After deciding to leave London, I gave up my flat and moved to Florence on the first day of autumn. It had been on my mind for a long time.
I had already begun my nomadic journey when I became a freelance copywriter that summer. Since I no longer had to check into an office, I became a digital nomad by default. With my new found freedom, I could now financially support myself (within reason) anywhere in the world.
Giving up an overpriced London flatshare felt right but moving to a medieval beauty spot came with some risks. My biggest worry was being a thirty-something copywriter living amongst American sophomore students. Also what goes on at night when the museums close?
Like going on a blind date with a girl because she has a gorgeous name. I moved to Italy knowing that Florence was good looking, expensive, and impractical.
Since the internet is the world’s biggest spoiler, I chose not to read up about Florence before flying out. Having no substantial knowledge of the city was a blessing. Living in a tech-saturated world, where every place is mapped and tagged, I fell in love with Florence’s ochre-and-dun streets with virgin eyes.
At the beginning the sheer delight of exploring more than compensated for the weekday silences. The lack of contemporary entertainment did not seem to matter either. Just walking across Ponte Vecchio to buy cheese and wine was a joy in itself.
Strolling along Via de’ Tornabuoni, with its fashion boutiques and baroque churches, you sense the pride taken in design. I loved the practical attention paid to details; everything from iron hitches guarding palazzo doors to animal-inspired door knobs. I found these ironwork motifs (ferri) intriguing when I first arrived. I took as many photos of them as I could find.
Just gazing upon Brunelleschi’s Il Duomo di Firenze, the magnificent cathedral that dominates the city centre, it is rare to see a city so respectful of its natural environment. Founded in spring in the honour of the goddess Flora by Julius Caesar in 49 BC, the city’s harmony of stone and nature has attracted visitors for centuries.
In the late 19th century up to 30,000 Anglo-Americans adopted the city in what Shelley called the “paradise of exiles.” For modern travellers, there is a romantic myth to Florence; a sense that by being so close to art and nature, you can experience a renaissance of your own.
Unlike in Venice or Rome, where you are afforded glimpses of people’s interior lives from the streets and courtyards, Florence is a fortress. Its immaculately proportioned doors and windows conceal its secrets with mathematical precision.
For all its magnificent architecture and gardens, the city is a reserved society. Over time I realised that Florence is God’s own workshop, and all you can do is admire it from a safe distance.
I booked an Airbnb in Oltrarno (which means ‘other side of the Arno’) and for three wonderful months, I presided over a massive clean kitchen, master bedroom, shower room, living room, and an oval dining table. I could walk to the city centre in twenty minutes and had the Tuscan hills as my garden.
I knew then that I wanted to work remotely for the foreseeable future and make the most of the opportunities it affords.
Working in Florence
At the beginning of my freelance journey, I searched for co-working studios in the town centre, and while there were a few student places, Florence workshops are a different breed. It has always been a fortress to anyone born outside her town walls. They work in secret gardens in Firenze, and there is a lock on every door.
While my skills were never going complement their artisan traditions, the inspiration I took has stayed with me. It was a privilege to live somewhere blessed with such creative intelligence. Everyone I seemed to meet was either an architect, interior designer, florist or fashion student.
Moving to a provincial Italian town was impractical on many levels for me. I have no art or design skills and cannot speak the language properly. Despite these obvious drawbacks, I woke up to birdsong every morning, went for long runs along the Arno, and was no longer a brokenhearted slave on the tube.
With the Tuscan hills complementing its marble basilicas and medieval bridges, the city follows you like a dream long after you’ve left. More importantly, after living in grungy East London for ten years, Florence offered me a haven from the rough normality of life.