It felt ever so slightly like we were sneaking out of Rome this morning with its empty Sunday streets. We couldn’t even find a cafe open for a final farewell coffee. At least it made our drive back to Termini station a quick one. We nearly got away too with my former impression of a dirtier, dodgier Rome completely renewed but at the last minute, a ‘gentleman’ with greasy hair and even greasier clothes rather slipperily took hold of our bags and hoisted them onto the train, clearly far from the correct carriage, in order to extort a tip. He insisted on €5 per bag. He was disgruntled but lucky to get €1 for the lot which we paid just to make him **** off so we could start our long trek through the train to the correct carriage which we were perfectly capable of getting ourselves onto!
Once we were settled in our seats, we sat back, relaxed and took in the Tuscan countryside at an easy 240kms/hour. Although it went whizzing by, I was glad that the tracks followed a more scenic route than the train we’d caught down to Rome so that Mum at least got a glimpse of the beautiful landscape the region is famous for. In under 2 hours, we pulled into Florence SMN train station and stepped out into the icy cold air and made our way to our home for the next couple of days.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, Florence was Mum’s choice for a dream destination so I wanted to make sure it was truly special and memorable for her. To that end, I’d arranged our accommodation at Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni n.1 Residenza d’Epoca. More than a boutique hotel, it’s actually an historical residence in a majestically restored Medieval Tower perched right on the Arno River, offering the best appointed rooms in the city.
I was tickled to be greeted the minute we stepped into the elegant reception with “You must be Patches!” The very debonair Daniel, who I’d been liaising with to make our arrangements, stepped straight out from behind the desk to shake our hands and give us the warmest welcome I’ve ever received in a hotel. Delight gave way to intrigue as we tried to guess at the origins of this international man of mystery’s curiously mixed accent. It turns out that he’s lived and worked just about everywhere though oddly enough, the one thing we didn’t pick up by ear was the fact that he was actually born in Newcastle, Australia and later spent time working in Wentworthville of all places (a less salubrious western suburb of Sydney not far from my parents place where a couple of my sisters and I worked for a time as well).
Mystery solved, Daniel led us on a private tour of the hotel while our room was prepared. The hotel’s rooms occupy the fourth and fifth floors but it’s the sixth floor that took our breath away with its panoramic views over Florence’s roof tops, including it’s most celebrated – The Duomo. Look the other way and bam – there’s the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio (bridge)! Stunning doesn’t begin to describe this most spectacular view over one of the worlds most beautiful and evocative cities.
Daniel left us to our own devices and returned soon after to let us know our room was ready only to find us still gawping, slack-jawed at the splendour of it all. He led us to our room … our upgraded Grand Deluxe room no less! We tried to keep our cool… no we didn’t, we felt like we knew Daniel well enough already to gush with gratitude. He made it out alive and I confined Mum to a corner so I could photographed the room while everything was just perfect. Talk about A Room with a View (Gabrielle, you should definitely check out this movie – you’ll love it!) – one of our windows provides a perfect frame for the Duomo, the other looks out onto the medieval tower opposite. If the eponymous room in the film wasn’t this exact one, it couldn’t be very far from it! My favourite touch was the letters of welcome to “Patches McGee” propped up against a bowl of fruit on a silver tray on a table which very quickly became my writing nook.
After we’d opened every cupboard, looked in every drawer and read the entire compendium, we thought it might be a good idea to actually get out and see a little bit of Florence. Considering we were only meters from the Ponte Vecchio we made it our first stop. The old stone medieval bridge crosses the Arno River at its narrowest point but what makes it so iconic is that its still lined today with shops (as was once common). Originally it was butchers who sold their wares along it, nowadays it’s spanned predominantly by jewellers and gold-smiths. We crossed over to the other side, up to Pitti Palace and then in search of food.
Daniel had given us recommendations for places nearby but hunger made us give up on course corrections and just go to the next restaurant we passed. That’s how we serendipitously came across Gusta Osteria where we had an absolutely delectable late lunch. Of course we came out and found the place we’d been looking for right around the corner in the shadow of an unmissable giant church!
The sky started to look menacing and shook loose a few warning drops so we hurried back to Antica Torre to get umbrellas – lovely big courtesy umbrellas! We turned out of the hotel towards the city but then Mum’s tummy turned quite abruptly which sent us scurrying back to the hotel before the rain could get us. Poor Mum. We decided that it was best to stay in and although I was sorry Mum didn’t feel well, I was almost glad of the excuse to stay in and indulge in our plush surrounds.
I headed back up to the terrace to watch sunset but unfortunately, the rain had set in and there wasn’t much to see. Instead, I downloaded A Room with a View onto my computer so Mum and I could get into the mood for our days ahead (really Gub, you’ll love it!)*. Once the rain let up, I could see the view from our own room of a city so beautiful that I asked Mum if she wouldn’t mind if went out on a little photography excursion. Of course she didn’t.
I raced out of there while the light was still right without anything but the camera – no bag, no map, no purse. I didn’t intend to go far but now I was by myself, the memories of my last trip came flooding back and I was hungry to revisit the scenes of such an exciting epoch in my own life. I headed back along the Arno towards the Ponte Vecchio and beyond. I turned in at the Uffizi Gallery and into the Piazza della Signoria and beheld all its grandeur. I crossed the square and was so tempted to keep on to the Duomo but I resisted wanting to share that moment with Mum.
I have to admit that I again shocked the hell out of myself by being able to navigate my way back (admittedly, we’re talking about a few square blocks but my powers of disorientation are strong), I even managed to find the Porcellino Fountain and give its snout a quick rub for good luck.
I returned to find Mum feeling very much at home in the lap of luxury, clearly enjoying it’s restorative benefits. I tucked her in and then indulged in some luxuriation of my own – a lovely, long, hot bath! I read in the literature about Antica Torre today that the experience of staying here allows guests “to relive a true moment in history – not as a spectator, but as a protagonist”. Now I know what they means!
*apologies, this is an in-joke with my sisters Sarah and Gabrielle – when we were younger, the three of us would go down to the local video shop (yes, video – much younger!) where we’d be allowed to choose one movie. Sarah and I wanted to choose A Room with a View… again whilst Gabrielle wanted to choose Splash… again! Being the youngest, Gabrielle never stood a chance but none the less, we’d offer her cold comfort by pointing the the review on the back of the box which assured the reader “You’ll love it!”.
Patches McMum: Buongiorno! Not raining! Sounds like a good day to set off on our train trip to Florence. We arrived at Roma Termini station with plenty of time to get a coffee and pastry (because nowhere else was open). We boarded the train with the forced assistance of a man who extorted a tip for put
ting us on the wrong carriage (which we knew at the time) but he was insistent. We then had to walk the length of the train to get to our allocated seats.
The train was very modern and streamlined and only took an hour and half to get to Florence whizzing through the Tuscan countryside – agriculture, sheep and grapevines.
We arrived at our hotel via taxi. We were greeted by Daniel who turns out to have been a Novacastrian. He gave us a tour of the rooftop terraces with the most amazingly beautiful views over all of Florence – from the winter terrace overlooking the Arno and the summer terrace overlooking the city with the Duomo front and centre and where Naomi went mad taking photos.
Our room is definitely ‘a room with a view’. Leaving our castle hotel, we walked along the Arno river to the Ponte Vecchio which is lined with jewellery shops. We had late lunch at Gusto on the other other side of the bridge and then walked back to our hotel. My tummy started to feel upset so I stayed in while Naomi went off photographing to take advantage of the setting sun and night lights.
Since we have such a beautiful hotel (ex-castle), we decided to stay in and watch ‘A Room with a View’ – I’m sure it must have been filmed from our room or very near by! Another lovely day!