• Florence, Italy

    All Photographs © Joakim Lloyd Raboff

Thoughts on Florence

As the long-time financial capital of Tuscany – as well as the birthplace of the Renaissance movement – there’s no shortage of grandiose buildings, statues, or pompous squares in Florence’s Downtown district. Nor does one have to walk many meters to find a pizzeria, gelato bar, or souvenir shop.

Florence, when seen from the vantage point of Piazzale Michelangelo, far above the river Arno, is undeniably picturesque. And it’s from that vista that this world-famous destination is at its most enjoyable. Not that you won’t have to share the stunning visual experience with thousands of other visitors and a small army of knick-knack vendors. But the zoomed-out version sure beats trying to appreciate Florence with other tourists, diesel-fueled buses, and speeding Foodora scooters, all vying for space in the old town’s myriad of narrow cobblestone streets and alleys.

There’s a lot to love about Italy. The operatic language, delicious food, bombastic history, and colorful people. And sorry Francophiles, but the Italians continue to be the dominant aesthetic tastemakers of the world, both in fashion and industrial design. And while their engineering skills have often been seen as far superior to their capability for quality control, I would argue that today, the latter is more of a bad rap than a reality.

I’ve been returning to Italy since a month-long Interrail tour in 1983 which was partially spent in Ventimiglia, Rome, and Brindisi. Most Italian cities I’ve visited so far have the kind of patina and soul that I inspire me. Salty, worn and approachable.

Even though Florence is more than a half a millennia-old, today’s incarnation of the city is so totally focused on mass tourism, that being in the midst of it all made the visit feel oddly uninteresting and, dare I say, annoying. When compared to other extremely popular tourist destinations like Venice, my takeaway was that Florence lacked soul. It was as if the only people living there were transient: tourists, foreign exchange students, and ex-pats. Everyone else was just there to work. I can’t remember when I last saw so many dark windows in so many empty apartment buildings. Sad.

So, would I recommend visiting Florence? Of course! But don’t spend more than a day or two. Especially since the many valleys and villages of Tuscany have so much more memorable experiences to offer than its regional capital.

Most of these images were captured by Piazzale Michelangelo.