So this has happened before. I travel to a destination, sometimes one that is universally loved, but I don’t have a great experience. I’ve written about it before and it happens to everyone, but I was shocked ( and still am) that it happened to be in what is to believed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world – Florence, Italy.
Two years ago my partner and I started a new tradition in December. We pick a major city and use it as a home base from which to explore other areas and see how they’ve festooned themselves for the Christmas holiday. It’s been a lot of fun so far and I can’t wait to plan our trip for 2013, but last year found us in Milan. From Northern Italy we launched several day trips including to one city I’ve wanted to see for years – Florence.
The heart of the Renaissance, Florence has long been a city of beauty, culture and learning and it still is today. Fabulous wealth has always seemed to grace the streets and shops of Florence, gold dripping from the coffers. Today it is still home to money, old and new, as well as a steady stream of tourists from around the world who want to see the city’s treasures for themselves.
I knew we didn’t have a lot of time in Florence, so we worked with a local guide who helped us get the most out of our limited time. And she did a great job; my thoughts about the city are in no way because of her. No, she showed us the famous boulevards, fancy mansions, centuries old art and other design treasures. We saw it all, from the Ponte Vecchio to Michelangelo’s David and of course the massive Duomo. And it was all very pretty, but it just wasn’t for me.
Every city has a vibe, good or bad, and whether or not we like that vibe is a very personal thing. Whenever I’ve written about not liking a place in the past I always get people who try to argue the point with me, until I ask them a very simple question. “Have you liked every place you’ve been?” The answer is always no and they begin to see my point of view.
So what didn’t I like about Florence? Well, the vibe for me was standoffish. I didn’t feel welcomed into the city as I have in many other places around the world. Everything was immaculate and very pretty, but almost too much so. It all seemed like an elaborately staged production, all done for my benefits to see The Treasures of Florence. And like I said, they were great, beautiful even and I’m glad I saw them. But I don’t feel the burning desire to return. Ever. I’ve been there, seen it and now it’s time to move on to other places. Lest you think this is just how I travel, it’s not, not at all.
In comparison, I also spent a scant day in Bologna, Italy but almost immediately fell in love with it. That city’s vibe was different, probably thanks in part to the massive university housed there. The city was alive and interesting, beautiful without the pretentiousness that Florence has. I felt like I was discovering things that were not on the tourist trail; now this probably isn’t true, but that feeling made all the difference. I wasn’t a number or a statistic, I was a welcomed guest and treated like one wherever I went. Instead of waiters who ignored me like in Florence, the little old man working at the trattoria I visited in Bologna was excited I was there and couldn’t wait to show me his favorite food. Now that’s a good feeling and made me want to return whenever I can.
So there, I’ve come out and said it. Florence is one of the most beloved cities in the world and home to some truly impressive treasures. It was where the Renaissance that changed the world forever started and today is firmly entrenched on the travel bucket lists of people around the world. But I didn’t like it and I don’t think I ever will.
Let the insults commence.