Living La Solo Dolce Vita – Florence for the Solo Woman

Florence for the Solo Woman

Florence for the Solo Woman

Living La Solo Dolce Vita – Florence for the Solo Woman

By Julietta Henderson

There’s something so incongruous about sitting alone in a café with the sounds of Abba on high rotation and the world’s most important Renaissance city going about its business all around you. But as a solo woman traveller, there’s just something so right about it, too.

As a woman travelling alone there are always certain rules you need to follow, certain precautions you need to take, and certain places you could or even ‘should’ avoid; but as a woman travelling alone in Florence, I found that many of those rules were indeed there to be broken.

Bridge across the Arno River in Florence

Bridge across the Arno River in Florence

THE INDULGENCE OF SOLO TRAVELLING

There’s no greater indulgence than travelling on your own, and spending a few glorious weeks or months alone in Florence is one of the greatest gifts you could possibly give yourself. Sure, the whole travelling solo thing can be lonely, and there are definitely times when it would be lovely to have someone to turn to and say, ‘Wow, wasn’t that amazing?’ But, on the whole, the luxury of being able to do exactly what you want, when you want, and with nobody’s agenda in mind but your own is worth a few pangs of loneliness.

Being on my own in Florence allowed me to create memories, experiences and conversations that would never have happened had I been in the company of someone else. I’ve heard and read stories about solo women travellers running into some slightly uncomfortable or unpleasant situations in the more remote rural parts of Italy, however, in Florence, I never had any kind of negative experiences at all. Quite the opposite.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

EATING ALONE

While already extremely polite and friendly to foreigners, in my experience, the Florentine waiters and waitresses seemed to treat me even better as a woman on my own. Were they looking for a bigger tip? Possibly. Did they just feel sorry for me? Maybe. But I choose to believe their courtesy and genuine attempts to make me feel comfortable came from an altruistic place, and I never felt anything other than completely welcomed.

There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and hole-in-the-wall bars in Florence that provide a refuge for a single woman to grab a leisurely coffee and something to eat. (The aforementioned ABBA aficionados can be found at La Feltrinelli Red, in Piazza della Republica in the historic city centre.)

The key is to take a prop. Anything really – a magazine, newspaper, iPad, journal, or even just your phone will do. If you’ve got something to do you won’t feel like you’re standing out in a crowd of couples and families. I occasionally scored a free second coffee from a friendly waiter, and once even an amazing cannoli (my favourite Italian sweet) – although why my lovely elderly waiter thought I needed it after the massive pasta dish I’d just eaten is beyond me. I just said a silent thank you to the Universe, undid another button on my already near-exploding pants and graciously accepted.

Vini Bar in Florence, Italy

Vini Bar in Florence, Italy

DRINKING ALONE

Of course, any woman knows that having a drink on your own is a whole different ballgame to enjoying a quiet panini and an espresso in a friendly café. But, once I got up the courage to actually do it, it was not only liberating, but also extremely pleasant. And, as I discovered over the course of a few weeks, it’s certainly not an unusual occurrence; I saw many a single woman (and not all of them tourists) relaxing with an aperitivo on her own in the early evening.

It always looks rather glamorous, really, and of course that was totally the look I was going for when I chose my particular wine bar, Signorvino, just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio. I was ushered to a prime table (set for four, no less) on the balcony overlooking the Arno and delivered an icy cold prosecco within minutes. It was smiles all round and nobody, customers or staff, blinked an eye. I pulled out my biography of Michelangelo, sat back, and owned my moment – or to be more precise, my hour. My big sunglasses and hat and made me feel like Audrey Hepburn on her Roman Holiday, and while it was definitely less Hepburn and more sunburn on that particularly scorching 40-degree afternoon in Florence, I’m sure nobody noticed…

Sightseeing in Florence, Italy

Sightseeing in Florence, Italy

SIGHTSEEING ALONE

There’s no hardship in visiting Florence’s museums and galleries alone, and being able to wander around the Uffizi or the Accademia at your own pace is a blessing. But when it comes to exploring the many other attractions around the city, you might actually be grateful of a bit of company. I discovered two fabulous ways of being part of a group without having to make too much conversation or feel like you’re being traipsed around on a tour: Segwaying and cycling.

For anyone who hasn’t been on a Segway yet, Florence is the perfect place to start! There’s limited traffic in the city center so there are plenty of places to safely scoot around without fear of coming off second best to a car. A three-hour tour with a small group (mine consisted of myself, the guide, a family with two young children, and a 65 year old woman from Romania) takes in all the top sights of the city. You get an orientation before you set off, but really, if you can stand up straight you can Segway!

Cycling around the back streets of Florence with my very passionate English speaking guide and three other participants was one of my very favorite experiences. I Bike Florence is billed as ‘The first, original city bike tour’, and, for my money, it is one of the very best ways to get an initial orientation of the city. Aniko, the guide, has been leading the tours since 2007, and there’s no alley or side street she doesn’t know. She took us on a wonderful, confusing, enlightening and very relaxing cycle around Florence and shared her personal highlights and plenty of history. It was a truly magical few hours and I really didn’t feel like I was on a tour at all – just out on a cycle with a few friends. As you do.

Shopping in Florence, Italy

Shopping in Florence, Italy

SOLO SAFETY IN FLORENCE

Nowhere can be deemed a completely safe destination and, as a single woman traveller, you always need to have some kind of guard up. But I never felt even remotely threatened or even slightly alarmed walking the streets of Florence in the evening. I walked home to my apartment in the Oltrano area around Santo Spirito (renowned as a locals’ hang out) late at night and always felt completely at ease on my own.

Of course, the regular rules apply and common sense must always prevail. Whenever I travel alone I follow the same principles as I would anywhere in the world: walk ‘with a purpose’ and stick to the main, well-lit thoroughfares at night; dress appropriately and don’t draw attention to yourself or advertise yourself as a tourist; be wary of pickpockets, and never carry large amounts of cash or your passport on your person (a photocopy is a good idea, however).

FLORENCE AND THE SINGLE GIRL

Of all the cities in the world, Florence (or Firenze, as those who fall in love with her are inclined) is perhaps most matched to an affair with the single woman traveller. This glorious city opens its history-laden arms to anyone willing to open their hearts to it, and there’s always a refuge to be found down an quiet alley or around a cobbled corner for a girl on her own to hide away. And don’t worry – not all of them are addicted to ABBA.

BIO

Julietta Henderson

Julietta Henderson

Julietta Henderson is an Australian travel writer and freelance copywriter. She has travelled extensively throughout Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket. She divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has written the copy for several large format photographic coffee table books and also works for London based company, LeadGenerators Digital. An avid lover of cold weather, Julietta’s master travel plan of never having to sweat again has somehow slipped out of synch and she’s currently on her third consecutive year of non-stop summer.

 

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