The stigma behind being alone, doing things alone, and staying alone needs to end. If there wasn't such a big stigma behind this idea that alone equals sad, pitiful loneliness, then there probably wouldn't be so many people suffering from depression and anxiety. Yes, I know a lot of what constitutes depression and anxiety are much more complex, deeper factors behind mental health. But the big deal made out of the idea of being alone should instead transform into an idea that being alone sometimes is a beautiful thing. And this is the case even for the most extrovert people; all humans need alone time. To me, being alone signifies being with oneself. Keeping yourself company allows for a lot of incredibly creative, cathartic, and even spiritual change to happen, and this is a vital part of life.
Boarding the plane to Florence almost completely alone was terrifying to me. I say "almost completely alone" here because at the time, 3 years ago, I was going with a group of college kids around my age through my university. However, I didn't know any of them well or almost at all. That plus the fact I was going to a completely foreign country for 4 entire months, thousands of miles away from my family scared me like hell. But I did as my mind was telling me to do, sucked it up and tried to enjoy the ride. After all, I was going to one of the most beautifully historic places on Earth.
When the plane landed, we joined each other into a group to be welcomed by a few ladies who worked at the school. They paired us up with our roommates, two to a taxi, and we were off to meet our new home. As time passed, classes started and the surrounding area finally started to feel like home. I knew the coffee shop vendor by first name and the people whom I now passed by on my way to school at least twice a day, started looking familiar. I had made at least one "friend" per class, which was helpful in times of exams and projects... but when it came time to planning trips, I felt like I still didn't have friends I could count on to accompany me to the multitude of places I wanted to see. I thought that maybe if I postponed planning trips, it would get easier with time, but I quickly discovered making good friends was not becoming a thing for me, and time was only being wasted. Don't get me wrong, I did meet quite a few people with whom I could meet up, but whenever I talked about traveling outside the country or to other cities in Italy, many people already had their established groups of friends, which made it difficult to try to get into a pre-established plan, or try to make new ones.
I am the type of person who loves to explore new places and find hole in the wall coffee shops, book stores, markets, and shops, or just to take in the view and the history ingrained in the streets of wherever I may be. For whatever reason, I strongly believed I couldn't explore on my own in Florence and became frustrated whenever I wanted to get out and venture. One day, I couldn't take it anymore and needed to go for a run. I ran as far as I could and finally, reached the top of Piazzale Michelangelo just in time for sunset. There was a street musician playing the acoustic guitar and singing beautiful ballads, the sky was clear with only a few scattered clouds that looked like light blue cotton candy, and the air was crisp and warm. I walked up to the railing on the ledge that overlooked the entirety of Florence and took in the view. I don't know if it was the combination of the acoustic music and sunset, or if it was the fact I was there completely alone and completely fine with it, but the evening felt magical. There was an air of peacefulness that fell over me and as I took a deep breath, I couldn't help but smile and be grateful. At that moment nothing else mattered. It was like the ultimate reward I was receiving for not giving in to my fears that day and pushing through it. From that day on, I never let anything else stop me from doing what I wanted.
Every week I started looking forward to my ventures alone. I found so many nice spots around Florence during these walks, and most of these places became my favorite go-to's and allowed me to learn about the city in a very different way. When tourists visit Florence, they might only know or think of the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the House of the Medici, the statue of David, and the shops around the Piazza della Republica. But Florence is so much more than that! If you are brave enough to cross the Arno river, there is an entire other side to Florence that many don't usually think of visiting. I first heard about that side of the river in a class I had at the school in Florence. The professor was talking about how the "real" Florence is found in areas besides the touristic ones; where Fiorentinos live and where the hustle and bustle of the city feels distant. He said if we want to find the places that the locals frequent, we have to go to the Piazza Santo Spirito area. That is also where some of the best aperitivos were. Aperitivo is the Italian version of the happy hour, but a lot better if you ask me. You usually pay for a drink and you can eat all the food they have available complimentary!
One evening, as I was walking back from a long walk, and a nice hike to the top of San Miniato Al Monte, I took the wrong turn and walked into a little corner of heaven. It felt like a magical, hidden place not many knew about. This little tiny piazza was called Piazza della Passera. There was a restaurant with outdoor seating, some cute benches, a coffee shop, and a tiny gelato shop on the corner of the street called Gelateria della Passera that led to another path. This place was the definition of a hidden gem. I decided to try out their flavors because of how unique they looked. Gelato around Florence is very abundant. However, you have to know what places to avoid so you are tasting truly authentic Italian gelato. Most of the shops sell you mass-produced gelato that tastes like pure sugar and artificial flavors. But true authentic Italian gelato will taste home made and flavored with the real ingredients. And that is exactly what this place had. They made small batches of artesanal gelato featuring flavors like orange infused dark chocolate, pure nocchiola (hazelnut), prickly pear, fresh peach, and even basil flavored gelato. Plus, each scoop cost only 1 Euro, allowing me to taste a different flavor every time I visited this corner of Florence. I Highly recommend this place!
Besides walks and adventures around the city, there were times I also had dinners by myself, and signed up for trips by myself. I was able to see so many other gorgeous places around Tuscany, and going by myself only helped to really take it all in. I was also able to meet a lot of different types of people, which helped expand my acquaintance circle. Now, instead of just having a friend from each class, I also knew people who I shared trips with. I had made friends from each different trip and was able to say I belonged to many different groups of friends. I didn't only know students from my university; I also met students from all of the other universities who were attending the same school as I in Florence. This was another great gift. When I started doing things by myself, I as able to keep pushing myself. I joined social media groups that led me to meet three really great Fiorentinos. Two of them spoke English, but one did not speak a single word of either English or Portuguese (my two native languages), so I was faced with yet another fear that I had to tackle: speaking only Italian. And let me tell you, it was a little rough at first, but I ended up understanding almost all of the hour-long conversations I had with this Fiorentino. I also learned a lot about the culture of Florence and Italy by spending time with these people, which once again helped me view the city in a different light and understand the culture even more. Now this is what I call "living abroad!"
Taking time to explore a beautiful city by myself was not only fun and calming, but it allowed me to just reflect on who I am and what I want, and really pushed me to surpass the [now] silly fears I used to have. When you embrace your flaws, and embrace the things that bring you the most fear, then you can truly find the essence of yourself. There is so many beautiful parts of life awaiting on the other side of the wall that is built from our fears. If there is anything you have taken out of this article, please take with you the motivation to embrace your fears. Tackle them with so much power, that you can transform them into an indescribable gift. The times I was alone were usually the times I ate the best foods, watched the most gorgeous sunsets, and met the most interesting places. So go out there, and let's break the stigma together!
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