by Melinda Gallo

The reason I initially came to Florence in 1997 was to find my inspiration to write. At the time, I thought if I extracted myself from my ďnormalĒ life, gave up my day job, and moved to an enchanting city, I would certainly be inspired to write. Initially, it worked. The change of culture, language, lifestyle, and surroundings all inspired me. After living here for many years and still feeling the effect of my beloved city on me, I realize that my inspiration is more tied to something completely different: running.

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My grandmother used to often tell me, ďThe early bird gets the worm.Ē I always thought it was her way of getting me up early instead of sleeping in. But today, I realized how true that expression really is, and how the best moments occur when you wake up early for them. I was out the door by 7:45am to go for my morning run, which isnít that early, but it was early enough to reap the benefits. I was startled by how cool the air was since the sun had been up before I was. I thought it had at least an hour or so to warm up the air a little, but that wasnít the case.

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With the tourist season coming into full swing, I have not been crossing the Ponte Vecchio. I can tell by the large groups of students and tourists drifting through the city streets that the season has just begun. Generally, Ponte Vecchio is my gauge to know how busy the city is. I looked at it a few times from along the lungarno and could see how crowded it was.

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This morning I couldnít wait to go for a walk up to Piazzale Michelangiolo. After arriving last night, I was ready to get up to the piazzale to see my city in its entirety. Even though Saturday was warm and sunny, it was foggy and cool Sunday morning. I dashed out of our apartment and walked briskly across Ponte alle Grazie and along the Arno up to the Viale Michelangiolo.

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Living in Florence :: Last afternoon in Paris

I couldnít wait to enjoy my last few hours in Paris before heading back to Florence. It was a perfect spring day with the sun warming up the cool air. I walked down the rue de Grenelle, where I was staying, to the Invalides. Boys were playing soccer on the grass and tourists were navigating the streets with their maps opened as they walked along the large sidewalks of the esplanade. I cut through the soccer game along the stone walkway that cuts the grass diagonally to get to the mťtro station. Instead of taking a mťtro, I hopped on the RER to Saint Michel. I wanted to see the Notre Dame and the Seine before taking off. The first thing I saw in Paris when I arrived two weeks ago was the Notre Dame, and I thought itíd be good to end my trip with it as well.

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Spring has finally arrived in Paris today. My marito (husband) told me that spring arrived last week in Florence. I was jealous when he said the sun was shining brightly because when I looked out the windows, the skies here in Paris were grey. The temperatures finally rose enough today to reach the mid 70ís (20ís in Celsius) that we opened the windows in our office for the first time.

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For the last three months I have spent half my time in Paris and the other half at home in Florence. I am now back in Paris in the middle of my third two-week trip. At the beginning of the year, I would never have imagined that Iíd be traveling back and forth to Paris for work. I always thought I would return to Paris some day until I moved to Florence. Even though my home is Florence, Paris holds a very special place in my heart. And, I feel fortunate to be able to come and spend so much time here.

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Before leaving for Paris yesterday, I felt a little anxious about my trip. It wasnít that I didnít want to go to Paris, but I felt I hadnít enjoyed my beloved city enough before taking off again. I had time to meet up with friends and catch quick glimpses of the city, but I wasnít able to stroll the streets, take many photos, or enjoy the beginning of spring in Florence.

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Living in Florence :: Reaching out

Earlier this week, a dear friend had suggested that we walk up to San Miniato on Saturday morning. After a few rainy and then sunny days, yesterday ended up being overcast. I was excited to visit San Miniato because I hadnít gone there in at least a year. After enjoying a cappuccino and pasta (pastry), we walked under the large wooden doorway of the ancient mura (wall) and made our way to the stairs. We hiked up the wide stone steps, leading up the hill to Piazzale Michelangiolo.

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Living in Florence :: Celebrating 150 years of unification

In less than two weeks, the Italians organized a festa (holiday) that they have never celebrated before today. On March 17, 1861, Italy was unified. Most countries would have celebrated that festa every year, but in Italy no one has ever declared it a national festa. And even though it is festa today. It will not be next year. Most Florentines I know arenít enthusiastic about the unification of Italy or this festa. They, like most Italians, identify themselves first from the city where they come from and then the country. My friends are Florentines first and Italians second.

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I returned to a rainy city after my two-week stay in Paris. I havenít been out much to see the city, but I do watch the Arno with great joy. Its color is now a light brown and the level is getting higher by the hour. The one thing I have done since my return is meet up with my Florentine friends. After my nostalgic Sunday in Paris, I was happy that on Monday morning I could go to via dei Neri to say hello to all my negozianti (shopkeepers) with whom I have become friends with over the years.

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Living in Florence :: Last morning in Paris

Before heading back to Florence this afternoon, I decided to have breakfast at Angelinaís. I hadnít yet been during my two trips to Paris this year. Every time I have visited Paris in the past, I have always made my way there. Their hot chocolate is world-renowned, and I couldnít wait to enjoy it. I have walked by a few times to check it out, but the line to get a seat was usually long. I was pleased when I arrived this morning to find that there was no line at all.

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After being in Paris almost two weeks, I have realized some things are different for me here. When I'm in Paris, I tend to make choices with my head; however when Iím in Florence, I tend to make them with my heart. I try to always choose what feels right to me, which may of course not always be logical, but when Iím in Paris I feel as if I can cut through my emotions more. I wonder if they are just clearer when Iím in Paris or if they are fewer.

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Another change occurred in my life a month ago: I made the decision to discontinue my Expats in Florence column. Today, in fact, the last article I wrote will be published. It was not an easy choice for me to make, but one that feels right to me. I enjoyed meeting so many expats, interviewing them, and writing about them; however, after two years, I didnít feel that same passion I had when I started. I felt I had done exactly what I wanted to accomplish with the column, and was pleased to let it go.

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While I am in Paris, Italian begins and ends my day, I speak French during the day, and write in English. I talk to myself in a mix of languages though. Sometimes, Iím not even sure which language Iím using. Here itís mostly French and some English while when Iím in Florence, itís a mix of Italian and English. When I was learning Italian initially, I would always speak to myself in Italian. I found it an effective way for me to immerse myself in the language. I find it a little more challenging to juggle three languages than when Iím juggling only two. Usually, my brain divides them into "my" language and "foreign" language.

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