June 10, 2013 by Dan
On our first night in Florence, we slept for seventeen hours, until 2:30 in the afternoon. I saw the clock, started, and nudged Julie.
“It’s 2:30,” I said.
“In the morning?” she mumbled.
“No. Afternoon,” I said.
We panicked – showered as fast as we could and ran out into the street for a quick lunch at a touristy sandwich shop (nothing else is open in the afternoon in Italy), then careened into the tourist throngs in the Piazza del Duomo. It’s really hard to describe the throngs in May in Florence, but I’m going to try. Imagine a crowded public square – like one where they’re showing a movie or a fairly popular band is playing. But instead of all looking up at the stage or the screen, the thousands of people are gathered in discrete groups, listening to guides through little earphones or wandering around in a daze, cameras focused on places up high. It’s like that all day – from eight – thirty in the morning (when the Uffizi opens) to well after dark, when the museums close and everyone’s gone to bed.
And then Florence becomes wonderful. After dinner, after the hordes have returned to their hotels and gone to sleep, after about ten in the evening, you can walk through the streets without having to dodge hundreds of others. Corners and alleyways beckon, and you can find a small coffeehouse/bookstore/bar with a decent bottle of house wine and play cards in the company of blue-haired students and the kind of things that make you feel at home. We stayed until a little after midnight; the cafe was playing R.E.M. and the Cure, and we sat on the balcony, looking down at the street and the people.
And after playing cards, we walked to the Piazza Duomo, which was deserted, and full of the kind of art and wonder that makes Florence the wonder that it is.
All outside, quiet. The night was cold, and we were bundled up in fleece and holding hands, staring at gods of long ago.
Street sellers dotted the plaza, launching flourescent rubber-band rockets. We shook them off easily (we are from San Francisco, after all), and walked slowly back to our room, savoring the night, the emptiness, and the quiet.
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