12 December 2017 – I had arrived early onto the platform at Gare-de-Lyon, to catch the 10:40 AM train to Milan. Leaving Paris is difficult. Leaving Paris for Italy makes everything easier. Italy is like France. Except cheap, sunny and more emotional. I tracked down a comfortable seat by the window, opened chapter Six of The High Mountains of Portugal by Yan Martel and drifted into a book that I began to increasingly not understand.
The train had passed Lyon, now close to the French-Italian broader when I received my first few sights of the French Alps. It had began to snow heavily but for brief minutes, through which the shards of rock towering above rivers and wide lakes could be marveled. The mist hovered above the rivers and homesteads, blending into the chimney smoke. The mountains were rough, sharp, cutting deep into the mist.
The train stopped in the boarder town of Fourneaux. The snow must have at lest come up to about one meter deep. French soldiers searched the train, inspecting documentation and luggage. “Est-ce votre valise?” His eyes darting towards me. “Ouioui” I replied waving my book up in the air. All of the passengers within the car had their passport’ inspected. But not mine. I must have appeared quite the Frenchman.
After a late lunch in the restaurant car, with a warm cappuccino gazing out into the snowstorm, I had arrived into Italy. I had not returned to the country since childhood. I was curious to see how, if at all, Italy had changed. For a time I had lived as a child in a farmhouse up above a small Tuscan town named Incisa in Valdarno, which is situated about twenty minutes South of Florence. On my way to Rome I was interested to visit the town and reconnect with old friends. Therefore, I booked accommodation in Florence with knowledge that in order to reach Florence from Paris in one day would be long hours traveling across Europe.
Travel by train gives one time to think, read and think some more. In this respect a train is quite different to a plane, where passengers are fixated at blue screens wasting away. Why was I here? Alone on a train moving through the French Alps? Perhaps it was necessary to think about what I truly wanted to achieve in my life. Perhaps I put too deep of a trust into the film Before Sunrise and had a real faith that I would meet a smiling french girl on the seat beside me reading the same book.
The Train had passed Turin and had arrived in Milan at about 6 30 PM. Pulling into Milan Garibaldi station. At this point I ran in circles for a train to Florence. Finally, after a heated exchange with a grumpy conductor, using my mostly forgotten Italian, I discovered that in fact Garibaldi Station does not connect on to Florence! I needed to head to Milano Centrale Station. Catching the metro, arriving into Milano Centrale I successfully booked a first-class ticket to Florence departing Milan approximately 8 PM.
10 PM- Arrived at Santa Maria Novella Station, Florence. Dragging my suitcase out onto the familiar streets of my childhood. The air was much warmer. The snowfalls were only limited to Turin and its surroundings. After checking into accommodation I found the need for a midnight passeggiata around the city. Florence must be one of the most beautiful cities in the word. The most remarkable quality is how small the city actually is. It’s a large town.
Florence by midnight is at it’s most authentic. Hoards of Italian teenagers converse for gossip around the gelato shops in the Piazzas surrounding il Dumo. The American tourists are also a never-ending noise in the posh overpriced wine bars. In the Piazza of the Uffizi Gallery there was a cellist and violinist. The Ponte Vecchio empty. One or two couples on a romantic weekend walking alongside the river Arno.
13 December – Morning breakfast out on the terrace with views across the city. Although not warm, it was possible to drink the coffee outside in the fresh air. Back on the train and arrived in Incisa a little before midday. I had lunch with Domenico, a good friend in a villa no less than 200 meters than my old villa. Across the other side of the farmland, between the olive groves and vineyard was a international house for young people. I was greeted with bottles of limoncello and guitar jams into the night. Even a bed was provided
Photography courtesy of Callum Osborne who arrived in Florence shortly after I sadly left.