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Report 926: My Dream Trip To Italy and France

By BGE from Fox Creek, Alberta, Canada, Spring 2005

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Page 12 of 38: Cascine Park Market Day

photo by BGE

Casine Park

I wake with a start to a very strange ringing sound…my new cell phone’s alarm clock is ringing! How did I do THAT?

Breakfast is so good... fresh fruit, fresh juice, fresh espresso, my hot cereal. It is so perfectly quiet in this apartment at this time of the morning. That is such a treat! One of the concerns I had about renting in Florence was getting a place in a noisy and busy area. This is neither and I love it!

I’m noticing the windows in the apartment. They are double-glazed, with heavy roll-down shutters that also cut out a lot of noise. I am feeling a lot better and I think to myself, “I really love this apartment. I would like to live here, I think!” The terraces are full of potted plants… ivies, bougainvilla, succulents. My job is to water them every day. A small price to pay for having a terrace.

It’s cloudy, chilly, windy and we’re off to Cascine Park and the market that Maureen has been telling me about. I’m going to walk down via Cavour, towards the Duomo, and look for a GEOX shoe store that I noticed. I’m also going to watch for the street to walk along to take me to Angie’s gallery.

Bells at the cathedral are ringing softly in the background as I leave the apartment. I still need to find a Tabacchi for my bus tickets. I want a Carte Agile… 25 rides for 20E. I stop at the door guy’s desk, and we tentatively talk with his smattering of English and my lamer-than-lame Italian, and I learn the Tabacchi is just around the corner. Finally, success... I buy a Carte Agile! I feel so proud of myself for this little victory.

I race to the bus stop, calling my son on my cell to tell him I’d be right there... and the #7 bus doesn't come at all!

I walk.

My 5 minute bus trip turns into a 20 minute walk. Finally we meet, take the bussini to Santa Maria Novella train station, grab a taxi and tell the driver we want to go to Cascine Market. Smart guy, he drives us to the FAR end of the market, so we only have to walk back! Very cool.

The market is so different from any others I’ve seen... long lines of booths and stalls on either side of the wide walking path. Booths with clothing of every kind and style, shoes, housewares, plants, shoes, scarves, shoes, jewellery, hand-made crafts, shoes…who wears all these shoes???

I buy scarves for my friends… 5E each, then Pierre Cardin socks in fluorescent NEON colors for my granddaughters. When we reach the last booths, I smell the porchetta! I tell everyone else to go find a bench in the park and I’ll bring them a treat. I buy porchetta heaped on a fresh, warmed-on-the-grill crusty ciabatta and smothered in grilled onions, wrapped in a foil and wax paper bundle for easier eating, and I also buy tall take-out cups of icy-cold and fresh-pressed lemonade. Sitting in the park, we devour the porchetta wraps and the lemonade. I am so hungry and this is SO good!

We walk back along the Arno toward downtown, stopping at Rampini Ceramics. I think I am in love! This is simply beautiful work. The various patterns, the displays of ceramic pieces on co-ordinating linens… it is very well done. I spend time talking with the woman who is serving us. Her name is Rita, and she lives in Arezzo. She tells me that I must come to her town, that I’d love it so much there.

We talk for a long time and she gives me a copy of “Too Much Tuscan Sun” by Dario Castagno, saying, "You know how the book about Cortona that Frances Mayes wrote tells how an American sees Italians? Well, this book of Dario’s tells how Italians see Americans. Read it, tell me what you think.” I leave, with a promise to read the book and visit Arezzo, if there is time. If not this trip, the next one, for by now I’m certain there will be a next trip and another, and another…

Rivoire is our last stop, for a lovely couple of hours, sitting at a table in the piazza, ordering cappuccino, salads, risotto, mouth-watering desserts. Torte del Nonna for me, Crème Cake for M.

Hmmmm, D. is being good, not ordering anything! (Just in case, we also order 3 forks! Guess who ate with us?) There is a young couple sitting at the next table, holding hands and talking in quiet tones. They are taking each other’s picture. I ask them if they would like me to take their photo together. They laugh, she blushes and they say, “Oh, yes, please!” We talk, they are from Japan and they are on their honeymoon…how lovely!

I promise to e-mail the photos to them and we exchange e-mail addresses. This again proves to me the magic of this electronic age we live in. I’m sitting in a café in Florence, taking photos of a couple from Japan and when I arrive back in Canada, I can send them the photos in a split-second. This is bloody marvellous!

My son is struggling with a really nasty cold, coughing, headache, fever. I send him back to his hotel to go to bed, take the Cold F/X capsules that I give him and sleep it off. It doesn’t matter that he is 38, he is still my child and I still worry about him when he is sick. I still feel so helpless. I wonder if that ever changes? I think not.

Now I'm off in search of “comfortable walking shoes.” GEOX, I think. I saw them in a shop window, they look promising, and I want to at least try them on. The trick is to find the shoe store again…

Walking along via de Calzaiuoli, I’m careful to pay attention to where I am so I won’t get lost going home. This is still very unfamiliar to me and it is so easy to lose my bearings. A few blocks along, I see the shoe store! The GEOX are sitting in the window and they are calling my name…no really, they are!

“Brenda…oh Brennnnnnnnda…come here, please…” and a little later, “…just try us on, that’s all…you don’t have to buy us, really you don’t!”

They fit.


Of course.

I knew they would.

THEY knew they would. That’s why they were taunting me.

I am so happy. I go to the counter to pay for my “comfortable walking shoes” and I only have 60E. The damn shoes are 79E!

”I’ll be back," I tell the clerk. "Here’s my 60E, and my gorgeous calendars that I just bought for my grandson and myself... hold them for collateral…”

The clerk smiles, takes my money and writes a note about the balance owing. She takes my calendars and puts them with the money and the shoes in a big bag, and stashes them in the back room, behind the counter.

I leave, slinking out in embarrassment.

I head north, or so I think, walking along, block after block, looking for the signs along the way that are familiar now. Signs like San Marco, Caffe Cavour...

No San Marco.

That’s strange, I should have passed it by now. Ive been walking for over 10 minutes.

Finally I stop, look at the street signs at the intersection I’m at, then try to locate them on my trusty street map of Florence.

Oh, $#*%!

I’m about 9/10 of the way to San Ambrogio.

I turn around, walk back to the Duomo, and head north along via Cavour. I’m really tired, my feet are so damned sore, the blisters are actually raw now. I am close to tears from the pain, the embarrassment, the frustration and awkwardness I feel about the newness of this city and my inability to ‘know’ it yet.

My son calls me on my cell while I am trudging back towards my apartment, after being so dreadfully lost. He’s worried, because we agreed that I’d call when I arrived home, and of course he’s thinking I should have been home a very long time ago. Reassuring him that I am within a couple of blocks of my apartment, we continue to chat as I walk along. After we hang up, I feel a wave of homesickness flood over me... a feeling that I’ve not had since I was very little, and at my first summer camp. I think what I'm missing is the familiarity of my surroundings that I have when I'm at home. Here, very little is familiar, yet.

My feet are so sore, my body is so tired, I’m starving and really, really thirsty. I'm feeling really embarrassed about the money and the shoes. I think I don't like it here very much right now. I don't like how I feel when all of this stuff is happening. In my own environment, I'd deal with any or all of these things, and it would be a cakewalk for me, because I know how to, and where to, and all that jazz. I feel like I just want to go home, where things are familiar to me.

As I arrive at the apartment, remembering that I need groceries, I also realize that I have no time, no energy and no foot power to walk all the way to Esselunga. A quick power-shop at my elegant little Caffe Principe around the corner saves my butt. Caffe Principe has saved my butt more than a few times. This time, I find tall bottles of chilled spring water, a cold bottle of white wine, plus a few apples and a couple of oranges from the huge bowl of fruit on the counter by the till, as well as a takeout of salad and risotto.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to find my shoes, my 60E, my calendars and my dignity that I lost today. Tonight, I am going home to soak my feet, put polysporin and gauze pads on my blisters and pour a glass or two of chilled white wine down my throat, to salve my flustered and chagrined soul.

When I arrive home, after setting the food on the counter, I take a few minutes to throw in a load of clothes. I cannot get the washer to work, of COURSE! Taking a very deep breath, I call Lorenzo to ask for instructions. He is soooo very sick with this nasty ‘flu that seems to be knocking everyone down for the count. I tell him it is not important at all, and instruct him to stay in bed and get well. He is grateful, I can tell. If he feels better, he will stop by tomorrow, he says.

After I hang up, I try the washing machine again. I finally figure out the problem. It is an IO error ~ Idiot Operator! I read the words on the dials and now I know what I was not doing correctly before. Good thing that Lorenzo didn’t drive all the way over here to find THAT out. At the end of a day of embarrassments, this one might have been too much for me. It's too funny now, that I'm safely tucked away inside my apartment!

After the wine, some fruit, my risotto and salad, plus 2 stacks of biscotti with a cappuccino, I no longer dislike being in Florence, I no longer dislike being in Italy. I am safe, warm, fed, cooled off. My feet aren’t sore, as long as I don’t try walking on them, and I think I’ll stay in Italy, in Florence, and try this again tomorrow.


What takes 5 minutes at home becomes a 3 hour marathon here. I am sooo used to getting in my car, driving wherever I want to go in a very short time and KNOWING where I am at any given moment and where I am going. This unfamiliarity with my surroundings is testing me and straining my usually good-natured attitude towards life.

Nothing here is easy for me. I don’t speak the language very well at all, I don’t have a car, a Vespa or bike. I am struggling with finding the services that I need. Tabachi, grocery stores, bakery... nothing is easy because it is all new and I am like a fish out of water right now. It doesn’t feel very good at all.

Best Things Today:

~ spending the day with M. and D.

~ shopping at Cascine Market

~ wandering along the Arno coming home from the market

~ sitting at Rivoire, visiting with M. & D. for over 2 hours

~ finding my GEOX!

~ the kindness of the clerk when I didn't have the Euros to pay for my GEOX

~ seeing the doorway to my apartment building, finally

~ soaking my sore feet in a basin of hot water & Epsom Salts

~ my son calling to check on me... how comforting that is!

~ finding some stunning Murano wine glasses with 24K gold rims, a mere $250 for 6!

Worst Things Today:

~ in spite of everything that happened to me today, there is no 'worst'... it's all good!

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