Sunday, May 8, 2011

Florence on $85 a Day – A Room with a View

The view from the desk where I'm typing.
The last time I visited Tuscany, I was fortunate enough to stay at a cousin's villa a mile or so outside the ancient hilltop town Colle di Val d'Elsa. The guest house with three upstairs bedrooms, each with its own balcony providing sweeping views of the countryside, was surrounded by vineyards for the villa's signature wine production. The only noise my cousins and I ever heard was the soothing sound of the men calling to each other as they moved through the vineyards in the early morning; our isolation allowed plenty of time to enjoy the views over the pastures and to ponder the rationale for the towers of San Gimignano off in the distance.*

The five of us were quite content to stay on the grounds most of the time, especially because every time we ventured anywhere we promptly got lost, but we did go several times to Florence. The drive that was supposed to be 45 minutes stretched to two hours every time because we found new ways to get lost each trip. Getting lost was made more bearable by telling ourselves that we were seeing different areas of Tuscany, but, still, getting lost was always a frustration, and we were always relieved to return to our peaceful paradise where we could sit on the terrace at night watching the stars and hearing only the very occasional rustle of a wild boar in the distant woods.

David and I are not staying in the country on this trip to Florence.

This time we have a room with a view in an historical building, overlooking a little piazza, just down the cobbled street from the Duomo. If we lean out our six-feet high casement windows, we can see the Dome, and we are literally steps away from shops, restaurants, and markets. The location is perfect.  No driving is involved and most of what we came to see is a short walk away!  We love being able to sightsee in the morning until we are ready for lunch and a nap, and then return to the streets at dusk when Florence, with most of the crowds gone for the day, becomes a more private, intimate place.

Unlike my last trip to Florence, there's little danger of getting lost this time since no driving is involved, but, as with all places, there is a trade-off. Here, the noise never ends until 6:00 in the morning. Our little piazza seems to be the gathering spot for spontaneous parties from dusk until around 2:00 when the bars close and the piazza becomes the after-party location of choice. It seems to be occupied from 7:00 in the evening until 6:00 the next morning every single night of the week.

People mill around, kiss, throw beer bottles for the pleasure of hearing the glass break against the ancient stones, shout at one another, throw trash all over the ground (the area is cleaned every morning by men with brooms and a street-cleaning-machine), and talk loudly enough for us to eavesdrop if only we could understand Italian.

Our landlady has said that this is the price one pays for being in centro, and while there are undoubtedly quieter side streets not fronting on popular piazzas, she is, for the most part, correct. There doesn't seem to be anything quiet about Florence. It's an in-your-face, gloves off, up-front with nothing hidden, kind of place. Especially at night.  Sleeping with earplugs is not an option, it is the only way sleep is possible.

View from our front door.
This morning, though, around 7:00, when the piazza was littered with trash but clear of all rabble-rousers, I threw open the window to hear one voice breaking through the precious, rare silence. Someone, somewhere along the street leading to the Duomo, was singing an aria.

I know nothing about opera, but I know that was what I heard. That beautiful clear voice cut through the stillness erasing the memory of the night's clamor and reminding me, once more, of why David and I have come to this magical place called Florence.

*The good families of San Gimignano had a unique way of displaying their wealth.  The family with the highest tower gained the most status.  At one point several hundred years ago, there were 70 towers poking the sky, but now there are only about a dozen left.

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