gratitude-a-thon day 1019: low expectations, or see ya later Fodor’s

It has come to my attention that maybe not planning a trip can make the trip better.

Buh bye Fodors.

This little trip we just took, had several twists that we’d not anticipated and they were like finding out pancakes have no calories (with syrup, of course).

Our diverted-due-to-weather plane to Florence, where we were to rent a car and drive 90 minutes to the resort the meeting my husband was attending, brought us instead to Bologna, where we had to wait for our luggage and a bus that would bring us the hour back to Florence. By that time, we’d traveled 16 hours straight and  were like, “done,” and decided to stay in Florence for a night. My brother-in-law’s sister who happens to live there gave us the name of a hotel, where we were able to get a room. FIRST UNEXPECTED AWESOMENESS: the hotel was amazing, smack in the middle of EVERYTHING, steps from the Ponte Vecchio and Arno, blocks from Il Domo and the Ufizzi and shopping H-E-A-V-E-N.

Of course, it was not easy for us to get there. Peter and I had never driven in Italy before, always taking trains and cabs, so that was a frat party all by itself. All was going rather splendidly, in fact I thought Peter was actually driving better than he usually drives when we got into Florence proper and we not only lost the battery power of both of our phones, which we were using as our GPS, we couldn’t find the car-hook up. Panic at the disco.

You never want to see your phone wearing this, but especially when you are ridiculously lost in a car in a foreign city.

It was raining and sunny, and getting dark and the light was a photographer’s wet dream when I realized I had not only forgotten my camera but had no phone with which to record the religious lighting.  We were totally mystified because our phones not only contained our trusty GPS, but also the name of the hotel. NO, WE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE NAME OF THE HOTEL We were stopped in front of a convent, and I half thought we might have to begin the discernment process, become nuns, and live in Florence for the rest of our lives, when I, thrashing through the car, found the battery hook up was, usually in plain view, hidden in the middle console thingy between the seats. Numerous victorious Hallelujahs ensued, and I kissed goodbye the idea of looking like Sister Bertrille for the rest of my life (and thank God for that, I look dreadful in a hat, I can only imagine how I’d look in a Habit).

On account of my large Italian and Jewish nose, I cannot rock a hat so good we found the car battery charger, or who knows.

Anyway, we drove through downtown Florence, down one-way streets, with angry Italians yelling at us, arms flailing, “crazy Americans” in thought bubbles above their heads, talking to the hotel on the phone, practically driving through the Domo for an HOUR.  It was like Matt Damon in one of the Bourne movies, if he drove slowly and was old and exhausted with a wife beside him who was swearing about leaving her camera at home.

We finally arrived and crashed into the most comfortable bed in a gorgeous room. Lights out until 9, when we woke up still exhausted, but hungry and forced ourselves to go out to dinner–how could we waste a night in Firenze? The hotel hooked us up with a small intimate restaurant, where we indulged in pasta and fish and plenty of wine. It was UNEXPECTED AWESOMENESS all due to a diverted flight.

The next day we tripped around a sunny Florence, and left for the conference in the afternoon, which was way up on a mountain, and where several other unplanned moments of fun occurred, including actually getting lost in the hotel, which was the size of a small Italian village (this is an example I am known to use frequently as a joke, only, in this case, it was true), an obstacle course hike to a small scenic town with one of Peter’s colleagues that was magical,  and writing outside with the snow-peaked Dolomites in view.

We’d purposely, or maybe just lazily left our last few days open and were trying to decide where we would explore, having never been in the Tuscany region before, but our time in Florence convinced us to go back. On the way there, we stopped in Pisa, again, somewhat of a whim, and were shocked to find that the leaning tower’s most amazing characteristic isn’t that it’s leaning. This structure is absolutely exquisite. And the surrounding area of churches, which is quite large and elaborate,  is equally gorgeous. All around, people are posing in an effort to look like they’re either pushing over or holding up the tower. It’s very, very funny, so funny, in fact, we began taking pictures of it. We ate a perfect lunch of ham and cheese and olives and tomato salad with the tower staring us in the face. We walked through the University area and realized that Pisa had so much more to offer than just a structure that was tilted. ANOTHER UNEXPECTED MOMENT OF UNPLANNED FABULOSITY.

There she is. This tower would be beautiful, even if it weren’t an architectural wonder.
The area around the Tower is amazing all by itself.

The only thing better than the Tower is seeing people pose with it. It’s an attraction all by itself.

Back to Florence (where we once again got lost going to the hotel, but this time we had phones and it only took us 15 minutes of breaking the driving rules to find our way). We were set up for success in so many ways. The weather was perfect, as in sunny and in the mid-’60s, which s a piece of UNEXPECTEDNESS that you simply can’t plan (especially because of the forecast I’d been following for weeks, called for three days of rain, which never occurred). Next, the location of the hotel allowed us to easily hit all the hot spots, of art, fashion and stuffing our American pie holes. Still plagued by the fact that I did not bring my camera, I still managed some wonderful pictures (including, I should mention, capturing some of that mystical, magical rain/sunlight during our own version of”Bourne” when I grabbed Peter’s phone, on its last legs of battery–4% left, and took pictures of the Domo, while he was screaming for me to read the GPS. But nobody normal could resist that light, even if we were spectacularly and hopelessly lost and about to lose our map–this is how I am).

Taken from the car, in a panic not to capture light I would never see again, I took these with the 4% battery we were relying on to find our hotel. But seriously, Could YOU resist?

I will not drone on about our every move, but I just have to detail our visit with my brother-in-law’s sister, Ande, because it was so unusual, and a night I will not ever forget. We wanted to take her to dinner, but she’d just come from the States, was jet-lagged and had a new puppy, so instead, she invited us over for drinks and appetizers. Only a few blocks from our hotel, we entered a large and spectacular building, which was outside, in the middle of a bustling area, but on the inside was quiet as a library (well, a library without ME in it). Hugs ensued, new yellow Lab Hugo introduced himself, the wine was poured (and poured) olives he size of my head, and salami and truffle butter, and crusty bread were spread before us. She gave us a tour of her magnificent abode. It was cavernous and beautiful and at the end of the tour, she said, “Now this is why we took the place.” She lead us downstairs and showed us the laundry room, which she was quite happy about because most Italians don’t have laundry. This is why I thought she was enamored of her space, which I could be convinced of because –EVER HAVE TO GO TO A LAUNDROMAT. But it turns out, nice as that laundry room was, that was not the clincher, as I soon saw her leading us to a small office. “This is why we moved here,” she began, as she opened a door, which unveiled a private balcony that overlooked the most beautiful church. Created for some earlier aristocrats to attend services privately, this balcony allowed Ande and her husband (and friends, and three grown kids when they were in town) to watch weekly concerts, as well as the current multimedia exhibit the church (the Church of Santo Stefano al Ponte), was having of the artist Klimt. MINDS OFFICIALLY BLOWN, we headed back in for more wine, and Italian delicacies, then she told us that in an hour there would be a concert we could watch. We talked about family and kids and dogs, and the inevitable political nightmare the States were living through, and then we took all our glasses of vino, plates of food, and the puppy up to the balcony to watch opera! Through a door in her office. INTO THE CHURCH. It was totally surreal. Who’s fabulous apartment comes with Jesus Christ, himself? ONE MORE UNEXPECTED AND OUTRAGEOUS MOMENT (I should say here that Ande travels a fair bit and might not have been home when we were there, and in fact, had arrived home, just as we arrived, so this was another bit of unplanned luck we encountered by not planning).

I did drop my iPhone into the toilet, which was wildly upsetting, but a 12-hour rice bath, and I was back in business. That was pretty much the only bad thing that happened on this trip. My husband and I agreed that it was one of the best trips we’d ever taken and discussed why it might have been. We both decided it was because we didn’t plan it, as we usually do, setting up expectations and often not being able to meet them. This trip’s expectations were definitely at a minimum. Or were we just happy to get out of a Boston winter? I’m still not exactly sure why those eight days were so perfect, but I’m pretty sure it’s something to do with BLISSFUL UNEXPECTEDNESS. Whatever it was, I wish it was tangible and I could use it on every trip I ever go on. Gratitude to the unplanned, and of course, magical Italia.

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