It was dark with only a few hours left of our Saturday night when the taxi crossed Florence's Arno River, then wound its way through a maze of narrow, one-way passageways before stopping in front of a pair of enormous wooden doors.
'Here is your hotel!' enthusiastically announced our driver in Italian-accented English.
|Arriving at our hotel - Florence, Italy|
He was unloading our suitcases, placing them on the cobble-stoned street while The Scout concentrated on counting out the correct fare in this dimly lit area. I was left to wonder where the hotel entry was as it seemed to be behind those imposing and very locked, doors. A small brass sign to the side of them though confirmed the driver's pronouncement:
Palazzo Guicciardini, Residenze d' Epoca.
The street was eerily quiet and devoid of people but for our trio. "But how do we get in?' I asked myself out loud, as there appeared to be no one or nothing that would open those doors. The unflappable driver reached around me and pushed a small button in the corner of the sign. From somewhere within we heard a buzz and the big wooden doors swung open as did an equally enormous iron gate just inside them. The taxi was already down the street as we stepped through the imposing entryway.
|And we went through those doors. . .|
It almost felt like an opening scene for Alfred Hitchcock or the Twilight Zone. (Both, mid-century US television suspense thrillers.) In reality, it was the opening scene of our five-night's stay in this stately old mansion, located in an area known as Oltrarno, Florence's Left Bank.
Life in Palazzo Guicciardini
|The Junior Suite - that's me in the far corner|
With the doors and gate automatically closing behind us, we walked the uneven, ancient stones of the palazzo's entry; a long, wide hall so large that could once have accommodated carriages. Another small brass sign directed us to a stairway (three flights) that eventually got us to a small but brightly lit reception area. We were expected and quickly shown to our room.
We had booked a junior suite, one of three rooms that opened onto the breakfast room. The photo above doesn't exaggerate the room's size and I can only imagine the size of the non-junior suite! We think the main floor of our Greek home would have fit into this spacious sitting room, bedroom combination. Other guest rooms of varying sizes were accessed from the reception area and hallway.
|The ceiling in our room|
All the rooms, as well as the common areas, were decorated with ceiling frescos and period art. It felt somewhat like what staying in a museum might be like. The ceilings were the kind you could stay in bed and look at for long periods of time, pondering the skills, time and cost it took to create them.
|The breakfast room ceiling|
Classical music played in the background while we dined on rather unimaginative continental breakfasts, but the ambiance prompted one to sit up a bit straighter at the table, use a saucer with the cup and hold the pinkie out when sipping. It seemed rather incongruous to have the half dozen guests gather each morning clad in some form of blue jean outfits and be focused on their mobile devices.
Living in History
|Our street at night|
The Residenze d'Epoca, we later learned, is a designation given to outstanding castles and historical residences with at least 100 years of history. We happened upon several other palazzos in the neighborhood during our ramblings that are also being used for tourist accommodations and that also carry star-ratings of Residenze d'Epoca. We may need to explore more of these delightful places on future visits.
|Which way to go - as every street was interesting|
With a history dating back to the 1500's the palazzo we were staying in has changed hands through marriages and deaths and inheritances several times. Sometime during the centuries, the Guicciardini family came to be associated with the stately home, located just a block back from the Arno. And one of the family's claims to fame (aside from a castle and winery these days in the Tuscan countryside) was a fellow whose story might be just as interesting as the building's.
|Ancient torres (towers) are delightful finds|
Francesco Guicciardini (1488-1540) was an Italian historian and statesman, a major political writer of the Italian Renaissance whose masterpiece is entitled, 'The History of Italy'. He was a friend and critic of Niccolo Machiavelli who for a time lived at his family's villa just down the street a block or two.
The Italian Getaway
|Italy's fast trains whisk passengers from city to city|
Our recent trip to Italy for a week-long getaway was prompted by a November two-for-one seat sale offered by Greece's national airline, Aegean. It was for real - we both flew for the price of one. Flying time between Athens and Rome is about an hour and a half. The cheap flight, coupled with the reasonable cost of traveling by train once in Italy and not needing to rent a car to get between cities, sealed the deal.
Such short flight times, and reasonable airfares make getaways to other countries far less expensive and far less tiring than our previous travels from the US Pacific Northwest. Easier access to European, Middle Eastern and African destinations was part of our reasoning for embarking on our expat journey. This fall, with renewed residence permits finally in hand and Covid lockdowns filed away as history (we hope); we plan to take advantage of our 'launch pad' in the Greek Peloponnese.
|Wall-to-wall tourists at the Uffizi - Florence|
We also chose to return to Italy because its temperatures this time of year wouldn't be as cold as those countries' further north. We weren't expecting them to be the downright balmy shirt-sleeve weather that greeted us though. Being as late in the year as it was, we also expected far fewer fellow tourists than the numbers we encountered in museums, galleries, and restaurants. Even more surprising was the large number of Americans who were visiting. We met several from the southern east coast states and Colorado. But pleasant surprises like these are what make travel so interesting.
|The Left Bank (pcitured on the left) won our hearts|
Our trip concluded with two nights in Rome, however, we could have easily spent the entire week in Florence. With so many palaces, museums and churches beckoning, and so many food and wine temptations. . .we barely touched the surface of this magical city. We covered a lot of ground while there and I'll have more tales of Italian dolce vita the next time around.
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