Sitting on the train watching the world go by is something I love and could do for hours. In India entire days can pass on a train, some trips we have taken lasting more than 52 hours. And I loved every minute.
My love of travel first began when I was very young and we lived in different parts of Australia, with much time spent in N.T, and Queensland. We would drive down to Sydney and back for holidays and when we finally made the move to Sydney from the N.T. Dad even drove down with our pet cat and a trailer full of ferns. Fleetwood Mac, Carly Simon, Bob Dylan and Dire Straits were the soundtracks to my traveling youth. Playing out memories, looking for the Big Prawn, the Big Banana and the Big Pineapple or watching the sunset spread over the cane fields in a burning dusk. Its possible, I suppose, to be transported to another place without leaving your caravan. Transient, nomadic, gypsy-like, watching pockets of life go by. So too on this day I’m watching Venice slip away over the narrow bridges connecting her to ‘terra firma’. That bubble of Venice popping momentarily as we watch the fields of Venato pass on our weekend away to Florence.
Our friend Lodo has advised us to stay in ‘Hotel Machiavelli’ near the main square. A cot is brought up for paloma with a turned down sheet and baby pillow. Ben and I rejoice on the maxi queen sized bed drinking in the coolest temperature we can handle in the air con. As much as we love our apartment in Venice, our landlady left us equipped with just one small fan ‘for the bambina’. But its has been so hot Paloma wakes up at least four times a night and it’s like looking after a newborn again. We pray for uninterrupted sleep tonight.
On sunshine and a fresh breeze, we feel like ants in the ‘normal’ city proportions of Florence, in comparison to Venice where the tallest buildings are no higher than four stories, or seven in the ghetto, where they crammed in once upon a time. We have to remind each other about traffic and its dangers as we have become used to a lack of this risk, not to mention the noise, the beeping and pollution that is part in larger cities. How quickly one can forget they exist!
On our first morning walk, after Ben discovers a Tuscan salami he has been hunting for some time, we chance upon a gorgeously quiet bookstore playing classical music and blasting cool air. In not time we are lost inside perusing the shelves looking at our favourite Fellini stills from his films and leave armed with ‘The Leaf Storm’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a few hours later.
Hungry and thirsty we emerge and cross the central plaza where are dazzled by the famous ‘Gilli’s’ café, in the oldest and grandest sense of the word, our namesake resplendent on the corner all gold and crème with clear Murano chandeliers tinkling above cabinets filled with a vast array of gelato, patisseries and marzipan deliciousness. Here the waiters are gentleman in bow ties and Ben reclines on the damask banquette seats with a James Bond martini, shaken not stirred, while I select a trio of gelato and we are quietly happy.
The rarefied atmosphere goes hand in hand with the bill… ooops! Through the windows we watch a fine mist spraying from brass pipes, an invention attached to the awnings outside in order to cool the guests. Why we don’t we have this in the heat of a Sydney summer is beyond me.
Wandergin through the spectacular churches Florence I satiate my love of ornate marble details and carved figures adorning the tombs set into their uneven floors. Intricate mosaics of rainbow and golden hues of ancient tiles shimmer in the candlelight. Alice, a friend of mine, was so inspired by these displays she embarked on a Mosaic Tour of Europe and Turkey.
The sun is still high and the temperature is not dropping, but the evening has arrived and our appointment can’t wait. Il Latini, a restaurant still run by the same family for generations, is tucked away in a small backstreet a bridge or two from the Ponte Vecchio. We are more than welcomed in when Ben drops Lodo’s name. ‘Best tavolo! Best tavolo!!’ We are seated in rustic chairs at the table of starched and frayed linen amongst the hanging legs of the prosciutto Ben adores so much. I’m sure he could live on this alone if given the chance. Starving, as we didn’t eat lunch in preparation for dinner we see these people know service. Waiting no longer than sixty seconds after we have sat down, a huge slab of wood piled high with melt in the mouth prosciutto and sweet melon is placed before us with a bottle of red wine. Next three different and delicious country-style soups are sampled, followed by three little salad combinations of black-beans, chickpeas and tomato. The piece de la resistance is yet to come and I am feeling very full but manage to soldier on anyway. An enormous t-bone steak, seemingly hacked straight from the animal, all uneven and country style, is set down, blackened from fire on the outside and rare and succulent on the inside. ‘This is pure country eating,’ Ben declares, unleashing his hidden Pashtun man. More wine, more of everything is continuously brought to our table. Desert is fresh panna cotta and strawberries with complimentary sweet wine, whiskey, coffee, muscatel sweet wine and da Il Latini amaretto biscotti totally top us off. The mamma of the house has taken Paloma off our hands and is showing her the quirky collection of framed wine openers and distracting the waiters from their service as they all want a cuddle with her. So much for the Ufffizi Gallery, a trip to Florence is worth this meal alone. Please someone roll me home?
We all sleep soundly this night, Paloma not waking until we do at nine! Bliss. Crossing the Ponte Vecchio we bump into our NYC friends who again, such a funny coincidence to see them there. Twelve years ago when I was last in Florence the jewellery for sale in the little shops and boutiques lining the bridge was unique and special. Now it is all Made-in-China fare, globalisation at work again. The way things are going, we fear everywhere will be anywhere soon, as the unique identities of places fade and become imitations of the nations driving this borderless world. Sad, but is seems even tourists seem to enjoy a slice of home while abroad, so silly of them. What’s the point leaving in the first place? Instead of feeling out of one’s comfort zone and shocked and amazed by new surroundings, sights and tastes, on the streets of Florence we hear, ‘Oh, look, we’ve got these back home! Amazing! Bob, take a look will you?’
Back on the train we are headed to our beloved Venice where clouds are brewing up a storm, ready to crack open the sky and give us the wet respite we have been aching for. We arrive at our favourite osteria, just in time as a torrential downpour cleans away the heat.