A Taste of Italy Excerpt

The dewy morning air was cool against my skin as I stepped down from the train and onto the platform. Florence. Finally. After twelve hours’ travel from Paris in a less-than-fabulous first class cabin that rocked and swayed with every turn of its wheels, or so it seemed, I had finally arrived at my destination. Spending far too many sleepless hours being tossed around like a pair of panties in a spin cycle, I was thrilled to be on solid ground and desperate to get to my hotel. All I wanted was to take a hot shower and curl up in a warm bed that didn’t threaten to heave me over the side every three minutes. 
            I inhaled deeply and marched through the train terminal and out onto the empty cobblestoned streets of Italy’s famed Tuscan town. At seven a.m. on a Saturday morning, much of the city was still asleep. Or, at least, I would have been. And judging by the quiet of what my tour books had promised was a bustling metropolis, I figured the townsfolk had to be sleeping off the remnants of a festive Friday night.
            I made my way over to a taxi stand and waited for a car to take me to my hotel, which was strategically located off ofPiazza del Duomo, home to Florence’s grand cathedral,Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Or, as most people called it, the Duomo. My guidebooks assured me that it was an impressive sight, and from my position at the train station, I could even see the top of its adjoining marble tower. But according to all the Florentine travel reports I’d read, the massive dome, engineered by the famous architect, Brunelleschi, was the real spectacle to behold. But without a taxi to get me there, it appeared I would have to hoof it if I wanted to actually see it.
            Vehicles were restricted within the City of Florence to public transportation and motorscooters, so I had expected to grab a taxi upon arrival. It seemed the cabbies were all still tucked away in their beds, though, and I was going to have to find my hotel on foot. 
            I pulled out my guidebook and turned to the map of Florence. It was simplistic, but indicated the location of theDuomo and the street where my hotel resided. I set off in direction of the city’s center, dragging my wheeled luggage along the cobblestones behind me. 
            Narrow streets curved and twisted, and it was hard to know exactly in which direction I was headed. And with theDuomo’s tower disappearing behind tall stone buildings that resembled fortresses more than residences, I was quickly lost in a sea of medieval architecture. If only I had not lost my smart phone in the bowels of the Paris metro two days earlier. With that trusty little sucker, I could have pulled up the GPS. But I had to go and lose it, which meant I had to rely on my wits and my pre-techno-gadget skills.
            Finally, after a good half hour wandering aimlessly past a multitude of fashionable (but closed) retail stores like Prada, Gucci, Fendi and more, I happened upon a florist filling his cart with roses and other floral delights. I asked him for directions, using the limited Italian vocabulary I could recall from my college days spent studying romance languages. Luckily, spotting my luggage, he realized I was a tourist and spoke slowly enough that I could follow his instructions to my albergo, a former Medici family residence six centuries old that was converted to a hotel in World War II.
            I shuffled off, dragging my bags and my now very tired body toward my destination. Suddenly, the tall buildings fell away, and I emerged onto Piazza del Duomo. The sun shined brightly on the massive cathedral’s pink and green marbled exterior, and my jaw dropped open just slightly as I craned my neck to take in the entire façade of the structure. Huge, ornate bronze doors marked its entrance, and I moved closer to get a better look. Adorned with intricately depicted vignettes of the Madonna’s life, I marveled at the artistry of them. I wondered, briefly, how many Florentines passed by this doorway everyday without even a glance. 
            I lifted my gaze up beyond the marbled structure to the crowning glory, Brunelleschi’s magnificent octagonal dome, situated at the rear of the cathedral. It was indeed as impressive as I’d read. And from the description on my hotel’s website, I knew that I could view the dome from my very own room. A place I desperately needed to find, I realized, as a sudden wave of exhaustion fell over me. 
            I exited the square, finding the road that led to my eagerly awaited bed, anxious to catch up on some sleep so that I could discover Florence’s treasures unencumbered by fatigue. Passing by a florist’s shop, I spotted the door to my salvation, a small neon sign indicating “no vacancy” in Italian. 
            When I’d booked my trip to Florence, finding a hotel proved to be a much greater difficulty than I had expected. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one interested in visiting! Everything was booked for months in advance. And this trip of mine was more of an impulse getaway than a well-thought-out vacation with an actual itinerary. 
            Inspired by the sun-drenched tales of Tuscan romances and stories of jaunty Parisian affairs, I had set out, foolishly, on a journey that I’d hope would be filled with titillating adventures with handsome European men all wining and dining their way into my heart (and hopefully my pants). 
            I was fairly deluded when I’d come up with this plan.
            Having spent the last five years of my life slaving away in the corporate tax world, climbing up the ladder and fulfilling all my career goals, I had been so focused on work that I’d barely had time for martini nights with my girlfriends, let alone dating. And I’d gotten pretty fed up with the severe lack of fun and romance filling my days, so I decided something needed to change. But having been so buttoned-up for the last half decade that even my vibrator was feeling deprived, I knew it was going to take a major adjustment to kick-start my love life.  
            Unwilling to wait for a boyfriend to come along, sweep me off my feet, and invite me to Paris on a dreamy holiday, I just packed my bags and went in search of my own romantic adventures. Plus, I had just turned thirty a couple of weeks earlier, and what better birthday present could I give myself than a romp through Europe’s most illustrious cities? 
Carly Simpson, I’d promised myself, you will not come back to L.A. without at least one good European shag.