Ryan and I beat the heat of the day up with an early start – we finished the last of the figs we’d picked straight from the neighbouring trees and packed up once more to head back to Florence to return our precious Panda. I drove to get a little more practice in with the benefit of an instructor – next time, I’ll be on my own!
It was barely one and a half hours drive, we certainly could have covered more ground but we were both pleased to have seen less and spent more time in each place and more importantly, with each other. I got a little choked up saying goodbye to the Panda – my first left hand drive car which deserved a better life than the imbecilic car hire company could possibly give it. Obviously, saying goodbye to the car also meant that the adventure was drawing to a close. But we still had a couple of days in Florence and were determined to make the most of them.
Of all the museums and monuments in Florence, there was one I couldn’t leave without seeing – the Ufizzi Gallery, one of the oldest and most renowned art galleries in the world. We’d reserved tickets weeks in advance which meant we could jump the ticket queue (which can be up to a five hours long) and go straight to the mercifully faster, though just as long queue to actually get in.
The building itself is magnificent. We made our way up the grand staircase in awe of the extraordinary 16th century architectural feat. At the top, the alabaster and marble statues lining the corridors announced that we were in the presence of greatness and indeed we were. We wend our way through the various rooms featuring the work of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Michaelagelo, Donatello and Raphael, unfortunately April O’Neal had failed to submit anything but the likes of Titian, Giotto, Uccello, Lippi and Caravaggio made up for her lack.
We were almost at the exit when it dawned on me that we’d been so engrossed in conversation that we almost missed the galleries biggest crowd pleaser – the Botticelli room. We asked an attendant who directed us back to where we’d started and gone straight when we should’ve taken a left. Turns out it wasn’t just the Botticelli’s we’d missed but half the gallery! I thought it had seemed quite compact compared to international counterparts such as the Louvre or the Met.
As with any gallery, you can tell you’re getting closer to the stars of the show as the crowds thicken and this was no exception. We turned the corner and there they were – The Birth of Venus and Primavera. Unlike the Mona Lisa which surprises most people upon seeing it with how small it is, these masterpieces loomed larger than life. It was a thrill to be up close and personal with one of the most celebrated images in art, had I wanted to cut my visit short, I could actually have reached out and touched the image of Venus atop her shell, red locks flowing forever protecting her modesty.
The remainder of our time in Florence was spent eating, drinking and being as merry as denial about our imminent farewell would allow. Mention must be made however of our final gelato from a little hole in the wall gelateria near Santa Croce which certainly allowed us to say we’d left the best till last! They must have had over 50 flavours but I couldn’t go passed chilli chocolate, ricotta & fig and gorgonzola! Weird and wonderful!
In something of a bookend moment, my phone battery went flat on our last night. This was our only alarm to wake in time for Ryan’s very early flight the next day. Luckily, I’d picked up an adaptor along the way and was able to recharge it but I did have to sit up and watch a little more True Blood while it charged enough to set the alarm for 3.30am! No sooner did I sleep than it was time to get up.
Although my flight wasn’t until the evening and out of Pisa, we decided to check out together and get a taxi to Florence airport to see Ryan off before heading to Pisa for my own takeoff. There’s no denying it was a tearful farewell fraught with mixed emotions and nothing more concrete than a promise to meet again somewhere, someday.
After seeing Ryan off, drying my eyes and watching the sun rise, I climbed on a bus bound for Pisa. I had plenty of time to dump my bag and spend the day in the city but didn’t have the heart for it so spent it instead sleeping in various spots around the airport before almost missing my flight. I was at the gate with plenty of time but failed to notice it boarding because of the crowds for adjoining flights. Luckily they paged me and I was on my way back to old blighty.
This past fortnight has been freakishly like an over the top romantic movie, the exact kind I would never watch. Living it however is another kettle of fish entirely! I didn’t know these things happened in real life and certainly not to me, not because I believe myself to be particularly prone to bad luck, but more because this was just never my story – it’s been quite an unexpected twist in the tale to say the least.
What has my head reeling even more though is that it is even possible. When I met Ryan, I certainly wasn’t looking for anything, I had barely even gotten to the point of thinking it was all over for me, that I was left on the shelf, never to be loved again. That may sound overly dramatic but it’s how our felt, my self esteem having taken quite a hit. But there he was, an ever so charming beacon of hope to assure me my race wasn’t entirely run. And so sprung this ‘green shoot of recovery’ which he has continued to nurture with loving kindness, patience and warmth. It hasn’t grown in the shade of my sadness, which I’m surprised to find still so undiminished and distinct, but rather it has turned up new soil in the light of a new day.
But my journey must continue. At this point, I am not yet enough of myself to give. I need to know who I am on my own before I can be with anyone else. So although my heart is heavy at watching Ryan pass through the airport gates, it is also soaring with gratitude for what has been so much more than a holiday romance. It has been the deepening of a new yet enduring friendship with a truly remarkable and enchanting human being with a heart big and wise enough to embrace me and my grief and to make me laugh in spite of it.
I’m aware of a beautiful irony in the parting of our ways as I continue this journey of self discovery only to realise I have found so much of myself through this extraordinary experience. Ryan, from the bottom of my heart, thank you until we meet again…