Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fabulous Florence

After a simple, but delicious breakfast, we were ready to get going. Our choices were simple, we could either take it easy for the day and explore the countryside of Tuscany or we could dig right in and head for Florence. I held my breath as I gave everyone the two options. I was ready to rock and roll, but I had originally agreed that since this was our vacation, I would be fine with taking it easy. Now that we were here, I wanted to make the most of it.

I was happy when Acki spoke up, voting for going to Florence. Although I was a bit nervous about driving to a new place, I was encouraged by the events of the morning which gave me all the confidence I needed to feel like I could do it. As the girls finished getting ready, Liz and I went to the reception office to ask for directions.

We were provided a print out of step by steps instructions which seemed easy, but had enough vagueness to them, such as "you'll come to a row of gas stations, turn left on the second light after you pass the gas stations. that I was more than a little unsettled. I mean, what can be considered a "row" of gas stations?

Turns out these were the best directions we had for the whole trip. Before we knew it, we were arriving at the vicinity of the city and heading into a parking lot. It was rather a strange parking lot, just one long narrow strip of parking spaces, all of which were taken. The ones that weren't appeared to be reserved so we kept driving up the one way path. Finally we came upon a few empty spaces and grabbed one of them.

We began to walk in the direction of which we believed the heart of the city would be located. I don't know why we were relatively confident we were walking in the right direction when we had never been there before, but we were having fun taking pictures of our surroundings along the way.

It took us much longer to find the city centre than it should have mostly because we kept stopping to take it all in and to document it all with our cameras.

It's a funny experience asking for directions in northern Italy. Most of the Italians act as though they've never heard of the places for which you're looking. Perhaps they refer to their landmarks differently, but we managed to find the Arno River without too much trouble. Here, we were just a hop, skip and a jump from the sights we wanted to see.

Once we got to this area, the scenery changed. It was a bustling little city with a lot of signage which was helpful to four woman from the US who hadn't a clue as to what we were doing.

First up, was a stop for gelato, after all, it was after noon by the time we had arrived and it was time to reward ourselves for making it this far.

After our tummies were filled with our first taste of genuine, authentic Italian gelato, we continued to walked to the Duomo. Like our walk to the city centre, our journey was interrupted by stops along the way.

There were countless souvenir stands.

Photo opportunities around every corner.

And at the Piazza della Repubblica sat a carousel calling to the child in me.

But none of that compared to the first moment I set my eyes upon the Florence Cathedral. It was truly a magical moment stepping into the area in which the Duomo sat. The moment my eyes came upon it, I stopped in my steps and literally gasped at its beauty.

The facade was whiter than I imagined and was a stark contrast to the beige buildings that surrounded it. And somehow it's hidden from sight so that when you come upon it, it takes you by surprise.

Which is impossible to imagine because the cathedral is quite large. It's surrounded by ordinary buildings, which I thought were mainly apartments, which added to its grandeur.

Could you imagine looking out your window every morning to this view?

I wondered if those who live in this city realized how special it is and how lucky they are.

We decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to climb the Duomo.

I had read that the lines could be several hours long, but after less than 30 minutes, we were entering the building to begin our ascent.

The climb up was quite a work out. It's the type of steps that I hate with a passion. Steep, endless, often without any handrail. I kept my head down, concentrating on one step at a time, telling myself if I could climb to the top of the Notre Dame, surely I could climb to the top of this Duomo. My steps were slow and I told the girls to go ahead and not to wait for me. 

I don't know why I let my fear creep in, but it did. And at the very last section, I gave in to the pesky enemy. Here was the extent of my view as I waited for Liz to finish the climb and tell the girls I chickened out.

I felt it apropos that the window had bars making me feel like a prisoner to my fears as I watched others pass me up without a care in the world.

After waiting for what seemed like hours, I finally saw Liz coming down the stairs from top. 

Liz was beaming as she told me that it was just a beautiful as one would have thought. The only thing was, the girls were nowhere to be found which was a little alarming being as I found it difficult to believe they could have passed me by without me knowing it. 

The descent was double nerve-wracking for me as going down steps is even more frightening to me as going up. Added to that, was my concern about the girls. When we finally reached the last step and walked out into the fresh air, I was anxious to see their faces. But they were nowhere in sight. Scenes from Taken flashed my mind. Acki's mom would take me down and I wouldn't blame her a bit. 

Just about the time I thought I was going to start crying, the girls walked up full of smiles. They had been waiting for what seemed like forever so they did a little shopping. Turns out they didn't go all the way to the top, somehow missing the last passage. They were exceedingly disappointed when they realized what they had missed, but I told them they could try again if we decided to come back to Florence another day.

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