I’m grateful for so many opportunities I had while in Florence, but I think one of the biggest takeaways I didn’t expect was to make so many friends. Our class was small, only 10 students, and including our three professors and chaperone, Mary Beth, we were a pretty tight-knit group. I got to know everyone individually, through hanging out in the hotel, wandering through museums and churches together, going on adventures to different shops, and making memories that will last a lifetime.
My two best Florence friends, Colton and Carlee, are both freshman and could be twins, they look and act so similar. We bonded over our love of RuPaul’s Drag Race and little things that annoyed us about the trip, but mostly over the fact that the three of us can shop until we drop. After we left the Uffizi Gallery, that was our goal for the day.
We first had to make a quit pit stop at the Pitti Palace to finish up some assignments, and we loved it. We went through hall after hall of paintings, each with a decorated ceiling more grandiose than the next. We had fun taking selfies in mirrors from the Medici’s collection and each picked a room to live in when we (jokingly) took over the Pitti Palace. We posed like statues and took pictures of each other, making goofy memories we’ll have forever.
But we couldn’t be distracted long. We were on a mission to get the souvenirs we wanted for ourselves and for others, and we had one rule: if you see it and you like it, buy it. We didn’t know the next time we were going to return to this city, and we wanted to have all the memories at home that we possibly could. We mapped out a plan of where we would shop and what we would get, but of course (traveler rule #1, remember?!) we needed to expect the unexpected, and found so many places we never even dreamt of shopping, like the little ceramic store owned by Amber, a young Italian woman who hand painted all of her goods and gave us discounts when we brought friends later in the week.
Another thing you should know about me: I love to shop. I feel completely in my element when I’m in a little boutique or somewhere with interesting items, and I always want to find something interesting and different to wear or display in my home. Like I said before, I did extensive research on the kind of shopping I wanted to do, and my #1 stop was Il Papiro. I am a stationary collector – I own more notebooks, post-it note sets, pads of paper, thank you notes, and pens than I know what to do with. Il Papiro is a Tuscan-based paper store that features hand-marbled journals and papers, all in vibrant colors. So, naturally, I bought myself a notebook, and took two more home for my roommate and brother. #1 checked off the list!
We went into a number of farmacias too, looking for cosmetics and Italian beauty products that we could all use. Colton bought delicious mints pretty much anywhere we went, and Carlee was on a hunt for leather for her boyfriend and parents. We had so much fun exploring the city on our own, getting our bearings right as we explored. We wanted to see everything and were totally willing to forgo eating in favor of shopping.
But of course, we did get hungry, and we went to a cute little pizzeria with some of our other group members. We each got a different kind of pizza, especially a gluten free one for Carlee, who was being very brave on the entire trip and telling every waiter that she had Celiac’s and needed to stay away from wheat. We loved the company and the ability to sit together and eat, using the time to get to know each other and tell each other stories and jokes. My favorite part of the entire meal, though, was when Colton leaned over and brushed his hands along the wall of the restaurant. He sighed and said, “Wow, I feel like everywhere I go here, I’m touching history.” That statement struck me in the moment, and stayed with me on the entire trip. I felt entirely blessed, being able to be in such a beautiful country and to see every bit of famous art and architecture that we were learning about. I felt blessed to be in such good company, being able to eat such good food and learn from such good professors, and being able to shop at such good stores. As we finished off our pizza and headed to our favorite gelato place by the hotel, I was overwhelmingly happy, looking around at the Duomo Complex and the street performers playing their violins and thinking, “We’re in Italy. This is incredible.”