The Arrival: Florence, Italy
A. M A R E L L I W o r k s h o p J o u r n a l
Springtime in New York means the start of travel season. The international workshops start once the winter winds and early spring rains come to a close. With summer on the horizon we packed our bags. We left for Italy and the start of a two week journey south under perfect conditions.
As always, the days before flying out are super busy. You know how this goes, right? Once the tickets are purchased the to-do list gets an extra burst. It is non-stop deadlines, meetings that “have to happen,” and all the things you thought could be postponed magically need to happen before you leave. This trip was no different. Added to the mix were the much anticipated Slow Tools Collaboration Bags, which arrived a few days prior to departure (and we are happy to report all sold out.)
Fast forward a few hours and I am comfortably asleep on the airplane. All is still, headphones are on, and I slip into a restful slumber. When my phone starts buzzing, I wake up confused. We are supposed to be in the air, but United just sent an update that the flight is delayed 30 min. Then it is another 30 min. Following a two hour tarmac delay, the captain finally says, “If you would like to get off the plane and stretch your legs, please be sure to take all of your things with you.” It seems like we are going to be stateside for a while longer. Fortunately we have a 5 hour layover in Brussels enroute to Florence, so the delay is less concerning for us. Eventually, the engines power up and the familiar lift of the jet separates us from the US and brings us to Europe.
People often ask, “What do you do when you get to a city? Do you shoot the first day? What is the most exciting thing about arriving?” They are all good questions because they set the tone for how I like to travel.
The first thing that strikes us, no matter where we fly, is the smell when we step outside of the airport. It is usually a combination of taxi fumes and the scent of charred rubber that hits first. By all accounts it should be a terrible smell, but it is invigorating. Our other four senses, smell, touch, sound, and taste take over well before the camera is out of the bag.
This year, we noticed that Florence instituted a flat rate into the city. That’s right, no questionable meters or run around scams, often encountered in other parts. Not that I have been ripped off by taxi drivers in Italy before, but it’s nice to see a level of regulation upon arrival. If there is one thing that city officials, especially in NYC, fail to understand, it’s that the airport taxi is your first point of contact. They are the accidental ambassadors of your city. Are they kind, gentle, helpful? Or are they hurried, impatient crooks hellbent on extracting a few extra coins from tired travelers?
With a three hour delay and eight hours of flight time, my brain was a little mushy. Like a cow lost from the herd, I was corralled down the sidewalk. Suddenly it all came back to me. My senses kicked in and we were off. The driver said there was some rain expected this afternoon, but that the weather was going to turn for the better.
Twenty minutes later we pulled up to the small piazza of Santo Spirito. Located on the Oltrarno, away from the hoards descending on the Uffizi, we have arrived. The door of Palazzo Guadagni, where we are staying, is monumental. Like a wooden version of the Pantheon, it has a small piston that pulls the door open. Martina, just as we left her last year, buzzes us in. My girlfriend takes the elevator, with all the luggage, to the top floor. The elevator is no bigger than a closet. There is enough room for her and our bags. I opt for the walk up. The stretch will do me some good.
On the top floor we are welcomed with the familiar hospitality known to those who return each year. Martina says No.12, our room from last year, is just as we left it. The large window faces a quiet courtyard, which is much appreciated at night. Piazza Santo Spirito can get lively in the evening. But on our side of the hotel the only sound comes from the morning classes held at the Italian school downstairs.
We set down our luggage, shower off, and get to the most essential of Italian fuels, coffee. After a strong “caffe normale”, the first order of business in Florence is a trip to Santa Maria Novella. In case you are wondering, no we are not devout catholics on a pilgrimage. I endured enough catholic school to never want to sit in another Mass for the rest of my life.
Aside from being one of the most famous piazzas and churches in Florence, Farmacia Santa Maria Novella is a producer of some of the finest soaps, perfumes, and apothecary needs in the world. Founded by Benedictine monks in the 13th century, their boutique is out of this world. The vaulted ceilings and frescos put just about any other attempt at “an exceptional retail experience,” to shame.
Even if you are not into their goods, a trip to the shop and its many rooms or the cafe that overlooks the cloisters is well worth it. Today, we pick up some soap. Since we will be in Florence for a week, followed by Matera for a week, two bars of soap will do. We find the combination of hotel soap and Tuscan water make you feel like a sun dried tomato.
We opt for the patchouli and the tobacco toscano flavors. With everything paid for, we wander outside to grab a gelato and run into a procession of drummers practicing for the upcoming June activities. We snap a few iPhone shots of the period-dressed Florentines and then retreat to the safety of the Oltrarno. Tomorrow we will pull out the camera for the first time and visit with our friendly monk Miniato Maria, who we discussed in the Unfinished Business article.
- Berlin, Germany with Leica Store Miami: Few spaces left, sign up here
- London, England: Few spaces left, sign up here, email@example.com
- Venice, Italy: SOLD OUT