Sunday, February 23, 2014

A paper clip chose Florence, and how I spent one wonderful week here alone


Several years ago, I decided to visit Florence on my own in between trips with family and friends to other places in Europe.

This trip to Florence was very spur-of-the-moment.

I still remember how I was in my hotel room in Vienna, which was the fashionable Le Meridien. 

The Le Meridien had just opened in Vienna several weeks before my stay, and it was an ultra-modern and chic hotel. It changed the hotel trend in this city permanently.

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ALL ABOUT A PAPER CLIP

I had one week free before I needed to fly to London to meet up with someone.

So I literally threw a paper clip on a map of Europe lying on the coffee table, vowing to go to wherever it landed.

The paper clip stopped just short of Florence, a beautiful city I had last been to as a child.



So that same day I walked into a travel agency in Vienna and booked my trip to Florence.

SO NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN

Several days later, I landed in Italy with no firm plans other than a reservation for six nights for a room with a very large terrace on a rooftop that offered a perfect view of Florence's Duomo.

Oh yes, and a vague resolution to fit a day at the Ufizzi Palace into my very empty week.


I’d last seen the great Uffizi Palace as a child and I wanted to get reacquainted with the fascinating Renaissance period.

This was also the first time since my college days that I traveled anywhere without plans, family or friends -- so it was rather an adventure for me.

ONE FATEFUL DINNER



On my first evening in one of Italy’s greatest cities, I firmly pushed away the temptation to avoid the stigma of dining alone by ordering room service pasta and eating in front of the television.



After all, Italy is a country made for savoring life, whether you have companions or not.

So instead I dressed up for a date with myself, and the hotel concierge sent me to a historical trattoria several blocks away.



A VERY RAINY SUNDAY

It was a rainy Sunday night and the maitre’d sat me next to another Asian girl dining solo, who turned out to be doing Florence on her own as well for a week.

She’d just arrived from Tokyo that very same day.

PARTNERS IN CRIME


We became very good friends from the moment we began a conversation in Japanese over the first course of a rich pasta. 

By the time dessert rolled around, we’d made plans to meet every night for dinner at a good restaurant.

It was the perfect arrangement, allowing enough freedom so that we could still do whatever we pleased in the day; but not allowing for many moments of loneliness at night.


It’s easy to sightsee or shop alone while the sun is out.

However, even the hardiest of solo travelers will pine for some company once darkness sets in.

So every night, my new friend Keiko and I took turns choosing a restaurant from the plethora of choices Florence offered.

Then we ordered what we wanted, drank it down with a bottle of wine, and split the bill in half.

FLORENCE IS ALSO FUN ALONE


During the day, I wandered the streets of Florence alone, without an itinerary or a even a map.

After seeing the city’s requisite relics of greatness, I wanted to see the city beyond the attractions that put it on the tourist map.

In the process I discovered small markets only locals frequented, quiet neighborhoods crammed with vignettes of real life.

And utterly charming tiny restaurants that dished up pasta based on grandmother’s recipe to regulars at lunch for three euros a plate.

This was the Florence that never makes it to postcards but it was the city I fell in love with.

A MAP OUT THE WINDOW


Would I have found my Florence otherwise?

If I’d been armed with a guidebook, printouts from travel websites, and hundreds of tips and bits of information from well-meaning friends, eager that I see everything I should?

Perhaps not, because my Florence came about by accident – the result of a week of walking around alone without plans.

And sometimes that’s the best kind of trip in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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