Before 2020 ended, I navigated the streets of my beloved city to absorb more of her charm and more of her energy. I delighted in Florence’s piazzas, bridges, holiday illuminations, and gardens. What I discovered was that magic happens in a moment: a peek through the arches on the Ponte Vecchio, a fascination with the moon above the Duomo, a pause along a busy street to take in Piazza Santa Croce, a glance at a single rose enhancing the panorama, or a stroll down the Arno after sunset.
As this new year begins, my heart is full of beauty and love. I appreciate my beloved city for nudging me to experience more of her beauty, to embrace her energy, to expand my heart, and to share my love of Florence. May you receive Florence’s love while you hold her in your heart.
Ponte Vecchio — December 21, 2020After a quick jaunt to Piazza Santo Spirito, I navigated a somber Borgo San Jacopo to reach the Ponte Vecchio. When I turned the corner, my heart bounced in my chest after I glimpsed the Duomo peeking over the rooftops. A soft light glowed from the jewelry shops’ windows and spilled onto the sidewalk. I paused next to Cellini’s bust, where an unlit Christmas tree sat in the middle of leafy bushes in terracotta planters. With the sound of dull footsteps shuffling along the pavement, I felt a sense of tranquility surround me.
Standing inches from the metal railing that encircled Cellini, I examined the scenery through the arches under the Corridoio Vasariano. The blurry skies capping the city and shrouding the hills in the distance filled me with glee. I squinted my eyes to locate David perched high above the trees, almost touching the clouds. The framed view of San Niccolò delighted me.
A police officer’s whistle grabbed my attention as he gestured to a bicyclist to walk his bike. When there was a lull in foot traffic, I held up my iPhone and waited for a couple hauling shopping bags to pass by. While other people were approaching, I snapped one or two photos before they arrived.
A young man positioned himself next to the water fountain and plopped his jacket and backpack on the wall. I watched as he pulled out a panino, admiring it from all sides and unwrapping it before biting into it. When he popped open a bottle of beer, I moved behind the railing and leaned over the stone barrier to enjoy another perspective of the river.
After inhaling the river’s sweet perfume, I turned back around. Next to the man eating his sandwich, a few groups of people had arrived to admire the view, take photos, eat lunch, and chat.
I waved goodbye to Cellini before continuing my journey across the bridge and turning down Lungarno degli Archibusieri to stroll under the Corridoio Vasariano. As I strode alongside the Arno River, I peeked at the Ponte Vecchio dominating the riverscape and smiled.
Piazza di San Giovanni — December 25, 2020Just a couple of days ago, I stood in Piazza di San Giovanni as groups milled around me. Hushed voices speaking Italian filled the air. I smiled at the people taking photos in front of the tree, chatting with friends, and doing some last-minute shopping. A sense of excitement buzzed throughout the piazza. Without one puff of wind passing by, I unzipped my jacket.
After the rain we had all day, I expected it to continue through the evening, but in the late afternoon it stopped. Large puddles reflected the light from the Christmas tree, glowing white onto the slippery stones. Red, yellow, and silver lights flickered in shop windows. Two police officers strolled through the crowds side-by-side, scrutinizing the passersby.
Today, right after sunset, I returned to Piazza di San Giovanni and stood in the same spot. The sky was turning a bolder blue by the minute. What captured my attention tonight was the moon shining overhead, like a star I wanted to follow.
Families and couples meandered toward the presepio (Nativity scene) in front of the Duomo to see the bambino. They all seemed delighted to navigate the tranquil piazza. Behind me, a couple stood in line at the pastry shop while two police cars parked next to the sidewalk.
At five o’clock, the bells from the Campanile di Giotto sounded, reverberating around the Battistero and drowning out all voices. My eyes jumped from the Christmas tree to the moon radiating above the Duomo.
While the chilly air embraced me, I reveled in the sights and sounds instilling me with so much joy. After the church bells died down, I visited the presepio and then ambled home. When I perused my photos this evening, I smiled with glee as I did when I was standing in that spot.
Piazza Santa Croce — December 29, 2020With every step down via Torta, the marble façade of the Basilica di Santa Croce came into view through the tall buildings on each side of the cobblestone road. I rounded the corner and stood behind the fountain to take in the panorama.
Piazza Santa Croce felt intimate on the morning after Christmas. Neighbors met up to chat, dogs chased each other, and children jumped over and then into puddles scattered throughout the piazza. Pigeons perched on ledges surveyed the area as sparrows nibbled at the moss along the edges of the misshapen stones. A man with a leash dangling from his wrist and a phone tucked under his ear marched around in circles.
The chilly wind crashed into me like waves against the shore. I pulled my arms closer to my body and clasped my hands together while holding onto my iPhone. I looked up when a black raven cawed as it soared overhead. A blanket of light gray clouds drifted southwest across the sky while white patches remained in place, tempering the sun’s rays.
A cyclist slowed down and propped his racing bike against the building next to me. “Che spettacolo.” His smile was wide and his eyes were small. I muttered a few words about enjoying Florence in the morning, but he kept looking at the basilica. After dismounting, he slid off his helmet and hung it from his bike’s handlebars. His biking shoes clicked as he tiptoed to the chain barrier of the piazza and took a few photos. After a city bus clamored down the road between us, he hopped back onto his bicycle and rode away.
I stood in place, hoping that the belfry would chime at eleven o’clock, but it didn’t. I heard other church bells chiming in the distance, but not Santa Croce’s. My fingers were stiff when I opened my hand to drop my iPhone into my down jacket’s pocket. I shoved my fists deep into my warm pockets and hurried toward the Arno.
Giardino delle Rose — December 31, 2020A fine mist of rain dusted my face as I meandered through the Giardino delle Rose. I took in a deep breath as soon as I saw pink roses covered in large droplets of water, weighing down the pencil-thin branches toward the grass. The vibrant green moss hugging the reddish brown and burgundy stones prevented me from slipping as I walked up the incline.
As I hopped onto the grassy area, my boots sank into the marshy ground with each step and left behind my foot’s imprint. Scanning the rose bushes, I spotted a few roses that were tight in their buds while others were in full blossom. I sniffed a few of the opened ones and let my eyes close when I detected a hint of their perfume.
A blanket of whitish gray clouds surrounded the city as if isolating it from the outside. I surveyed the panorama, stopping to admire the golden sphere at the top of the Duomo. The water trickling down the fountain accompanied throughout the garden. My ears perked up when San Miniato al Monte’s solemn bells rang every half hour. I stopped what I was doing and listened to them.
Many of the rosebushes still had dark green leaves hiding their thorns and protecting their rosebuds. Only a handful of leaves clung on to the plane and hazelnut trees while the olive trees appeared as they did a few months ago, minus the olives.
Standing in the middle of the grassy area surrounded by rose bushes, I breathed in the cool scent of wet lawn and fertile soil. With every inhalation, the garden’s perfume became more intense, filling me with delight.
As I was leaving the gardens, I spotted a blackbird chirping in an olive tree while his mate pecked at the lush grass in search of food. Keeping my eyes on the Duomo, I walked down the stone steps and through the open gate at the bottom. To bask in nature while communing with Florence is a gift. One I cherish and am honored to experience and share.
Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli — January 1, 2021As I scurried past the Camera di Commercio, its holiday illuminations went from pink to green to blue to violet, glowing all around me. One car zipped by, splashing water up a half meter. Joggers in fluorescent jackets huff and puff down the lungarno. I inhaled the light scent of the Arno as white seagulls soared above the murky waters. Dog walkers and couples bundled up with wool scarves tied around their necks, gloves on their hands, and knitted caps on their heads stroll through the city streets. Most of them have umbrellas dangling from their bent arms in case the rain increases.
With each step, I admired the muted colors of the buildings across the Arno. I smiled when I spotted white smoke billowing out of a building’s chimney. To protect myself from the brisk air, I scurried under the Corridoio Vasariano where two little girls were playing hide and seek.
Instead of going to the middle of the Ponte Vecchio, I continued to Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli after glimpsing the riverscape’s expansiveness. I propped my elbows on the cracked cement atop the red brick wall and breathed in the view. The wind howled in my ears as the chilly air stung the skin on my face and seeped through my multiple layers of clothing. I couldn’t help but smile at San Frediano in Cestello, just beyond Ponte Santa Trinita.
The church bells rang a quarter of an hour after sunset, and a few minutes later the lampposts blinked on. As the sky grew dark, I snapped a few photos of the path before me lined with gold, the bright blue clouds overhead, and the glossy Arno reflecting the streetlights.
Even though it rained on my way home, I didn’t pull out my umbrella. Instead, I let the raindrops fall onto my head and stick to my face. The pitter-patter on my jacket thrilled me. My first stroll along the Arno was a gift I wanted to experience it to its fullest.
My wish for each one of us is that we dedicate more time to nurture our hearts with love and beauty.
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