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Solo Stories: “Alone, But Not Lonely In Florence”

by Denene Brox

Crowds gather around the Duomo in Florence, Italy
Crowds gather around the Duomo in Florence, Italy
I never even thought twice about traveling to Florence alone last spring. My motto is “go alone or you probably won’t go”. Besides, traveling naturally lends itself to making new friends – in fact, I’ve met many people during trips when I wasn’t even trying.

My plan was to spend three weeks living like a local in Florence. I wanted to have some structure in my itinerary so I enrolled in an intensive language course at Koine Center. I rented a one-bedroom apartment on my own and for the first time in my life I lived alone.

I knew that I would meet fellow travelers in my Italian class at Koine and I did. My class had three other students, one of which was from America who was about my age. We hit it off immediately. After class we hung out, ate lunch in sidewalk cafes and had fun flirting with Italian men who stopped us to chat in the Piazza Della Signoria.

The Duomo, located in the centro storico (historic centre), is the main focal point in Florence
The Duomo, located in the centro storico (historic centre), is the main focal point in Florence
As the class progressed I started to meet students in different classes as we all came together for a light lunch in the school’s café. I met people from England, Germany and Japan. We all had at least one thing in common – we wanted to learn Italian, and in some cases our newly acquired Italian was the only way to communicate. Pretty soon the group I hung out with after class grew larger and over meals with my new friends I had some of the best conversations I’ve ever had. It was a thrill to learn about life in their home countries, discover what brought them to Italy and to Koine. We all loved Italy and held an appreciation for its people and culture that only visitors can know.

I stretched my network outside of the school when I met a Florentine man who spoke no English and we relied on my limited Italian to communicate. He complained about the cost of living in Florence. He gave me a glimpse inside life in Florence that no guide book would offer. He told me about his work as a language translator (French and Spanish). Somehow we managed to communicate about religion and his unbelief while visiting a church. I was glad to be a solo traveler so that I could experience the local people on my own terms without the hindrance of another person’s agenda.

Some days, only my new life in Florence kept me company. I was consumed by the tasks of everyday life – grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and watching TV. When I felt homesick I walked to the international call center to call home. Then I walked back to my apartment stopping for gelato along the way.

I met other locals including a 62-year-old Italian gentleman who spoke a little English and a lot of sweet talk. I indulged him in conversation but not in advances.

I am not a believer in chance encounters. Every path that I crossed in Florence taught me a lesson to carry with me on my own journey. There is nothing better than solo travel – it opens you up to meet people along the way. Although I was alone in Florence, I was rarely lonely. And when I was lonely, it was because I chose to be and that choice is a beautiful thing.

For more writing, check out the author’s blog. She can be reached at denene_78 at yahoo dot com.