My frequent flyer miles have been piling up for two decades. I’m finally cashing most of them in and going to Italy, specifically to Florence for the first time and then on to a week-long writing Retreat with Writeaways, in Bucine, Tuscany.
I fly from Fort Myers to JFK for a 6 pm flight to Milan. None of the movies on the plane interest me. I decide to read that book on writing I’ve been meaning to finish since 2004. They serve an actual meal. The wine is free. I sleep a total of about 14 minutes. At the Milan airport train station, I ask for a ticket to Florence. I look at the ticket and ask the agent “Do I have enough time?” “Run, run,” he replies.
When I get to the Florence train station, the line for a taxi is hopelessly long. I drag my suitcase to the tourist center, across the street. “You can walk there no problem,” the woman tells me in excellent English.
What she should have said, is “no problem if you have a decent sense of direction and a working GPS.” I have neither. And my cell phone isn’t working. This won’t be the first time I get lost in my three days in Florence. My suitcase seems to have a mind of its own as we cross the charming cobblestone streets and pass the same bridge twice. Finally I find my small hotel. The elevator looks like it will be ready in July 2019, so I carry my suitcase up three flights of stairs. I’ve been up for 21 hours, but I’m starving and I stop at the first place I see for an overpriced but delicious lunch of ravioli and panna cotta.
The walking tour I booked for that evening has been canceled so I wander around. It is supposed to be just past “tourist season,” but nobody told the tourists. There are people everywhere, lines for everything. I see many ancient buildings. The Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge lined with shops is just minutes from my hotel and packed with people. I try to find the free walking tour that meets at Santa Maria Novella, but I get lost again and end up at an outdoor market where I do find Porcellino, the famous boar fountain. I rub its snout for luck. I eat pizza and gelato for dinner, but not in that order. An Italian waiter flirts with me.
The next day is my tourist day. I have a skip the line pass to climb The Duomo Cupola at 10 am, all 483 steps. The non-skip line is long, really long. When I get to the front of my short line, there is something wrong with my downloaded ticket. It takes 25 minutes and three charming museum guards before they finally let me in. I climb and climb, and finally get somewhere, but it’s just a resting stop so you don’t die on the way up. The staircase is so narrow that you can’t go up when someone else goes down. I get to the top. It is worth it. The view is breathtaking.
Unfortunately the skip the line only allows you to skip once. To see the cathedral I have to stand in another line. I decide I’ll try to come back but I never make it.
I accidentally end up at Galleria Dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David. I decide to go in based on its relatively short line. Unlike seeing the Mona Lisa in person, which is a bit disappointing. David is not. It’s a magnificent statue and there are many other wonderful pieces at the museum.
Knowing I could never get in the Uffizi Gallery, I follow signs to The Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace), the 16th century residence of the Medici family and the one-time headquarters of Napoleon. There is no line. I walk through room after room of paintings, chandeliers, intricate ceilings and velvet, so much velvet. The complex also houses a terrific Costume Museum and the “Modern” Art Museum, which in Florence, translates to the early 1900s. I end the day eating ravioli stuffed with pear and cheese in a truffle cream sauce, and listening to a street musician, sing Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
My final day I have one goal, to visit the Great Synagogue of Florence. Armed with a new and improved street map, I arrive there early. It’s just me and a soldier. It’s a beautiful building with a poignant small museum. On the advice of a French couple I met at the Synagogue, I walk just down the street to Santa Croce, another gorgeous church that houses Michelangelo’s tomb AND the Florence Leather School. Definitely worth the trip.
On a side street, I find an all you can eat lunch buffet, beet and apple salad, pumpkin risotto, sliced beef, bruschetta, for 8 euro. I’m the first one there so I score one of two outdoor tables. I walk back to my hotel, to leave for my train to Buccine. I call a taxi.
Sharyn Lonsdale is a freelance writer and editor. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org