Italian air: it revitalizes; my first Tuscany-filled breath and I am ready for the next adventure. It's something I've never been able to find elsewhere.
Morning sunlight, the color of burnished gold filters in through the closed shades of my bedroom (which is also the kitchen) window. It reminds me of olive oil, of rosemary, fountains splashing in the piazza, of pasta swimming in tomato sauce, grownups slurping down gelato as it melts in the spring heat, vespas and reving engines, and wine; sparkling, crisp wine.
Pisa is the first stop. We've all heard of the leaning tower, and although I could share several photos of the outside, I didn't find it necessary to fork over €15 to climb steps of a building with known foundation issues and so all pictures remain on firm, solid ground. Surrounding the bell tower is the Field of Miracles, which holds a baptistry and a cathedral, both of which stand straight, as well as a large cemetery that has recently been renovated after suffering drastic damages from WWII bombings (courtesy of us). All structures are of white stone, contrasting sharply with the new spring grasses and the darker brick buildings of the town,
and stepping off the square is like changing lenses. The town itself is a series of Italian colors: dark green shutters against golden walls, orange and red combinations next to marble white churches, and old weather-worn frescoes on buildings depicting forgotten histories. Gelaterias on every corner and the chink of espresso cups against saucers entice you to stop and sample, loosening your belt as you go. Or, if you don't have a belt, thanking the old Roman gods for the invention of elastic.
I realize I am getting poetic here, but honestly you wouldn't be able to help yourself either if you could see what I see.
Florence next (Firenze for you italianos) and even though this is my third time visiting the city, I get pee-my-pants excited when I step off the train and it almost feels like coming back to a well-loved family vacation spot. And it's nice too not needing to rush through museums and instead saunter through the city at a relaxed pace. The green and white marble of Santa Maria Novella serves as the yellow brick road down into the old center, and a mint gelato (raspberry sorbet for my companion) from our
favorite gelateria makes the stroll even better. Vespas and cars clip your heels as you both vi for primacy of the road. In Piazza Republica the laughter of children as they ride the gleaming gold merry-go-round mixes with the cries of Italians selling their cheap tourist wares. Moving further down, stalls selling used books change to high class shopping stores and restaurants where waiters serve you in suit and tie, their shoes shinier than their hair. Grab an espresso at the cafe where your mother left you, once, all those years ago (very traumatic experience), then pass into the Piazza del Duomo to be struck once again by the massive marble edifice rising before you. It's the symbol of Florence, with its veins of green and red amidst white marble and the terracotta dome reflecting and soaking up the sun, respectively. A crowd of tourists, each trying to raise their voices above the din to the right or left, swarm over the steps leading inside, like a multitude of ants and you feel drawn in by the uplifting energy of the place.
Turn your back on the Duomo and head in the other direction, back the way you came
only this time you keep going, allowing the mixture of shadows and sunlight lead you into yet another piazza, as different from all the others as their are flavors of gelato. Piazza della Signoria, bordered by the towering palace of the infamous Medicis, holds statues of marble gods defeating monsters, of alabaster virgins contemplating their virtue, and of supposed heroes carrying maidens off to destroy said purity. A miniature David
also gazes out over the square, fooling several tourists into believing him to be his twice-as-high twin, which is actually safely protected within the walls of the Academia in a different part of the city. A long column-lined avenue opens out to the Arno river and to your right, looking around the long line of locals and tourists soaking up the sun by sitting on the river wall, you catch a glimpse of Ponte Vecchio, another symbol of Florence. Its exterior looks like old barnacles holding onto a rock for dear life, the paint chipping off wall and shutters, but inside the shops you'd find jewelry that only the rich and famous can afford. Take the walk down between the stalls of San Lorenzo market and get heckled incessantly by
dark Italians who have "a very special price, Signori, just for you!" (But don't think you're special! The lady behind you gets the same line and wink too.) The square in front of Santa Croce hosts an impromptu soccer match between father and kids with spectators, both Italian and otherwise, cheering on the younger generation. A glass of wine on Piazza della Signoria as the sun sets and street lights come and that, my friends, is a day in Florence.
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