Our stay in Santa Maria a Monte came to an end and was time to say goodbye to our amazing hosts. I must admit that it was a pretty hard parting ways - in a matter of one week we developed a strong relationship and hope to continue it in the future. We took a selfie, exchange phone numbers, gave kisses, packed our belongings and headed to Florence. On the way, we decided to stop for lunch at our favorite restaurant: Pepenero! We arrived at noon, right at the opening and were immediately greeted by Lorenzo, the owner. He recognized us and immediately set a table. Leo and Mila were so happy to be back there. They wanted to go straight to the back of the restaurant and play, but Lorenzo made it clear - you eat first and then you play, a perfect Italian plan! Once again, the menu included several dishes and this time we ordered risotto de mare, pasta with pesto, veal, and fish with mushrooms. As soon as Leo and Mila finished their pasta, Lorenzo called Teresa ( the chef of the kitchen) so she could take the kids to the back of the restaurant. I’d like to call her Mother Teresa because besides being super sweet, this woman has the biggest and warmest heart ever. She would not allow us to even check on Leo and Mila. Each time we got up and tried to peek on them, she would say in her heavy Italian accent "good, bambinos good" and believe me, I did not even argue, I simply sat down and continued this amazing lunch. We finished our feast with two desserts, tiramisu and crocante, and of course espresso. After consuming all of this deliciousness, I really felt like an Italian seniora! My belly was full and my heart very happy - in other words, a perfect state of mind.
On the way to Florence, while Rick was driving, we took a nap. The kids and I were in a real food coma. If you ever have been to Florence you know that this beautiful city is not very car friendly. There are driving restrictions zones where only the locals can enter by car. We were fully aware of that law however, our GPS was not. We entered the red zone, parked our car in an overnight parking lot and we are 100% sure we will be getting a fine but hey, life ain't perfect. We will deal with it once we receive the ticket and hopefully, it won't ruin our travel budget. After leaving our car, we had to walk 3km to our AirBnB rental and it felt like never ending pilgrimage. Let me just add the temps reached 105 degrees!!! Florence was in a heat wave with temps over 100 for 7 straight days. As we walked towards our apartment, with two small backpacks ( we left our suitcases in the car), stroller, bag with food, and two children, our brains got fried, literally, two fried eggs! The sweat was running down my ankles, back, chest, ass, everywhere. It felt like walking through the Sahara and pushing a caravan, hoping to find an oasis...and we did! Once we found our apartment all the sweat and feeling uncomfortable was gone. Our sweet flat was located in the heart of the city, right in front of Piazza Pettiti and 1 block from the famous Porto Vecchio bridge and only 5 minutes to Duomo. Our host waited for us inside. First, he showed us the place and then, over an espresso of course, he told us a bit about the history of this unique flat. The apartment is over 1000 years old. Up until February, the apartment was occupied by a member of the US State Dept. Once they left, the owners decided to list it on AirBnb and this place is booked all the way through September. I really don't know how we got so lucky and were able to book it for one night at the fraction of the regular cost - miracles happen and this is one of them for sure. This place is huge, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, walk in closets, kitchen, living and dining room. Leo and Mila kept chasing each other since they had space for it. It was 5 o'clock and the temps were still in the 100s. We decided to relax for a bit, eat dinner and walk to Ponte Vecchio to see the sunset. Florence is stunning and of course, very touristy and busy. We witnessed a breath taking sunset setting over the river. As they say, some pictures are worth thousand words and this view was definitely in that category. On the way to our little casa we stopped and got delicious gelato. Salute to another unforgettable day on our world tour. Now I know what a Russian poet, Anna Achmatova, meant by saying " Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life". This is my third time in Italy and for sure, I will be returning here at least 33 times more…
The next morning, I set my alarm for 5 am and decided to explore the city in the early part of the day. By 5:30am, I was out the door on the streets of beautiful Florence. It was quite dark since the sun rise was at 6:10 am. The best part of this little solo excursion were the empty streets! I felt like I had the whole city all to myself. It was so strange to walk across the Pont Vecchio bridge alone, no people, no tourists, and no noise, just the sound of my footsteps strolling down the charming streets of Firenze. The river was so calm and still that all the buildings surrounding it were reflecting on the water, looking like a beautiful mirror. I walked very fast because I wanted to see as much as possible before the city awakens. It was a little after 6 am and I decided to grab a cup of coffee. I found a little cozy cafe and asked the waiter for a cup of coffee with milk, to go. He looked at me with a pain in his eyes, as if I just broke his heart and with a heavy Italian accent he said: “Seniora, it’s Italy, please sit down. I guess he was trying to tell me to enjoy this moment like the Italians do. “Dolce far ninete” - the sweetness of doing nothing. So I did, for 30 seconds, I took two sips of my little espresso, left him a little tip since he would not let me pay, shout Ciao to my barista and headed towards Duomo and other historic places spread out through this magical city. The night before I mapped out all of the places that I wanted to see, I even listed them in a numerical manner so I would not have to walk aimlessly.
Well, that master plan did not work out and I was running around Florence like a crazy tourist trying to snap pictures of everything that looked like an important attraction (pretty much every piazza had a significant building or statue). I truly enjoyed my very private tour of Firenze and was in awe very time I saw a new alley being completely empty, peaceful and quite - a true bliss. The temperature was only 80 so I beat the heat! As mid morning arrived, the city started to become more alive. Street workers very present, locals who worked in the city were moving on their vespas and bikes, & more cafes were opening. As I walked through cobblestone alleys I constantly heard “Bongiorno seniora” “Ciao” “Good morning”, it was a really special moment that will stay with me forever. I saved the best for last. My final stop was climbing the steps to Piazza Michelangelo see the whole panoramic view of Florence. When I saw it from the very top I was close to tears. It was magical, beautiful, spectacular, fantastic, wonderful, not enough words to describe it. I stood there on the very top and just stared with big open eyes full of happiness and joy. I wanted to scream - Florence, I love you!
So the statue on the picture below is David. He is simply standing there all day and night, naked and exposed, looking at the spectacular panorama of Firenze - not a bad spot right?! One lucky guy!
I heard the church bells ringing and realized it was 7:30 am, which meant, time to return to the apartment. I walked back along the river, with sun beaming on my face and could not stop smiling. I was so thankful for the last 2 hours. Seeing the city of Florence , a place that usually is very busy and crowded, but this morning it was so quite, calm and relaxing, it really felt like a dream. Once I returned to our flat, right at the door I was greeted by Leo with a big smile and a warm hug. I could not wait to sit down with Rick, Leo and Mila, tell them about my morning adventure and share delicious pastries that I bought on my way back…