We made a beeline for Florence on the 28th of June because I wanted to wake up there for my Birthday the next day. Florence has been a bit of a special place for Skye and I, we first came on our honeymoon in January 2000 and loved it, so then we rented an apartment here for a month during Easter in 2006. There is a great camp site right at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the city which was perfect for our van this time around, we had camped here before with Ari in 2009 so knew where we were heading.
I only had a very simple list of things to do on my birthday: To take the kids on the walk from the Piazzale Michelangelo into town to first visit Cafe Gilli for my morning Macciato, a fantastic Cafe opened in 1788 which was our first daily point of call during our month here; then to take the kids on the old carousel in Piazza Del Academia; then to visit the Duomo; and, finally to return to Cafe Gilli for an afternoon aperitif before the walk home which, if we the time and energy, we’d do via the walk around the back of the Piazzale which has fantastic views towards Fiesole.
As it turned out we woke up in a heat wave and were very slow to get moving on the walk and so the first stop ended up being at a gelateria to cool the kids after the walk down from the hill, we did still make it to Gilli but the kids were suffering from the heat and so they felt the need to play up, and by then the Duomo was closed so we took the kids on the carousel and had a wander around town before returning to Gilli for the aperitif. At Gilli I asked the bar man for a typical aperitif, but without Campari, I said maybe one of those Spritz I hear people ordering all the time, and then he introduced me to Aperol Spritz, it’s Aperol, Chapagne, Soda and a slice of Orange, and it’s fantastic, an instant heat wave smasher, Skye seems to have since become most concerned that I now look for an excuse to stop for a Spritz almost everywhere and I even found some bottled ones for the van. I was ecstatic to find after we moved on to Venice that it is the Venetians favourite drink and it’s generally acceptable from about 10am onwards, in the heat of the afternoon in particular the bars and piazzas were full of people chatting with their bright orange Spritz in hand, it’s fantastic.
The next day we learned that the heat wave was here to stay for a few days, unseasonably hot weather even for June/July, there was even a warning on the news to try and stay indoors in air conditioning between 2 and 5pm to avoid heatstroke, so the next few days we worked our outdoor hours around that, either chilling in the shade of the Boboli Gardens of Pitti Palace, escaping to the cool of the ancient apothecary, the Duomo or other churches, or having a late and long lunch in an air conditioned restaurant or waterspray chilled terrace bar in a piazza. We did eventually fulfill my Birthday list over a few days.
Something new this visit was the climb up the bell tower which is near, but does not adjoin, the Duomo, it was a long steep climb to the top and just as we got to the bells themselves they rang in the hour, blasting our eardrums with a fantastic melody before tolling to six pm. It instantly reminded Ari of our climb up the Hedon Church when the bells rang while we were on the last ladder and he asked if Keith was ringing these bells as well. Actually he often exclaims “that might be Keith” whenever he hears the bells ring from town to town.
Some other seemingly insignificant moments I will remember from Florence are: Ari being so proud of himself for finishing his huge ‘man serve’ of spaghetti in Piazza Del Academia; A South African Choir singing in front of Palazzo Vecchio between Neptune and David; An old street vendor leaving his stall to come across and give Tess one of his toy Pinocchio’s for giving him some smiles over Skye’s shoulder; Ari giving his best pose in front of one of the retired Duomo bells “to send to Keith”; The kids dancing through the maze of marble patterns on the Duomo floor; Ari getting a second wind despite the heat and being unable to resist sprinting through the tunnels of trees in Boboli Gardens; Our numerous attempts to escape the heat, the kids playing til they were soaked through in the water fountains, pouring our drink bottles over our heads, spending an hour slumped in the pews of a little church because the kids had fallen asleep in our arms and it was the nearest escape from the sun, ordering four rounds of drinks and three rounds of food just to keep our seats under the air conditioner in a little bar just outside the city walls, looking at kids clothes that we had no intention of buying for at least 45 minutes in a little air conditioned boutique where the kids could draw on a large blackboard wall.
For nostalgia sake we also visited the apartment we previously rented in 2006 to take a photo of us all out the front, just as the owner turned up, and she remembered us which was nice.
Our time in Florence was most enjoyable, despite the heat, it was a nice mix of revisiting the familiar and discovering the new.