My 50th Was Approaching…

There I was in beautiful Florence. My 50th birthday was approaching in a few more days.  What to do, where to dine? How to make it a special day in a place in which every moment seemed special? I still was not even able to believe that I was in Florence, Italy, and that I was free to do as I wished.

I knew one thing for certain–I wanted to see Michelangelo’s David on my birthday.  I had seen him before and it had been love at first sight.  If you have seen him-you know.


If you have not, I must tell you that every person that I have ever witnessed viewing David has had a look of awe and appreciation of unbelievable beauty upon their face. It does not seem to matter whether it is a student of art history or some dude who is being dragged along on a tour with his wife.  They all have a certain look on their face when they behold the David!


There is so much history and lore about David.  I would love to tell all that I know, and I would love to know more than I do, but I will highlight a bit here so as not to write a tome in a blog post!

David created a sensation when he was unveiled over 500 years ago. For nearly four centuries he resided outdoors in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Florentine city hall. Weather and hostility against government threatened The David, and since the late 19th century he has resided in a protected environment in the Accademia in Florence.


I knew that going to see David again would make my day special.

I had a few other plans for the day, but none for the evening thus far. The only people that I “knew’ in my first few days in Florence were the folks at the little wine bar that I had discovered on my first evening there.  I figured that they would know some good “local” restaurants that would be nice, and so I ventured there to enquire.




Hail Storm in Florence…

hailAn extreme hail storm hit my beloved city of Florence on Friday, causing several museums to shut down while damage is assessed.  It is estimated that there is overall damage of one and a half million euros.

There has been damage to some of the stained glass windows, flooding of some museum rooms, and damage to some of the trees and plants in the Boboli Gardens  (the gardens that are adjacent to the old Medici Palace.)

I put this post up to talk a bit about how precious the art heritage is in Florence and throughout Italy and the world, and how easily it can be lost or destroyed.

This is by far not the first, nor the worst, damage that Mother Nature has wrought upon the beauty that is Florence.

In 1966 there was a horrible flooding of the Arno.  This taken from Wikipedia:

“The 1966 Flood of the Arno River in Florence killed many people and damaged or destroyed millions of masterpieces of art and rare books. It is considered the worst flood in the city’s history since 1557. With the combined effort of Italian citizens and foreign donors and committees, or angeli del fango (“Mud Angels”), many of these fine works have been restored. New methods in conservation were devised and restoration laboratories established. However, even decades later, much work remains to be done.

5,000 families were left homeless by the storm, and 6,000 stores were forced out of business. Approximately 600,000 tons of mud, rubble and sewage severely damaged or destroyed numerous collections of the written work and fine art for which Florence is famous. In fact, it is estimated that between 3 and 4 million books/manuscripts were damaged, as well as 14,000 movable works of art.”

I have seen in particular a beautiful crucifix from the 13th century by an artist named Cimabue, which was severely damaged by the 1966 flood.

What was once a magnificent work of art is now heavily damaged by the flood of November 1966. Housed in Santa Croce in Florence, the flood waters had risen higher than twenty feet, ripping most of the paint off of the over 700 year old Christ figure. The figure is so beautiful and yet so heartbreaking.

This is a photo of Cimabue’s crucifix taken before the 1966 flood:


This is a photo that I took of it after the damage:


The damage from Mother Nature is difficult enough to fathom, let alone the immense  and even more senseless damage that has come from man.

At the end of the 15th century, a Dominican friar and priest named Savonarola led people of Florence to burn thousands of objects of art, clothing, books, etc. in what is known as the Bonfire of the Vanities. Much in Italy was lost to bombing in World War II and many frescoes, sculpture and architecture have been lost simply to changing tastes and “remodeling”.

My understanding of these events helps me to appreciate the art that I still am blessed to see when I am in Italy.  It helps me to understand how precious it is and, like life, it can be taken from us at any moment.

Savor the beauty of both life and art!

My first full day in Florence…

IMG_0430-2I was so excited.  I could not believe how beautiful the apartment was, how wonderful the location, and how at home I already felt in this beautiful city.

I had purchased a book called “An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence”.  I love this book. I actually even wound up sending copy of it to a dear friend who was heading to Florence in the near future.  I will tell more about beautiful, beloved Sarah later in my story.  She is part of my love of Florence.

Here is the Amazon description of the book:

“No city but Florence contains such an intense concentration of art produced in such a short span of time. The sheer number and proximity of works of painting, sculpture, and architecture in Florence can be so overwhelming that Florentine hospitals treat hundreds of visitors each year for symptoms brought on by trying to see them all, an illness famously identified with the French author Stendhal.

While most guidebooks offer only brief descriptions of a large number of works, with little discussion of the historical background, Judith Testa gives a fresh perspective on the rich and brilliant art of the Florentine Renaissance in An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence. Concentrating on a number of the greatest works, by such masters as Botticelli and Michelangelo, Testa explains each piece in terms of what it meant to the people who produced it and for whom they made it, deftly treating the complex interplay of politics, sex, and religion that were involved in the creation of those works.”

They are not kidding about the syndrome that one can suffer when one is tempted to absorb too much art (and it is so very tempting to do so).  It is called Stendhal’s Syndrome and I have felt its’ effects many times!

i did know this, which is emphasized in the book, that you can view the art and architecture in Florence for its’ surface beauty, but each piece and each building was created in the context of time, place, developments and politics.

For me, knowing some of this information makes the experience of viewing much richer.  It brings more understanding and fascination.  It gets my imagination going and wondering what it was like to live during those medieval and renaissance times.

I read in this book about a museum called Orsanmichele.  It was only open on Mondays and my first full day was my only Monday in Florence, so I put that on my first-day priority list.

Orsanmichele is famously known for the sculptures of saints placed in the niches or tabernacles on all four sides of the church by the various guilds of Florence. Executed between 1340 and 1602, they form a timeline of gothic and renaissance art that is perhaps unrivaled in one location.

The museum was simple, elegant, quiet and peaceful.  It was a lovely experience and it was from within this place that I was able to take the shot of the Duomo that is my feature photo on this blog.  You can see the windows in the photo on this post from which I took that photo.  It being Europe, where people and lawyers are not lawsuit crazy, the windows which were on the second floor–could be opened wide, and no one stopped me from doing so.  Because of this, I was able to take that shot of the Duomo without any window glare. And I caught the shot with the beautiful cloud formations and colors.  Ten minutes later, the clouds had passed.  I took more shots then, with the clear blue sky, but they did not compare to the one with the depth and interest of the clouds!

It was proving to to be a good first day!

The Doubt Demons…

Alright, so I was going to do this “going to Florence alone thing”. Flight booked-check.  Apartment rented-check.  Money set aside-check. Time scheduled off work (what work?)-check.

Then came the damned doubts– “I cannot do this.  I am a scatterbrain!  I will miss a flight, lose my passport, get lost, find myself unable to find the apartment, and if I do-it will be a disaster when I arrive.”  The doubt demons descended upon me.

I had to cast them off. I was going to do this. If any of these things were to happen, I would still be alright somehow.  This is one of the tricks that I have learned in these, my mid-life years; to play things all the way out in my mind.  In particular those things that frighten me or that the doubt demons attempt to instill into my brain. Once I do that, I realize that I will be alright.  As long as nothing threatens my health or well-being, I will be alright.

I was committed and so I hopped on a plane in Austin five days before my 50th, headed to Florence via a few stops and layovers (Austin and Florence are not exactly major hubs!)

I found my way to Florence.  I made my flights, I held onto my passport, I found the apartment (thanks to a phone call to the apartment owner placed upon the ear of the taxi driver), met my landlord and handled the money for keys exchange smoothly.

Travel gods-you rock!

When my florentine Laura, the apartment owner, finished showing me the place and left, I just found myself standing there in the middle of the beautiful apartment and thinking to myself, “Now what?”

Knowing that I had to stay up until at least 9 or 10pm Florence time to avoid jet lag, I splashed some cold water on my face and hit the streets! The apartment was on the second floor which is actually the third floor in American terms.  The steps were  uneven and of very old worn stone, the edges smooth from centuries of treading feet. I made certain to note where the light switches were and just hoped that I would find my way back and safely into my apartment that first evening despite the disorientation that comes with so many hours of travel and time difference.

I just began to wander.  The Oltrarno neighborhood truly was not deluged with tourists.  It felt like home to me almost immediately.  I headed in the direction of the Ponte Vecchio.  The shops on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) were once filled with butchers and tanners, but they were replaced with goldsmiths in the 16th century because of the stench.  Interesting. Today is is swarmed with tourists and shops attempting to sell them gold that most of us could never afford these days.  Despite all that, the bridge and its’ shops still have a charm and a feel of the medieval that they once were.

Before I walked as far as the Ponte Vecchio, however,  I spotted a lovely, tiny wine bar just across from the Palazzi Pitti-the old Medici Palace. There was a warm glow falling on the pavement through the windows of this place and I could see that there was just a handful of souls inside.  I stepped in and my Florence adventure began…

L’appartamento a Firenze!



the apartment

I had to trust that those travel gods would continue to smile upon me as I began my search to find the right apartment in Florence.  Of course, I felt as though I needed them more than ever since I would be on my own both in locating this apartment when I arrived and in successfully coordinating the “money for keys ” exchange thing.

I went to a trusted source which is a local company here in Austin called HomeAway.  It seemed to be a pretty cool company, and I had actually met the CEO at one of those many networking events that I was attending at the time.

I searched properties in Florence and was served up more options than I had expected.  The next decision that I needed to make was location.  I knew how touristy Florence can be, and I knew that I did not wish to stay in a location surrounded by herds of people spending one day in Florence being led by tour guides holding up closed umbrellas, or perhaps even worse, plastic flowers (sorry, Under The Tuscan Sun-I still love you as a movie).

Through my research, I discovered a neighborhood called the Oltrarno.  It translates into “the other side of the Arno”–and I knew that the side opposite the Oltrarno was where the heavy tourist area was.

I researched more on the internet and found quotes such as this…

“A walk through the Oltrarno (literally “the other side of the Arno”) takes in two very different aspects of Florence: the splendor of the Medici, manifest in the riches of the mammoth Palazzo Pitti and the gracious Giardino di Boboli; and the charm of the Oltrarno, a slightly gentrified but still fiercely proud working-class neighborhood with artisans’ and antiques shops.”

This sounded like my kind of Florence ‘hood! I began my inquiries.

I was amazed at how fast the owners of the apartments responded and all seemed  available for my dates.  It helped that I was traveling off-season, which I prefer to do.  It was not as though I was going to Florence to hang out on a beach.  I was going to spend time in cathedrals and museums (and restaurants, of course!), so weather was not really a factor.  In addition, I was going there to celebrate my birthday in November, which happens to fall off-season.

The apartment that I decided upon was not the cheapest of those I made inquiries on, although it was quite reasonable. However, when I found out that the owner’s name was also Laura, I began to lean her way.

This was a part of Laura’s property description–

“This 50 m² – 540 sq ft – apartment, is part of an old palace of century.

It was totally renovated and refurbished in February 2008, preserving the ancient wooden ceiling and the original ‘terra cotta’ floor.”

My gracious florentine Laura offered me a deal since I would be spending my 50th birthday there.

I had decided!

How would I begin to create this trip and to make it happen?

OK-so I was going to Florence, Italy–alone.  I would be spending my 50th birthday there–alone.  It should be a day to spend with friends and loved ones, however I was going to be–alone.

But I was going to FLORENCE, ITALY!!!  ALONE!!!  I was going to have the freedom to explore. to wander, to dream, to soak in my beloved Renaissance Art and never having to worry about how long I lingered.  Oh-and of course there was going to be the food and the wine.  I wasn’t going to have to worry about choosing a restaurant that someone did not like or worrying about anyone being bored with a museum or church with it’s many chapels.  I was going to be able to wander the streets and stop wherever I wished and stay as long as I desired.

I was digging the idea more and more. So-now where to stay?  After 20 years of being stuck in hotels for most of my corporate life, I had found that hotels did not make me feel as though I was “on vacation”.  Some small boutique hotels in Europe had overcome my hotel phobia, but those stays had been when I was adventuring with fellow traveling buddies.  Staying alone in a hotel for this trip was simply not an option.

A few of my dearest friends and I had discovered, early on in our traveling years, that renting apartments was a wonderful alternative to hotels.  It was a bit risky (in a fun way), since the usual  arrangement was to meet a foreign stranger on the street to exchange money for keys.

An apartment in Florence was my next “no going back” decision.

I have always said that I feel blessed that the travel gods seem to smile upon me, and I had no reason not to have faith in them once again.

Florence it is…

IMG_0090I had decided that I

needed and wanted to go somewhere alone and somewhere far away to ring in (or lament;-) my half-century birthday. Seemed kind of strange to want that so much, but conventional and predictable I have never much been.

I thought about all the wonderful places that I had visited–any of which I would have loved to return to; Prague, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Lyon, Santorini and Crete, Rome, Venice and then some. Then there were the places that I had not been to, but wished to see; Thailand, New Zealand, Bali to name a few.

None of these were calling to me though. I wanted a safe haven. I wanted a neighborhood. I wanted a city that would embrace me and make me feel safe and in which I could just walk, and walk, and walk.

Florence came to mind. I had been there briefly on a trip to Tuscany about twelve years earlier. We had enjoyed a day trip to Florence. I remembered it as being very compact and intimate. We would walk down narrow streets and only see the shops and restaurants in our immediate line of vision. And then all of a sudden we would turn a corner and a beautiful church or the iconic Duomo would just be right there, so grand and magnificent that it seemed impossible to believe that we had not been able to view it for blocks and blocks.

Yes, Florence felt right. Florence it was going to be, and once again, there was no going back!

What to do for my 50th?

It was summer of 2012 and my 50th birthday was approaching in November.  My sister and I had been planning for a few years to return to Paris to celebrate my milestone birthday together, but I was feeling so confused and lost without my job. I just did not know what I wanted to do. 

My sister and I would talk on the phone and she would say,”We should book Paris soon, have you looked into anything?”. I would reply, “Yeah, I will get on it.”

But I didn’t. Finally my sis asked me “You are just not into this, are you?” I replied “No, I am not. I am sorry. I do not know why.” For some reason I just did not feel that was where I was meant to be for that occasion. My sister was so understanding and just told me to find what I needed to do.

I was doing quite a bit  (too much, actually) of networking at the time, and people would often ask me, “What is your passion?”. I would look at them doe-eyed and think to myself “my passion,???”. I had lost it and had no idea what it was.

So, where was I going to go and what was I going to do for my 50th?–and what the heck was “my passion?” Would finding the answer to any or both of those questions help me out of that strange, lost place?

I realized that the  answer to my “what is my passion” question had to come to me in its’ own time-no forcing it.  However, the “where to go and what to do” question was something that I could tackle-even in my confused state of mind.

I do not have the kind of life that brings big surprise birthday parties, and here I found myself not even wanting to travel with my only sister for my birthday. So that seemed to leave traveling alone. That is the decision I came to. I made that decision in the way that I make most bigger decisions in my life. There is a moment of crystal clarity, kind of like a spark, and I seem to almost instantly know what I am going to do. There are doubts and fears afterward, but no going back. I know after that crystal clear moment what I will do.

So that matter was settled. I was going to travel somewhere alone for my 50th. Next question was where in the world was I going to go?

The beginning of the story of Florence and me…

I will not dwell too much on the reasons that brought me to find myself alone in Florence on my 50th birthday.

That part of my story is not the best part. However, I feel that I must share a bit of it as an explanation. After enjoying over 26 years of success in sales, sales management and sales training in corporate America, my company sold out to a private equity firm. I was given a choice between very early retirement or keeping my secure job and losing my retirement benefits (healthcare being the primary concern). I was given five days to decide.

Obviously I took the retirement option–only after meeting with an employment law attorney and consulting with many friends and loved ones.

If I had been six months older to the day, I could have kept my great job AND enjoyed all of my retirement benefits, including retiring on my own terms. But I was six months too young to the day, and that is why I wound up alone in Florence for my 50th.

The story will continue and it gets much better!


Ciao! Welcome to my blog. My name is Laura DeLaforgue. I live in Austin, Texas. I always say that Austin is my home away from home, because Florence is my true home.

So much of my life changed on the eve and the event of my 50th birthday. That point of time in my life and the events that followed are why Florence has become home in my heart, why this blog has been birthed, and why my story and this blog will grow and develop as, god-willing, my experiences and adventures in Florence and Tuscany continue to unfold.

The photo that you see is my favorite shot that I ever took of the Duomo (more to come on the Duomo and it’s amazing history!).  I took this shot on the first full day that I was in Florence on my own nearly two years ago.

Thank you for following my story. In future posts, I will go back in time and lay out the tales of how I arrived to the place in which I now find myself. I hope that my blog brings you joy and inspires you to follow your heart!