A question that I get asked a lot is how I ended up in Florence. Couple that with another popular question -- where are you from? -- and you get a tangled web of cities, states and years. This post is my attempt to outline just where I've been and how I ended up here in Florence. So, lets get started...
For the first 18 years of my life I called Levittown, PA home. It was a nice place to grow up and I was always surrounded by my huge, ridiculous and crazy family. I encourage you to read the Wikipedia entry on Levittown as it's a pretty fascinating place.
Fun fact: for the first 13 years of my life I thought everyone lived in houses that looked just like the house next door. The idea of having to ask where the bathroom was in a house was a funny notion to me because all of my friends lived in houses that were just a variation of mine.
As I got older and learned to appreciate mid-century architecture my trips home always caused me pain because 98% of houses have been remodeled and don't include some of the amazing mid-century details that they once did. Nonetheless, it's still a fun place to drive around and get a little insight into what life used to be like. Neighbors, kids on bikes, walking to school. That type of thing.
Michael Sokolove, who grew up in the same "section" as me, is a contributing writer for the New York Times and written a few insightful articles on the place I grew up:
- The Math of Heartbreak in Levittown
- The Transformation of Levittown
- Change Makes a Call in Levittown
I knew pretty early on in high school that I wanted to get out of Dodge, so I started researching colleges on the East Coast. The first moment I stepped on campus at G.W. I knew that Washington, D.C. was the city for me. Choosing to head south to D.C. is the decision I credit with setting me on the path to where I am today.
It's weird for me to think about, but Washington, D.C. is actually (to date) where I've lived the longest as an adult. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was there, yet I was there for 5 years. And, I really lived there -- even though they were my college years I actually lived there year round for all four years of school and one year after. I never "went home" for summers. I loved D.C. so so so much and it just became home for me very quickly.
I still love Washington, D.C. In many ways it's my "dream city" and what appeals to me about it is a lot of the same things that appeal to me about Florence -- walkable, good public transport, museums, culture, an appreciation for intellectual conversation. But, we left for a very simple reason: it was just so damn expensive to live there. Even with two good jobs it was month-to-month living there. I'd love to end up back there someday. I miss Dupont Circle, the neighborhood I lived in for three years and absolutely adored.
When we decided to leave Washington, D.C. (right around the time we got engaged) we had no idea where to go. So, we did what any rational couple does: pulled out a map and started flagging cities that would be fun to live in. On paper, I was convinced that Nashville would be the spot and we tacked on a visit to Louisville almost as an afterthought during the trip to Nashville. Well, we ended up loving Louisville. We had a crazy UHaul journey from Washington to Louisville, but made it in one piece.
Here's what I remember about Louisville quite fondly: our small, but adorable apartment in Old Louisville, our super cute house and fantastic neighborhood, really nice parks, a beautiful downtown with lots of great architecture, our wedding, very friendly people, good restaurants, Heine Brother's coffee, the few friends we made were amazing people.
Here's what I remember about Louisville not so fondly: everyone was obsessed with basketball (but, they did win the championship this year, so it's for good reason), you had to drive everywhere, hard to meet people with diverse backgrounds, it never felt like home, limited cultural options, a no-good-very-bad apartment situation after we sold our house.
I'll always look back on our time in Louisville with positive thoughts. We got married there. Found Winston there. Decorated our first home there. At the end of the day, I think we both learned a lot about just how important our surroundings our to our happiness -- and, what our city dealbreakers are. Being honest about what did and did not work for us about Louisville really helped us be rational about the next move.
Back to L-town for 7 months. When you have the "dream expat story" a lot of people assume that you floated here on a cloud and magically landed under the Tuscan sun. In reality, we lived in my childhood bedroom for 7 months while we go our finances in order and dual citizenship figured out.
That, of course, leads us to Florence, Italy. It's hard to believe that we've been here for 2.5 years already! It seems like just yesterday that we arrived, but so much has changed. We now have our daughter and are getting ready to move to a new apartment -- one that has a very "permanent" feel to it -- or, at least as permanent as anything can ever be for nomads like ourselves.
Florence is such a good fit for us right now. Part of the reason we've ended up in a city that works so well for us is our experience living in these other places. You just learn what does and does not work for you. Florence works.