When I accepted Mario’s kind invitation to join him in Florence for the day, with a trip to the town of Fiesole, I did not expect that my most vivid memory would be of our lunch, (save for the breathtaking Spanish Chapel at the Museo Santa Maria Novella).
Myself and my daughter met Mario bright and early on Sunday morning, and arrived in Florence just after 10am. Our ultimate destination was Fiesole where Mario wanted to Walk Out a tour itinerary to be included in the book he is currently writing: Strolling Through Florence; the Definitive Walking Guide to the Renaissance City. He needed help with the task and I was the right girl for the job. That is a slight lie actually, as Mario is one of the most efficient and capable men that I know, and if anything, I was a distraction. Suffice is to say that I went along for the sheer fun of it.
As we headed out with a plan for coffee, and were dashing past the Museo Santa Maria Novella, we both thought about my friend John, and how when he was here visiting, did not have an opportunity to see the Spanish Chapel, which he was downright glum about. We had to make an important detour for him.
As we left the chapel we both said we could have jumped right back on the train for Cortona. It was truly a feast for the eyes and I had a definite tinge of guilt that it was my eyes instead of my friend’s, marvelling at the message of Dominicans as guides to salvation.
After another detour (I was desperate to buy a book!), we hopped on the #7 bus to beautiful Fiesole. The bus lurched, and wound it’s way up and out of the city, and the fact that I was jammed far too intimately between complete strangers was forgotten as I watched Florence plummet downwards with every spin of the wheels.
The first thing on Mario’s list was lunch (a man after my own heart), and we were lucky and happened upon a lovely place called Villa Aurora. The garden of the restaurant teetered on the edge of the hillside and was quite over-canopied with Italian umbrella pine trees, whose branches gnarled around a metal overhang.
Mario was feeling like the season had changed and it was time to get into summer mode. He was hell-bent on having seafood, and a nice bottle of white wine to go along with it. He is the same man who on March 20th doffed his coat, replaced it with a t-shirt and declared winter was most definitely over! There have been plenty of chilly days since this declaration but he has refused to cover his arms out of pride and obstinacy.
Far be it for me to dissuade him, and tell him perhaps not to be disappointed if everyone was not feeling as “Summer-y” as he. Our most elegant of waiters, with crisp white shirt and stiff black apron led us to our table and handed Mario a menu. He instantly opened it and scanned it for anything sea-related. He lit up when he discovered that the restaurant had also changed seasons with him (or for him, as he liked to think).
We started our meal with a truly refreshing seafood platter which went amazingly with the perfect bottle of white wine Mario insisted on splurging on. It was a hot day and sitting in this garden overlooking beautiful Florence being waited on, was an indulgence of the highest order.
The food streamed to our table at a lazy summer pace, giving us time to sit and talk about how Fiesole became this little paradise perched above the metropolis.
Fiesole is an Etruscan town, which was conquered by the romans around 280 BC. An interesting fact (to me) is that it was once the location of the most important School of Augurs (Omen diviners). I could very easily imagine these roman divinity students seated on the ancient walls of the city studying the birds in the air, their flight pattern, and the noises they made as they soared. And, from their interpretations decide on matters ranging form religion to war for the government and private citizens.
The town went through all sorts of wars, changes, and long periods of peace, before being conquered by Florence who eventually realized that Fiesole was the ideal spot to build a country villa. And so it became the playground of rich Florentine families who, in a matter of an hour could be out of the noisy city, and sitting in the quietude of quaint Fiesole.
As our lunch was winding down, this garden restaurant had filled up table by table with all sorts of escapees from the city, and other far-flung places. I was very content to sit idly watching the various couples, families, and friends all dining, and drinking-in the majestic view as we were.
We were so lazy after we had our delicious meal, but decided that no matter how sluggish we felt, we had to make it to the Convento di Fiesole (monastery) at the peak of Fiesole. We slowly wound our way through a park and up the steps to the place were the 14th century monk San Bernardino da Siena had his cell. The view was vertigo inducing, as well as awesome.
The train ride home was quiet, with three exhausted passengers too tired to talk, but very content indeed.