How to Feel like You’re Living in Florence

If I’m not reading stories, I’m trying to live them, and there’s no better place to do that than while traveling. I’m not so much seeking escape as looking for a going-to. No matter how long I’m in a new place, I want to feel like I live there.

Staying in a small hotel in Florence made dreams come alive.

Staying in a small hotel in Florence made dreams come alive.

That’s harder for me in the big hotel chains in the United States, but living my dream, bit by bit, is far more possible in places like Florence. The last time the Youthful Adventurer and I were there, we walked from the train station, rolling our suitcases along the ancient sidewalks to Hotel Alessandra, then up the stairs to the tiny elevator, and then up to the second floor (which was the third, in my mind) to a charming safe harbor.

Our street-front windows allow us to watch the tourists below; we linger over breakfasts and savor our coffee; I’m grateful the Youthful Adventurer has managed to abandon his penchant for too sweet cereals during our time here. We are in the breakfast room when I meet a woman from London who in the space of 20 minutes tells me all about contemporary politics in the UK and the specialized tour she is taking in Florence to learn all about Galileo.

I am reminded that all of the beautiful churches we are visiting on this trip can’t mask the misdeeds of some of their leaders. The threat of science to the Church seems remote to my life, but it wasn’t to Galileo, who managed to rile religion with his ideas that the Earth revolves around the sun. The Church didn’t kill him, but Galileo was accused of heresy, tried, convicted, and sentenced to house arrest.

I’d never have learned all of this in a large hotel, where I would have sat, alone or with my son, and not talked to strangers. It’s the smaller experiences, the kind you can get in inexpensive, unpretentious, old hotels, those build in the 1500s, that make the trip.

­—Lori Tripoli

The Takeaway from Firenze

Memories of my first visit to Firenze had faded. Here, the Duomo, 1989. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Memories of my first visit to Firenze had faded. Here, the Duomo, 1989. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

I could barely recall my trip to Florence 20 years earlier. I knew I’d seen the statue of David, and the Duomo, and loved its doors, and been surprised by how spare its interior was compared to its façade. I still wear the gold ring I bought on the Ponte Vecchio but long ago lost one of the gold hoops I’d gotten as well. Was there anything else?

The Youthful Adventurer and I weren’t 100 yards off the train when I remembered the narrowness of Florence’s streets, how much fun I’d had with friends jumping back up on the ancient sidewalks when a car passed. This time, he would be the one leaping up to the curb to escape the traffic or down again to let another tourist pass. Here in the land of gelato and pizza, we were brought back to the time of the Medicis, to Michelangelo. We wonder how tall they were.

Statue of David, Florence, 1989. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Statue of David, Florence, 1989. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

The Youthful Adventurer proceeds from jumping off sidewalks to touching glass, flapping papers, knocking into shutters, and setting off alarms at the Palazzo Pitti. Walking the grounds, he can’t get into much mischief. He is awed in the Medici chapel at the church of San Lorenzo.  I learn that as much—and as surprisingly—as he is attentive in churches, we need to stay away from museums. He is 13 on this trip. We speed through the Uffizi when I would like to linger. I’m going to have to come back to Florence again.

—Lori Tripoli

Italy on a Budget: Rome Can Be Reasonable

As a single mom trying to give the Youthful Adventurer the eighth-grade graduation trip of his dreams, I planned our journey carefully, being most worried about how my limited budget would match up with my son’s hope to visit the Colosseum. When in Rome, we wouldn’t be staying in palazzos or taxiing around very much, […]

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How to Choose a Hotel in Cancun

Determining which hotel to stay in during a Cancun vacation is likely to be a traveler’s most intellectually challenging problem on a trip of this sort. The monster resorts that have grown up on a narrow spit of sand since hotel developers descended on this then-unexploited space on the coast in the 1970s seemingly offer […]

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Cancun Tours: How Good Is the Gray Line?

Three times on my recent trip to Cancun I wound up on a Gray Line tour, and my experiences ranged from “highly recommend—would sign up again” to a less-than-entirely-enthusiastic “you get what you pay for.” Working in 700 locations around the planet, this is an outfit with some depth and experience. Professionalism and quality were […]

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Chichen Itza, Top to Bottom

Even as my lawyerly side contemplated liability, I relished climbing the monuments at the Mayan city of Chichen Itza on my first visit there 24 years ago. I remember hearing stories of high-heeled women falling to their deaths on the narrow steps of El Castillo, the pyramid on which the Mayan serpent god appears in […]

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Mayan Bloodletting at Chichen Itza: Any Worse than Ours?

On our way from Cancun to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, our tour guide takes care to note that the Maya should not be seen as savages. That he feels obligated to say that makes me think that other tourists must have referred to them as such, most likely because of their tradition […]

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Cancun for the Convenience

When heading to a place like Cancun, Mexico, I’m not going on a jungle-trekking adventure or anticipating anything much more rugged than rough water during a snorkel.  I’m going for a getaway from the daily stress of my workaday world, which means that I’ll be expecting good service all the way around. On my recent […]

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What I Learned at Doctor Zhivago’s Revolution

It took me a half a dozen tries to get all the way through the three-hour-long 1965 film Doctor Zhivago, a love story set amid the backdrop of the Russian revolution but filmed elsewhere. Starring Omar Sharif as a doctor-poet, and Julie Christie as an unconvincing 17-year-old raped by her mother’s love interest, a member […]

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Our Perestroika

What’s engaging about the 2010 documentary, My Perestroika, and that was largely absent from my own visit to Russia isn’t so much the views of Moscow but the captured moments of real Russians, those not selling anything to tourists or trying to be pleasing in the hope of gaining a tip. The film follows a […]

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