Today we’re taking a bit of a detour on WhyGo Italy. Instead of an article about what to see or how to get somewhere in Italy, I’m featuring a guest post by a travel-loving friend of mine, Margo Millure.
Margo’s a fantastic writer – as you’ll see – and when she sent me this article about a night in Florence I instantly wanted to share it with all of you. It’s the kind of thing that, after you read it, might just make you want to book a flight to Italy.
It’s not a travel guide, it’s travel inspiration. And I love that.
Thanks, Margo, for sharing this story with WhyGo Italy readers.
The Italian wine server is late. I’ve climbed to the top of this 13th century tower and am considering turning around and going back down.
I’ve wanted to go on this trip by myself for a long time; it’s been planned for months, and now, here I am. The pressure is on; I’m jet lagged. I want to grab take out food and eat in my room. I miss my husband and want to call him. Even though I will be in Florence for just one night, I have arranged family pictures on the dresser in my hotel room.
Where does a woman by herself eat? What do I order? I remember reading that one can only really be called courageous in the face of fear. I guess I’m courageous then. I feel as if I’m having an out of body experience, and as if my life is in a holding pattern until tomorrow when I will meet my writing group with whom I will spend the next week in the Tuscan countryside.
When he arrives he is wearing dark rimmed glasses, jeans and a red tee shirt that skims his slight build. He is at most half my age. With disarming Italian familiarity that still manages to be polite, he greets me. In a gallant gesture he makes my table steady with a matchbook he pulls from his pocket and puts under one of the legs. The way he looks at me makes me feel as if I own this tower.
“What can I get you?”
“I don’t know. I think I want something red.” I may not know much, but I know that when in Italy, order red.
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In a manner that makes me wish I knew more Italian, with lots of rolled “r’s,” he quickly lists the many options. None mean anything to me. In an exaggerated fashion he raises his index finger as if he has just made a profound realization about me.
“I choose for you a sangiovese and cabernet blend.”
The truth is, I don’t know a thing about wine. I’ve no clue how to describe it, because not only am I not an enthusiast, I don’t always like it. I am pleased that this Italian wine server seems to know something about me that I don’t.
I am up here because the vantage point is touted as a highlight of staying at the Hotel Torre Guelfa.
This tower with a rooftop terrace is renowned as being one of the most remarkable private views in Florence. The lovely woman who checked me in told me that wine is served on top of the tower starting at 5 o’clock. Therefore, I order wine.
I take my first sip of this wine, and words that I’ve heard connoisseur types use to describe it, suddenly become available to me. It is complex on the nose, full structured and velvety, with rich perfumes of fruits and hints of flowers, and what I believe to be chocolate. It is the perfect temperature, slightly cool on this unusually hot October evening. After a few more sips I know there is no better place to be on earth at this moment than this rooftop in Florence.
The fact that I love this wine so well, so immediately, surely means that anything is possible. I know…we could quit our jobs, take the kids out of school and move here and make our own wine and olive oil! I will never be happier with a glass of wine again. I have the impulse to find a phone and call my husband to tell him about it, but it dawns on me that I’m where I’m supposed to be; and I’m meant to be by myself.
The famous changing Tuscan light does its sunset finale, gently illuminating the 360-degree panorama of postcard buildings in warm apricot glow. Bells ring from various churches, seemingly without rhyme or reason; Euro sirens blare and a single horse’s hooves clomp below, down a narrow street. A loneliness that doesn’t feel wrong passes my consciousness as I look down to a terrace across the street and see four women together on a girls’ trip laughing and raising wine glasses to the evening.
Lights twinkle from across the Arno River as darkness begins to dim the show. And perhaps most spectacularly, an occasional flash from a camera through a hole in the massive dome of the Duomo reminds me that I am but one of tens of thousands of tourists who visit Florence each day.
The wine server refills my glass, and I ask him what the name of the wine is. He tells me, but I know I’ll never remember it. I ask him to write it down and he says he will.
Other hotel guests begin to trickle up into what I was truly starting to believe was my own tower: the Birkenstock couple from California, a dressed up couple from Savannah, and a group of three that I can’t figure out. I listen as they compare their day’s highlights, plan their tomorrows and laugh. The wine server arrives to take their order, and I smile to myself when I see him raise his finger in the air and recommend something to the woman from Savannah.
The new arrivals are appreciative of the spectacular setting, but mostly seem to be exercising their traveler’s curiosity. Countrymen, united by shared foreign travel experience, are allowed to ask each other lots of questions. Where are you from? Oh, I know some people there…do you know so and so? What did you do today? Where else have you been on your trip? They eye me, trying to guess my story. Am I waiting for someone?
One or two try to bring me into their conversation, but at this point, I’m enjoying my anonymity, and politely retreat. I overhear snippets of their conversation and watch them take photos of each other. Another flash comes from the Duomo and I feel as if Florence is winking at me. The Italian wine server has been refreshing my wine glass and now, as the twilight becomes dark, my glass is empty and I know it is time to leave.
When I went up the tower, I wanted to spend the evening in my hotel room; when I came down the tower, I didn’t. I was in Florence, Italy, for one night, and I thought I was just trying to get through to the next thing. Silly.
I returned to my room, put on a dress and heels and a nice man at the front desk, as if he could read my mind when I asked for a restaurant recommendation, raised his finger in the air in an exaggerated way and said, “For a woman dining alone, I have just the place.”
He produced a card of a restaurant and pointed me in the right direction. I still have the card of the restaurant, which did turn out to be wonderful, but I never did get the name of that wine.
Hotel Torre Guelfa
Borgo SS Apostoli, 8
Giancarlo Avuri, the operator of the Hotel tells me I probably was sipping a Tignanello, a Supertuscan of Aninori. The Avuris also operate a wine bar in Florence, Pitti Gola and Cantina, on the Piazza Pitti. Since that night I’ve not exactly become a connoisseur, but have become a big fan of Italian wines.
About the Author:
Margo Millure is the founder and editor of The Travel Belles, an online travel magazine for women. She is a published journalist, essayist and fiction writer, and former editor of several publications, including Sasee, a women’s lifestyle magazine. She loves reading, writing and traveling, and can usually be found on any given day doing at least one of them. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
hotel photos from the Hotel Torre Guelfa website, author photo from the author’s collection