If I’m not reading stories, I’m trying to live them, and there’s no better place to do that than while traveling. I’m not so much seeking escape as looking for a going-to. No matter how long I’m in a new place, I want to feel like I live there.
That’s harder for me in the big hotel chains in the United States, but living my dream, bit by bit, is far more possible in places like Florence. The last time the Youthful Adventurer and I were there, we walked from the train station, rolling our suitcases along the ancient sidewalks to Hotel Alessandra, then up the stairs to the tiny elevator, and then up to the second floor (which was the third, in my mind) to a charming safe harbor.
Our street-front windows allow us to watch the tourists below; we linger over breakfasts and savor our coffee; I’m grateful the Youthful Adventurer has managed to abandon his penchant for too sweet cereals during our time here. We are in the breakfast room when I meet a woman from London who in the space of 20 minutes tells me all about contemporary politics in the UK and the specialized tour she is taking in Florence to learn all about Galileo. I am reminded that all of the beautiful churches we are visiting on this trip can’t mask the misdeeds of some of their leaders. The threat of science to the Church seems remote to my life, but it wasn’t to Galileo, who managed to rile religion with his ideas that the Earth revolves around the sun. The Church didn’t kill him, but Galileo was accused of heresy, tried, convicted, and sentenced to house arrest.
I’d never have learned all of this in a large hotel, where I would have sat, alone or with my son, and not talked to strangers. It’s the smaller experiences, the kind you can get in inexpensive, unpretentious, old hotels, those build in the 1500s, that make the trip.