Walking down the grandiose hallway in the Accademia, my eyes met David’s eyes and they stayed fixed on his steady gaze until my neck could no longer bear to look up. I was in Florence, the art lover’s Mecca, standing at the feet of David, Michelangelo’s David, the one that is in the movies and magazines, the ‘real’ David. The famed statue was in fact all it was cracked up to be; it was a masterpiece — “ giant, powerful, and most importantly, the work of a genius.
However, in going straight to the David, I missed out on Michelangelo’s other works like his half-finished sculptures that are just as impressive, if not more so than the David. After a friend pointed me to these lesser-known works, I realized that in following the crowds to see what is famous and popular, you miss out on treasures that embody the essence and authenticity of a culture. With this realization, I was eager to spend the rest of my time in Italy discovering the hidden treasures that the country has to offer to those who are willing to stray from the crowd.
After the Accademia visit, all of the students in the travel group I was with decided to split up for lunch. The guidebook I had been carrying in my purse pointed to a few places that serve your typical pasta and pizza dishes. However, it also suggested a place where the locals eat.
The book warned of its small menu and local cuisine but I encouraged the group to go. We set out along the narrow sidewalks of Florence, made a few turns, and expected to see the place on the next street. When we got there, the restaurant was nowhere to be found but we did not give up and instead entrusted the help of some passersby.
After a few minutes we found it tucked inconspicuously in a room inside the Italian version of a snack bar. The guidebook was dead-on; we were clearly the only tourists there and the menu consisted of four dishes we could barely pronounce. Once we had finished our meals, mine being a tasty mango risotto, everyone agreed that straying from the tourist-beaten path was well worth it.
We felt like true Italians and even got an authentic taste of their cuisine. As the trip continued the group began to embrace traveling outside the box. A few days later, on our way home from an opera, we heard sounds coming from an alley across the street.
We followed the noise and it led us to a rhythmic concert in a lively square, tucked away in the middle of a neighborhood. Here, we were once again the only tourists, but it was here where we were once again able to experience the true essence of Italy. On the plane ride home I flipped through all 400 pictures that I took and all the memories came flowing back through my head.
The greatest sense of fulfillment I got was not in looking at the pictures I took of the Coliseum or the Duomo, but in looking at the pictures I took of the group at the authentic Italian restaurant and the concert in the lively square. Through these pictures I remembered what it was like to feel the essence of Italy and that I was only able to feel this essence by diverging from the worn path, even if it meant turning away from David’s enduring gaze.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.