Our introduction was polite, cultured. Florence sat on an embroidered stool, hands folded into her skirts, chin high. Her inviting smile was genuine. She was quality and royalty and she did not need to prove it. “Look into all my closets and cupboards if you like,” she invited, “Make yourselves at home.” Once you have played hostess to Michelangelo, Masaccio, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, Boccaccio, Dante, Botticelli, and – did you know? – Florence Nightingale, let alone the Medici family, I guess we were small potatoes.
Florence was in the midst of tidying up when we arrived on the train. Exiting the station, we were greeted with welcoming sunshine and a brisk wind that was looking into every corner for a speck of dust that may have escaped her. It was the cleanest city we’ve ever seen.
The taxi line was significant and our hotel, per the map, was a bit of a walk away, but by now Hubby and I were seasoned travelers and with a shrug we toted our luggage down the steps and set off. We followed the slant of the sun, knowing that once we reached the Arno, we could follow it four bridges east, to our hotel.
The next thing we noticed was the cobblestones. Or lack thereof.
“Cobblestone is a fun word,” I thought, “It makes me think of a cobbler who has to fix the shoe you broke on the cobblestones.”
I hoisted my suitcase over a curb.
“Also, a cobbler is a delicious dessert. So there’s that.”
There were larger flagstones along some sidewalks, but most of Florence was paved with asphalt. I couldn’t decide if this was good or bad.
Apparently, neither can Italians. Riotous cobblestones rule the roads in Rome, but Florence (because rattling the spinner-wheels on your luggage as you truck down the street is not very lady-like) smoothed it and encouraged us to look up instead of down.
Our hotel room had a little balcony that overlooked the trolley turn-about, the sound of which eventually became background noise and not a problem. The trolley turned out to be our compass and we followed those tracks between our hotel and downtown thereafter.
Our hotel also had a rooftop pool that was closed due to the high winds, but gave us our first overview of the city. There was Florence, waving to us. We had missed lunch (hence my thoughts on cobbles), so per routine, went out to discover what she had made us for supper.
The afternoon was slowing to a saunter, as we crossed bridges, wandering the riverfront. Florence was softer than Rome, quieter than Sorrento, and larger than both, her skirts rippled out in shades of green, gold, and pink.
She offered us many options for dinner. We paused at a little spot along the Arno, where the last two patrons were finishing up. The menu held variety, the seats had a view, food remnants left on the plates looked promising.
Bending over to retrieve a napkin was a waitress. Just as she touched the napkin, a distracted patron shifted her chair and the leg came down squarely onto the waitress.
We watched the waitress stifle a shriek and hold her hand tightly so that it wouldn’t accidentally fly at the patron, who was overflowing with apologies and rapidly paying the tab.
The waitress turned and saw us. I stared into hot eyes, topped with turquoise eye shadow, a red mouth pulled tightly in a straight line. I watched her make the conscious decision to continue her job instead of quitting. Her hair was equally hot and bothered and was also in the midst of either fleeing or quitting. It was a moment of suspended animation and all I could think was, “She is Italian but not Italian. Who is this?”
Deborah from Miami Beach, Florida…and her attitude screamed the truth of it.
She, in the same instant, had sized me up and either my face of sympathy or my look of co-conspiracy led her decision to seat us at a table.
“They are rude,” she waved at the retreating tourists, “But I give you my house specialty, yes?”
Deborah proceeded to schmooze and entertain us for the next three hours. We were her only company. She talked us into an antipasto platter of olives, cheeses, fig jam, onion jam, greens, and oh glory be, it was yummy.
We shared the biscetta platter with roast potato wedges and beautiful porcini and onions.
“Cinque bambini!” she keep exclaiming, once she found out why we were in Italy.
Just as we finished the last of our wine, Florence spoke up.
Calling out over the river to us was the most luxurious sunset I have ever watched.
Deborah and the chef came out for a smoke then made themselves some pasta and joined us on the patio. They were used to Florence showing off. They were ready to pack it in.
Later, Hubby and I walked to the local laundromat and ran some Italian laundry, just like
locals, the other tourists and Florence offered to dry everything nicely for us, back at the hotel.
Which is why I felt so guilty the next morning. We snuck out of the hotel, trying not to wake her up. Sarah (a Tribe Member) wanted me to bring her back a hunk and I knew just the guy.
Florence would not approve my stealing her man. But for Sarah, I had to try.
We were going to crash a museum.
After missing the Borghese in Rome, I wasn’t about to muck this one up. We arrived an hour early for the Accedemia. There were two little doors facing the road and we found three people already standing at the “Walk Up” one. They looked as sleepy as we were, but at least they had thought to bring a banana. Stomach growling, we stood there as slowly over the hour, our line grew and grew. By the time we went in, it had reached the corner, and by the time we left, it went around the building, down the road, and out of sight. Some things are worth hustling for.
We went in promptly at opening time, and moved easily ahead of the groups of prepaid “skip the line” tours. We went straight to the apple of Florence’s eye: David in all of his seventeen foot tall glory. I took my time admiring him from every angle, photographing until I was sure that Sarah would be satisfied.
We still had plenty of time to revel in the rest of the museum. It includes paintings, other works by Michelangelo, a plaster cast room full of statuary, and the Musical Instrument Museum, full of antique instruments. What a beautiful place.
The next stop was the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee nearby. Inside are more statues, works by Michelangelo, and the Chapel of Princes, containing the Treasure of San Lorenzo, many with intricate miniature metal work. Some of this stuff is pretty creepy, I’m not gonna lie. Floors, however, along with toes, are something I was constantly photographing all over Italy. The stonework here took on the appearance of carpeting on the floors and tapestry on the walls.
On our way back we wandered around the train station, trying to find out where our tour was supposed to meet. It was time to leave Florence for the evening, to meet her relatives in Siena and enjoy the Chianti of her cleverly won vineyards. We kept our manners.
Florence is a delightful hostess. Just don’t touch her man.