Walking Florence On A Warm Autumn Evening
John W. Gilmore
Choosing overnight accommodations are always difficult online. The pictures only tell half the story. The reviews are often blazingly good or horrible with nothing in between. If the price is reasonable sometimes competing motels and hostels report that the place has bed bugs in order to turn the guests away, which makes the choices even more difficult.
Despite this, in October we booked an overnight stay in a very small hostel in Florence, Italy that was very close to the most popular sites and near a more expensive hotel that we stayed in on a former trip. Albergo Paola was only 65 dollars a night and in the center of the city, but had a shared bathroom and shower with very few amenities and no elevator, according to the reviews. After a long night of flying it was a great relief to arrive in the morning and find a warm soft bed minust bedbugs, and an elevator that wasn’t supposed to exist according to one of the negative reviews, within walking distance of the main transit center.
We took a nap in the afternoon and awakened early evening. The sun hadn’t set yet so we decided to take a walk. The city wasn’t as crowded as the last time we were there. It wasn’t the tourist season. Nothing was planned so we wandered where we wanted, walking through the winding alleys paved with well set cobblestones (much better than the clunky ill fitting ones we find in the oldest parts of the US). On both sides of the narrow streets and allies there were small hotels, shops, stores and restaurants, no boarded up places and nothing broken down. We wove our way through the small alleyways of central Florence, marveling as we came out of the small streets into wide avenues lined with upscale shops. We knew we were not in Philadelphia anymore just by walking through the city, looking at the shop windows, the way the stones were laid on their cobblestone streets, and the architecture, made it apparent. Everything was classy, but very humane including the little classic scooters shooting around here and there on the small cobblestone streets.
It was just a regular day for them. People were making their way to and from work on a Friday evening. A group of teenagers meeting downtown laughed as they gathered for a Friday night adventure. Traffic was heavy, but moving, on the main thoroughfares. We walked along them until we reached the main tourist attractions. The streets were roped off with minimal traffic in places like the Piazza San Lorenzo where you will find El Duomo, one of the churches that was one of the greatest architectural feats of its time in Europe. It was a work of art itself, not only because of its construction, but because of the beautiful artwork by the great Italian artists of the Renaissance it contained.
From there we made our way to the Piazza Della Signoria. A large open space where people meandered in the evening sun, talking and observing the artwork of great people like Michael Angelo, a replica of the famous statue of David, a large statue of Neptune riding his chariot in the center of a fountain, a large overhang where many statues honoring the myths of Roman Heroes, and even a celebration of Leonardo Da Vinci with a tree enclosed in a tetrahedron which Da Vinci understood as the secrets of the universe, encoded in geometry.
Eventually we came to a restaurant along a narrow cobblestone street that was empty. We were seated quickly on a patio overlooking the street. Soon after the restaurant filled up with regulars who were a mixture of people who lived in Italy but who had moved from Canada or the US, or people on extended vacations. As in most restaurants in Italy, the food was beautiful, fragrant, and tasty.
They offered five courses but we only took three. No GMO breads or vegetables. The tomatoes and tomato sauces actually tasted like ripened tomatoes and was full of herbs and spices; no holding back on salt or seasons there, or the rejection of butter or fat that came as a result of the cholesterol scare we went through in the United States for almost 30 years. The food was fresh, hormone free and natural by law. We could taste that it was more healthy as if our bodies remembered how real food tasted in the US many years ago. With stomachs full we returned to our small room thinking that it might be hot because of its lack of air conditioning. It actually turned out to be a bit cool as the temperature went down when the sun dipped below the horizon, and we awakened the next morning refreshed and ready for the next leg of our journey to Tuscany.