In March, 2003, on the fringe of the SARs pandemic, I travelled alone to Italy where I was to meet up with friends and would spend three weeks travelling, sometimes.
During three days in Florence I stayed with a woman called Bruna, a beautiful little Italian lady. On my second morning there, she put me on a bus and sent me to the city centre with firm instructions to return before my ticket elapsed late afternoon. She explained that there was no special consideration for tourists and that fines were high for expired fares.
It was a beautiful day, I was on my way to discover an equally beautiful place and, hopefully, to buy a bracelet charm to take home for my mum back in Melbourne.
I kept a travel journal, below are some passages referring to that day.
The Ponte Vecchio is known for its jewellery stores. On either side of this ancient bridge, tiny shops sell a variety of trinkets, from the priceless to the gaudy. More gold than silver, some fine, delicate threads and others heavy cords. Some sparkled, others glowed, but nowhere did I see a silver bracelet charm.
That day I walked through central Florence and back again. I went into churches, galleries, saw familiar renaissance paintings and sculptures – a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the baptistery bronze doors – The Gates of Heaven (another copy) and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Some paintings I recognised and the style of others was familiar.
I absorbed the atmosphere of the city and, as the day progressed and the sun rose in a blue sky I mingled with the bustling noisy crowd of tourists who concentrated more on their maps than their location.
I bought a gelati at a gelataria close to the Ponte Vecchio; it was enormous, delicious, but so expensive! With the apple I had brought from Bruna’s, it sufficed as lunch. I ate, looking out over the water of the Arno River at about 2pm, alone, tired, maybe a little overwhelmed by the city with its treasures, its people, its bustle and its buildings. It was six days since I had seen a familiar face.
There was a quiet piazza outside the tourist area. It had a plain church and a fountain surrounded by garden. Only a few people sat near the fountain and at the tables outside a bar. I sat too, on the grass by a tree.
Suddenly I was startled by a flock of birds, pigeons which swept around the corner of the church, low and fast, a cloud that climbed and spread and within a moment, dispersed. I waited with camera ready for another flock, but they didn’t come. How could I be disappointed when that picture would always remain in sight?
Eventually I returned to the throng and slowly made my way back to the point by the Arno where I had alighted from the bus that morning.