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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

RETURNING TO PARADISO

I am leaving reality on August 31st and will arrive in Florence, Italy, aka Paradiso, the first of September. Just like that, I will be transported to my first life, which existed during the Renaissance.   First life, you say?  Yes, I was obviously a member of the Medici family. I've known this since the first time I stepped onto the tarmack at the Florence airport back in the mid-1990s.  As unromantic as that sounds, I knew I was home.



I will have two and a half days in my favorite city before I meet my tour travelers.  This group has chosen a custom tour and decided they did not need to spend any time in Florence.  WHAT?  This choice borders on blasphemy.  However, maybe they've heard about Florence and the number of tourists that flock there.  Regardless, it is my belief that anytime anyone is anywhere remotely close to Florence, they should be IN Florence.  So what if the streets are clogged with multi-camera-carrying people?  So what if these big-bright-white-tennis-shoe-wearin' herds choke the majestic Piazza Signoria?  So what if these hordes overwhelm the Uffizi Gallery?  This is the reality of my escape from reality.  My method of dealing with it is, #1) I ignore this blight which is forced upon my tranquil relationship with my Florence, #2) I grumble.  Why can't they just stay home?  I would like to administer an exam and "turn back every tourist who couldn't pass it" (A Room With A View), and, #3) admit that I, too, Medici girl or not, am also a traveler in this ancient beautiful place.  The dichotomy is that, while abhorring the crowds, I still want to share this spectacular city with others. 


Having thrown away my guidebook several years ago, I prefer to wander the streets letting the charms of the city choose me.  Having seen, appreciated, and loved the historic sites in Florence, I now have the opportunity to not make return visits unless the mood strikes.  These days I like to find small shops and grocery stores to poke around in.  Some of my Italian friends say that Florence is a hard, forbidding city... a city of stone....and, yes, she is all of that.  At the same time, Florence is absolutely enchanting.  I am always a bit overwhelmed by the history.  To think that I walk the same streets that Michelangelo walked is just amazing.  Twenty years ago, if someone would have told me that someday this Italian city would become so familiar to me I could give Italians directions, I would have laughed.


 And there I am...the little Medici princess...in the dark shirt and blonde locks, standing near the Baptistry, which is located in front of the famous Duomo.  I never get tired of seeing these buildings and feeling the awe.  But one of my favorite things to do in Florence is eat.  And drink.  I loiter over lunch.  One eats very well in Florence, and in general, the simpler the restaurant, the better the food.  Tuscan wine is cheap and abundant.  The reason I loiter is because another favorite activity is watching people.  Italians do not care if you sit at their restaurant table for hours.  The practice of coaxing patrons away so the table can be filled with new eaters, is just not practiced.  After a late lunch, a stroll down Via de'Tornabuoni followed by a nap may be in order.  More strolling after dinner when the crowds have thinned and Florence seems gentler and the Duomo seems less garish but just as huge and astonishing...well, after a few days of this routine, all my complaints about the crowds will be forgotten, replaced with amazement and gratitude.


I have had the pleasure of sharing this magnificent city with many others and hope to continue doing so for many years.  It truly is an escape from reality - a place where history, beauty, and everything Italian come together.  I can't wait to get there and grumble.

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