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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 16 of 38: Boboli! Boboli! Boboli!

photo by BGE

Fighting Cat-feeders!

What’s with the cathedral bells here?

They have become my new alarm clock, and I really like that a lot! I suppose I cannot take the bells home with me, can I? What a delectable way to wake up in the morning.

I’ve a slow, lazy time to myself before my day at the Boboli Gardens begins, and that is such a luxury for me. It makes me glad that I’ve chosen to travel solo this trip. There’s no one in my space, no demands on my time and no other timetable to consider, other than mine.

Someone told me a long time ago that there are so many different words to define being on your own. Alone... it has a sort of lonely, sad feeling about it. But, solitary, why that is a different sort of word altogether. For some reason, it seems a more positive word which means exactly the same thing as alone. Why is that, I wonder? After all, being on your own is being on your own, no matter how you describe it, isn’t it?

I’m meeting M. & D. at Rivoire for cappuccino… our morning ritual, it seems. They really do serve the perfect cup, and I love the outside seating area, where we can take a long time to wake up, sip our cuppas and plan our day. A short bus ride on the reliable #7 and I’m there, just north of the Du-o-mo. In a few minutes I’m sitting at Rivoire, waiting for them to join me.

It is a nice day for a long walk and we start out slowly, taking photos of my beloved doors of Florence as I walk along behind them. Soon, we are crossing the Ponte Vecchio. This is the first time I’ve been over to the Oltrarno, and the glitter and sparkle of the millions of pieces of gold in the dozens of shop windows along the bridge are almost overwhelming to me. Who buys all this gold? Tourists? Is this a place where Florentines come to shop? I wonder. It seems a bit excessive to me...

There is a post at the side of the bridge, with lots and lots of padlocks locked in place around the bars of the post. There are initials, 2 sets, written in black marker on each padlock. I ask someone standing beside us what it means. She thinks it is a tradition for people getting married, writing their initials on the padlock, locking it in place on the post and then throwing the key into the river, signifying an unbreakable bond between the two. Very nice.

While we are lining up for tickets to get into the gardens, I take a detour to the washrooms and encounter a very, very looooong line-up. Of course, there’s no line-up outside the men’s washroom, only outside the one I am using! Seems like this is a universal problem, with an obviously universal solution, built more washrooms for women, or is that too obvious a solution?

It’s fine, really, because I get into a very interesting conversation with a woman from Australia who is standing behind me in the line-up. We talk about travel and I tell her about my travel site, Slowtrav, and she has never heard of it. I write the website address on one of my artist's business cards and give it to her, telling her to look it up when she has access to a computer. Talking with her kills about 40 of the 45 minutes we are in this cruddy line-up!

(*Note to self: I need to ask for Slowtrav business cards for when I travel… I’m forever writing the website address on scraps of napkins, the backs of grocery lists, on cheque stubs, business cards and any other bit of paper I can find at the time.)

The Boboli Gardens are really nice! I was thinking that this might be a bit of a bore for me, but it really is a beautiful place, and within minutes I am walking totally alone, uphill along the footpaths. It’s lovely to be out of the crowds of tour-bus folk and the student tour groups which seem to be increasing daily downtown.

Here, I see occasional small groups of people, walking and talking, and there’s such a relaxed feeling about this place.

Just at that moment, I hear loud, angry voices coming from around the next corner. A man and a woman in a heated argument, in Italian, fast and furious. I slow down, approach the corner of the path and coming around the bend, I see them. They are feeding feral cats, filling the many dishes lined up along the low stone wall, and they’re having a huge fight…or, maybe this is just another way they have of talking it out, who knows? Too funny! The cats could care less, as they sit, patiently waiting for the argument to end and the feeding to begin.

After a long climb to the upper level of the gardens, and several dozen photos later, I’m ready to head back down. I can’t see M. or D., so I’ll call them on my cell when I get to the gate, as we planned.

Arriving outside the gates, I find a great resting spot, take out my cell phone and…what???

Oh, for Pete’s sake!

My good little vodaphone just stopped working!

A little hand, with little tiny fingers counting down…5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1...

Seems like my phone card is out of minutes already!

8E of calling time and 2E for a service charge.

I’m frustrated with the unreliability of my cell phone here. I’m not sure whether it is the phone system or an I.O. error. In any case, I can’t call my son and I’m rapidly losing patience with not being able to call him when I want to or need to.

I start walking along the street, heading back towards the Ponte Vecchio, looking for a sympathetic shop owner with a phone. About a block away from the gates, I stop in at a lovely little store, loaded with great smelling bath stuff and assorted toiletries. It smells fabulous in here!

I ask the woman in the shop if I may use her phone to call “mio figlio” and she smiles broadly and hands me the phone. After reaching him and letting him know where I am, I browse through the store, loving the products on the shelves... handmade linen towels, locally produced toiletries... this place is really cool! I start a stash for gifts for my family and friends on the front counter, and continue to browse.

Another woman comes in and begins to wander through the store and we chat about the quality and packaging of these products. She tells me that she has been looking for 2 weeks for gifts for family and friends and hasn’t seen anything like this. SHE begins a stack on the front counter. Then, slowly and steadily, the shop fills with people, oooh’ing and aaah’ing over the quality of the displays, the fragrance of the products and the eye appeal of all those luscious soaps and lotions, linens and china.

By the time my son arrives, I’m paying for a huge stack of yummilicious treasures for me, my daughter and my granddaughters… this is perfect for them! The owner wraps each small item in a watermarked sheet of tissue paper, bearing the company’s logo. Then she ties each piece with raffia, places the item in a little brown kraft paper shopping bag, ties the handles together with more raffia and clamps the ends of twine together with a small, round silver clip, also bearing the shop's logo. This, my friends, is presentation at its finest! L’Erbario Toscana certainly knows how to impress this client!

I ask the woman packing my gifts if this is her store, and she nods and smiles and says, “Si, Signora!” I ask her how long she has been in business here, and she blushes, looks at the ground and then whispers, “Only two weeks, Signora!”

“Two weeks!”, I exclaim.

“Si, signora, only 2 weeks!”, she repeats, smiling.

I am amazed. She has created this little bit of heaven in such a short time. We hug, I thank her profusely, she insists that it is she who should thank me, and we go back and forth a bit, until my son says, “Muuuumm…can we go now?”

I remember.

Nothing's changed since he was little... he doesn’t like shopping in “those smelly places!”

As we walk back across the Ponte Vecchio, heading for a cappuccino pit stop at Rivoire, we shop for gelato for each of us. Walking along, licking the delectable little gem of chocolate hazelnut, I am reminded of when my son was 4 or 5, and I’d walk with him and his big sister to the corner store in the Kensington area of Calgary. It was a 3 block walk, along a quiet side street, and the corner store had the best selection of frozen treats ever. Invariably, we’d leave with a piece of fruit in one hand, because I insisted that they choose a healthy treat. Just as invariably, we’d also leave with an ice cream treat in the other hand, because, after all, they were little children and ice cream means the world to all children, little or big!

Tomorrow, M. & D. are going to Milan and then on to Venice, so we walk along, talking and planning how we will meet up in Paris, exchanging phone numbers and addresses once more, just to make SURE…

We say goodbye, hugs all around, then more hugs. I will miss them and their infinite patience with my ‘newbie-ness’…

Best Things Today:

~ cathedral bells again!

~ solitude and silence at breakfast this morning

~ seeing my son’s face smiling at me, as I approach Rivoire

~ the long walk up to the top of Boboli Gardens

~ lilacs blooming along the way

~ a kind gesture from the owner of L’Erbario Toscana

~ the atmosphere and incredibly positive energy in her store

~ gelato, of course!

Worst Things Today:

Only one thing... knowing that M. and D. leave for Milan and Venice tomorrow. This has been such a magical experience, to be sharing my first trip to this stunning country with one of my kids! I’ll meet them in a few days in Paris, and we’ll pick up where we left off.

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