Florence

During a trip abroad, at the end, all you truly have is your family. And, you’re grateful. I will explain below.

On our last full day in Italy, Saturday, we walk a great deal on ancient cobblestones and past structures and monuments that are both richly detailed and towering.

We visit some museums. The DaVinci paintings are stunning. Michaelangelo’s iconic statue of David is a contradiction, at once graceful and powerful and expressing both ease and tension.

I eat two lunches. After a great meal of artisanal pizza, I walk by a porchetteria and just had to sample its wares. A whole-roasted pig on display and a sandwich filled with crispy skin, succulent meat and hot sauce? Why, yes, please.

We later go to the Cathedral. On Saturday nights, they close the doors early to tourists, and there is an evening Mass in English at a side chapel. There are about 40 of us, a small group in one of the most beautiful and massive buildings I’ve ever seen.

For dinner, we visit one of the popular restaurants in Florence, a very small place where the dining is casual and the proprietor takes great care to explain why there are only 15 dishes on his menu and why the Brunello we’ve ordered is special.

Episodically, I miss the people from our Backroads cycling trip, the leaders and the other families. Continuously, I feel electricity in my legs after biking so many miles over six days.

And, every so often, I feel melancholy that the trip is ending and that my children are leaving the house. I want to hold fiercely to these precious few days when our whole family is together.

There really is something special about Tuscany’s people, food and wine. I will miss all of it: the hot sun, copious Italian cold cuts and cheeses, robust red wines, green hills, and genuine smiles and warm greetings from local merchants.

I will miss how happy people are when I fumble through my basic Italian and the endless pride that restaurant owners have in their work. I will miss how the setting sun coats the buildings in gold light just so and how the start of a cool evening breeze cuts through the heat and humidity, refreshing an entire city.

The rest of the family decides to skip dessert, and I go alone for gelato. I decide to walk along the river, slowly and intently, absorbing the last evening’s details as my mind already begins to slide back into everyday reality.

In the end, when the vacation ends, it is just you and your family going to the airport. You leave behind all the people whom you’ve met: the hotel people, restaurant owners, gelateria staff and fellow cyclists.

And, yet, you don’t feel lonely; your family is with you. You’re grateful for the intimacy and bonds that you hope will always be there. You go home and take with you your family but, also, an endless mental stream of new memories and sensations.

You leave Italy, but bits of it follow you home. And, you love and cherish them all. You hope that they will help propel you when challenges again arise in your daily life, when the New England winter again bites cruelly hard and the days are short and cold.

I already want to return one day.

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