Walking with the Arno

This morning I wanted to go to pick up my new passport at the American Consulate and decided that no matter what, I’d walk along the Arno the entire way. I sometimes head down the narrow and less frequented streets in order to get to my destination quicker, but today I wanted to be near the water.

I headed out my door through Piazza Mentana and walked across the street to the narrow sidewalk along the Arno. I peeked over the red brick wall to look out at the slow-moving Arno. Its brownish water is a result of the rain we’ve had this entire week. I couldn’t look over it much while I got around people walking in the opposite direction and cars and motorini (scooters) zooming by.

As I reached the Uffizi, the quantity of people increased drastically. I no longer wanted to walk along the river and crossed the street. At one point, I got off the sidewalk and marched in the street, negotiating a space for myself with the oncoming traffic quickly coming toward me.

As I approached the Ponte Vecchio, I felt surrounded: people were coming toward me in all directions. I stepped back onto the even narrower sidewalk and headed toward Ponte Santa Trinità. I find the shape of the ponte (bridge) quite charming and enjoy looking at the few design details.

I darted across Ponte Santa Trinità while there weren’t any cars coming toward me. On the other side, the sidewalk is wider and the wall a little lower. I could finally look out at the river and walk at the same time. I noticed that I was able to keep up with the river’s steady movement.

When I walked alongside Piazza Ognissanti with its chiesa (church) facing the river, I looked across the Arno to see the Cestello. I never noticed before that the two churches face each other almost perfectly, and are separated by the river. I moved toward the weir in the Arno right before Ponte Vespucci and looked at the water, flowing like silk on one side and crashing down a few meters below. As I got closer and closer, the sound of the cascading water increased: what started as a hum became a loud roar.

At Ponte Vespucci, the light to cross for pedestrians was already orange. Instead of rushing across as I normally would do, I stood along the railing of the ponte and looked back at the city while the sound of the water continued to boom. I enjoyed contemplating the clouds that covered the sky and parted once in a while to show off a few patches of the light blue sky.

When the light turned green, I walked across the ponte toward the consulate. While I walked along the last stretch of sidewalk before arriving, I turned off my cellphone and pulled the receipt out of my wallet to pick up my passport. As soon as I arrived, I gave the guard my receipt and he told me to wait outside. I looked across the river to see the long line of trees. The city seemed different to me from here: more peaceful, serene, and less hectic. I was sent on my way only a couple of minutes later.

For the walk back, I took my time. I enjoyed looking out at the water, the multi-colored buildings in their muted tones along the river and the patchy, grey sky. I stopped a few times along the way to take in the view of the city, which seemed to feel denser with each step as I approached Ponte Vecchio. From Ponte Vespucci, I could see all the way to San Miniato and Piazzale Michelangiolo right next to it. The city seemed smaller to me as if I could almost take it all in at once. I made sure to pause when I arrived above the cascades where all the other noises of the city faded.

My whole trip only took about an hour in all, but when I returned home I felt refreshed as if I had just gone away for the weekend. It’s easy to keep seeing the city from the same angle, but I realized that if I open myself to the city, it will always show me yet another of its intriguing facets.

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