When last we talked, my scrappy band of weary travelers had just emerged from the cocoon of a weird little hotel in Schiphol Airport and were ready to take on the last leg of the journey. So, the story of Day Two actually begins with our evening flight into Florence which was flawless – except for the fact that it was the exact moment I began having about one thousand second thoughts. I questioned my judgement in choosing a place so far away, in staying so long, in going at all. Swarms and swarms of doubts gnawed at my stomach and my happiness.
I don’t know how you handle the big, internal No’s that want to swamp your yea’s. I guess I don’t know even IF you have problems with pesky No’s like I do, or if maybe you have a fantastic trick that works to dispel them upon contact. For me, the only thing that works is to gut it out and talk myself off the ledge by remembering why I’m saying the Yes that I’m saying and that Yes’s rarely go uncontested and that there will be moments like this, but they do not mean I’ve made a mistake. By the time we landed, I felt better, but I knew everything would not be okay until we were safely lodged in my Florence apartment.
—-> Here’s the part that would be really boring to you about a cab driver and 32 euros and our airbnb hosts being a little late while we stood on a crazy busy street with our hoards of luggage, looking for all the world like The Clampetts Take Italy. I don’t want to bore you with the details but I also don’t want to forget that those two things happened, so now I can move on.
I love my apartment! It’s smack dab in the middle of the most bustling and (in my opinion) beautiful part of the city, Piazza de Signoria. It has soaring ceilings, incredible hardwood floors and huge, heavy doors that creak when you open them. There are old, paned windows that push out wide, letting in the fresh, fall air. I have a little terrace outside the kitchen and living room and my very own Nespresso machine cranking out perfect, morning espressos. This morning I awoke to the sound of church bells and happy chatter from people below. Oh, it’s just joy I tell you. Joy, joy to be living in the heart of this magical city. And I know that Belle danced through the streets of France, but I still feel a little like her here. Like a more wrinkled, more American version of Belle, living in a more Italian version of France. The comparison breaks down a little, but it still feels like it works somehow.
Since we arrived at night, I didn’t have much context for what was in the neighborhood of our house . I was SO excited to go exploring, but I didn’t want to go alone, mostly because my sense of direction is on par with my sense of long division. Everyone else was sleeping off jet lag, but I still snuck into Josiah’s room and asked him if he would go on an adventure with me. He was so tired and I’m not certain he knew what he was agreeing to, but he said yes. Now, he didn’t say yes because he wanted to go, or even to going…he said yes to me. I really adore him.
We raced down the long stone stairways of our apartment (which is the whole second floor of a beautiful old building in the heart of Florence) and then pushed the heavy, black doors out into the Florentine morning. The streets were already filled with people shopping and drinking coffee in quaint cafes and tourists snapping photos of Neptune in the piazza (Michelangelo called the sculpture of Neptune a waste of perfectly good marble, which is really snarky for a renassaince man, right?) We walked along the cobblestone streets, trying to take it all in – trying to comprehend a world where gelato stores are open at 8 a.m. and centuries-old statues dot the landscape. We found a grocery store and bought essentials: pastries, cheese, proscuitto, Nespresso pods and eggs. Josiah used my GPS to navigate our way back to our apartment, because I couldn’t A) understand how to read it and B) was too busy looking at ALL. THE. THINGS! Remember, this was my first glimpse of Florence in the daytime and I now certainly and absolutely believe in love at first sight.
We made it back to our place, cooked some lovely little breakfast sandwiches to eat on the terrace with more espresso while listening to the church bells chime through the courtyard behind our apartment. You know how moments get lodged in your memory and you realize you’ll probably still be talking about them in heaven? Yeah, this was one of those. And it’s funny, because it didn’t involve museums or landmarks or any of the seven wonders of the world – it just involved me, my son and a small journey off our well-marked map.
Later in the day, when Stef and Tori got here after a 40-hour trip (it felt a little like they were crossing the finish line of Amazing Race when we met them in the piazza outside) we went to lunch at a little restaurant across the alley from our apartment called GustaVino. We shared delicious food, a bottle of wine and ended the meal the Italian way: With icy cold shots of lemoncello. Tori and Stef then left us to catch up on badly-neeeded sleep while Josiah, Tess and David and I went to do a gondola ride on the Arno river.
These boats are a relatively new addition to the Arno, and only run through September. It was a cool and different way to see the city, while our tour guide served glasses of prosecco and told us about the history of the things we were seeing. I’m always reminded in these moments that America is still so, so new. It’s like we’ve barely just taken the price tags off our furniture, while Italy is worn and weathered in the best possible way.
After the boat tour, the Metcalfs and I did a little shopping and then shared a meat & cheese board on a terrace overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River. Such an amazing place to sit and visit and remind ourselves that hey! We’re here! With the evening still young, we decided it was time for some real, Italian pasta (all three of us had ordered salads for lunch) so we wandered happily, looking for a choice that seemed right for us. I cannot explain to you how many restaurants, bistros, cafes and bakeries line every street and alley in this city. They are everywhere and it can feel overwhelming – like anything you pick might mean you’re missing what you should have picked. We finally landed at Trattoria Borgo Antico in Piazza San Spirito. Our meal started with a copper tin full of warm bread and a dish of spicy, purple olives. Maybe I haven’t mentioned this: I adore olives. ADORE them. So after those beauties showed up at my table, it wouldn’t have mattered what came after them. But what came after them? House made spaghetti carbonara with truffles. Cooked perfectly al dente, with a rich, buttery sauce, crispy pancetta and dotted with truffles, it was unbelievably delicious. One thing to note about European restaurants: they generally have lovely outside seating, but you’ll likely be near someone who is smoking, and in America we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be around strangers who are permitted to smoke. I’ve come to associate the smell of cigarettes with European vacations so I don’t have a serious aversion to it, but I know plenty people who just can’t enjoy a meal while the smoke wafts over their pizza. I say it’s a small price to pay for the perfect plate of pasta served al fresco, but that’s just me. Bottom line: This isn’t America and it doesn’t need to be.
After pasta, we were winding down. It was a long day with lots of walking and navigating and we were tired and ready for home. This was a good day. A good, good day that I will remember for always. I read a meme this morning that said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” And, yes, I think I believe it. I can’t begin to tell you how much money this trip is costing me and I’ll be honest: I’m spending money that I should be saving for my old age. When Steve got sick, so much of my financial picture got hazy and I started quite frantically saving and storing and making plans that seemed solid and secure. I was wise and careful and…fearful. But when I decided to say yes to this adventure, I also decided that the return would be worth it, that moving toward the unknown would actually create a more secure future in ways I won’t even fully know until I get there. So far, every single penny has paid me back in some beautiful way.
Okay, that’s it. I’m going to stop writing about day 2 and start living day 3 (which, if I’m honest, already started with a phone date with my beloved so there’s truly no way this day can be bad! Also – it’s my birthday! Double win!)
If you made it this far, thank you for reading and caring and not wanting to smack me with spaghetti for posting so much. I love you.