence that mosquitoes have plagued previous tenants, too – the odd shoe-mark high up on a wall speaks volumes about some earlier inhabitant’s frustration with the pests, as do the myriad squashed-bug smears on other parts of the stucco.
It’s a good thing we’re handy to everything because we have to shop pretty much every day. And that’s a good thing, too, because it gives us all a necessary break from the rigours of homeschool. Not to say that we’re not enjoying it – just to say that I’m not particularly gifted as a teacher but my kids are particularly gifted to still be alive after our first few days at it.
Family life in an apartment – and without a car – takes a bit of work, but we’re enjoying it. What a treat to be living in Florence!
We’ve nicknamed the tenant upstairs ‘Thumper’. Every night, around when we’re heading for bed, we can hear his heavy footsteps, thump, thump, thump, across the apartment above us. He also seems to dine late, scraping his chair back – and maybe shifting the table before and after meals? The thumps and scrapes reverberate around our own apartment – parquet floors and high ceilings provide the perfect acoustics for maximizing neighbour noise. Still, it’s only for a short time each night – he must be out a lot – so we don’t mind. In fact, his footfall has become a bit of a familiar sound and we have almost grown used to it. I think we might even miss Thumper when we move out!
We have been in Florence, living like locals, for a couple of weeks now. It’s so amazing to just go about our daily business in the midst of such antiquity. We’ve got a regular veggie-and-fruit provider at the market, a regular stall we go to for breads and cheeses, regular routes to our most frequent ports of call (the supermarket, Piazza della Signoria, our favourite gelateria, the American church – where we go on Sundays and also during the week to visit their children’s lending library for books in English)… Being regulars in a place really helps you feel like a local.
I guess the downside to living somewhere like a local is that you take certain things for granted. The Uffizi Gallery – world-renowned – is at the end of our nightly walk. We see it, we admire it from the outside, but we have not yet been in. The same is true of the Duomo, the Baptistry, and in fact almost every other building and gallery for which Florence is known. We haven’t yet been tourists as a family in Florence. Our to-see list is mounting. We will have to start getting to that list before we leave – we’re now about halfway through our time here!
Thumper was awake upstairs and moving furniture around last night, as has become his habit. Sometimes it seems to go on forever.
I imagine he’s got one of those IKEA apartments, where everything serves a double purpose, but he just takes it to the nth degree. So every evening he has to move his coffee table to the side, turn his sofa into a bed, unscrew the bookcases from the wall and dismantle them (just because), throw the books into the bathtub for the night, and push the dining table clear across the apartment. This is what I imagine, because the only other reasonable alternative is that he is dismembering bodies up there.
While I’m in a complaining mood, perhaps I should list a few of the quirks of our apartment here.
Let’s start in the kitchen, shall we?
The water is hard – so the kettle element, a bare coil in the bottom of the kettle, calcifies overnight. Every morning, I feel like a zoo veterinarian scraping the tartar off a yawning hippo’s teeth. I have to chip away at it before swishing it out, re-filling and boiling for my first cup of tea of the day.
The fridge is small, as most European fridges are. It is full height, though – lots of places only have what amounts to a bar fridge. The door is particularly finicky – it needs you to lean on it to close it properly, like you’re trying to coax a stubborn horse to just.move.over.
Moving down the apartment, past the hard chair and the lumpy couch that seats two (three in a pinch), on past the table and the chairs with the lethal metal legs that magnetically attract bare toes, and you get to the first bathroom.
We’re delighted to have two bathrooms; this first one contains a toilet, a bidet, a pedestal sink, and a shower. The shower stall is tiny – it’s so small that you can’t help but become entangled in the shower curtain whenever you bend to shave your legs or find yourself temporarily blinded with shampoo. And that curtain has to basically be hermetically sealed to the sides to avoid the creation of a small flood each time you shower, but unfortunately you have to keep the window open for ventilation – which obviously creates a curtain-flapping draft. If you don’t keep the window open, you just KNOW you’ll be damaging the plaster so that it falls off the walls in a single sheet when someone slams a door behind the rental agent arriving for the final inspection…
The second bathroom has another toilet and bidet, a big bathtub (perfect for the kids), a sink and a washing machine. This front-loader seems designed for the viewing pleasure of our poor toy-deprived children – it seems the equivalent of the hillbilly bug-zapper in terms of entertainment value. Several times I have come upon a huddle of boys in front of the window; watching, mesmerized, as the clothes spin round and round and round…
It’s actually a great apartment overall, and we’ve been perfectly happy here (well, except for Thumper’s occasional disruption to our peace).
Thumper was up stomping around – pressing grapes? – at 3 AM. I think I might be over apartment living. Don’t even get me started on the stairs to our flat… So.many.stairs. I wouldn’t object to the daily quad workout, if it didn’t also involve lugging a toddler along for the ride. He’s getting so heavy!
On the plus side, we still love living in Florence. We finally prioritized ‘seeing the sights’ over the past couple of weeks, and we have been running around in tourist mode – it has been a fun change of pace. There really is a lot to see here, and it has been great not having to squeeze our sightseeing into a few consecutive days; instead, we have drawn it all out and enjoyed living like locals in the process.
We’ve been here for over a month – we leave next week – and I can honestly say I’ll miss most of our life here (sure, maybe not Thumper nor the stairs, but almost everything else!). How wonderful to have this chance to live in the shadow of the Duomo! Bella Firenze.
Tune in next time for more practical information on our time in Florence.