|A Cottage by the Sea||
Good thing I chose to carry my computer in my backpack the other afternoon. I almost told myself no, but every time I leave it behind, I am sorry. This time, for sure. Here I sit in a corner in the Writers Museum, especially designated for people like me. At least that how I feel. The sign on the table in front of the couch invites me to relax and browse, but I figure writing is implied and accepted.
The museum features exhibits about Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
It is run by the Edinburg City Council and is located in the Lady Stairs House along the Royal Mile. It gives inspiration to all kinds of writers, including me, a woman, who at my stage of life, is happy blogging.
I just posted this on “On My Mind” but decided to post it here also in case some of you only check in to “A Solitary Traveler’. Seth Kugel has inspired me to try new adventures and to keep traveling.
The other evening at the library I heard a delightful talk by Seth Kugel, the New York Times’s “Frugal Traveler” from 2010 to 2016 , and author of the recently published Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious.
Seth writes as he talks, telling engaging stories, offering useful tips, and blurting out the array of valuable insights that whirl around in his hyperactive mind. Whatever our age, and however and wherever we travel, he suggests that we go off the well-beaten track and try something new.
Like me, Seth usually travels solo. Although I am a somewhat adventuress traveler, which of course one has to be when traveling alone, I’m inspired anew to wander off the tourist’s physical and psychological trampled-down path and rediscover the new and curious of Edinburgh (June 12-20). I’m ready and very grateful to be going.
I usually travel alone. I love it. My husband is a homebody, and besides, someone has to keep the home fires burning and the grass mowed!
This spring I spent a week alone in my beloved Florence before my daughter and granddaughter joined me for five nights and then three in Rome.
One of my companions when I am alone in Florence is Il Porcellino. He listens to whatever I tell him and never talks back. The perfect companion.
Nickname Il Porcellino by the Florentines, he guards the Mercato Vecchio, the old market right in the center of Florence. Visitors drop a coin in a slot at his feet and pat his snout for good luck and assurance that they will return to Florence. It’s not a habit that I’ve participated in; I seem to have returned to this city without his help. This doesn’t mean I don’t love Il Porcellino; it’s just not a superstition in which I chosen to participate.
This trip I visited him at different times throughout the day: in the early morning when the vendors are setting up their carts, during the busy tourist times, in the evening when the carts are being hauled away for the night, and later when the portico is vacant.
I’ve seen people taking turns having their picture taken with him.
I’ve seen a guard push coins down the slot after calling out a gypsy to stop stealing them.
Hans Christian Andersen writes about him in “The Brown Hog.”
“In the city of Florence, there is a beautifully crafted bronze pig. Fresh, clear water flows from the mouth of the animal, which has become dark green due to its age. Only the snout shines, as it had been polished.”
I’ve enjoyed a solitude moment with him.
Best of all, I shared him with my granddaughter.
Today I took a solitary trip to the Museum of Russian Icons, in Clinton, eighteen miles and thirty-five minutes from my house. I had planned to take pictures, but upon arriving I discovered I had left my phone at home. What good news that turned out to be; no distractions. I was free to look. And since I was alone, it was just me and the icons.
More good news: I had the entire second floor of the museum to myself for the entire visit.
I’ve thought about returning just to take pictures, but why do that? I've saved a few from previous visits.
It is three days after Christmas, and in some ways I feel the holiday is over. Since we spent the holidays our daughter’s, we did nothing to decorate our house; consequently we have no decorations to put away.
If I were still in Florence, however, I would know that Christmas continues until Epiphany on January 6th. I would know because every evening I would walk along the Arno and watch “Firenze Light Festival: F-Light Your Mind.” I would continue to be in awe of the lights, colors and patterns flashed on the Ponte Vecchio. I would know, and I would be a peace as a solitary traveler.
Last month I posted “Signs of a Solitary Travel” from my trip to Rome, Assisi, and Cortona in April. Little did I know that so soon I’d be offering a sequel. But here I am again, this time in Florence for two weeks in December, finding new signs to share.
Signs are everywhere, and as a solitary traveler I’m particularly alert to what I see. Without a human travel companion, I become my virtual companion. I laugh with myself, and even express compassion as I breathe in the humor or poignancy of a sign.
1. Locks of love
The sign on the fence of the statue of Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio tells us that we will be fined 50 Euro if we attach a lock to the fence. And yet, we continue to do so. Over the years I have seen the fence in all states of fullness and emptiness. Lovers aren’t going to stop offering up these acts of love. Why should they when the world needs to lock love in.
Up date: They started early in the morning to get rid of the locks of love.
A few hours later.
At 2 o'clock
The next morning I witnessed new locks starting the cycle of love all over again.
2. Offerings for the Sick and the Poor
Drop your offering in the slit in the wall of the La Misericordia di Firenze on the Piazza del Duomo. This lay confraternity, with its commitment to transport the sick and bury the dead, dates back to the 13th century. I wonder if people still drop a coin in from time to time? Nowadays, individuals beg in person on the street, but the ambulance service remains active.
3. The Flood of 1966
Throughout the city there are signs indicating the point where the Arno reached during the last flood. Sometimes I can’t believe how high the waters rose nor how miraculously people rallied to clean up the mud and debris and restore the works of art.
Santa Croce sits lower than the river bed of the Arno; it suffered the most damage.
The extraordinary restoration of Cimabue's damaged Crucifix.
Flood levels at the Pazzi Chapel at Santa Croce. The highest is from 1966. The lowest, 1844.
4. Refugees (and dogs) Welcome
Of course I had to enter and have a cappuccino and do a little writing. I hardly consider myself a refugee, but I knew I’d be welcomed.
5. Opening time at the Uffizi?
Sometimes it’s the translation that attracts my attention! Officially the Uffizi is scheduled to open at 8:30, Tuesday through Sunday. But this Tuesday it could be open 11:15. Or maybe not.
There’s nothing remarkable about a T shirt with “Silence” written across the front. Except that the price for this shirt was 100 euro ($120).
When I saw Michele’s becoming smile, I smiled right back. Becoming is alive and well in Italy as I’m sure it is in many other countries throughout the world. Michele’s message speaks the universal language of love, inclusivity and peace that we strive for.
8. Tactile signs
Adjacent to Fra Angelico’s Annunciation in the Convent of San Marco is a three dimensional model of the fresco. A description in braille is also offered.
The Uffizi provides a similar aid in front of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
9. David is not here.
You can find Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia at Via Ricasoli, 60. Evidently enough people look for him at the Academia di Belle Arti e Liceo Artistico down the street at # 66 to warrant this sign.
10. Some signs need no explanation.
11. One step at a time
Sometimes I wonder why I’m here and how I got here.
12. Always a hopeful sign.
‘Don’t miss that bus stop! Don’t forget to punch your train ticket! Don’t be late for your reservation to climb the Duomo! Follow the signs to the Sistine Chapel!’ There is much to look out for when traveling alone.
Being a solitary traveler keeps my eyes open; there is no one with me to share the travel guide responsibility. I am it and I love the responsibility. It keeps me sharp. For the past twenty years I’ve been swinging on my backpack and dragging my suitcase to Italy.
Traveling solo isn’t better than traveling with a companion; it’s just different. I must admit, however that it is better for me. I love to step out of my busy life and be by myself for a couple of weeks. I’m not getting away from anything; I’m just doing something different, and getting renewed to return to my busy life at home. My husband loves to stay home, and loves that I go.
Traveling solo doesn’t lend itself to the give and take discussion with a companion, but it does open my eyes to more than just making the right train or bus connection, booking an important reservation, or following the signs to a famous spot. It keeps me looking in vivid ways because I am not distracted by someone else’s noticing. Consequently my own sense of observation is heightened.
On my trip two trips to Italy this year I became aware of interesting signs as I wandered the streets of Rome, Assisi, Cortona, and Florence. Hilarious, serious and note-worthy, all worthy of a smile, a noticing, and a photograph. I’m not certain they would have caught my eye had I not been alone. Here they are; some need a translation or explanation, some speak for themselves.
1. I came across this while searching for a restaurant in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. I usually don’t go for a tourist menu, but I’m not against them. I am, however, against war; I may even be a pacifist. But regardless of any well-thought out opinion on the topic, walking these quaint streets on a spring evening would make anyone hate war and enjoy wine by the glass.
2. This sign was across from the restaurant that I settled upon. How welcoming; just come on in and we’ll fix you up. I can state unequivocally that I will never get a tattoo, but if I change my mind, maybe I’ll return to that place in Trastevere and ask the artist to choose just the right tattoo for me and create it on the perfect spot on my body.
3. When the books explaining Trump were first coming out, it was April and I was Rome. Here was Sound and Fury prominently displayed in front of the Largo di Torre Argentina bus stop. It caught my attention.
4. While wandering somewhere off the beaten tourist trail in Rome I came across a billboard advertising a free concert featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. What could be better than a Sunday evening concert at 6 PM at the Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill just a few block from where I was staying? The church will packed to hear the full orchestra and chorus.
5. This understated sign in Assisi needs no comment.
6. A different kind of sign that also needs no comment.
7. The carousel in the piazza in front of the church of St. Clare in Assisi invites the young and old. “Antique merry-go-round for children and adults.”
I must add this loving, welcoming photo message.
8. Peace and silence upon entering the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi.
9. In the pouring rain I hiked to the Basilica of Santa Margherita, the highest point of the hill town of Cortona, to be delighted by an area for children right in the sanctuary. The translation made me smile, and I noted that the children were not asked to help put away the toys.
10. This sign greeted me at the entrance to the Orti di Pinti, a communal organic garden in Florence. As an elderly, solitary traveler, I went there to get away from the crowds to read, write, and BE.
How unfortunate that people need a sign to reminds them to be kind to me. I shake my head at the implication that the elderly are ill, that elderly equals infirm. Or, does the sign mean that people have to watch out for the elderly if they are ill? Or, are we being asked to give free passage to the elderly or infirm? No one knows how to categorize us elderly/old folks. No one knows what to do with us. I’d say, watch out, give us a wide birth.
11. Yes, see you soon Firenze. I can’t wait.
12. Signs in my neighbor and front yard welcoming me home.
Two weeks from today I will be settled into my beloved Florence for two weeks as a solitary traveler. I will have arrived on Saturday Dec. 1st; on Sunday I will have visited the Bardini Museum. “Why the Bardini?” you ask. Because, unlike all the famous museums in Florence, it won’t have a long entrance line on this first Sunday of the month when throughout Italy all museums offer free admission. The Bardini, a secret gem of a museum housing the eclectic collection of antiquarian collector Stefano Bardini ((1854-1922), will not be crowded.
This will be the third December in a row that I’ve visited Florence, so I know what to expect. The city is festive, active, full of positive energy. Craft, antique, and food fairs fill every church piazza. On December 8th, the Day of the Immaculate Conception, the tree in front of the Duomo is lit.
As a solitary traveler I never feel lonely during this Christmas season in Florence. I smile as I pass families and friends on the streets. I have left mine at home and will be returning to them. But for now, I cherish being my own companion.
Sometimes I am very grateful to be a solitary traveler. This morning I didn’t have to put into words the beauty before me as I walked along the Arno on my way to my first cappuccino of the day.
What is the purpose of life? How do I make meaning? Questions asked by human beings throughout history. For those of us consciously following a spiritual path the answer always leads toward some form of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as they would do unto you. Regardless of one’s faith tradition, the idea of God appears, because without some mysterious power beyond ourselves, we only work for ourselves, and thus fail to create beauty and good, which have to be part of a sustainable purpose.
That’s what I’ve been considering as I, a solitary traveler, walk the streets of Florence. I have no way of knowing the part God consciously plays in the lives of the people I pass, but I believe that they are trying to make meaning of their lives, and that there is a God plan for everyone.
This city attracts the artist, in particular the painter and sculptor, and less obviously, the architect. The painter can carry her supplies around until she finds a spot to practice her art. He can take a painting class. Some sell their work along the tourist trails.
Along the street we are less apt to observe the sculptor working his craft. Her supplies are cumbersome and complicated, so she works behind closed doors until the final product is recognized and displayed in public—perhaps in a temporary exhibit by Koenig in the Boboli Gardens, or permanently along the Arno.
The process of the architect is more mysterious and less visible until we see the final product arise before out eyes. Can you imagine being a citizen of Florence while Brunelleschi was dome grew before your eyes?
Whether conscious of God or not, I believe these artists are creating for something beyond themselves, for some beauty or truth that transcends their personal, intiment desires.
I love to travel alone, and so I do. My husband of 54 years loves to stay home and garden, and so he does. But he knows I love to go off by myself for extended periods of time. For five years (2009-2014) I rented a cottage by the sea, an hour and a half from our home, and spent the weekdays there alone. For the past twenty years I’ve been traveling by myself, primarily to Scotland (Iona, the Highlands, and Edinburgh) and Italy. When I say Italy I really mean Florence, with occasional short stops and excursions around Tuscany and Umbria and to Rome.