There is no doubt that expat blogs from Florence are probably the most popular around, there are literally hundreds of them, but there are few which are able to make themselves stand out and original like Tiana Kai in Florence. Tiana combines her love of travel with her curiosity and knack with photography to explore Tuscany, Italy and Europe at large.
I was surprised when she managed to find a moment in her busy schedule to answer my questions and I am happy to share our conversation with you all.
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Florence Perhaps you can describe exactly where are you living in the city?
Well, I’m definitely not a local, so expat, immigrant, visitor all work! I have been living in Florence for two years now. I rekindled with my ex (a Florentine) whom I dated back in the US from 2001-2003. We got back in touch and next thing I knew he bought me a ticket to visit him for two weeks. The rest is history!
How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Oh wow, what’s not to say? The coast, the mountains, the land, passion, food, wine, vineyards…I can go on and on. Every corner is picturesque and every passerby is a moving piece of art. I think Italians are very welcoming. I travel a lot around Italy and the people I meet are so incredible, open, fun and curious. Sure, Americans are easier to get to know, but so are Italians if you are willing to open yourself up.
Name five things I should see and do in Florence?
Climb the Giotto tower to see the incredible view of the city and an up close shot of the Duomo.
Walk up to my favorite viewpoints: San Miniato al Monte Church and Piazzale Michelangelo. The best time is right before sunset—linger around for a few hours while the pink hues seep in.
Tour the many gardens! My favorite is the small rose garden inside Boboli Gardens and the Rose Garden to the west of Piazzale Michelangelo. There are so many that I still have a few on my list to see.
Visit a fashion museum besides the Uffizi, I prefer Ferragamo’s museum to Gucci’s.
Eat like crazy! Grab a panino at All’Antico Vinaio, snack on a lampredotto sandwich on the streets, rip your teeth into a bistecca fiorentina and have wine at Il Santino.
What should I taste or eat in Florence?
As mentioned above you definitely need to eat a bistecca fiorentina. Juicy, raw and flavorful. Finish dinner with a light dessert like Vin Santo (dessert wine) and cantucci (tiny biscotti) dunking the cookies into the wine for an excellent finish to the evening.
Gelato, yay! There are a handful of artisan gelaterias who always have a changing menu depending on the season, so you’ll sure find unique and unforgettable flavors.
If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
I would meet you at Il Santino. I have tried many bars around town, but this place feels like home to me. It’s small, the owners are cool and the quality of the food is unsurpassable.
You are originally from the States and are now living full time in Italy, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your culture has something in common with your current adopted home?
I find a lot of things similar to life in Miami since Miami is not really “America”. That being said, Italians are still different from Latin Americans, so there was a bit getting used to. Getting things done, paying pills, stores closing for lunch where the main issues I noticed. I used to kiss everyone once when I said hi and bye, now I kiss twice when I say hi…not always goodbye. There are many tiny details that I have shifted in my life now that I live in Italy.
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
As close as I am to my family I always enjoyed being away and doing my own thing. The main things I miss are close friends from the States (thank God for Skype and Facebook) and my two little brothers. I have two older brothers too, but my heart just melt for the youngsters—they’re practically my babies.
Being married to someone I’ve known since I was 20 helps since I feel like I can talk to him about whatever’s on my mind and no one knows me better than he does. Having close girlfriends never hurts either when you need someone to listen to you and who knows what you’re going through (expat-wise or not).
What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Florence?
High points have been settling in and feeling like myself here—routines can help! I’ve been busy getting to know people and traveling, so that’s kept me happy and busy.
Low points were more in the beginning when I didn’t know which new “friend” to trust and spend my time with, and the let’s not forget the legal paperwork which is always a dream!
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
Some people may think that life is better somewhere else, that they need a change. Others see it as an adventure to share with their partner or on their own, living a life dream and good for them! I think everyone should live abroad at least once in their lives to see how other people live and gain other life experiences.
Growing up in Miami I always met people from other countries and thought it was so amazing that they packed up and took a chance in a different country.
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
Ha, I’m bad at practicing! My husband and I speak English since he’s amazing at English and we met speaking English. I speak Italian to locals, but I find it incredibly odd to speak Italian to an American.
What led you to the world of blogging?
I had a blog in Miami a year or so before I moved here focusing on my business and Miami happenings. Once I moved here I noticed an intense social media presence from other expats and travelers, so I wanted to share my story with them and most importantly with my family and friends back home.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
My blog is a place where you can find tips about Italy and my personal experiences with many many photos! When someone is coming to Florence I want to provide them with the best of what they can do and EAT, so that they have an incredible time here. Since I’m more than just someone living in Florence I like to focus on other travels and expat life in general, so you’ll find a few things that may connect to you on a personal level.
Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?
Maybe a few pompous comments, but I always think that they must not be very nice to anyone not just me.
What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?
I let blogging take me where it takes me. I don’t want a blog filled with advertising and I don’t want to over sell myself, so it’s more about my stories and photography. Many use it as a business and for now I use it as a great tool for work, travel, keeping in touch and sharing my tips and experience with whomever is reading. Who knows what future plans I may have for my blog down the road.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
Connect with others and be yourself!
You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.
I have a Canon Rebel that doesn’t always see the light of day because of the size, so you’ll find me with my Canon Powershot and iPad mini. The mini takes pretty great shots, less pixelated (and lighter!) than the iPad 2.
Complete this phrase: I travel because …
life without it is bleeh.
What are the five things you would never leave home without …
Camera, iPad mini, Tod aviators, comfy loafers/walking shoes, my grandpa’s gold bracelet.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
Born to Run made me want to explore more of the southwest of the States/Mexico. That book was incredible and if I didn’t give it to a friend I would read it several times over. The landscape in the book really spoke to me, I wouldn’t mind spending a few nights there in the middle of nothing with my husband, dog and camera. I grew up traveling a lot and no matter how fancy shmancy the hotel, my family always was extremely active, so I really love doing something sporty and getting dirty!
So what’s coming up on Living in Florence that we can look forward to …. Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?
I’m focusing on some side projects that let me be creative and challenge me a bit. As for blogs that I read, I actually read more about marketing and technology, but I find that I’m always cracking up when I read Married To Italy!
Tiana was born in Hawaii, raised in Miami and now lives and works as digital marketing consultant in Florence. TianaKai.com shares travel tips all over Italy and abroad plus expat experiences that are sure to make you laugh. Her main passions besides travel are photography (check out instagram.com/tianapix), her yellow labrador Macintosh and her husband who cooks some mean ribs.
If you want to see more of Tiana check out her social media links: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and her really fun photographic project NOT MY NONNI which offers some candid images of elegant elderly people in Italy also on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
It was fabulous to have Tiana Kai from Living in Florence to visit on Unwilling Expat and I look forward to her insights on life from one of my favorite parts of Italy.
In bocco al lupo (good luck and happy blogging to you!)