Squeezing through a red-lit bar which pulsed to the sound of loud guitars, I clutched my drink to protect it from dancing elbows and swinging handbags. The vibe was urban, the music modern, but the setting was not. I was in the centre of the historic city of Florence, surrounded by Renaissance architecture, fine marble statues and magnificent churches, and around 200 Florentine hipsters, having a blast on a Friday night. In a destination famed for its 14th century roots, I was a enjoying a particularly 21st century night out.
I had been invited to Plaz bar by Noa, my Airbnb hostess for the weekend. For a solo traveller, hotels can be lonely places. Hostels usually end up being my accommodation of choice – but on this trip I just wanted to guarantee a little more, well… sleep. So having been recommended Airbnb I browsed the single rooms available on the website and earmarked a handful that looked interesting. Then an apartment called “Florence – City of Art and Artists” caught my eye. It was within walking distance of the city centre. It was small, quirky and bright. And from the looks of her profile picture, so was the owner, Noa. Even better, the room was just £28 per night. I messaged Noa immediately and received a warm, friendly reply. The room was free, she’d love to have me to stay. I paid through the site’s secure system, and showed up on Noa’s doorstep a week later.
Our first encounter was brief as Noa was rushing out to work. She introduced me to her mournful-eyed dog, Gea, and Poldo the cat, told me to help myself to anything in the kitchen, pressed a bundle of city maps and guides into my hand, and said she’d be back around 9pm before going out to see a friend’s band play in a nearby bar – would I like to come?
How could I say no?
I spent the day wandering through the ancient streets – strolling past Ponte Vecchio, the river Arno, piazzas, statues and the glorious, marble-encased cathedral. Lunch was a warming bowl of ribollita – a hearty Tuscan dish traditionally made with “re-boiled” (hence the name) leftover vegetables. The thick, filling soup was made with borlotti beans, kale and bread, and – washed down with a glass of local red wine – made for a sluggish afternoon, even after a strong espresso.
I made it back to Noa’s in time to freshen before our night out, and we decided to go for a quiet drink before going to see the band. Walking back through the old city towards the cathedral, we picked up Noa’s architect friend Marco along the way, and followed him as he turned sharply through an unmarked archway, and up a tall spiral staircase that led up to the roof of an old convent, now turned into a library. Despite being in the heart of one of Italy’s most touristy cities, we were definitely off the beaten track. As we entered what turned out to be the rooftop bar, I was confronted by what looked like a film set – the wall of windows looked straight out across the rooftops onto the Duomo. Noa and Marco ensured I got the seat with the best view, selected a suitable wine, and we sat and chatted in a mixture of English and Italian, the words flowing easier as the wine went down. Marco began to tell me tales of the mystery of the Duomo’s contruction, of the history of Florence. I sat, enthralled, and excited about the unexpected new friendships formed over chianti and a mutual love of art on a Florentine rooftop.