No matter how many times I return, Florence will always remind me of my carefree days of my early 20s when I studied abroad there. Each landmark sparks a memory of that time in my life when I felt free as a bird, happy and silly and without a worry in the world. Returning there reminded me of that time, but mainly because of the distinctly different way I feel now, eight years later. It is amazing to think about the changes eight years can bring. That is not to say I don’t feel happy, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself “carefree” anymore. Part of the reason we went on this trip was to try to take us away and help feel worry-free, if only for a few weeks.
I don’t know if I ever achieved a state of being absolutely, completely, worry-free, but I was definitely more relaxed than I had been in a long time.
We arrived in Florence in the afternoon, after a short train ride of about two hours. Our cab squeaked through the tiny streets and eventually arrived in front of our hotel. After climbing a flight of stairs to reach the lobby, we were given keys to our lovely, enormous rooms.
We dropped our bags off and decided to make the most of what was left of our first day in Florence. We walked the short two blocks to the Duomo and stood in the short line to enter. We were in the last group of people to be allowed in before they closed for the day, so our timing couldn’t have been better! They staggered the amount of people that could enter at a time so the atmosphere within the enormous church was peaceful and we had plenty of room to admire the architecture and art within. We took a glance at the crypt that is below the church and headed back into the sunlight.
I glanced at my watch and was surprised to find that we had just enough time to make it three blocks to the Accademia museum to see Michelangelo’s statue of David. We walked through the small streets back toward the direction of our hotel and were once again surprised to find only 6 or 7 people waiting in line ahead of us to enter the museum. Somehow we were really lucking out on the lines everywhere we went in Italy.
After a short wait, we entered the museum (again, among the last to enter before it closed). We had come to see the David, but were surprised to see that there was also an exhibit of musical instruments on display. This was right up my parents’ alley, so we took a peek at those first. Both my mom and dad were enthralled by the musical instruments, some hundreds of years old. They marveled at ancient guitars and cellos, as well as other instruments that I had never heard of.
Eventually, we made our way to the David. It is a truly stunning work of art. At this point, we had seen several sculptures in other museums, but the David is impressive in a way that no other sculpture is. It is massive, towering high above us and looking off into the distance with such believability that you almost look over your shoulder to see what he is staring at. Chad was particularly impressed with the detail Michelangelo was able to achieve. It is as if, as Michelangelo used to say, the figure was there within the marble and he set it free.
After this quick, whirlwind tour of some of the highlights of Florence, we had worked up a great appetite for Florentine pasta! We walked a few more blocks down the tiny, cobblestone streets that stretch between buildings that block the sun and have provided shade to Italians for centuries of summers. We found a patio restaurant that offered just what we needed: a little vino (wine), pasta, pizza, and bread. We all swapped food with each other so everyone could try everything.
Everyone was feeling pretty tired at that point, so we headed back to the hotel and the wonderful, spacious rooms that were a nice change from the much smaller rooms in Rome.
Since we had plans to head out very early the next morning, Chad and I decided to go out and try to find breakfast and water while stores will still open that evening. We also wanted a little time to explore the romance of Florence together, and I wanted to share some of my favorite places that I remembered from studying abroad. We strolled down to the Palazzo Vecchio, where the fake statue of David resides, along with some of his other statue friends. We sat among them and listened as a guitar player played beautiful songs in the piazza. I was feeling a little emotional and ended up crying a bit as we sat there remembering days gone by and thinking about all that had happened in the past few years. I couldn’t help but think that it was not too long ago that Tim and JoAnne had come here together and walked hand-in-hand along these same streets.
Chad and I continued our walk through Florence and eventually found ourselves along the Arno (the main river in Florence). It looked so beautiful, with the lights from the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) and nearby buildings flickering onto the water. It seemed that everywhere we walked, music followed us. There seemed to be a different musician on every corner, playing romantic tunes on their instrument of choice. We walked across the Ponte Vecchio and walked around a bit on the other side. There were several lovely restaurants with lovely views and we hoped to return here someday and dine along the Arno.
We eventually made our way back to the hotel, passing more of my old haunts from years ago and stopping to pick up croissants filled with chocolate or creme and water for breakfast. It was such a lovely evening and certainly one that Chad and I will never forget.