Monday…my last day in Italia. Being the day before I leave, there are certain things I must do; pack, check in for my flight, secure a taxi for the morning, etc.
The other day I bought a light-weight collapsable bag at Tiger. I have been stuffing dirty clothes and a few odds and ends in it. I plan on using it as my carry on, alleviating some of the weight in the Ferrari. Each time I considered purchasing something, I really gave serious thought to the limits of my luggage, weight and capacity, and truly…for being over here for trenta giorni…I have not acquired much.
Here is a new packing strategy I will consider next trip- If I am flying into Firenze or someplace similar, I will pack ultra light, only bring a few outfits, small hairdryer, curling iron, travel iron, and essential toiletries, then buy things while I am here. Visiting Zara was almost a daily routine. I could cool off a bit inside (a bit…and don’t think H&M offers that option…it is hotter in there than the streets and their sewage system must have major issues, because the place reeks) and just walk around considering purchases.
As I may have already mentioned, Zara dresses Europe! Almost everyone walks around with a Zara bag, often used as a catch-all, but it shows they have been there recently. I have shopped Zara a few times before my trip, but now I am a major fan. If nothing else it is just fun to walk through. I had read of the lower priced clothing chains, Zara is the most fashion forward, getting their cues from the current season’s runway shows and getting them to “us” with an affordable variation. Thank you Zara. One of this trip’s MVP (most valuable pieces) was an uber light-weight, olive drab maxi with an elastic waist. I wore it with a white T, a tied up denim shirt and the crispest look of all -with a tied up white shirt…very chic, even here. I loved my Boden pieces (this trip and the last) but they are cotton and usually lined, well-made…but heavy when considering the Ferrari.
Anyway, back to the Tiger bag. Inside, I am also putting the collapsable bag I brought and used as my carry-on last trip…just in case the Tiger bag exceeds the size requirements. Throw a wrinkle at me…I’m ready!
Once I was pretty much packed, I still had a couple of hours before it was time to check in for my flight. So I decided to load up the iPad and keyboard and go over to Il Mercato for the last time. I watch, sadly, as my last 2 euro cappuccino is lovingly made for me. I walk over to another vendor and buy tre almond croissants. I know these aren’t exactly “italian” but I love them! I became addicted during my first trip to Las Vegas with Mike and Joann. And I hate to say this, pastries are not, for the most part, the Italians forte. So as I said, I buy tre…one for now, one for the morning and one for my plane ride. (And by the way…since it is obvious I am writing this post “post fact”…the poor day-after croissants did not hold a candle to their former selves.)I sit down and power up my iPad and keyboard…but the iPad is dead…I have definitely become lazy with my charging regimen. So, I put it all away again and enjoy my breakfast. Do you just love the little zucchero packet? I discovered that the ones here have popular locations on them. I grabbed a few…collector…NOT hoarder!
When I return to Bencidormi, I plug in and write for a bit. It is also fun to hear the comings and goings here. Yesterday Paola introduced me to two girls, I’d say late twenties, that were staying just for one night. They were in town to attend a concert. Their english was limited, but it was fun to hear and see them share their love for this singer with me- Jovanotti, real name Lorenzo Cherubini. They were surprised I was not familiar with him…I am now. When I said I was from Austin (that is where I usually start and then if someone is familiar with the area, I move on to Fredericksburg), they said, “Ooohhh! ACL!” Several people during this trip spoke of ACL. Silly of me, I am sure, but I didn’t realize it reaches the audience it does.When it is time to check in for my flight, I am poised and ready, and for the second time this morning, things do not go my way. I try several times: on my phone, on the iPad, on Roberto’s computer…nope, it’s not going to happen. “See agent at ticket counter” is basically the message I repeatedly receive. So I do what all independent, cinquantatre year old women do…call their mommas. First I actually tried to text everyone for help, but as it is still very early in the US, that too takes a bit. Avery responds (good girl) and texts back “Are you sure you want me to call them…it’s really early here.” But I say, please do. I thought maybe a US computer could better communicate with United…I was not worried, but I wanted to try all I could before just saying “whatever” and waiting until tomorrow morning to find out good or bad news.
So I hung around Bencidormi a bit longer until mom said she was getting the same message. I did not want to spend my last day in the room, so I believed the great spirit of my travel would continue and all would be fine tomorrow morning. (Again, hindsight 20/20 note- the message was due to the fact I had to show my passport before checking in. Lesson learned.)
Before leaving, I downsized a bit more by ditching a couple books I did not care for at the Bencidormi “library” and headed out.At this point it is a little past lunch. I first think I am going to head to Le Volpi e L’Uva for a last crostini but end up just walking right past. Another reason I would be hard to travel with…nothing is set in stone. The only real item on my agenda today is to walk to San Miniato al Monte. This is a church that stands atop one of the highest points in the city. I read that there are Gregorian chants at 17.30 in the summer. I think this would be a beautiful way to say arrivederci.
As I am upwardly roaming, I see this scooter and am reminded a scooter excursion is still on my “to do” list but will have to wait until my next visit. I wonder if I can reserve a turquoise one?As I mentioned, I passed Le Volpi e L’uva thinking I will grab a bite to eat somewhere else. Then I approach the Clet studio again. I had wondered if he manipulated any bicicletta signs. When I go to the door, there is a sticky note that says, “I’ll be right back”. I peer in the window and do indeed see a sticker with a bicicletta on it. So I cross the street and sit myself down.From my vantage point I can see the door and will be up and in when the sticky note comes down.That wait ends up being at least an hour. Weaker have waited and moved on…but not me…The climb continues.Through the wall,up the MANY stairs,past a guy that will do whatever for money (I threw a euro his way for allowing me to take his photo). Notice how sweaty he is…and he’s just sitting there strumming(ish).And I arrive at Piazzale Michelangelo. If you were with me in 2013, you will remember I visited here two times at sunset. The first I captured several hundred photos of the sun setting on the Arno, and the second I took 2 shots with my phone…one being my favorite photo of the trip.
Today’s panoramic view is smeared a bit by the hazy heat. But for many around me, this is their first time here and I listen to, “Can you believe this!?” in many languages. It is indeed an amazing vista. But up here there is very little refuge from the sun’s rays. So I reconsider my next step.I first go to a small church that I THINK is San Miniato. It is dark and quiet and for the first minute or so, a relief from the sweltering heat. But after that minute passes, I decide to sit and try to will myself cooler. I take out my fan, look at the clock and see I still have at least 3 hours before chant time. A inner debate ensues. Do I stay, do I go, do I find a cooler place to wait? Although I do not consider myself a competitive person, when I get something in my mind, I do have issues. I tell the part of me that wants to bail that I waited for Clet to open, I can wait to attend chants. But in order to please all sides of me, I exit the church and look for some shade and a possible breeze. While I roam, I notice yet another set of steep stairs. I consider it kinda like a kid considers something they don’t want to do. I look at it and think, eeeh, whatever’s up there can’t be all that great, although I can see the top of a golden gable, and I keep walking. I am now on the road Elisa and I took on the way to her parent’s house. There are VERY few people around, but I’m killing time.
The second time I pass the great steps, I cave. I figure what have I got to lose…a few more pounds of sweat is all. So I climb. And as always, I am rewarded for it. This is San Miniato al Monte.And this is her view.I enter the basilica dedicated to the first evangelizer and Christian martyr in Florence. It is said Minias is thought to have been a Greek merchant or Armenian prince (kinda a range there) who left home to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Around 250, he arrived in Florence and took up life as a hermit. The legend goes that Minias was persecuted and beheaded for being a Christian. After his decapitation, he picked up his head, put it back on his shoulders and went to die in the cave on Monte alle Croci where he had lived. The cave is now the location of the oratory and chiesa that bear his name.
The present Basilica was built in 1018. The altar preserves the bones of St. Miniato. To learn a bit about this structure, I put in 2 euro, grabbed a chair and listened.The mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and Saint Minias was created in 1260.There are also beautiful frescoes attributed to Taddeo Gaddi. As well as a magnificent funerary monument, memorial to Cardinal James of Lusitania who died in Florence. His is the only tomb in the church (detail of chapel bottom left).At this point I am working really hard to hang around until chant time, but my croissant is wearing off. On my way out, I notice a sign that basically says, “Are ya hungry? Come by our Farmacia for fresh baked goodies.” This excites me, but I remember when Costanza and I were at Vallombrosa Abbey we just missed the time and the farmacia was chiuso. But I head across the gravel path and am thrilled to see movement inside.
I open the door and enter the piccolo space. There are a few souvenir items, a rack of small cellophane bags containing baked goods and a small freezer of Monk made gelato (yes everything is small…) While I am considering my “lunch” options, the monk (seen crossing in front of the basilica in previous photo) at the register is engaged in a conversation with a local man. I grab a bag of Lingue di Gatto and mandorla biscotti and wait at his elbow. When they decide to rest a moment, he looks up at me and then notices my necklace. His first word is, “Nice” motioning to my Benedictine cross on my Virgin Saints and Angels charm. He then tells me how much I owe him. I hand him a 20 euro bill. Then I notice there are cans of soda on the counter and ask if he has cold ones, “certo” he replies. In my defense, ya never know. I have been handed a hot can of coke, taking a few sips of the frothy, warm bubbles feeling too bad to refuse. He retreats to a back room (small no doubt) and hands me the coldest coke zero of the trip. I don’t know whether to strap it to my neck or drink it. Now, more focused on me because the local has left, he again tells me how much I owe him. I pause for a moment. My mind racing to remember for certain or not whether I had just handed him 20 euro…Do you question a monk? Do I pay again feeling OK that it all goes to the church? He’s looking at me and I meekly say, “I gave you a 20.” He looks around for a moment and then says, “Oh, yes.” I start laughing and tell him I was a bit nervous to question him.
I retreat outside finding a shady spot along a wall overlooking the cemetery and devour my Lingue di Gattos (cat tounges).These were so yummy. As you can see by the ingredients they are pure and simple. I think they just make the batter, smear a bit on a pan, bake and bag.
I return to the famacia to buy (and devour) another bag of Lingue di Gatto. The monk comments further on my necklace. The monks of San Miniato are part of a Benedictine order. He is pleased with my “strong!” symbol of Christ. I take this opportunity to ask him when the Gregorian Chants will begin. His answer confused me a bit, but what I got from it was that he would be singing mass at 5:30 and then afterwards, the “young monks” would come to vespers. He suggests I stay for that. What does one say to a personal invitation but “Si”.
Second important question, “Dov’è il bagno?” He points me in the direction, I weave about the grounds a bit and find it. This is one, as many are, where you have to pay to go. I even received a receipt! When I entered and read the receipt I laughed out loud. “S.I.T.” Yes, I think I will.I reentered the basilica and sat down in the main area. A bit later, I see a young man, delivering a much, much older monk down to the crypt. I start to think this is where mass will be. When I attended mass at San Francesco d’ Assisi, the evening mass was in the lower area as well. I descend the stairs and see a few locals (including the man from the farmacia) already seated. I do this all well before the older monk gets to his assigned seat behind the altar. It was both endearing and comical to watch. The younger man exited once he had the sambuco situated.
I could go on and on about mass; how my monk shuffled in with the chalice, seemingly late going by the glances from the already present monks, the beauty and control of his voice as he sang mass, watching the sambuco ebb and flow, receiving communion from my monk with him shifting to his broken English just for me…but suffice it to say, I am thankful I stayed.
After a few people left (there were only about 10 of us in mass) and a few others entered, a woman came up to me and quietly asked “Che ora di vespro cominciare?” Startled, I struggled to quietly communicate with her. I think I made it clear they were supposed to begin (as far as I could make out) after mass, around 6:30. “Sei e mezzo” I responded with what I am sure was a stricken look that read, “What makes you think I know italian?!” She came back with, “Sei e mezzo?” and I “Si, sei e mezzo”. This seemed to go on for couple of rounds. She finally walked up to the front, took a vesper hymnal from a box and settled herself. I went up and took one too.
In a few minutes, a group of young monks (including the sambuco’s assistant now in robes) with my monk trailing, ceremoniously entered the crypt. Again, a beautiful tradition to witness and be a part of.
I exited the church around 7:15 with the sun considering setting but in no hurry to do so.
I took one last look at this bella città and headed back down into it.This is my favorite time of the day, at home and here. During the heat of the day and amongst the crowds, I can be 100% ready to return home but lay the relaxed evening in front of me, drag the furniture to the streets, fill the glasses with apèritif and I start to miss it already.
I so want to pull some of our furniture to Austin Street and enjoy this tradition. How do you think the good City of Fredericksburg would respond? Is anyone willing to split the ticket?As I wind through the streets, I mentally say my goodbyes to all I love about Firenze.
Arrivederci Blub.Sadly, my last meal was a disappointment. I returned to my old street, Borgo Santi Apostoli, and gave a recommendation a try. Mangiafoco will not be a place to return. I would have been pleased with this dish if I had doctored up some frozen, grocery pasta. It wasn’t awful, but it falls to the bottom of my list of meals no doubt. I’m sure the staff’s attitude clouds my review, as well it should. I have yet to be made to feel like I am a hindrance as a tavolo per uno… until now.Arrivederci Spritz!
Arrivederci Street Musicians.And a big, sweet, heartfelt arrivederci to the people of Italia…especially those of you who hang out your windows for entertainment.Yes, I agree! This has been a thumbs-up adventure!
Grazie Mille Italia!!
I met you on the foodie tour in Rome a month ago, and I am sad you are leaving to go home. It is such a let down to be home after such a great adventure! I hope you have a great school year!