This is so tough.  It’s true when talking about hotels, restaurants, cities, countries.  Adventure is wonderful, but so is security and nostalgia and knowing what you are going to get.  What if you could go to an all too familiar place and discover something new.  I could tell you that this is possible in Italy a million times over and it’s true.  But on a smaller scale, such is the case with Florence, especially these days.

I first went to Florence in 1990 on a very quick weekend trip.  I was studying in Rome for the summer, but naturally Florence was on my list of places to visit.  We hopped on a train one Friday afternoon and headed north.  It was hot, sticky and crowded.  We stayed in a pensione that was not posh or even charming for that matter.  We ate bad food because we didn’t know better.  But I was able to see what I came to see and I must say, David did not disappoint (he never does). Other than that, my first trip to Florence was completely forgettable.

Which makes it really puzzling when I tell you that I followed that visit up with a 7- month stay in the city.  I chose Florence over Rome for my semester abroad because I was able to live with a family, an experience I thought was going to be over the top and have me feeling like a part of la famiglia in no time.  Unfortunately, this was not quite the case.  I imagined long conversations at the dinner table with a jovial family who couldn’t wait to learn about our culture from a real American girl.  What I got was a family who was basically in it for the money.  There was the mother who was obsessed with bridge and resented the fact that she had to provide us with meals (because it took away from her bridge game), the father who was borderline inappropriate, the 20-something year old son who wore too much bronzer and cologne and the grandfather who was not allowed to sit at the dinner table because he had no front teeth and no one could stand to watch him eat.  Thank God for my roommate Shannon!

In short, I did not become enamored with Florence as I hoped I would and instead, longed to be back in Rome, a city I loved from the minute I stepped foot in it.  However, over the years, my love for Florence grew.  I began to spend more time there and finally understood the attraction. Now it seems I try to fit it in to virtually every trip I make to Italy.  I have walked the streets hundreds of time, I know every alleyway, every short cut, where to get the best coffee, the best views of the city at sunset and where to get a spritz (or a hot chocolate, or a plate of pasta) that will make your heart sing.

Sometimes when you travel, it is difficult to rationalize returning to the same place over and over again.  We all have limited resources- time and money – so wouldn’t it be best to see something new and different?  I suppose there is a case to be made for that but here’s the thing:  Florence keeps reinventing itself.  Adding new fun shiny things that attract my attention and make me want to fly right over (btw- KLM is having amazing deals right now: Boston to Florence for just over $800 – WOW!)  The Mercato Centrale – the historic food market for which Florence is famous – has renovated its 2nd floor and has become a giant food hall with so many choices your head will spin.  And I recently learned about La Menagere which opened in June. This space,  a  renovated 16th century building , is a concept store combining a restaurant, café, florist, home goods store and performance space and it seems to be “the” place to go these days.   In addition, there are new funky hotels to check out and the artisan tradition seems to be making a serious comeback so there are lovely boutiques to explore on the other side of the Arno.

So yes, maybe you have seen David, the Duomo, Santa Croce, the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi.  And no, they haven’t changed that much.  But there is so much more to these cities and sometimes it is really comforting to combine some familiar places with new discoveries – all in one city.  I am ready for a trip to Florence that does just that.  Who’s with me??

Do you tend to stick with old favorites or do you venture out and try something new.  Let me know in the comments.  And if anyone’s up for a trip to Florence, leave me a message!

3 thoughts on “The Age Old Debate: Go Somewhere New or Revisit Your Favorites?

  1. This is a great debate with my husband – I mean in my travels… haha. Majority of our big trips are to new places. But I greatly enjoy returning, as you never can see and experience all the facets a place has to offer. I recently returned to a small riviera town in northern Italy. Visited there twice before, for 5 weeks in total; last visit there was in 1992. Of course there were changes, but since it was a small town, much was the same. Big news was they had an ATM machine now! But the trip was completely "new" more than 20 years later 🙂 Did day trips to new areas that have me so wanting to return!! Highly recommend visiting Barolo in Piedmont. Since it was beginning harvest season with rain storm in forecast, the wineries were not open for tasting. What we stumbled on was far superior anyway… La Vite Turchese in Barolo. Stefano explained where all the wines came from in the region with a great map, why the tastes will vary based on the soil, etc. And paired our tasting with the most decadent tasting board of cheese and meats. (One prosciutto made by a 75 year old man that, unfortunately, has no interested heir to continue his trade.) Need I go on? 🙂 Left a little more of my heart in Italy… again 🙂

  2. Ashley, I so get it! Love the description of your host family – you should pop in to see them on a visit!! Every year we have to make Rome a part of our trip. This year we plan to hit old stomping grounds again. Yes, you want to explore new things, but there’s something fabulous about just sitting back and watching life go by. When you visit a new city there is always that guilty pull of "oh, while we’re here we really should see that painting/monument/museum"…..but when you’ve already seen the big sites in prior visits, it’s pure bliss to kick back, hit your favorite bar for caffe, look for familiar waitstaff in the restaurants, etc. We need to do coffee!

  3. This makes me think of the internal debate I face every time the question of "if you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?" comes up. There are so many places left to see in this beautiful whole wide world, but oh, how I miss Switzerland! I grew up there and I’ve been itching to go back for the last 5-6 years with no way of getting there, so hand be a free open ticket, and that’s probably where I’d end up! Thanks for the beautiful post!

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