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Duomo complex in Florence
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As I crossed the bridge over the Arno river, I gazed at the outer facades of the Florence city center just ahead of me. The street I was living on for the week had high buildings, casting the street below completely in shadow. Exiting that avenue and walking out onto the bridge was the first moment I glimpsed the sun that day. Perhaps this sudden appearance is what made everything look so dazzling once I emerged from the dim street. I took in everything around me – the light glinting off the water, the buzzing morning traffic, the ancient buildings stacked up against each other like old shoeboxes in the back of the closet. Florence beamed in front of me, trouncing every last expectation I had of the city by a mile or more.

Then I got out my phone again to check my messages. To see if he was awake yet, and to tell him how the Tuscan city had stolen my breath that morning.

How to Spend 5 Days in Florence Without the Person You’d Really Like to Be There With You

My time in Florence was marked by what was missing from it. I had booked one week there, enough to explore as much of the city as possible while leaving time for day trips around Tuscany. When I arranged it I was still single, unattached. By the time it rolled around, I had just started dating my current boyfriend ten days before. Awkward timing for a new relationship like ours – especially because the trip occurred over Valentine’s Day. But I was looking forward to seeing Tuscany, and it was already paid for. He encouraged me to go too, knowing I was in Europe to travel, to discover. I was living in France at the time, working as a teaching assistant. With enough money and free time, I traveled through Western Europe. I also had enough time, it turned out, to meet a Frenchman and fall in love.

A Walking Tour of Florence

My first day in Florence started with a walking tour. We set out from the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. As our tour guide gave a brief history of Florence and of the basilica, I snapped a photo of Santa Maria Novella and sent it to my now-boyfriend. It was mid-morning at this point, so he saw the photo right away and gushed about how impressive it was. I replied that everything I’d seen in Florence so far – in the last hour since I’d ventured outside my Airbnb – was gorgeous like that. Then to myself, I wished he was there to see it with me.

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Bascilica di Santa Maria Novella

I made an American friend on the tour, another teaching assistant. She was posted in Spain, not France. I ended up spending most of my time in Florence with her. We were both laid-back travelers, around the same age, wanting to see the same sights. After the tour, we bought all-access passes to the Duomo, then got some gelato. Having someone to speak to was a nice and needed distraction from how much I missed my now-boyfriend.

Why Only Pick One Duomo Site When You Can Pick Four?

view of Duomo from the side
Sideview of the massive Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo

The next day in Florence, our morning was packed with Duomo sites. We saw the cathedral itself, the baptistry out front, the bell tower, and the Duomo museum. It was mid-February and brisk outside, but that didn’t stop people from lining up around the corner to see the Duomo. The crowd dispersed briefly when someone had to be taken down by a team of first-aid responders from the belltower, a drama that unfolded in the crisp morning air as we burned our tongues sipping our Americanos too quickly.

Inside the Duomo, we walked all the way through, up to the dome, where the disquietingly lifelike figures of The Last Judgement stared at us with odd combinations of contempt, fear, and righteous benevolence. Their odd gazes were discomfiting, but if I didn’t stare at the fresco I had to stare at the ground below us. Being suspended high up in the dome and not partial to heights, I opted for the contorted faces of the pour souls rotting in hell.

After our Duomo visits and an authentic panino on the street for lunch, I parted ways from my American friend. In the afternoon, I went to the Galileo Museum, overlooking the Arno and one block down from the medieval Ponte Vecchio.

Seeing Wacky Science Instruments at Museo Galileo

I prefer quirky museums to art galleries. I’d rather spend two hours looking at peculiar scientific objects than at paintings. Museo Galileo has an abundance of quirk, taking you through the ages of scientific progress and discovery. Globes, seafaring instruments, and electricity boxes made solely for entertaining high society filled the modest museum.

The weird, historical gadgets stick with me – and it all made me think of my now-boyfriend. He would’ve loved this museum. I sent him photos and descriptions of my favorite inventions, asking him to guess what they were.

Entrance foyer at Museo Galileo
The first room you enter at the Museo Galileo

Read more about visiting museums – The 5 Best Museums in Brussels.

Holding Up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

One of the hardest places to visit without him was the Leaning Tower of Pisa. My American friend and I decided to go together, followed by a trip to the small, nearby town of Lucca. I wanted the cheesy “I’m holding up the tower on my shoulders” photo. My friend was kind enough to take it for me and help me position myself in front of it.

small street in Lucca
The charming Tuscan town Lucca

We had to keep moving and redoing, as the angle wasn’t quite right, or other tourists kept walking in front of the camera. It was a clear, cloudless day in Pisa so the courtyard in front of the tower was packed.

Admittedly, it was all a little ludicrous. My American friend and I couldn’t help chortling every time we’d take a photo and some German woman’s handbag was still in frame. It was all so silly, in fact, that I knew it would make my now-boyfriend burst out laughing if he’d been there. He was the one who had insisted I take a goofy leaning-tower photo when I at first hesitated. He told me that I was in Italy to be a tourist so I might as well be a tourist. And I think he secretly really wanted to see that silly photo of me.

I sent him the results of our photoshoot, even the bad ones where I’m blinking or not paying attention. He loved them. He loved them so much he wanted me to thank my American travel buddy for him, for snapping the shots. If he’d been there, I would’ve made him pose with me in front of the tower too.

A Tuscan Day Trip and Italian Wine Tasting

My second-to-last day is when I missed him the most. My American friend had left Florence for Venice, and I was on a day-long tour of three Tuscan towns and a wine-tasting. Everyone on the tour was with a friend or partner, except me and one other woman. I didn’t speak to anyone else the whole day until we were seated at tables together for the wine tasting, just before the end. I neglected to eat lunch with the group in Siena, thinking I could find a less expensive restaurant on my own (I didn’t).

You might think I’m overexaggerating my state of one-ness on this Tuscany tour. But the other singleton? She got left behind in Siena and missed the entire afternoon because there was no one else to make sure she was there. And our guide didn’t even call my name during the after-lunch roll call, so if I hadn’t been there either, nobody would’ve known. Being so singular all day really made me wish my now-boyfriend had been there with me.

Despite being alone, I enjoyed Siena. I thought its cathedral, the Duomo di Siena, was prettier than the one in Florence. The Duomo di Siena isn’t as massive, but it’s finished on the inside, with artwork, icons, and artifacts in place. It resembles a cathedral where people can actually gather for services, rather than a historical landmark. I also didn’t have to wait in line for an hour to see it.

I Wasn’t Alone in Florence, I Had Someone Waiting for Me

Everywhere I went in Florence and Tuscany, everything thing I saw, I wanted to share with my now-boyfriend. From the gelato on the street, to the incredible Duomo, to the wine-tasting at the end of the Tuscany day tour – how could I possibly drink wine and not think of him? He’s French! Countless times I caught myself with him on my mind, wondering what he was up to.

View of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
The view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

I didn’t miss out on any of Florence and Tuscany, of that I’m sure. But I won’t deny that my favorite part of my that week was stepping off the train when I returned to France, looking up and seeing him waiting for me on the platform, holding a bouquet of red roses and a handwritten poem.

One Reply to “Florence – My Last Trip as a Solo Traveler”

  1. Just perfect. You capture the romance of the Italian countryside while describing each site. My favorite travelog in your portfolio.

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Welcome to All Abroad

Thanks for stopping by! My name's Courtney. I'm a travel and politics writer based in Brussels, Belgium. I write about travel, culture, expat life, and food & wine - infusing a bit of politics into each. Learn more about this blog here.