After deciding to leave London, I gave up my flat of seven years and moved to Florence on the first day of autumn. It had been on my mind for a long time.
I’m very sorry, but owing to a very little known clause in your contract, perfect tenants are not allowed to leave!!!!!
How lucky I have been to have had you as a tenant for so long….I knew all good things come to an end!
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 location-independent 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 Brit living amongst American sophomore students. Also, what goes on at night when the art 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 proved to be a blessing at first. 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 and language barrier. 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.
Living amongst the dead gods and guardians of the city, I began to learn about the learned individuals that shaped its legacy. Just reeling off the names (Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo) who advanced Western civilisation was intimidating in itself. The scale of the city’s history left me floundering with insecurities. I had no idea where to start.
It didn’t help that my cultural lodestars align to the North Atlantic and the Renaissance doesn’t come naturally.
I bought books, magazines and attended film screenings at Italy’s oldest movie theatre so I could find out more. I discovered that aesthetics are at the root of everything in Florence. It spends its time and money in the pursuit of beauty, with its lavish wealth founded on commerce marrying taste and intelligence.
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.
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.
Booking my apartment
I booked an Airbnb in Oltrarno (which means ‘other side of the Arno’) and managed to secure a 40% discount. Inevitably, it was overpriced compared to the local economy, but no deposit was required, and their insurance policy covers you either way.
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. Not bad for the price of a box room in London.
I knew then that I wanted to work remotely for the foreseeable future and make the most of the opportunities it affords.
Remote working in Florence
Florence is not a friendly co-working destination. Tuscany is a grand old lady and certainly not the place to wind up in a hipster coffee shop with your laptop. Indeed, that was part of the attraction of moving there in the first place. To escape the vacuity of urban living and get a fresh perspective on life.
Like many freelancers working from home, I would feel guilty whenever I left the flat in daytime hours, but felt equally bad if I stayed indoors working. I also had to resist the temptation to go out in hot weather as the sun would usually return the following day.
At the beginning of my freelance journey, I searched for co-working studios online, and while there were a few student places, Florence workshops do not cater for digital types. 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 went beyond flash. 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 medieval Italian city 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 green runs along the Arno, and was no longer a broken-hearted slave on the tube.
After a decade of living in East London, moving to Florence offered a haven from the rough normality of life.
Header image by Shane Lin (Flickr/Creative Commons)