Kacie Rose Burns walked into the Florence jazz bar, alone.
“I’ll go for one song and suss it out,” she thought, trying to quieten her nerves.
Kacie slipped in at the back. The club was dark and busy, a few wall lights and neon signs illuminating people drinking, dancing and chatting. Before she could even take in the musicians on stage, Kacie’s eyes landed on a tall man sitting at the bar.
“I walked in and he was there,” Kacie tells CNN Travel today. “We clocked eyes.”
“Ciao,” said the stranger, smiling.
“Ciao,” Kacie said back, before adding apologetically: “That’s all the Italian I’ve got for you.”
It was October 2018. Kacie was a 24-year-old New Yorker on vacation in Florence. It was her first time in Italy and her first time traveling solo. It was an exciting – and terrifying – experience.
“I was a professional dancer in New York,” explains Kacie. “A very exhausting career – there’s a lot of toxicity, a lot of rejection, there’s a lot of politics that come into play – and I was feeling a little stuck, a little unhappy, a little – just stagnant, if you will.”
Kacie spent her days auditioning, traveling for gigs and moonlighting at a clothing store. She needed a break, and she’d long felt a “pull” to Italy and dreamed of an Italian vacation.
“I kept saying, ‘I’ll wait for somebody to go with, I’ll wait, I’ll wait. And then I was waiting for years. And so then one night – at two in the morning – I was like, ‘What am I waiting for? Life is too short.’ So I booked a solo trip to Italy.”
Kacie planned to spend the majority of her time in Rome and Venice and just a couple of days in Florence. But in the lead-up to the trip, she got chatting to a customer at the store she worked at. This woman had lived in Florence for five years and sung the Tuscan city’s praises, persuading Kacie to add an extra day to her Florence stint.
And that’s how Kacie and the Italian stranger happened to be in the jazz club on the same evening.
“I’m really glad that I listened to her,” says Kacie. “That’s the only reason why we met on the first night that I was in Florence, on that earlier day that I wasn’t originally supposed to be there.”
The man Kacie crossed paths with in the jazz bar was 26-year-old Dario Nencetti, a chef in a Florence hotel who usually worked nights. It just so happened that was the only evening he had off that week.
The jazz bar, called Jazz Club Firenze, was one of Dario’s favorite hangouts. He loved the music, the underground ambiance and the fact the bar encouraged punters to sign up for jam sessions.
“That place is, let’s say, unconventional for Florence,” Dario tells CNN Travel. “Usually in Florence, there’s like a table for two or three or four people. In the jazz club, there are big tables, so you can sit with strangers and stuff, which I love.”
When Dario realized Kacie didn’t know much Italian beyond “ciao,” they switched to English. Dario told Kacie he’d lived in Scotland for a year, and they got talking about travel. Kacie mentioned she was on her first solo trip and Dario said he’d embarked on a similar adventure to Japan earlier that year.
“We bonded from the beginning,” says Dario. “It was really natural, really easy conversation.”
“I remember he made me laugh,” says Kacie. “And I was like, ‘Oh, this guy’s interesting.” So many people ask us, ‘How did you know?’ And I don’t know how I knew. I was just like, ‘Oh, this is something different.’”
Kacie and Dario stayed at the jazz bar talking into the early hours of the morning. Then they spent as much time as possible together over the next two days.
“He would meet me after his work – every night he got off at 11. And we would go out and we would just talk,” recalls Kacie. “I instantly fell in love with Florence. It’s a very romantic city – cobblestone streets and medieval buildings. It looks like a painting everywhere you look.”
It was a whirlwind two days. One evening they sat by Florence’s Ponte Vecchio bridge and talked until 3 or 4 a.m. It was as though Kacie was in a film – somewhere between every millennial’s favorite “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” and classic Florentine romance “A Room with a View.”
Then, the two days were up and Kacie had to continue onto the next leg of her trip. It was still like something from a movie – only it wasn’t obvious this one had a happy ending.
“I got on the train and he was standing on the platform. And I remember looking out the train, and I was so sad,” she says.
As the train pulled away from the station, Kacie wiped away tears and messaged her best friend back home in New York.
“I just met my future husband in Florence,” she wrote. “That’s the guy I’m gonna marry. I’m never gonna see him again.”
Her friend tried to cheer her up.
“You’re going to Rome,” she wrote. “You’ll meet a gladiator!”
But Kacie knew what she had with Dario wasn’t replaceable.
“We never stopped talking. We FaceTimed every single day,” she says.
This continued when Kacie was back in the US. And before long, Dario was planning a trip to visit New York.
On December 8, 2018 Dario arrived in the US. Kacie spent a week introducing Dario to her life in New York.
“It was really cool to see it through his eyes,” she says.
“She showed me the real city,” says Dario.
Then the couple flew to Miami for a week’s vacation.
For Kacie and Dario, there was never a specific moment where they decided to embark on a relationship.
“It was never a decision to be made,” says Kacie.
“It just went without saying,” agrees Dario. “But I can’t hide it, long distance was hard.”
The two struggled with time zones and their busy jobs that left them with little downtime, but tried to visit each other whenever they could.
Cut to September 2019. Dario was back in New York visiting Kacie.
“Why don’t I move here?” he suggested. He’d loved the vibrancy of the city from the get-go and could see himself there. The restaurant scene was incredible. If he could find a job and organize the visa, it seemed like the ideal scenario.
Kacie thought so too, so Dario started asking around. He was eventually hired as a chef at an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. After a couple of months in limbo, his visa was approved.
“Up until that point, every time that we had to say goodbye it was borderline traumatic – we had spent this week together and we knew that this was it for each other,” says Kacie. “Saying goodbye in airports sucked. It would take like a week to recover.”
But now the airport goodbyes were consigned to the past.
“It was really exciting,” says Dario.
Kacie and Dario spent three months in New York together, giddy with happiness to be in the same country and the same city.
Then the pandemic hit. New York City’s performing arts and restaurant industries ground to a halt. Stuck at home, Kacie and Dario found solace and support in one another.
As Kacie puts it, she and Dario found “many silver linings” in this tough time. Dario taught Kacie how to make pasta. They cat-sat. They spent long evenings chatting.
But as 2020 rolled on, the couple were aware there was a deadline hanging over them. Dario’s visa was set to run out in December and in the wake of the pandemic, renewal was out of the question.
For Kacie and Dario, it seemed like there were only three viable choices: return to long distance, get married or move to Italy.
Going back to long distance would mean the return of those airport goodbyes, the last thing either of them wanted. And while Kacie and Dario thought marriage was in their future, they didn’t feel it was right for them at that point. That left moving to Italy.
Kacie thought about her career in New York. Performing was off the table and there was no return date in sight. And while her friends were regularly posting on social media about how much they missed dancing, Kacie only felt “relief” that her days were no longer defined by auditioning and uncertainty.
“That was a pretty big wake-up call,” she says. “I had gotten to a point where I needed to take a little step back from performing.”
On top of this, Kacie’s New York apartment lease was up. If there was ever a time to relocate to Italy, it was now.
“Everything kind of fell into place,” she says.
Kacie researched online and found a language academy in Florence offering study visas. She applied, enrolling in Italian lessons. Then, Kacie and Dario packed up their life in New York and got ready to move across the Atlantic.
Before stepping on the plane in January 2021, Kacie posted a video to TikTok about meeting Dario and the move to Italy. She’d never posted much on the platform before, but felt inspired to mark this significant life step.
When she stepped off the plane and connected to Wi-Fi, her cell phone was blowing up.
“It went viral,” says Kacie.
While stuck inside during mandatory two-week quarantine, Kacie continued posting TikTok videos. Her following continued to grow.
While her social media presence was getting bigger, for the first few months in Florence, Kacie and Dario’s IRL world remained small. Italy was still in the thrall of Covid, with strict restrictions.
But as Kacie studied for her Italian lessons and taught English online and Dario looked for restaurant work, Florence started to slowly reopen.
“I remember the first time going to the Duomo. And there was nobody there,” says Kacie. “Which is crazy, because it’s like the main focus point of Florence. And there’s nobody in the piazza and I remember how bizarre that was.”
While that moment was surreal – even sad – Kacie and Dario still felt grateful to be at the Florentine landmark together. They’d come a long way, and they were excited for their new life together in Italy.
Acclimatizing to Italian life was made easier for Kacie by Dario’s family, who welcomed her wholeheartedly – even if, in the early days, Kacie struggled with Italian and Dario’s mother didn’t know much English.
The two women made communication work by using Google Translate on their cell phones.
“They bonded immediately,” says Dario.
Kacie continued to post on social media, and her following ballooned. After about six months, she stopped teaching English online and decided to do social media full time.
Dario encouraged this step.
“I think it was a really good idea diving into it,” he says today. “It was the right moment, the right time, and I believed in her from the first moment.”
Almost four years later, Kacie’s expanded her social media presence into a travel company, running group tours around Italy and publishing her own travel guides. Meanwhile, Dario is still passionate about cooking and now works as a fine dining chef at a Florence restaurant.
“I really love the life we’ve created here,” says Kacie. “We live in a beautiful place with great food and he’s got so many awesome things going for him and same with me.”
The couple encourage each other in their respective careers and endeavors, but they also savor their downtime. They love living in Florence and exploring Italy together.
Dario and Kacie are settled in Florence for now, although they don’t rule out a move elsewhere in the future.
“We’re enjoying the moment,” says Dario.
“The solid thing is the fact that we know we’re in it together. And that’s what makes it so great,” says Kacie.
She tells Dario: “I’m not nervous for what the future holds. Because I’ve got you.”
Looking back, Kacie finds it serendipitous and surreal to think her spontaneous decision to travel solo in Italy led her to find a new career, a new home and the love of her life.
“There were so many things that had to happen for it to actually happen, but it just felt normal and natural – like of course this is right and this was supposed to happen,” she says.
“You never really know what life has planned for you. There’s so many good things waiting. You just have to trust it,” adds Kacie. “Trust in the process. And the path that is meant for you will happen, even if it’s not the path that you intended to take for yourself.”