Italy in Three Days
Posted on: September 9, 2014, by Jill Murwin
After a short reprieve in Nice, our trip hooked eastward towards Italy. For five hours the train hugged the southern slope of the Alps before pivoting through the rolling hills of Tuscany. When we finally arrived in Florence the sun had just set and the city was quiet. We met our host Maria, and set our bags in the tidy high-ceilinged apartment. She pointed us in the direction of her favorite, and sworn best, local pizzeria, Pizza Pronto, where we were greeted by tall mugs of Peroni and thin-crust prosciutto pie. Then we slept.The next morning we woke up early and a bit anxious knowing that we only had one day in perhaps the most historically significant city in Europe. What we soon found, however, was that the zeal of Florence and its people’s overwhelming receptiveness practically pulled us through the streets, allowing us no time to fatigue. It would take a visitor several visits to take in the full spread of Florentine churches and museums, so we narrowed our search to the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Boboli gardens. From our spot in the southeast corner of town we paced north for ten minutes before hitting the Arno River, the winding central vein of the city. It didn’t take long for us to discover that while the Tuscan capital is a shrine of Classical antiquity, present day Florence rivals its historical roots with personality and energy.
For hours we wandered the banks of the Arno in a latticework of beautiful people, leather shops, bakeries, jewelry merchants, and street artists before reaching the Uffizi, where we strolled in silence through halls adorned with the works of Raphael, Leonardo, and Botticelli. Once we stepped back onto the bustling streets we were at the step of the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone arch bridge that suspends a string of stacked window-shops above the river. Previously home to Renaissance butchers, bakers, and merchants, the bridge’s shops are now entirely occupied by jewelers and goldsmiths… and once again a double file flow of beautiful people. After crossing back onto the south side of the river our walking caught up to us just in time to reach the Boboli gardens. With a bottle of wine and some dried salami we navigated the mazelike gravel pathways of the Medici’s estate, each lined with austere Cyprus trees, until we reached the highest point. With a view of Florence we watched the sun set from our grassy terrace and let sleep put its hooks in us. Florence is small, packed with historical landmarks, and staggeringly beautiful, and while we bypassed many of the “must see” attractions, I couldn’t help but feel like I had found another home.
The majority of our next day was spent cleaning up the apartment, grabbing breakfast, and then taking the train south to Rome. When we arrived, we had once again missed a chance at sightseeing, and once again we hit the hay early in anticipation of a full day of walking. We got up with the sun and our host Sergio dropped us at the train station with a map and a sarcastic “good luck,” knowing full well that we couldn’t possibly take in Rome in a day. The Roman Forum turned into a sprint during which we read every plaque, took every audio tour, and contemplated one time-defying columned structure after the next. But when we got to the Pantheon, it was like we had stepped into a vacuum where neither time nor physics seemed to govern anything.
From the street the portico of eight massive columns looks like a row of teeth through which all visitors must pass. After stepping through the columns into the vestibule I looked up, and the din of tourists and merchants faded out. Once inside, the rotunda I was paralyzed by the massive coffered dome overhead. It was late in the day, and the opening in the center of the dome cast a beam of columned light slantwise across the Pantheon’s floor. Encircling me were rows of sculpted classical figures, socketed into the walls laughing at the tourists below. The hour we spent pacing the floor beneath the dome, which felt like an eternity, was the most spiritually poignant hour of my journey to that point.
When we got back to the apartment I felt like I had awakened from a dream, and to bring it full circle my favorite modern American rock band, the Black Keys, blared from a few blocks away late into the night. The Coliseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, and a balcony view of the black Keys all in one day…