A Tale of Two River Cities

Enjoying views of the Arno River.

I recently returned home from the trip of a lifetime.

In a series of events that can only be filed under “Luckiest Girl Alive,” I was able to spend 10 days wandering around Florence and Rome with my boyfriend and his family. I came back cultured, educated and a couple pounds heavier but also with a fresh appreciation for Downtown Jacksonville.

We spent a full week of our trip in Florence. For those of you that napped through a few art history classes like I did, here’s a refresher course:

Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance. The population of metropolitan Florence is similar to Jacksonville, approximately 1.5 million. Like Jacksonville, it is a river city. Built around the Arno River, multiple bridges span the water. For a brief stint in the 1860s, it was the capital of Italy.

Browsing masterpieces in the Bargello National Museum.

Florence is believed to have the greatest concentration of art in the world. The home of Galileo and da Vinci, the city is saturated in history, science, sculptures and frescoes. It was a strange phenomenon for me to see such magnificent works of the human ability juxtaposed with modern conveniences. Next to palaces that used to house Italian royalty are touristy T-shirt carts and overpriced cafès. Fiats and Vespas speed down streets once reserved for the Medici family. Italian school children listlessly scroll through iPhones while on field trips to the most venerated art museums in the world.

I found myself intrigued by these students. They were napping in Loggia dei Lanzi and painting their nails in the Boboli Gardens. Why were they not in awe like I was? I became enchanted by everything around me. I felt like a Disney character, wide-eyed and whimsical, meandering through galleries and museums and cathedrals. But these kids were just on another field trip, probably one they’d been on every year since primary school. They rolled their eyes and listened to their iPods. It baffled me.

But then it occurred to me after my Italian fairy tale had ended that maybe I’m not as reverent about Downtown Jacksonville as I should be. If we all look at our city from an outsider’s perspective, it is a beautiful place to be. How often do we drive to work over the Main Street Bridge as the sun is coming up and just curse the traffic jam? How many times do we walk past a public art piece on our way to lunch without a second look? When was the last time we walked along the river at night, looking at the lights of Downtown like a tourist in our own city?

This weekend, take a trip Downtown and look at our city with a fresh pair of eyes. Check out our events calendar, and try something new. A little whimsy is available around every corner.


– Angela Bruno, DVI Intern