We arrived in Florence at the Santa Maria Novella (S.M.N. for short) train station on Sunday (wow, really just a week ago?) in a pouring rain. Soaking. Steady. We had 3 suitcases, 2 carry-ons and no free hands for an umbrella. I knew our hotel was just a block or so away from the station, but no one could tell us exactly how to get there...they tried, but we could not understand. The S.M.N. Train station has an underground maze of tunnels and shops. It is a handy underpass for Santa Maria Novella Square. It was also a crowded refuge from the rain. After a series of false starts in and out of the rain, my husband finally took the plunge and went to find our hotel while I waited in the tunnel, people watching, sketching graffiti and staying dry. A soggy 1/2 hour later (he was still too cheap, or was it macho, to buy one of the 3 Euro umbrellas that every Giacomo, Paolo & Antonio was out there selling). He finally returned and reported that it was just 1/2 block away. By then, the rain had slowed to a drizzle so we rolled our bags with difficulty over the uneven stone streets and sidewalks to Bellevue House our 4th floor "oasis, a peaceful time-warp" according to Rick Steve's Italy. He was right.
Bellevue House resides on the top of an antique palace called "Palazzo Riblet". In the 16th century it was originally a convent. Hauling my teaching suitcase up all those stairs was no fun (for Buddy), but the place was warm and welcoming and made the effort worthwhile. (When you make plans months earlier to stay on the 4th floor of a romantic Italian palace, you tend not to think suitcases will be a problem. But at the end of a wet and weary morning, well...) Throughout the towns of Tuscany, we had always wondered what lay behind all those ornate doors. Now we knew. We were rewarded for our climb with the vision of a beautiful frescoed ceiling.
By the time we got our bags upstairs, checked in and dried off, the rain had slowed to a spit, so we set out to explore the city. One of my must sees in Florence was the Official Perfumery di Santa Maria Novella. Rick Steves said it was "thick with the lingering aroma of centuries of spritzes." I had read A Scented Palace and was quite taken with the history and chemistry of perfume. Because so many things are closed on Sundays or Mondays, and because our time was short, I planned for easily obtainable tourist attractions. The Perfumery was right across the street from our hotel. The guide book said it was closed Sunday, but someone stepped out, so we stepped in. Good thing, because it turned out to be closed Monday, which is when I had planned to go. Tomorrow, I'll take you inside.