Time flies faster than we realize. In a few weeks, I will officially be one-year resident in Florence. Looking back to the past year, I feel so blessed: I managed to settle here, made quite a number of local friends, traveled around Tuscany, armed myself with knowledge of Italian cultures. In the meanwhile of looking forward to more excitements yet to come in the future days, months, and years, I feel a review and summary of the past year would also be necessary.
I’ve read and revised this post many times before publishing it, and each time I looked at the photos/ videos shared below, I couldn’t help to put a smile on my face. Before releasing you, whoever is reading this post now, to continue reading, I just want to pass my simple but sincere THANKS to you. Stai Al Borgo is like another baby to me. During the past year, it brought me many chances to connect with talented people, go around and develop deeper relationship with the city of Florence, as well as the country of Italy. The most important reason for me and my blog to grow so much is you: my readers! Either you are my subscribers since years ago, or the first time visitor here, I just want to say: Thank YOU so much. I appreciate each of your footprint here.
All right, back to the topic. Here below is the high-light of my first year in Italy: May 2015 – April 2016. Let’s review this journey together now, shall we?!
May 2015: Land in Tuscany
Lodge at In-Law’s, Visa Application and Taste A Bit of Culture Shock
17 May, 2015 we farewell our friends in Hong Kong, packed our past 10 years into 30 carton boxes, took our 11-month old boy with us on a flight, headed to our new home: Florence.
Since we still needed many housewares for the new apartment, we stayed at my in-law’s. From a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong to the Tuscany countryside, it was indeed a huge change of a lifestyle. However seeing my son enjoyed so much playing around in the little yard with “Nonni” (grandparents) and enjoying what the natural offers, I was delighted that we were here.
Life was sweet until the moment that I started to process my visa. Mamma Mia~ That was really a nightmare! I still remember the long queue and the inefficiency in the Questura, and how many times we had to run among different offices to get one piece of document. But to get something you want, the more difficult it is, the happier you are when you get it! After more than one month, I finally managed to submit all my documents to the Questura. It was a huge relief when the officer handed me the receipt of acceptance to my visa application!
“Be Patient and Persistent!” This is the No. 1 advice I give to anyone who is looking for moving to Italy!
More culture shocks? Of course! Here is a post about things I couldn’t adapt to during my first month in Italy.
June 2015: Move to Florence
New life starts officially, with celebrations of Our Son’s 1-Year Birthday and Our Anniversary
My documents for visa were prepared, so was our apartment in Florence! We finally moved into our new home and start our Florentine life officially in June!
And for the first time, I climbed to the top of Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore. As a newbie it was to fulfill my curiosity and desire as a tourist/ new expat in Florence, as well as to claim my arrival to the city!
Then it arrived our son’s birthday, so as well our wedding anniversary. Our munchkin reached 1-year old, and he celebrated his first birthday without knowing what was going on. We arranged a small party in the garden of my in-law, had some friends, almost all the friends we had back then, coming over to celebrate. It was simple, cozy, and sweet.
For our anniversary, we had a romantic dinner only the three of us in Sesto, the restaurant on the 6th floor of The Westin Excelsior Hotel. If you go to Sesto, besides tasting the delicious cuisine prepared by their Michelin star chef, don’t forget to go to terrace for an aperitivo with a 360C panorama view of Florence. Located in Piazza Ognissanti, the Sesto offers a view along the Lungarno, Borgo Ognissanti and beyond, which is difficult to see clearly from those famous touristic high points.
July 2015: Kick off My Social Life
Joining Italian language school, and my first blog tour with Visit Tuscany
Things started to get real in July, beginning with my enrollment to a two-week Italian course. The learning part was great, but the thing I enjoyed the most about attending language school was that I got to go out, meet new people, and built up social life of my own! I was not sure if attending school made me feel older or younger, since all other students in my class were around 20, but I was just happy every morning to pass Ponte alle Grazie, greet Ponte Vecchio and walk alone to Borgo Santa Croce. I started to feel Florence was my city.
Then the real fun arrived. I was invited to join “Tuscany Among The Star” blog tour organized by Fondazione Sistema Toscana. Together with other four content creators, we visited towns among Tuscany, had lots of special moment and experiences together, which was not only mind opening, but also made me falling in love more with this piece of land. There are tons of nice things I would share, but to prevent this post from being too long, I am just high-light the whole tour with a video done by Stefano Bizzarri, a videographer in Florence who also came in our tour.
Articles about this tour can be found in my blog under the tag #ExpoTuscany.
Since the moment we decided to move to Italy until now, I was full of curiosity as well as fears to begin a new life elsewhere out of my home country. But this tour helped to let go some of the worries, and made me look forward to discovering new experiences. I started to embrace my new life and like it here.
August 2015: Chase the Summer Sunshine up to Finland
A quick check-in neighbor region Romagna, then headed to Scandinavia for Finnish holiday
Summer continued. We decided to chase the sun up to Scandinavia and cease the tail of the mid-summer. That’s why we chose Finland for our summer holiday destination. But before taking off, we stopped by in neighborhood region Emilia-Romagna for a baby baptism.
Monica and Alessandro are a HK – Italian couple living in Hong Kong. They brought their cute baby boy back in Emilia-Romagna for his baptism in August. Not only we were happy to pay a visit to the neighborhood region, we felt super excited to catch up with our friends from Asia on the other side of the world! This baptism was the best example of how Italians taking it seriously: a lovely mass at the church of the home-village, followed by a dinner of over 100 people, which 85% of the guests were relatives. It was a mind-blowing event, and I had lots of fun catching up with Monica! And thanks to the newly baptized little angel, I got the chance to visit the Castello Di Compiano, where hosted the baptism dinner.
In the middle of the month, we headed to Finland for the almost endless Summer days. The mid-summer was already over, however 10PM was still bright enough for a walk in the park nearby our hotel. It is country of flat azure colored lakes and blue sky. If you are into wild hiking, it will be a paradise. However the food of Finland is nothing comparing to Italy, I guess I can only blame the Italians who set the bar too high.
Find the 15 Things I like about Finland in my previous post here.
September 2015: Continue to Meet More Interesting People
Attended a PhotoWalk Organized by Girl in Florence & Scooteroma
Georgette, aka the Girl In Florence blogger, together with Annie organized a photowalk in Florence this month, and I was happy that I joined. Started from Via dei Neri, we crossed Ponte alle Grazie, passed San Niccolo, and then went to Forte di Belvedere.
The biggest reward of this photowalk was that I got to know many talented people doing different creative work in Italy, and now we have become good friends!
< Georgette Jupe, the Girl In Florence blogger, who I started to follow already before I move to Italy. She is a nice girl, who likes to share her critical and funny thoughts and always makes you laugh.
> Annie Ojile, aka the Queen of the Scooteroma Tour. I enjoy being around her, as she is very creative and passionate about what she does. I even chased her down to Rome and hopped on her Vespa for the first Vespa tour of my life. That was an unbelievably amazing experiences.
< Valentina Dainelli, blogger at TooMuchTuscany. I didn’t hang out with Valentina a lot until we partnered to take a trip to Rome. Her kindness deeply impressed me, and she is a person full of creative ideas. She recently opened her own creative agency Lo Studio providing communication and marketing services.
> Maria Riazanova, co-founder of EaTravel. I was already familiar with her photos before meeting her in person. She is a talented event curator, table setup artist, and a great photographer! I can’t wait to meet her this Summer and having more fun together.
October 2015: I Was Sick, Sick, Sick…
Chickenpox found me in this month
I’ve been through on-and-off situations with flues and cold during the past months, but nothing big. Finally in October my immune system had a little break-down: I got the first, and hopefully the only, chickenpox in my life!
October was supposed to be the fun month of the year, as it is harvest harvest season, and there are many events all around Tuscany. But to me the past October was a fan (in Chinese烦，meaning “annoying”) month. I shut myself indoor for two weeks, and then another week just staying around home doing nothing exciting. The next thing I know: October was gone. Really fun, right?~
In case you would encounter similar situation, which I really hope never, see my tips on how to get over annoying sickness and remember “you are not the only one”.
November 2015: Eat My Way Out
With a little weight loss from the chickenpox, and the sorrowful post-disease mood, the only way could cheer me up was EAT!
December 2015: Travel Back to Asia
Stop over in Hong Kong, then headed to Thailand for friends’ wedding ceremony
After half year, we flew back to our previous “homeland” Hong Kong for a short stay before heading to Thailand. STRANGE was the feeling I had when I stepped onto this piece of land again, where I spent the past 8 years. Everything seemed so familiar, but none of them belonged to me any more.
Of course the only thing I couldn’t miss in Hong Kong was the great Chinese food! And among all the Chinese cuisines, the one I missed the most was the Sichuan Hot Pot! 三希樓 is my favorite Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. They specializes in Sichuan cuisine, which is famous for the spicy taste. In Winter, the hot pot in 三希樓 is a must-try if you visit Hong Kong!
After two nights in Hong Kong, we found ourselves in Phuket, Thailand surrounded by blue ocean and lots of sunshine. Our friends Trisha and Marco were having their wedding ceremony in this beautiful place. Being a good friend to the groom, my husband was one of the best men, who backed the groom up for getting the bride. In certain Asian countries (China is one of them), we have a tradition that before the ceremony, the groom must be “put to the tests” by the bridesmaids in order to be qualified to marry the bride. Usually the tests are just some silly games designed by the bridesmaids, and of course as the best men, they need to support the groom by jointly taking the tests! Fortunately/ unfortunately all the funny moments were caught and put in the video clips below.
Many of our old friends in Hong Kong also flew to the wedding. It was such a nice experience to see the union of our dear friends, and it was also a wonderful party to catch-up with all the friends in Asia! This ceremony totally made my 2015!
Time moved us on……
We had Christmas, new year’s eve celebrations, then here came the 2016!
January 2016: Join #WinterInRome Blog Tour and explore the Eternal City with lots of Fun
After almost 10 years I finally made my way back to the Eternal City in January 2016. Linda from The Beehive Rome invited me and other bloggers to join the #WinterInRome tour, exploring the off-beaten paths during the low tourist season. For the first time I took food tours in Rome, gained lots of food wise knowledge, visited the EUR area, hopped on the classic Vespa and shuttled among different hills in Rome. The benefit of visiting Rome in Winter is having much less crowds almost everywhere.
Ashley from No Half Measure Film made a 15-second video for our Food Tour with EatingItaly in Rome. You can tell that we ate a lot, but besides that the intake of the knowledge was also high. It was a tour with a good combinations of food & culture.
February 2016: A Rainy Month with A Tour to Castello del Trebbio
This February was a rainy month. Thus I felt like to stay in more than go out. But there was something interesting happened outside the roof: a tour with other bloggers to Castello del Trebbio, a 900 year old castle originally belonged to the Pazzi Family. Besides the crazy story of the Pazzi, what makes this castle special is that this is one of the few castles in Italy that is still inhabit all year round. The current family has been living in since 1968, nowadays it is the 2nd generation who are running the castle by producing high quality wine, extra-virgin olive oil, saffron, and agriturismo experiences.
We had a tour around the castle, visited the cellar, had a pasta making section, ended our tour with a lunch including a selection of antipasti, pasta that we made, and wine tasting. I’ve been missing their home-made black olive sauce ever since I tasted it there!
March 2016: Gathering & Networking with Friends
Finally here comes the Spring! After a wet and cold past month, I was ready to embrace every inch of sun light! And there is no better time for me to socialize more with friends, and root deeper into the Florentine life.
My initiative of enjoying the spring began with a pizza night in our apartment, with friends invited. We had lots of spritz, cold cut, and a Chinese cook, aka me, making pizza for everybody!
Then the next day I went on a food and wine tour with my friends to Montalcino for some wine tasting with some small Brunello producers. It was my first serious wine tasting experiences, and also a mind-opening educating trip. All the cellars we visited were run by locals. They only produce small amount every year, but they were really passionate about their work, deep in love with their land, proud and confident of what they offer. The tour was co-organized by Curious Appetite and We Like Tuscany.
We Like Tuscany organizes many amazing private tours around the region, including Vespa tour, Fiat 500 tour (Amazing~), Food & Wine tour (I joined the Brunello Wine Tour, which was educating and entertaining), Bike tour, etc. I have 5% discount for all my readers! Don’t forget to use the code: STAIALBORGO on purchasing any of their tours!
Then right before gone of March, me together with many other bloggers joined an InstaPranzo at Hotel Regency Firenze, a chic boutique hotel located in Piazza D’Azeglio. Following an aperitivo, a tour to their classic, we tried the great work of chef Rino Pinnucci by having a comprehensive lunch in the restaurant, with French windows overlooking the garden. It was a great time in a great afternoon, as well as a great way to say goodbye to March 2016.
April 2016: Embrace the Tuscan Sun
April was a bright month. It was sunny most of the time, the weather turned warm, sometimes even hot but still not too harsh. It was the best period to enjoy the air outdoor! I was glad to be invited to visit Villa Medicea di Lilliano, one of the most beautiful villas in Tuscany, at the most gorgeous time of the year.
The whole experience was exclusive and special, starting from how we arrived to the villa. Eric, the General Manager of the villa, arranged the cutest pick-up from Florence with the vintage FIAT500 (again provided by the best tour operator We Like Tuscany), shuttled among the countryside hills all the way to commune of Bagno a Ripoli, where located the Villa Medicea di Lilliano.
Together with other bloggers, we spent two days in the villa, bombed by series of fun activities. As a top wedding hosting location in the region, the villa offered programs which made us feel like wedding guests: welcoming kit wrapped by ribbons, hand-written programs cards ready in the room, aperitivo on the lawn, wedding cake tasting by the top cake artisan, a fancy dinner with reception style table set-up, etc. Everything was so perfectly arranged, and I couldn’t help to hope that one of my friends would get married here soon, and I will be invited! 😛
A full post of this 2-day escape will be up soon. Here just a sneak peak of this gorgeous places in the Tuscany countryside:
A sincere “thank you” again to all my old & new friends. I feel very blessed to have each one of you in my past year in Italy. And I am also looking forward to new journey’s together with you all in the coming year. Meanwhile can’t wait to have new adventures to new places, opportunities to meet new friends, and more memories to share here with you all!