|View from the Duomo, Florence, Italy|
Many of my gal pals and even my own mom gave me the eye, you know the one. "Won't you be afraid? All by yourself?!" Can you even speak Italian? (Not but a few phrases.) Once I make my decision I proceed full tilt, planning my trip fairly meticulously. First, where to stay, second transportation logistics (I've never ridden a train for actual transport) and what to see. Because I was traveling alone, I wanted to stay in a small, multi-lingual, affordable hotel or bed and breakfast inn within walking distances to the main attractions. I wanted the intimate and personal interactions that I would not receive from those big, fancy hotels that render guests anonymous, regardless of the excellent service. In short, I wanted to my hosts to get to know me as much as I they, so that someone would care enough to be my safety net in a foreign city.
Olivia laughed at my "huge American luggages" as I rolled both suitcases off the train from Pistoia into the Santa Maria Novella train station. Just off the platform we walked to a quiet spot amist the crowds to say our goodbyes and off to continue our personal journeys. Lynn to Rome and Olivia to Malta. Hugs given, pictures taken, a contented sigh as we turned our separate ways. In my planning I had traced the walking route from the station to the Hotel Alloro on the map, but in the fog of the intense weekend that mental map offered me nothing recognizable to the scene before me. The hesitation to just start out walking won over and I opted for a taxi ride. A few blocks later I was deposited on a quiet narrow street in front of a 16th century building with massive iron gates. I laughed at myself at the shortness of the ride (but still thought it was well worth it!)
Sitting quietly in the salon, I pulled out my journal and began writing. Jamie would be so proud. Filling my pages with the thoughts that have been swirling in my head, not wanting to lose those precious observations, facts and feelings so gently cajoled and encouraged at the villa. Quietly, Christian brings another caffe and the transition begins as my role of independent traveler supersedes that of pupil.
|Morning coffee at Hotel Alloro, Florence, Italy|
Soon my room is ready and the large skeleton key with the brass fob unlocks the wooden door. Will this be alright? Breathing in sharply, yes. Just right. The morning light streams in the huge windows and bounces off the golden painted walls with classic murals, inviting my artistic nature welcome.
As a promise to myself, my son, and my friend Meeta I gathered my camera, adjusted my boots and headed to the Piazza del Duomo. Street map studied and in hand I was determined to visit Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and climb all 463 steps to the top of the Duomo before sunset. My orthopedic boot and all.
|2 1/2 hours from my first step into the line to the top of the Duomo!|
The wait and the climb in the boot was well worth the huffing and puffing up the narrow steep steps. New friends made along the way and a sense of exhilaration at the top. It is sad how much graffiti scars any surface within reach, but even that cannot erase the sense of accomplishment on the faces of the people that make the climb. I could have easily paid for my dinner if I asked a euro for each photo I took of couples and families commemorating the moment. The growing darkness reminded me to start heading back down and out to the piazza. Gelato was my reward, as the wonder of being again at street level brought me back to reality.
One of the highlights of visiting in Florence with my mother and daughter was discovering some of the most beautiful shops -- not the overpriced designer boutiques -- but the hidden treaures of stationers and apothocaries. One in particular called to me as I made my way though the narrow streets guided by vague memory and instinct. Having worked at a stationary store all during high school, my love for fine paper, pens and all manner of things drew me back to R. Vannucci Cartoleria.
|Cartoleria = Stationers|
The Hotel Alloro is near the San Lorenzo Market and a number of restaurants within easy walking. After a weekend of delightful Tuscan home cooking, writing and photographing all about food, you can bet I was looking for something more than dish of something prepared specifically for the tourist trade. I asked my host for some suggestions and we chatted about the pros and cons of those near by. I looked Christian in the eye and said, "I want something better." He smiled as he handed me a little square business card.
Next installment: where eating is sexy cuco