It started like any normal day. If your normal day involves waking up on a train in a different country. For me, the whole morning was a new experience, from discovering my group’s six-bed room now had nine people (long story) to stepping onto the platform and into the early morning light of Milan, Italy.
Shortly after our arrival we departed on a new train, viewing the gilded rays of sunrise illuminate the famous red rooves of Milan. Then we promptly fell asleep. We (my tour-mates and I) were a week in and on our third country, so exhaustion and even sickness were prevalent bothers. But nothing could bog us down upon reaching our destination of Florence.
The sun was still low, so the old-world architecture stood silhouetted against a beautiful sky. Towering above them all was the Duomo, a plaza, which includes the Florence Cathedral (or if you’re feeling exotic the ‘Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’). In total, it took over 140 years to complete. In the following centuries, it was the site of Dante’s dark broodings and even an attempted Medici assassination. It’s truly an awe to behold.
The white tower on the left is the accompanying bell tower, but we didn’t have tickets or time to climb to the viewing area inside.
Speeding past the Palazzo Vecchio and through a tour of the central part of the city, we found ourselves free to wander. But it was only a few minutes into the guided tour that my camera died. Perhaps it was for the best, though, as I spent the day absorbed in the wondrous atmosphere that is Florence.
Throughout my time there, I couldn’t help but notice the street artists. Although I was barely getting into being an artist myself, it was romantic to think of creating there. Painting in the same city that was home to Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael (to name a few) is still a dream of mine.
A few steps from the Ponte Vecchio, or the Bridge of Gold, I felt an inner call to stop near one artist. There was something special about the assortment of watercolor paintings on his display board. Their subjects were various locations throughout Florence, lovingly painted with delicate blues, yellows, and oranges.
This is the Ponte Vecchio, and the painter was under one of the arches on the right.
Upon seeing my interest, the artist put down his paintbrush from his current work and walked out from behind his table. I asked how much and was then faced with the wonderfully tough choice of which one to bring home. There were three sizes—the largest of which I believe was 50 euros, beyond my budget and space in my suitcase.
One of my friends on the trip kept telling me to get one of the smallest ones, presumably because it would be easier to make room for in my luggage. But after a few seconds I felt drawn to a particular medium sized painting.
The painting itself, though I think it looks even better in person.
I don’t speak Italian, but I pointed to the one in the top right. I tried to gesture to the neighboring bridge, saying that they were the same. He smiled as he took down the bright picture of the Ponte Vecchio under a calm sky. When he handed me the envelope encasing the art, I said, “grazie,” thank you, one of the few Italian words I do know.
My traveling companions were in a hurry to move on, but I couldn’t leave before waving towards his display board. “Bella, bella!” I said. Beautiful, beautiful. I’m sure it wasn’t phrased well technically, but I think he understood my meaning.
Florence, towards sunset.
Ironically, we were entering the ‘golden hour’ of sunset as we crossed the Bridge of Gold, famous for its luxury jewelry stores. Soon after, we found we were too late for entry into the Boboli Gardens. Instead, our little group rested for a while in the Piazza Pitti.
A huge public space, there was room for us to sprawl out on the cool brick. We spent our time people watching, with a quiet hum of Italian in our ears. Some pigeons were enthralled with small treats we tossed them. We stopped, however, when one of us expressed her dire fear of having them close. Seeing the buildings across from us radiate in the sunset glow sealed it as a moment I’ll never forget.
I love how it was framed, even if it isn’t easy to photograph well.
Through some careful packing, the painting made it home safely. That following Christmas, my mom surprised me by having it professionally framed. (Thanks, Mom!)
Out of curiosity, I tried to find the artist online, with no luck. But I like to think sometimes about him and the other artists I saw there—what it’s like to wake up in such a historically creative place, journey through the narrow streets, and paint incredible Florence. And who knows? Maybe I’ll find out for myself one day.
Have you ever purchased art in person from an artist? Or have you ever been to Florence? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.