Far from heaven

3A3CAA25-2977-49C7-9160-94F9EC0CF8A7In 1993, my parents and I travelled to Italy for the first time, renting a villa high up in the hills where crickets were active all day and fireflies appeared at night. There was even an outdoor pool where I began each morning with a swim. But what most sticks in my mind is the lush green countryside with its rolling hills and cypress trees. I was reminded of these impressions the day I took the bus from Florence to San Gimigniano. There was something truly magical about leaving the city and its crowds behind to rediscover that amazingly green landscape. In truth, I wanted to journey to last for several hours and instantly regretted not buying a ticket as far as Siena. In San Gimigniano, I wandered further up the the steep slope, past the souvenir stalls with fedoras and the enormous queue for the amazing (and cheap) ice cream and found myself in a small olive grove where a man was playing a harp. I climbed up a little higher to the top of a ruin and surveyed the endless countryside around me. It’s impossible for me to describe how it made me feel, only that it was probably the closest thing to paradise I have known and that I wondered how it would be possible for me to leave this place after experiencing such beauty.

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I am still mulling over these thought a month after my return. I still hear the delicate rustling of the olive leaves in the light breeze on that perfect autumn day. It seems so immediate yet far away now that there’s a chill in the air and the leaves have turned and begun to fall. I only hope that I’ll experience that kind of beauty again and leave you with some photos from that day and some more from Florence.

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The stones of Florence

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The cathedral and Santa Maria Novella

After returning from Florence almost three weeks ago, it’s difficult to put into words exactly how it made me feel. What could I possibly add that hasn’t been said before? Part of me almost expected to be disappointed, especially in comparison with Venice, my favourite city. Florence is certainly not without its irritations – I cannot describe it as a city for walkers like Paris – despite its compactness, luggage rolls over the narrow, uneven pavements at most hours of the day, vespas and taxis prevent you walking in the road and even in the pedestrianised zones, there are bicycles, refuse collectors and delivery vehicles to consider. Unlike in Venice, it is much more difficult to find a quiet spot. Nearly every church or museum is invaded by tour groups; almost every sight is surrounded by selfie takers. And yet in spite of this and myself, I became a little more bewitched by the city each day. Walking out each morning and seeing the stunning black and white façade of Santa Maria Novella, seeing the familiar massive form of the Duomo grow ever closer at the end of the street, looking up to discover something unexpected and beautiful on every corner, never ceasing to be amazed by the evening sun on the façade of the cathedral and the campanile, sipping hot chocolate at Gilli’s while looking out at the Piazza della Reppublica, dodgling puddles in the Bobboli Gardens and admiring the lush Tuscan countryside around, taking a break on the Uffizi terrace and at the café at the Spedale degli Innocenti to bask in the autumn sunshine and admire the stunning panoramic views of the city. Since returning, I haven’t been able to get Florence out of my head. I long to be there again and my heart is full of regret for the things I didn’t have time to do.

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Donatello’s statue of St. George outside Orsanmichaele and its stunning nave

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The Palazzo Vecchio

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Inside the Baptistry

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Visiting Santa Maria Novella

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The Boboli Gardens

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I’ll be back with some more impressions of Florence very soon.