Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 926: My Dream Trip To Italy and France
By BGE from Fox Creek, Alberta, Canada, Spring 2005
Page 8 of 38: Arrival in Florence!
My new living room
Our flight ends, thankfully, and we go through Immigration in Frankfurt, where a shocking thing happens. There is such blatant racial profiling going on at the Immigration office, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. My heart goes out to the innocents among them, who are simply travelling to another place for a family visit or a honeymoon or...
I feel somehow like shrinking into a smaller version of myself, becoming invisible, less white. Being white is obviously a good thing in this room. We are not pulled aside.
I need a long hot shower to clean the fragments of this experience from my mind. It is a different era we live in now, and this brings it home to me, like nothing else can do. I understand the necessity of this kind of stringent control. I also understand that it is for the safety of everyone.
What I don't understand is why the need to selectively target these families with tiny children, the honeymooners, the old people walking with the aid of canes. I watch in shame as the old couple stand in line, tears rolling down their weathered and wrinkled cheeks, as the searching of their belongings and personal effects begins. It seems to me there must be a better way to achieve the desired end, but, right now I have no idea what that is.
What I do know is that being witness to what transpires here in Frankfurt airport sits in my gut like a lead weight and I lose some part of me inside. I think it might be my naivete or my innocence that has left me previously unknowing...
Our connecting flight to Florence is completely and totally a blur. I’m so exhausted from no sleep, from sitting for so long, from the stuffy airplane air. There's no way of making any intelligent decisions right now. It would be lunacy to try, so I follow my son's back as he makes his way to the check-in, for our trip to Florence.
We arrive in Florence at 9:30 A.M. Luggage pick-up and departing the airport is simple, because it is a small airport and very user-friendly. Lorenzo Duranti, my rental agent, had arranged for transportation from the airport to my apartment, and as we leave the arrival area, I see a welcome sight. There's a sign with my name on it. The guy holding the sign smiles at me!
I walk over to him, introduce myself and he says, in crystal-clear English, “Hello, my name is Claudio. I am sorry, I don’t speak English!”
He dials a number on his cell, hands it to me with a flourish, flashes a wide, toothy grin and says one word to me “Lor..en..zo!”
Yes, Lorenzo Duranti, my rental agent for my Florence apartment is on the line! He lets me know that we'll be stopping at Florence Vacations' office for my keys, and he also graciously offers to drive my son and his partner to their hotel, Locanda Orchidea.
Claudio stows our assorted luggage in the back of his air-conditioned Mercedes van, and we pile into the cool, clean-smelling van. I take a deep breath of this wonderfully cool and fresh air. It is such a treat after the hot, stuffy recycled air on the flight.
Lorenzo joins us, introduces himself and we are on our way. It’s a short drive from the airport just outside of Florence, and soon we are in the winding narrow street of Florence!
Claudio turns, smiling again and points ahead, then says one word… "Du-o-mo!” and passes a small dish of peppermints to us. There, right in front of the van is the now-familiar-from-guide-books Du-o-mo! Forever after this moment, I will pronounce it the same way, Du-o-mo, with a heavy accent on the middle syllable.
We arrive at Locanda Orchidea, delivering M. & D. to their home for the next 2 weeks. Then, Claudio drives me to Lorenzo’s office, offering me another round of peppermints. At Florence Vacations, I pay the balance of my rent, receive my rental information package and apartment keys, and soon we are pulling up in front of 104 via Cavour.
Claudio helps me from the van, offers me a final peppermint and wishes me a wonderful stay in Florence. At least, I think that’s what he says... all I know is that whatever he tells me sounds so much more delicious in Italian.
Lorenzo and I load my luggage into a small elevator in the marble-floored lobby of this gorgeous apartment building. We glide silently to the top floor.
This moment is so engraved on my mind.
I have been salivating over ka-zillions of apartments for ga-zillions of months and have fallen in love with this place on the Florence Vacations website. The photo of the kitchen cabinetry and the huge kitchen stove sealed it for me!
I'm anxious to see what I've chosen.
Will it be as nice as the website photos?
Lorenzo opens the door, invites me inside and I stop dead-still and stare at the kitchen cupboards. They ARE gorgeous! This kitchen IS really beautiful... much better than the photos on the website, by far! He gives me a guided tour, explaining how to raise and lower the heavy shutters covering all the windows and terrace doors. He shows me where the various appliances are located and how to open and close the skylights over my bed and over the sitting room sofa.
Finally, we come to the wide, glass-panelled doors that open onto the roof-top terrace. As we step out into the noon sunshine, I am laughing out loud and saying, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” a lot, because it looks so totally beautiful!
Lorenzo opens the little door beside the terrace, and we enter a small room that holds storage shelves and a fridge, and Lorenzo says, "And here we have the... ”
“Oh, my God!” I interrupt him. ”The washer and dryer!”
“No, Brenda, THIS is the washer,” he says, pointing to the washer.
Then, he hands me a wicker basket of clothes pins and tells me, smiling wickedly, “... and THIS is the dryer!” We crack both crack up! Too funny... maybe that's my state of total and complete exhaustion. Whatever it is, it strikes me as hilarious.
Lorenzo is exceptionally good at making certain I know how to do everything I need to do, where to find everything and how to contact him, if I need help with anything. After making sure that I'm comfortable, he leaves.
Finally, I am alone in this huge, elegant apartment on the 5th and top floor of an “old Florentine palace” and I am stunned silent. The rooms are lovely, with very high ceilings, 12 to 14 feet, depending on the room. There are parquet hardwood floors throughout the entire apartment.
The furniture is a mixture of old and new, both antiques and modern. It looks like there are many family heirlooms here, and I’m feeling privileged that the owner has chosen to share his home with me for a few weeks. All the furniture is in excellent condition and so very comfortable.
I take time to unpack, settle into my new home and put all my “stuff” in its place. After making sure that everything is unpacked and the luggage is stored out of sight in the wall storage units, I realize that I’m feeling really hungry. I know that there is an Esselunga supermarket a few blocks away, so I'm off to find it. Along the way, I also find an Internet Spot, a Vodaphone outlet for phone cards and a wonderful selection of shops and stores that serve this neighbourhood’s residents.
Esselunga is a really good grocery store! I get my cart, after depositing a Euro coin in the cart’s lock slot. I've learned this from Pauline’s travel notes on Slowtrav! The produce aisle is on my right and I enter through the turnstile, looking for the plastic gloves. I learned this from Pauline’s travel notes, as well!
I slip on a glove, take a few clear plastic produce bags and begin choosing my first food in Italy! Each bag of fruit and vegetables goes in my cart, and when I’m finished selecting produce, I walk to the scale, conveniently placed along the side of the aisle, and set each bag in turn on the scale, press the corresponding button for the kind of produce in the bag, take the printed sticker that slides out of the bottom of the scale, and stick it on the side of each bag. As before, this is also from Pauline’s travel notes! There are several people choosing produce and they are NOT wearing the plastic gloves. The other shoppers let them know it is not appropriate. I'm thankful for my Slowtrav instructions! I feel a little smug, I must confess.
With both hands full of heavy grocery bags, I walk back along via Bartolomeo and head home to “my” apartment. M. and D. find me later that afternoon, and I give them a guided tour of my perfect home. They love it!
After eating a small dinner of fresh salad with feta cheese, steamed green beans and a huge bowl of REAL yoghurt, I tumble into bed, falling asleep with the skylight opened a little crack for fresh air.
Best Things Today:
~ getting OFF the plane in Florence!
~ actually breathing the air in Italy
~ meeting Claudio and Lorenzo
~ seeing the “Du-o-mo” for the first time
~ my first look at the winding narrow streets of Florence
~ 104 via Cavour…an elegant and gorgeous apartment
~ KNOWING how to shop in Esselunga!
~ actually finding my way back home from Esselunga to the apartment
~ standing on top of my bed…looking out of the skylight at the rooftops of my neighbourhood
~ seeing the “Du-o-mo” from the skylight's opening
Worst Things Today:
~ the dreadful feeling of exhaustion beyond the beyond
~ experiencing Immigration reality...and not liking it at all.
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