It’s been yet another monumental week here in Florence—one for the books.

On Tuesday the professor of our History of Food and Culture Course (I still can’t believe that’s the academic class I’m taking here) led us on our second walking tour through the open markets and around the center of Florence. He pointed out the public water fountain that has spigots for both flat and bubbly water, showed us a hole-in-the-wall, worker-populated, Osteria (that wouldn’t allow the Secret Service to clear out the restaurant before Barbara Bush had lunch there, so she ate amongst the locals anyway), and took us to the stand that makes their delicious paninis on the very best bread. The tour also included a cannoli tasting, for research purposes of course…

While the food tour was more fun than any school day of my wildest dreams, I couldn’t stop checking the time, and not even a cannoli could redirect my focus—my parents were on the last leg of their flight to Florence!!!

As soon as “class” ended, I hopped in a cab and headed to the airport where I planned to surprise my parents outside of baggage claim. They were expecting to meet me at their airbnb. Before they landed, I quickly scribbled out a sign that read “Mr. & Mrs. Giffin” and stood at their gate holding it like a chauffer, anxiously awaiting their arrival.

After ten minutes of waiting inside the airport, and two month of not seeing each other, I was reunited with my parents. With a jet-lag induced, relatively confused reaction to my surprise, we joyously embraced. Nothing could feel better than welcoming the most important people in my life to this unbelievable temporary home of mine.

I loaded my zombie parents into a cab where I spoke to the driver in my very broken, just-getting-the-point-across Italian. My parents seemed to be impressed, but only because they don’t know a lick of the language—during his visit, my dad frequently confused “Buenos Aires” (the capital of Argentina) with “Buongiorno” (Italian for good morning).

I was a little worried that my language abilities may have directed the driver to Sicily, but luckily we arrived at the airbnb without a missed turn.

When my parents originally reserved their apartment a few months ago, I gave them a very vague, general, idea of where to stay because you really can’t go wrong in Florence. I simply suggested that they not book a place too far outside of the city’s center and my advice narrowed the search down to a whopping 400 possible airbnbs for rent.

Before their arrival, I spoke to my parents about their finalized apartment arrangements. I asked for the address of their place, hoping to go find it, and snoop around from the outside. I ended up not having to search at all. Completely by coincidence, they’d reserved the apartment building directly next to mine (my address is 11 Borgo Dei Greci and their airbnb is 12 Borgo Dei Greci).  We still can’t believe it!

After they’d settled in next-door, we hit the ground running and got straight to eating. I took them to Osteria Santo Spirito, the cozy restaurant directly across the street from my school. This place was the very first bullet point on my compiled “To Show Parents” list, because they dole out the most delicious olive tapenade with their bread, they serve truffle gnocchi that has a smell that makes me weak at the knees, AND they offer 5 euro half portions of pasta (just substantial enough to make you want to undo the top button your pants, but not so much that you need to change into sweats altogether).

We thoroughly enjoyed our delicious dinner and walked home in a pants-unbuttoned, blissful, fullness.

In a strange, removed way, having my parents here has allowed me to witness and re-experience my own acclimation process to Florence, through watching them figure out the ways of the city and the Italian lifestyle. As they struggle with which direction the river is in, which way to turn down the street to get to their apartment from mine, or what Italian greetings are appropriate for what times of the day, I am reminded of experiencing that same utter confusion when I first got here. Watching them absorb all of this new information has made me appreciate just how much I have learned and adapted, without knowing it, since I’ve been here. Now those things that I once had to struggle to remember, are more etched in my mind than the lyrics to “Happy Birthday.”

In spending time with my parents, I have discovered exactly what it is that I’ve learned; I know how to determine the seemingly ambiguous moment in which I should pay for my coffee, the specific time frame during which it’s acceptable to drink a cappuccino (only mornings and after 4 pm), how to find order, and wait for things in this line-less culture, how to skillfully jaywalk while dodging Vespas, bikes, the fastest mini-cars, how to carve out multiple hours of time per meal, and how to discern which yelling matches are arguments and which are just friends saying good-morning.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve also learned the importance of having a big city mentality. There are times here, like back in LA, when people beg for money or are pushy with selling you things or asking you to sign petitions on the street. While my safety has never felt threatened here, I’m usually not interested in buying the products or signing the clipboards; when approached, I keep walking and just shake my head, not saying anything, as to conceal my true, tourist identity.

I’ve particularly grown accustomed to ignoring the large number of harmless yet pestering men that walk around asking you questions, in attempt to grab your attention, in order to sell you a bracelet and a selfie-stick when its sunny, or an umbrella and a poncho when it begins to rain.

On my parents’ second day in Florence, I met up with them after class, for an afternoon so jam-packed with 14 plus miles of tourism, that my mom’s feet actually bled. Sorry Mom!

First and most logically, we grabbed some gelato from Gelateria Santa Trinita and scarfed it down on the bridge by the river.

With sugar-filled bellies, we began walking to the next of our many destinations for the day. On our way, one of the infamous men selling bracelets approached us. I kept walking, as it is ingrained in me by now, and my mom followed suit. My dad, on the other hand, being the trusting mid-westerner that he is, couldn’t deny the bracelet seller a friendly handshake when the man motioned to “bring it in bro!” Thinking that would be the end of their pleasant exchange, my dad tried to keep walking after shaking the bracelet man’s hand, however the seller held on tightly and walked along side my dad (a classic bracelet man tactic that I see tourists fall for everyday).

Hand in hand they exchanged pleasantries and talked about where they were from (another one of their classic “buttery-you-up” tactics). Meanwhile, I fast-walked, hiding my face, pretending to fit in amongst the Italians, and definitely not associating with my dad, who was committing the most fragrant “I’m not from around here” foul.

My mom, however, grew more and more concerned, assuming that the bracelet man was distracting my dad with the intentions of pickpocketing him. Still holding his hand, the seller pulled out a bracelet and put it on my dad’s free wrist. In a panic, my mom whipped around to my dad, who was walking ten yards behind us, and shouted, “Phil! We need to go NOW!”

Confused as to her unnecessarily extreme reaction, my dad responded with the elation and enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning, “No, look honey!” He exclaimed,  “He’s giving me a gift!!! And he has one for you too!” …

My dad thanked the generous gift giver and tried to go on his way, until the vendor said, “I need money for those bracelets to give to my children.”

My dad gave back the gift and learned his first lesson in Florence: walk past the bracelet men.

The rest of the week was full of other learning experiences and more fun and laughter than I ever thought possible:

  • We tasted olive oil and fresh fruit at the central market
  • We climbed the tiny, windy, 500 step staircase to the top of the Duomo where we watched a stunning sunset over the cityscape
  • We shopped with laser focus and negotiated like lawyers at the outdoor leather market
  • We visited churches and lit candles for loved ones
  • We ran into a good friend from home in an empty, downstairs inventory of a shoe store
  • We saw Michelangelo’s The David up close
  • We went to a Florentine Jazz Club
  • We got (lovingly) scolded by an impassioned grandma running a restaurant who told us—in Italian of course—to relax when we asked for the check after a long meal
  • We walked to Piazzale Michelangelo where we enjoyed the best view of the city
  • We listened to an Italian street singer fudge words to American songs on the bridge overlooking the moon lit Arno River
  • We took a day trip by train to the most spectacular coastal National Park, Cinque Terre
  • We braved a lightening filled storm to get to our favorite restaurant where we ate by candlelight in a power outage
  • We drank enough coffee to keep us awake for the rest of our lives
  • We ate more gelato than I’d like to admit
  • And most importantly we consumed enough spaghetti to wrap around the circumference of the globe.

Tonight their fun, food-filled week here came to a bitter-sweet end. At the close of the evening, my mom and dad walked me over to my apartment where we hugged tightly, and said our sentimental see-you-soons.

I waved as they headed back to their apartment to collect their luggage before their departure. I chuckled again, as I watched my mom turn the opposite direction and head the wrong way down my street.

Willa Giffin studied abroad in Florence, Italy in Winter 2017: