I arrived in Florence a full day ahead of my “schedule” and upon stepping off the train realized that my room reservation at the Hotel Boccaccio didn’t start until the next day. I figured I’d still have a good chance at getting a room for the night, so I exercised my handy Florence street map and rolled my increasingly large suitcase over to Hotel Boccaccio. I was greeted by a clean and well designed marble entry and a smiling porter. After explaining my situation, the concierge cheerfully informed me that the Boccaccio was sold out for the evening. The initial smile that Florence brought to my face was slowly slipping away. But holy helpful Italians Batman! After about 15 calls, and the prospects of sleeping at the train station flitting in my head, the concierge found me accommodations, the Hotel Boston.
I was concerned with what I might find at a hotel named after an American city in Italy, but I was desperate and it was only a short walk from the Boccaccio. The Hotel Boston – the older, well-dressed but xenophobic owner notwithstanding – was charming, unintentionally retro and immaculate. The room itself was small, but comfortable and had a single bed, a sink with a mirror and an old, wooden desk. There was also a shuttered window, which opened out to a green sitting garden. Then, the owner gave me a skeleton key attached to a five pound bronze fob. The key was so ridiculously antiquated and large that I felt obligated to take a picture of it. Later, with my room secured for the night, I went for my first walk in the city.
I was angry. No one had sufficiently told me about what to expect in Florence. Walking the streets of this city is almost indescribable. It took me about 24 hours to realize that the streets were actually filled with other people! I was so involved looking up at the architecture and other visuals that I didn’t see my first “face” until the next day. Within the first 30 minutes of my walk, I simply had to sit down. I was feeling light headed and the back of my eyes actually hurt. My under-developed synapses were straining to keep up with the sensory input being jammed into my little brain. I decided that I needed to go back to my room and lay down before dinner – before I had a stroke. However, I made the mistake of walking past the Florence Duomo (cathedral) on my way back. If Rome is any more than this, I don’t think I could take it. I sat on some steps in the piazza staring at the church for at least 20 minutes marveling at the audaciousness of ancient Catholics with all that time on their talented little hands.
To me, Florence is like mapping the Grand Canyon alone. It’s like a ten-inch New York Cheese cake at the end of a six-course meal. To borrow from the comedian Steven Wright, Florence is that feeling you get in your gut when you lean back too far in a chair and catch yourself – but it’s that feeling all the time. With the help of a cold compress on my forehead and a good night’s sleep, I recovered enough to spend the next day having coffee and walking across the river to the hills overlooking the city. At a late lunch in the Piazza Della Republica. I learned quickly that the closer you are to a large piazza in Italy, the worse the food. A similar diner’s mantra in San Francisco is “The better the view, the worse the food” – but that’s another story.
After dinner I walked a few blocks off the Piazza Della Republica to a small, nondescript yet high-ceilinged church. I heard unbelievable music in a simple setting for very little money (ten Euros). The voices and notes careened off the walls of the sanctuary doubling and tripling the effect of the performers which made chills run up my back for over an hour.
The next day, still groggy from the previous evening, I walked past a large church downtown and stumbled my way through a conversation with a guy selling tickets for the “Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina.” I bought a ticket. That night, after a decent meal at Trattoria da Garibardi, too close to a major piazza, I show up to the church that was packed with hundreds of people. I pulled out my ticket and they walked me up to the front row. I thought they were joking. Apparently, the tickets are sold consecutively and not general admission style. I bought seat number “10” and sat about 15 feet from the first violin who was about six inches up on the dais. I could hear the fingers on the strings.
Via della Scala, 59 – 50123 Florence Italy
ph. +39-055282776 – fax +39-055268183
Trattoria da Garibardi
Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 38/r Phone 055 212 267
Written and photographed by Chris Martin