Archive for the ‘Arrival in Florence’ Category

Arrival in Florence Friday, June 26th, 2009

The Arrival

I scooted my carry-on and six foot bicycle carton along the marble floor in United’s check in line in San Francisco’s International Airport. The line serpentined  for two hours before I was given my boarding pass and  was able to walk light hearted towards the boarding gate. This was going to be a thoroughly new experience. And…I had some reservations and anxiety about the sanity and safety of the adventure. But, at sixty, being excited about anything is a good thing. Would my bike arrive undamaged? And the traffic in Florence…could I manage or would it be a fool-hearty attempt? Should the adventure begin to go awry, I could always ditch the bike and take the train to my brother’s house in Chiesina Uzzanese. That was Plan B; and just having plan b is always calming and reassuring.

Once on board I settled in my aisle seat for the direct flight to Frankfurt and connection to Florence. I wished to get as much sleep as possible so that I could be in decent shape for the ride to the inner city and Croce di Malta Hotel. Patricia had packed prosciutto, salami and chunks of hearty french bread to save me for the horrors of airline food. My method for the trip was simple….two small bottles of cabernet sauvignon and my deli stache when hunger yearned. I noticed envious eyes at times as I pulled food on my tray and wine in glass as all waited for their plastic food on plastic trays.

Had landed in Farnkfurt’s Rhein Main many times but Florence’s Peretola or Amerigo Vespucci Airport was a first. I did not know what to expect. Flurry of tourists in July? Hectic scene? Hustle and bustle? My first concern was assuaged as I saw my bike box loaded onto baggage carts just outside the aircraft. And seemingly all in one piece. What good luck, I thought. I walked across the tarmac and into a small one story cement building which was the entire airport. Yep….just like the San Jose Airport in the 1960’s. I loved it. To my right two baggage conveyors which were fed by a hole in the wall wooshed in motion. My boxed bike arrived with only one small hole. Now to find a quiet place to re-assemble the bike. Grabbed a cart and loaded box and bag, walked by waiting tourists, and line of taxis in front and found an alley to the left of the terminal. Just perfect! It was quiet and out of the way.

P7120012 Handle bars, front wheel, bungie cords, pedals and repair kit —all was there and quickly assembled. Through the parking lot and by the rental car area I proceeded with my baggage laden bike to a service station with a convenient restaurant and bar. What a great place to get my bearings. I ordered some chianti and poured over maps so that I could begin my search for the Arno River and a recognizable route to Florence’s inner city and my wonderful Croce di Malta Hotel. It was mid afternoon and later that evening I was to meet my nephew, Giovanni, for a late dinner. Confirmed with the bartender the general direction and I looked dubiously towards the myriad of tall buildings, one way streets and zooming, growling traffic. I sipped a bit more chianti and it was good.

The airport was as an island sequestered from the city by six lanes of continuous, aggressive and seemingly unstoppable traffic. I tried one direction but only found myself peering for a gap in the traffic like a timid doe. This is ‘nuts’, I thought. I walked some two hundred yards around the corner in the other direction and found intersection, traffic lights and a road leading through an underpass. The noise was deafening. And…I was going in a direction and not necessarily the direction I wanted. The bike felt top heavy with the baggage so I dared not ride with traffic in such close proximity. I walked till I came onto a somewhat bedraggled neighborhood with desolate lanes. Tested the bike and with a bit of speed I managed wonderfully well. Terrific! Now I was riding but was lost. Asked several people where the river was and they looked at me like I was a martian. Fortunately, I meandered in the right direction as the city neighborhoods turned into lush vegetation and park setting. I remembered from the maps that there was a large park near the river so, I sensed that I was close. A gentleman directed me straight ahead toward city center. Spirits high and smile on face. The trip was taking shape according to plan.

P7120028By the Arno River, on a sunny July afternoon, a wide elevated bicycle path delivered me towards the now visible old city center of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio some miles ahead. The arrival in a different culture, with the architectural icons in first view, create a surreal feeling. Am I really here? These are the moments where the cares and troubles of the world seem distant. I rode slowly, looked left and right with care not wanting to miss hidden details, noted my feelings with equal care as I wished to imprint this moment in my consciousness. It was wonderful to be alive!

The tawny color of the city glistened in the afternoon July sun before me. It was all P7120043familiar. Rode by number 30 Lungarno, my nephew’s apartment, and noted its location. I would give Giovanni my clothes bag after dinner that evening to bring to Chiesina as I rode without care on my planned route the next day. As I neared the Ponte Vecchio ever increasing numbers of tourists, dressed in summer togs moved in every direction. At the Ponte Santa Trinita I instinctively darted up a shady lane which opened onto Piazza Novella and my hotel clearly visible up the street to my left. I had negotiated the first leg….I felt triumpahnt.

Once inside the cool, marble and glass lobby I engaged the young, neatly dressed lady behind the counter. She was friendly and business like….but soon broke out into a large grin as I explained my bicycle, and clothes bag leaning like Cat Ballou’s horse against the wall just under the regal “Croce di Malta” sign. Once properly checked in she bade me to wait next to the bike lest it be stolen as a bellman would soon arrive. Fifteen minutes passed and I, still as a sentinel next to my bike, re-awakened to the reality of being in Italy. Shoddy, sloppy, ‘no sense for punctuality’ Italy. I peaked through the rotating glass doors to the desk lady motioning to myself waiting and she gestured…right away.  In a few minutes she appeared through an old door a few meters down the street and collected my bike for safe keeping. With a raised eyebrow and rather sarcastic grin I schlepped my bag into the minuscule elevator to my fifth floor room. Once showered and properly dressed a visit to the quaint lobby bar was a certainty.

The harsh ring tones awakened me from a deep nap. “Your nephew…” , the desk-man was saying in Italian, “is waiting in the lobby”. I had slept for and hour or so and after a shower and shave and fresh clothes felt much refreshed. Giovanni sat in the front lobby with his cute dog, Ty. He looked lean and well groomed and we sat for a while and chatted.

We walked towards the Arno and across Ponte Santa Trinita towards Oltranrno for our restaurant. Midway on the bridge Giovanni pointed to his car and recounted the problems with parking and vandalism in the city of Florence. They keep ripping off the rear view mirrors. Another five hundred yards and we were in a sheltered piazza, well lit and the entrance to a quaint rustic trattoria. We sat at tables outside. We shared a table for four with another couple we did not know. They are more practical in Europe and are not so demanding on private tables. It’s kind of refreshing in one way…but I guess it depends as to who your’re stuck next to.

We ordered a bottle of house wine and antipasto of crostini, entrees of baccala and polenta, dessert, more wine and espresso and cognac all around. Ty sat quietly under the table never stirring. From time to time a passerby would stop at our table and notice the dog and comment how beautiful and well behaved. We spoke of Moreno and his illness. Then we had more wine. Other folks recognized Giovanni and would stop by and chat briefly.  By this time another couple had been seated and we were in a melodious mood and I was buying drinks for everyone. I think we were having a wonderful time.

After dinner we walked down dimly lit medieval lanes on cobble stones for severalP7120031miles. The unevenness of the cobbles was reaking havoc with my left knee. The same knee I had injured on a walking adventure to San Francisco with Patricia with cowboy boots. She had told me that cowboy boots were for riding horses and not walking, but I did not listen. Giovanni was a brisk walker and I followed along without complaining. We arrived at a well lit open piazza where dozens of people huddled. An outside bar anchored the crowd. Giovanni positioned us at a well lit corner of the bar where we ordered some drinks, chatted and looked at the groups of young people. Giovanni said that this evening was a light turnout. Soon a number of couples who recognized him formed about us. We were having gocciolino’s. I chuckled at the term ‘gocciolino’, literally meaning a ‘drop’. But… I guess our home grown term ‘shot’ is equally strange. In any event Giovanni and our new found friends had gocciolinos and I some white wine while I spoke to one of the young ladies who was traveling from The Czeck Republic. She was multi-lingual and well educated and a charming personality. She was in tow with a middle aged guy who had money and she somewhat lamented, as the gocciolinos progressed, about not doing her own thing on her own terms. We had a grand time and as I occasionally  panned around the piazza more and more people drifted into the outdoor party. They bought rounds and I bought one also…although the young girl wanted to buy a round too. I can’t remember whether she ever got the opportunity.

We retraced our steps along dimly lit alleys. Florence in the evening is not well lit. My knee did not bother me as much as before but…it was probably due to the too many wines at the piazza bar. Giovanni walked with a brusque pace and we carried on a low keyed conversation as we arrived at Croce di Malta to pick up my valise and proceed to his apartment along the Arno. He gave me a quick tour of his ground floor flat and  I headed back to my hotel. As I walked back I thought…well the getting up early and begin the bike trip across Tuscany…it might not be as early as I had planned.


The Cycling Tuscan

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