Author: Mostly Sunny Tourist
Date of Trip: May 2010
When planning a visit to Italy, it should be understood that the country is very beautiful in every direction. Therefore each and every city should be visited. Just think of all the major accomplishments of Italy, such as the Coliseum and the aqueducts! Of course it helps if you know a few words of Italian. I have been listening to Italian podcasts in an attempt to learn the basics. So far I can say with authority these important words: “gelato”, “gratzie”, “prego”, and a somewhat true phrase: “io capisco un po l’italiano”. Well, I do understand a little Italian. More or less. Anyway, now I’m quite sure that I’m ready for an adventure. Little did I know that a somewhat obscure aspect of the Italian landscape would be so appealing.
Ultimately a trip to Italy must include Tuscany, and as many of its cities as possible. A visit to Florence becomes inevitable. Is it just me, or does Firenze sounds more compelling than Florence? But it was in Florence that I made the most incredible discovery. Could it be the magnificent world famous paintings, sculptures, or architecture? Well, yes, that would definitely be part of it. But it began with a group gathering at noon for a guided tour of the Piazza della Signoria. Our guide was a stylish Italian woman with an equally stylish flag that we were supposed to follow. I only mention her appearance because I’m pretty sure she was wearing Ferragamo shoes. Next, we were given precise instructions not to make any noise and to listen to her. And then- andiamo- off we went. She walked very fast and if anyone in the group so much as whispered, she would turn and stare at them and say rather ominously, “Please pay attention”. Soon our group was receiving an in-depth analysis of one of the more famous sculptures prominently featured there. I wondered if the sculptor was a relative of our guide. However, I didn’t feel inclined to take hundreds of pictures when I could buy a postcard (which also would much better than anything I could take.) I like taking pictures, but I think that when you get too concerned about taking them, you might miss things that are equally interesting, but less obvious.
Looking around, I first noticed a building where actual people lived. Then I saw the amazing shutters on the windows. In America window shutters are typically for ornamentation. I don’t know of anyone who actually uses them for anything. Most everyone has forgotten that there used to be a purpose for shutters. But here in Florence, some of the shutters were open, which to me is not unusual. What struck me was that other shutters were closed! And they appeared to have hinges so that only the lower part of the shutters could be raised, while the top part stayed shut. In addition, some of the slats were open, while others were closed. I began to speculate what this could mean. Was the building air conditioned? Probably not. So did it keep the room cooler, yet dark by placing the shutters in this position? Now as I looked closer, I thought I saw a fan in one of the windows. Thoroughly mystified by these unanswered questions, I considered asking the guide, but I thought she would find this impertinent, not to mention off the topic. Still, I was so intrigued that I found myself turning toward these buildings and taking pictures of the shutters. A person standing next to me asked me what I was doing. I pointed out the shutters, and this person had never seen shutters like these either. First she said, “Wow”, then she nudged her husband to look, and then both of them started taking pictures of the shutters. Word of mouth being what it is, the next thing you know about ten people were taking pictures of the shutters. By now the local tour guide was becoming annoyed because about half of the group was no longer paying attention to her commentary. She cleared her throat, crossed her arms, glared, and asked for everyone’s attention. What could be more interesting to tourists than her comments? Slowly I came back to the everyday world and listened with moderate interest to her words. Yet I was haunted by those ingenious people who knew how to make the most of their shutters.
When the tour of Florence was over, I lingered and found many other interesting places throughout the city. Among other things I walked to the extremely busy Ponte Vecchio where I found a spot to look out over the river. And I might have done some shopping there, too. All around were large crowds of people strolling, eating, shopping, and taking pictures. I wondered if this was just a typical day in Florence. I then took a side street, then another, to see where people who actually live there might go. I found a gelato shop and since I now knew how to ask for one using my limited Italian, I got a cone with two scoops! I would like to add that two scoops in Italy is equivalent to a child’s portion in America. As it turns out, while I was learning some words in Italian, I practiced saying “I would like…” and “Where is…?” Knowing those phrases really helped me when I was there.
While I was on my wonderfully comprehensive trip I visited many other cities and towns in Italy. I saw the canals of Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and cliffs in Sorrento. The trip was as memorable as I could have wished for. But now I had to add to my list of iconic, must see attractions in Italy: The Coliseum, aqueducts, and the shutters of Florence. When you have the chance to visit Florence, be sure to study them yourself.