Faces of Florence

Joni Van Bockel is a student at University of Northwestern and an ISA Featured Blogger. Joni is currently studying abroad with ISA in Florence, Italy.


No place is complete without its characters. In my first few weeks in Florence, Italy I’ve met quite the variety: friendly, family, faithful, factual, and fictional. These people are the ones who have made and continue to make this city what it is today: a magnificently historical and thriving city.

The first faces I met were friendly and they quite quickly became family. I am one of the lucky eight ladies who chose to stay in a homestay while I study here in Italy. My roommate, Emily and I are happily staying in the home of a lovely woman, Illaria and her son, Tomasso. They have welcomed us in with open arms, and we are spoiled with great food and wonderful company (not to mention in-home Italian language tutors.) Being in the homestay offers a unique experience to really get to know the everyday life of Italians, they are also a great reference for the best places in the city to eat, hang out, and all the best events happening in the city. Most of all they are a loving and kind people to come home to every night. When exploring an new and unknown country and culture it’s nice to have people you know you can depend for a towel when you come in the door drenched from the Tuscany autumn rain or a hug and some pasta when you are feeling homesick.

Some of the other faces I’ve had the pleasure of being in the presence of are some of the most famous faces of the world. Most well known of these is probably Michelangelo’s David. Tourist flock to the academia everyday to see the sculpture’s well-known perfection and he is only a walk away from where I live. Though David is far from being the only historical figure in the city. Florence is full of famous historical art and historical people. I pass Santa Croce Cathedral everyday on my way to my classes and it is home to the bodies of many historical figures, such as Michelangelo and even Galileo. The most depicted face here in Florence however is that of the Madonna and child—old cathedrals abound here in Florence with exquisite religious imagery for both the faithful catholic and tourist alike to gaze upon.

Claudio and I
Claudio and I

In general people here are friendly and helpful and more than willing to help you catch the right train or even simply help you with your Italian. One kind stranger I will never forget. His name is Claudio, a kind elderly restaurant owner in Vernazza, one of the small towns within Cinque Terre. While visiting there with some friends the weather took a turn for the worst and as we were sheltering ourselves from the pounding rain. This kind man came out with a steaming plate of breaded fish and zucchini, placed it on a chair in front of us and said, “Free gift for you.” We were astonished at this kind gesture and pleased even more when we tried the food, for it was the best we had tasted since we had arrived. He came out again and again with multiple courses and drinks enough to fill us up and then some. This simple gesture was overwhelmingly touching to cold, wet, and hungry college students. I hope to hold that moment in my heart and repay his kind act of his with kind acts of my own to the strangers I interact with.

Walking down the streets of Florence, one meets all sorts of people from all over the world, it has been a joy to meet and interact with so many of them. These faces of Florence play such a large part in what makes this city so beautiful. I feel blessed beyond measure to be living here and be a part of that.

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