It was love between Florence and me at first sight, and the fascination lasted for thirty-six years. I heard about Florence in conversation with another traveler during
my first European trip in 1979. It was one of those conversations where I got caught up in the excitement of someone else's experience. "You must see Florence. It's beautiful. Being there is a life-changing experience." I believed him, and I am still
enjoying the treasures of this beautiful city today. It is one of those places where you can never get enough of the food, the art, the history, the surrounding environment, the people, and the adventure that you can find there. This article will focus on
some experiences I enjoyed over three days in Florence, but first, I must share some background so that you get the full flavor of my story.
The food was the aspect of Florence that first caught my attention. It was not that the other beauties were
not evident, but every night, I would sit down to eat a multi-course dinner and was swept away by the flavors, the creativity, and the joy associated with having dinner. Let me give you a taste of what I mean. During my first trip to Florence, my new
girlfriend and I went to eat dinner at a Trattoria on one of the back streets in town. We walked in, got seated, and reviewed the menu. The mixed pasta dish looked good as an appetizer, so we decided to start there and work our way through the
main course to the desert. What we expected was an assortment of pasta served with meat sauce. What we received was very different. The waiter brought a plate of Tagliatelli pasta with tomatoes and basil in a meat sauce. We enjoyed it but thought that it did
not seem very mixed. The server cleared our dishes, to our pleasant surprise, and brought some tortellini in a cream sauce with broccoli. He repeated his routine; this time, it was a serving of linguine in clam sauce. As we finished the linguine,
we realized what the restaurant meant by mixed pasta. We had six servings of different types of pasta in an assortment of sauces. We were delighted, but when the waiter returned and asked us to order a meat course, we surrendered, "No mas, no more." We were
packed and bursting at the seams but happy. We had just spent another beautiful evening in Florence.
Four of the five times I visited Florence,
I stayed at the Hotel Balestri. The Hotel Balestri, a sophisticated boutique hotel that overlooks the Arno river, is a 3-minute walk from the Uffizi Gallery, 500 meters from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and a stone's throw from the Piazza Del Signoria,
the main square in Florence, where tourist convened at night to have fun. I filled my days in Florence with photography. I would sit at the feet of the local artists as they sketched tourists in the corridor between the Arno and the Piazza Del Signoria, right
in front of the Uffizi Gallary. This passage was a good place because it seems like the world passed through on its way to see the art, enjoy entertainment, shop, or relax. One evening, as I sat capturing pictures of entertainers and families getting portraits
of their loved ones, a stunning young black woman showed up. She was tall and slim with rose-red lips and big eyes. I could hear a stir among the artists as she moved around. Every artist wanted to sketch this exotic beauty, so I seized the opportunity
to play the black card since I was the only black man. "Hello! How are you? I am Baron from New York. Where are you from?" She smiled and answered, "I am from Houston, Texas, and I am traveling with my mother." I met her mom and found out she was also
a marketing representative from IBM. I worked for IBM too. This connection relaxed her, and we became immediate friends, and I introduced her to my favorite artist, who was excited to make his sketch of her.
Florence is a magical city for me,
with so many delightful experiences. As I walked off a train from Milan and was exiting the train station in Firenze, I heard someone scream, "Baron Stewart!" You can't imagine my surprise. I am so far away from home, and the last thing I
expected was for someone to call me by name. I looked around with my mouth wide open to see one of my ex-students from Rockland Country Day School standing there. He was on a Bike tour of Europe, and we passed each other in Florence. Another unexpected event
occurred when I spent Christmas in Florence with fifty young people on a soccer tour of Italy a few years ago. On our way to the Duomo for the Christmas mass, a bus full of men wearing Santa Claus costumes stopped in front of us. About thirty Santas formed
a ring around us and began to dance and sing the Jingle Bell Chrismas Carol. Wow! How crazy was that? However, one of my best memories of Florence was on my honeymoon when my new wife and I were invited to spend an evening with my artist friend, his brother,
and his friends in the woods outside of Florence. His brother picked us up as he was riding a German bike with a sidecar that carried a girl in a wheelchair who was seeing Europe with a friend. We drove into the Italian countryside, not knowing where
we were going but trusting that everything would work out. We arrived at a vast meadow full of people eating, drinking, and playing music. I was not sure why they were celebrating, but I found out later that this was a communist festival. I
ignored the politics and enjoyed the opportunity to see the country through the eyes of an Italian. We ended the wonderful evening listening to guitar music as bats flew by overhead which caused us to duck ever so often as they came too close.