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italian joy in florence

Day 46 - Florence


We're on the move again. The Freciarossa 9528 high-speed train from Rome to Florence reminds me how awesome European train travel can be. There's lots of room, everyone gets a table, the ride is stable and smooth, and I get to watch the screen that shows you what the train driver is looking at. Ace. Firenze Santa Maria Novella is a cool modernist station, built in the 1930s and stylish once again. It's low slung in shades of brown and black and peppered with signage in a very now font.

I cart my three bags through the cobbled streets and one-person wide sidewalks of Florence. I'm like a donkey. During the eight minute clatter to our Air B'n'B apartment, I plot how to make my luggage lighter while buying more stuff. Surely, there's a way...


Our host's dad strolls by as I'm squawking into the intercom. We're in front of an enormous wooden door. We squeeze into the tiny lift and he lets us know the building is from the sixteenth century. The apartment is spotless with soaring ceilings and a little washing line outside the shuttered windows. It's my first Air B'n'B apartment and I couldn't be happier.


A scant few minutes and we're outside, looking straight down the barrel of the river towards the Ponte Vecchio. The sun is setting and Florence is putting on a pretty good show. We drink fizzy white wine and eat pastas in the sun, followed by coffee and homemade cookies. We make friends with the two dogs at the table next door. Ai Lungarni is fantastic value at 6 euros for wine and pasta and 2.50 euro for sparkling white wine. The older lady is harried but apologetic. Her husband is a bit more in control but hardly. Rob laughs, "It's like they decided to open just yesterday." We plot about whether to hire another scooter but Florence is too walkable and pedestrians rule the city centre anyway. It's a city for walking.


How many pictures of bridges can you take? If it's the Ponte Vecchio, the answer is very many. The light is perfect and the water acts as a giant mirror for the buildings. Everyone is promenading, slouching against the walls, laughing. The shadows are long. I think about Carla Coulson, a woman who threw in a high-powered career to take a photography class in Florence and never left Italy. She's now a published author, one of my favourite photographers, and married to an Italian. One of her books is called Italian Joy. Those two words have echoed in my head every single day I've been in Italy. It's one of my favourite countries in the world and Florence encapsulates everything that I think is wonderful about it. 


I disappear inside Signum for a while. Florentine stationery drives me as near crazy as Japanese stationery does. There is no way I'm leaving the shop without something and I don't. I've bought a notebook with handmade marbled paper, made in shop, letter writing sents (for all those handwritten letters that I don't write), and a card with handpressed flowers. It's stationery for a lady of leisure who has a casual Italian Tuscan villa and one of those writing desks decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl.


Near the Duomo, I need a bathroom. Rob takes one for the team and walks into a gelateria. "Do you have a bathroom?" he asks. They nod. "Okay. Well, can I have a chocolate gelato then?" he replies. Later, we sit outside the mammoth Duomo. Even our camera with the wide lens can't handle the size and scale of this building. Outside the doors of the Campanile with its 414 steps, a large man is ejected outside. Seems he was turned away from going up the bell tower. It's too narrow. He's laughing good-naturedly.


It's dark now but there's masses of people swirling around the streets, loggias, and piazzas. The dogs are out in full force as well. I sigh, "I miss my dog" about fifteen times. We watch street artists reproduce great works of art in chalk on the sidewalk. A carousel twirls round, a golden glow set against a triumphal arch. My spider senses twitch and before I know it, I'm inside an H&M. Whoops. There's a countdown in the window for the launch of the Alexander Wang collaboration.


It's late at night but 200 metres down the road from our apartment, there's a tiny Conad supermarket selling fresh fruit and veges, fresh bread, pastas and the usual supermarket fare. It has everything we need for a self-catered one week apartment stay. For a moment, I can pretend this is our life for real; not just a holiday.   

out of the city gates

giolitti gelato and four euro pasta