After saying goodbye to my husband, and walking through the airport by myself, I already felt a newfound bravery within me. I went through security, and felt relieved (that’s never fun). I found a quiet place to eat, and began to realize already that this is all new to me . . . ever since I’ve been married to Josh (we celebrated 7 years of marriage this past April!) . . . he has been with me on my travels 90% of the time. I missed him already, but I also felt an independence that I hadn’t felt in many years. At this point, I was trying not to think too much about me stepping on the plane in a couple of hours, and so I distracted myself by playing solitaire and Tetris on my phone . . . exciting stuff! Not really, but I was doing whatever I could to not feel too nervous and anxious!
The time finally came to get on the plane.
I found my seat and was still pretty calm. I have flying anxiety, and so as soon as the plane started speeding down the runway, I felt my palms start sweating and my body felt weak and shaky. It was a LONG flight. I felt like I was never able to fully relax, but that my body was tense and trembling off and on. Still, I had to just push through it (I had no other choice!) and so when we made our first stop in Madrid, Spain, I felt slightly relieved that I had made it this far. There was a huge group of people, fellow Americans, that were all traveling together with a tour company. I rode on the underground tram to the other terminal alongside these people, and I felt comfort in their company. I was still anxious as a cat, but they were talking to me and they were amazed when I told them I was traveling solo. One lady even said she would never be brave enough to do that. That boosted my confidence in myself, which I believe I was needing at that point, because my nerves were on high alert.
I went through customs and eventually this group of people parted ways with me, and I felt a little sad. They were starting their tour somewhere in Spain, and a part of me felt a little bit alone for a moment. It was almost like a marathon . . . one thing on to the next, and you just have to self-talk the whole way through until you make it to the finish line.
After another 2 1/2 hour flight, my heart started racing with excitement as we started descending. That’s my favorite part of the flight, is when you can feel the plane start its descent, and of course, my absolute favorite moment is when we land. I let out a big sigh of relief when the wheels hit the tarmac.
I stepped out of the plane and into the fresh air and looked around me at the hills. I was in Italy! I was in Tuscany! I was in Florence! I had made it!
There is nothing like the feeling when you arrive at your destination. Especially when you have never been there before. I can always literally FEEL the adrenaline in my body and a feeling in my chest like it could burst! I just want to jump around and dance! The anxiety left my body and I was smiling so big and smiling at everyone I passed by.
I grabbed my suitcase from the conveyor belt, and then stepped outside to go find a taxi. I stood in line and waited for mine. This was another first for me. I have never ridden in a taxi by myself. It was like every little step was a huge accomplishment for me and boosted my confidence. As I rode in the backseat, I looked out the window and felt like a little kid again. I listened to the driver talking on the phone in a foreign language, Italian, and it all began to sink in of where I was at and what I was doing. I felt so giddy!
The taxi finally arrived at my hotel, the Grand Hotel Baglioni, and as I walked up to the front door, I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. It was absolutely beautiful. So elegant and sophisticated looking. And I was right in the middle of the city, which made the hotel’s location a perfect spot to just walk out your door and go explore the city.
I checked in and felt like I was treated like royalty. There were frescoes on the walls of the lounge area, where I relaxed with some aperitivos after my very long journey to get there. The hotel had an old world charm to it. I loved it.
My hotel room was quaint, but cozy and comfortable. It had a stained glass window and wooden beams on the ceiling.
At this point, I became overwhelmed. I could hear all the city noise through my window and I desperately wanted to go see the Duomo. But, fear set in. Anxiety welled up within me and I felt overwhelmed.
I had to call my husband. I told him I didn’t know what to do . . . should I just relax in my room (it was about 3:00 pm in the afternoon at this point, by the way), or should I go start exploring? I was finding every excuse in the book to stay inside my comfortable hotel room (it was raining, was one excuse) but thank goodness for my husband. I had woken him up from his sleep, but that man still gave it his all to encourage me. He said, “Go explore the city!” Fear can keep your feet glued to the floor. Glued to where you are at in the moment . . . where you are in life. But, after talking to him, I mustered up the courage to walk out my door.
I didn’t know where to go. How do you solve that? Ask questions. I asked the hotel concierge where the Duomo was, and he said to just turn left outside the hotel and walk down the street. Sounded easy to me.
When you push through and cast your fears and anxieties aside, and do what you are afraid to do, the results that can happen because of pushing through . . . well, it’s almost beyond measure. If I had stayed in my hotel room, I wouldn’t have the beautiful memory that truly warms my heart as I reflect back on it.
The rain was gently pattering down upon my umbrella, and I took my time as I walked amongst the crowd of people. I felt calm. I felt excited. The energy of the people all around me was contagious. I walked across cobblestoned streets and stepped in rain puddles, and didn’t care that my feet were almost already soaking wet. I just kept on walking. I had a goal . . . and my goal was to see the Duomo that Florence is renowned for. That I had been seeing on pictures covering my Facebook and Instagram for months before this trip.
And when, at last, I rounded the corner and saw the red Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) towering in the sky in the distance, I literally gasped out loud. Seeing it for the first time was even better than I could have possibly imagined. I was in absolute awe. It was almost larger than life. And the detail and beauty of its creation could make one want to cry. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. In that moment, I felt incandescently happy. When you work hard to get where you are going, it makes achieving that goal worth every step it took you to get there.
I stared in wonder as I walked through the Piazza del Duomo and asked strangers to take my picture for me. This city was alive. It was beautiful. Breathtaking.
After taking in the sights, sounds, and smells around me, I took my time walking back to my hotel. Again, did I mention how happy I was?
That night, I had made dinner reservations at the hotel’s restaurant, called B-Roof. I had requested a table by the window, and when I walked into the restaurant and saw the panoramic, floor to ceiling windows that had a view of all of Florence, including the Duomo, I again couldn’t help but gasp out loud. It was one of the most amazing dining experiences I’ve ever had. I’m all about views, and this view might be at the top of the list of places I’ve dined. The service was incredible. I felt like a queen. This is what I had: “Tagliatadi manzo alla griglia, fagioli all’olio e contorni di stagione” (or, in English – “seasoned, sliced grilled beef, cannellini beans in olive extra-virgin oil and vegetables in season.” Oh man, I do believe that is THE best meal I’d ever had. The steak sprinkled with sea salt and flavored to perfection was so tender it just melted in my mouth. I love to eat, by the way, and so I was in heaven as I savored every bite. The glowing candlesticks on the table added to the romantic ambiance, and my heart longed for Josh to be sitting across the table from me. It made me happy at the thought of bringing him back with me one day, and sitting at this exact table. As night settled in, the Duomo became illuminated in the dark sky. I took my time enjoying these moments, and then finally headed back to my room where I soon fell fast asleep.