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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 17 of 38: Meeting Beebee for Lunch...

photo by BGE

Smart Car!

I wake up, with a sore throat, I'm freezing cold, I have a raging headache and no voice. I feel terrible this morning. After a hot shower and then breakfast, followed with 3 huge mugs full of hot tea with lemon and honey, plus a Motrin for fever, I feel a little bit better.

Barb and Bill (beebee on Slowtrav) call around 10:00 A.M. We are meeting at Mercato Centrale at Trattoria Mario for a bite to eat and a catch-up visit. I met them at a Slowtrav GTG (get-together) in Toronto this past winter… they are delightful people and I’m so happy to be meeting them for lunch.

Bill and Barb live in England, and have a holiday home north of Florence, so they are driving in this morning. Barb’s sister and her husband are also joining us. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a while now.

A brisk walk in the rain and wind along via Cavour wakes me up and I look for the turn-off to the market. My umbrella saves me and keeps the top half of me dry, anyway! As I reach the market, I decide to find Mario’s and then I can wander for a bit, before meeting Bill and Barb.

Outside the door to Mario’s, an exhausted-looking couple stop me and ask me if I know where they are. Where THEY are? Too funny! I’m totally verklempt! They think I am a resident of this spectacular city and they are looking to me for directions!

I ask them where they wish they were right now, and she replies with a wry smile, “In bed, sleeping. We just arrived after a very long, very difficult overnight flight and we are a total mess!”

“I know the feeling,” I reply. “Can I give you a little present? Some advice from someone who has been there, not all that long ago? Find a nice restaurant, sit down, have a bowl of soup and a salad and some nourishing fresh bread… maybe a cappuccino or two. Stay sitting 'til you feel a little bit more like yourself, and then walk along the streets, heading back to your hotel. Then, have a small nap, ok? A NAP! Trust me on this... it'll help!"

They laugh out loud…”You don’t live here?”

“Nope, I wish I did, though. Thanks for the compliment! It must mean that I don’t look like a tourist.”

“No, you look like you belong here,” she replied.

I am happy.

I feel a sudden rush of excitement.

After the last number of days of feeling like I have no idea what I am doing or how I should be doing it, I feel suddenly at home. It is a lovely feeling.

I give them a business card, with my cell number on it, and tell them they can call me if they are struggling with anything during their stay in Florence. I wish I had a Slowtrav business card to give to them. I must remember to ask on the ST board about business cards. They would have been a great idea for this trip. I would have been handing out lots, if I’d had them to hand out!

Barb, Bill and their family arrive. We hug, the introductions are dispensed with in jig time and we get in line for a table at Mario’s. The 20 minute wait flies by as we visit. We are shown to a table for 6, and there are 5 of us. Within a few seconds, a young guy in work clothes sits with us. We manage our introductions with Barb’s very fluent Italian. She’s good, I tell ya!

The trattoria is full to bursting, and the people are all talking, laughing and eating. What a great little place! This was a recommendation from Diva on Slowtrav and she’s nailed it but good. It is amazing. Wonderfully warm and entertaining people fill the tables…we can hear the murmur of Italian, mixed with the clink and crackle of forks scraping plates clean. We order ribollita & Florentine Bifteck… it comes with yummy fries, beans, a house salad and heaps of fragrant, warm bread. Washed down with a few glasses of white and red house wine, it is a feast like no other.

Our server comes and clears the plates after we have stuffed ourselves. She asks us if anyone wants dolci. I ask for cantucci and vin santo, and she laughs!

“Ahhh, so, vin santo, vin santo and then… you go bye-bye, Signora!” she says, putting her hands to her cheek to mimic sleep.

After paying for our lunch, we walk along the Arno, stopping at Rampini Ceramics and then a slow, meandering stroll along the river, stopping only to watch Barb salivating over a lemon-yellow Smartcar.

“This one would do!” she tells Bill.

After that long walk from the market, we reach Piazza Signoria, and it is time once more for a snack. They like to eat as much as I do! I like these people… they're my kind of folks! We take a table at Rivoire, order cappuccinos and the much-revered Rivoire hot chocolate. It comes and it is pudding–thick, dark, and fantastic! I promise Barb’s sister that I’ll e-mail her the link to Judy's website and the recipe for this luscious hot chocolate.

We also decide this is a great time for a bathroom break. I have never been in the public bathroom area in Rivoire, and I’m in for a bit of a surprise. I go through the door to the bathrooms, and find myself in a line-up with men and women. It seems that there is a co-ed line-up happening here!

OK, now what?

Ahhhh, I see.

At the front of the line-up, there are 2 doors. One for me and the other chicks, and one for the guys! While I am waiting in line, it is totally entertaining for me to watch the faces of each person who comes through the main door, as they stop dead-still and look at the line of men and women! You can see the momentary confusion on their faces, and then watch it turn to embarrassment, discomfort and a little bit of laughter at the situation.

After we fill our tummies with Rivoire goodness, we say our goodbyes and I leave my friends as they make their way back to their car.

Along my way to via Cavour, I stop at the little leather shop beside the Du-o-mo. I’ve been here before and I like the owner a lot. She and I have struggled a few times with our individual languages, then laughed at our mistakes and somehow managed to carry on a somewhat-stilted conversation the first time I stopped. There is a very cool messenger bag in black leather that I think I cannot live without, as well as a few gifts for family and friends.

Outside the doorway of the shop, I run into the same couple from Trattoria Mario! They tell me that they took my advice and had a bite to eat and then a nap.

“And now, we feel fantastic!” she exclaims.

They are “STILL slogging along,” he says. I think, and so do they, that they are running on pure unadulterated adrenalin!

Inside the leather shop, as I shop and talk with the owner, I’m aware of a radio playing, in the background. At one point in our conversation, she stops talking, then looks toward the radio, hears what the announcer has said, and in an instant she is kneeling on the floor, right in front of me. Her hands are clasped as if in prayer, eyes closed and repeating over and over again, tears on her cheeks. “Fuimi bianca! Fuimi bianca! Fuimi bianca!” she cries.

(White smoke, white smoke, white smoke!)

The cardinals at the Vatican have finally elected a new pope! This is a momentous occasion in this woman’s life, and she is obviously very emotional… we hug, she dances a little jig, hugs me again and then she says, “I am so happy! He is a good man, you think?”

After we talk a little more about this new leader of her Catholic church, I leave, with my new messenger bag and some small treats for a few friends, all wrapped in a crisp, green paper shopping bag. I walk back towards the street where I live, stopping at Cresti Shoes to see if they have those luscious red Mephisto loafers in my size.

They do not.

"We will order them in from another store, signora. You should stop tomorrow, please?"

Yes, I will!

You know that old shoe-shopping rule? If you find a pair you love, buy one in every colour!

Further along via Cavour, I stop at a wine shop that I’ve passed before. The owner chooses a good bottle of vin santo and recommends that I try his cantucci. I quickly snap up 2 huge blue waxed paper sacks of the little gems to go with my vin santo. The label reads “Biscotti Antonio Mattei, from the same recipe since 1858”, except in Italian! The owner tells me that his shop is only one of two places in Firenze that is allowed to sell this brand of cantucci.

We talk about wine, he explains more than I can absorb, but it is interesting nevertheless. What’s more, I understand him, when he slips in a bit of Italian here and there!

I walk home, savoring the day. In spite of my early morning cold and/or flu misery, I feel really good right now. Maybe it’s the healthy bowl of ribollita, or the vin santo that I had after lunch. It just might be the company and the great visit that I had with these warm and generous people…that would fix just about anything!

Arriving home, I turn on the TV and watch the news coverage of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from Germany as he is selected as the new pope. He has chosen the name Pope Benedetto XVI. It is a historic day in Italy, and I’m delighted to be a small, and very remote, part of it.

Lorenzo calls, regarding my apartment keys in Paris. I’m arriving late into Paris, and I've been talking with my rental contact, Lauren. We are trying to devise a plan for her to leave my keys in a ‘secure’ place, so she doesn’t have to come out late at night to let me in. Lorenzo has been kind enough to work with us, to do whatever he can to make it easier for me!

He had previously suggested that she mail the keys to his office and then he would deliver them to me at the apartment. However, Lauren doesn’t think she can get the keys to us soon enough, so she has decided to leave them in the apartment owner’s mailbox, inside the first set of security doors at the apartment building. I now have the code for those doors, the owner’s name and directions for finding my apartment, once I’m inside.

This schtick with the keys in Paris begins to feel a little like Mission: Impossible to me. You know, the part where Peter Graves gets a tape, inserts it into the cassette player, and hears his directions for the next mission, should he choose to accept it? Personally, I've often wondered what would have happened if good ol' Pete had listened to his message one week, tossed the tape aside, saying to the invisible voice, " To hell with it! YOU do the job! I quit!" and walked off the set. I'm just asking, is all....

Lorenzo also has already made arrangements for my departure and he goes over them with me, to make sure I’m comfortable with everything. He has booked my train to Pisa, arranged for Claudio to pick me up at my apartment. Claudio will deliver me to Santa Maria Novella station, stay with me until we know what track my train departs from and make sure my luggage is taken care of, as well.

This guy goes out of his way by miles to ensure that I’m comfortable and that everything is going perfectly. He needs to be teaching courses in customer service, I think!

At the beginning of my planning for this trip, I was most afraid of this exact thing, of not being able to find my way to and from the airports, train stations and accommodations. Lorenzo has taken that on and made it so simple for me. He’s amazing! I ask him if he knows what a difference this makes for me, and he says only that he travels a lot himself and knows how he wants to be treated, so he tries to do that for his clients. Well, he has succeeded. I’ll not have a problem recommending him and Florence Vacations to anyone travelling to Florence and area!

Oh, yes, and one more thing?

A huge bonus, just about the time I am ready for bed…my son calls from Venice! He is having a fantastic time, he says it is so beautiful and they are enjoying every moment. Just as we are about to wind the conversation down, my phone dies... AGAIN!

$*$%!^# cell phone!

I’ve had the best day today...

In spite of feeling totally awful this morning, this has been a wonderful, wonderful day! I truly am blessed.

Best Things Today:

~ meeting the jet-lagged couple at Mario’s and having them think I’m a native of Florence... how cool is that?

~ the very relaxed and enjoyable visit I had with Barb and Bill and their family

~ ribollita... yum!

~ fries... double-yum!

~ salad... totally delish

~ vin santo and cantucci, bye bye!'

~ being a part of this historic day, as a new pope is elected

~ my son calling from Venice just to say hi, and our conversation about how we are so lucky to be experiencing this spectacular country and its warm and generous people

Worst Things Today:

There were none… this was a perfect day for me, full of good people, great food and fresh air. What more could I want?

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