friday morning we packed an overnight bag and took off for florence. it is just a short fifteen minute walk to the train station, and then an hour and twenty minute ride into florence. from the station we took a short cab ride to the lungarno hotel. each time we have been in florence before, we have stayed at the excelsior, but on the recommendation of a friend we tried the lungarno. what a wonderful surprise. the hotel sits directly on the arno, just across the river from the excelsior. it is a small, eighty room hotel, recently renovated and is beyond luxurious. we were greeted as if we were long time customers and were told immediately, on checking in, that we were being upgraded to a room with a river view. heaven!
since it was lunch time, we did what we do best (or i should say what oward does best) and ferreted out the best restaurant to go for lunch. Cammillo’s. just a short stroll from our hotel. we shared a porcini and parmesan salad and then each had our own pasta and a glass or two of proseco. then, back to our glorious room for a tiny nap. after an hour’s sleep we woke up to prepare for our true reason for being in florence. we were going to the Grand Synagogue for kol nidre services.
armed with his trusty map, oward set off to lead us to the temple. “shouldn’t we take a cab?” i asked as i eyed the route he had pointed out on the map. “no way. it’s just a short walk. we go up here, then turn left for a bit, and then turn right and then left and then right. it shouldn’t take any time at all”. of course oward was not wearing heels, and no time at all turned into a thirty-five minute walk. we knew we were close when we saw Italian soldiers armed with uzzi’s. when we asked for the synagogue, the soldier pointed around the corner. as we turned the corner we saw a long line which we joined. we met some people who had come from melbourne and chicago. the line was only for visitors, not temple members. when we finally reached the head of the line we were taken into a small room where our passports were checked, we were wanded, and required to leave our cell phones with them. after we exited the room we were on the grounds of the synagogue. it is a magnificent building. built in 1876 it is done entirely in a moorish style, reflecting the roots of the sephardic community that had first settled in florence. during the war the nazi’s had used the temple as a stable for their horses. before they departed florence, they booby trapped the building with the intent to blow it up after they left. fortunately, the italian resistance got wind of their plans and were able to disable almost all the explosives, with only a little damage occurring.
when we entered the synagogue oward immediately donned a yarmulke and tallis and disappeared into the sanctuary. i was given the choice of sitting in a side gallery or up three flights of stairs to the other section reserved for women. i chose the side gallery. this section was separated from the men by a chest high wall and above the wall was affixed a lattice like fence. you could see through it but not very clearly. since the women were so excluded, very few of them prayed, they just sat and talked. i met two very nice sisters, russians, who were living in chicago and were traveling together to celebrate a special birthday. the sister sitting closest to me was very chatty, and by the end of the service i swear i knew more about her than i do my own sister.
one of the many interesting things about this synagogue is that it was built in such a way that the rabbi, just praying in a normal voice, without a microphone, could be heard anywhere in the enormous building. it truly was a lovely service and when it ended a nice young woman in the office called a taxi for us. i would like to lie and say that we were fasting, but hey, we were in florence and there were too many great restaurants yet to be tried. i hope god understands.
we had a reservation at a restaurant called 13 gobbi. when we arrived, there was a crowd standing outside. mostly young and very beautiful people. the woman at the door told us there would be a ten minute wait. we were fine with that, happy to be standing among the gorgeous people and just watching. suddenly, out of nowhere, an extremely handsome young man came up to me and said, in excellent english, “Please, madame, sit here” and he gestured to the one available chair outside the restaurant. the chair was, at that moment, being occupied by his very beautiful young wife who immediately stood as we approached. i told him it was not necessary, but he insisted. two minutes later we were seated. after our first glass of wine, i said to oward that, in spite of the fact that we walk between five and seven miles a day, and run up and down the forty steps to our apartment at least three times a day, we are still old. it suddenly dawned on me that the thing i objected to in every photograph that oward took of me was not that it didn’t look like me, as i thought, it was that the photo looked exactly like me, an old me! that was quite a shock. after a yummy dinner of steak florentine it was back to our hotel for the best night’s sleep since we have arrived in italy.
the next morning, after a croissant and juice in the room, we took off to explore. we found a small shop selling beautiful, hand carved wooden objects and ended up buying two lovely items which we shipped home. next to angela caputi for a little piece of beautiful jewelry that she is so famous for and then of course lunch. if it seems like we are eating a lot, you are right. and when we are not eating, we are talking about food. at least mr. oward is talking about food. i am mainly listening. the good news is that, since we walk so many miles a day, so far the jeans still fit. we always say that in lucca, if you want to eat, you have to walk. even in the pouring rain. and, for some reason, here that rain doesn’t feel like a problem.
after lunch, we decided it was time to head back to lucca. as much as we love florence, the crowds and heat got to be too much. living in lucca qualifies us as small town people and we were happy to leave the big city and return home.