I was blessed to spend ten days in October, visiting my daughter Anna during her semester abroad in Florence, Italy. It was the ideal daddy-daughter date.
Although I had been there twice before, I leapt at the chance to see Florence through her eyes. She lived there all autumn, and offered to share her apartment for my accommodations. Her roommates had all gone to explore other parts of the continent, and she alone would remain in Florence for the holiday. My yearning to return to Italy was kindled by my desire to enjoy the company of my daughter. (Sadly for me, my wife, as a teacher, was unable to get away from the rigors of the classroom to join me on my adventure.)
I managed to negotiate discount airfare–and time away from work. The details I left up to Anna. She was a marvelous hostess! We explored the sites; she showed me her school and where she worked for her internship; she shared what she had learned in her Italian cooking class with me (fresh, handmade pasta, for example); I saw her play calcio (soccer) in a local recreational league; we walked; we shopped; we walked; we ate… Oh, did we eat—like epicures! (It’s a good thing we walked so much—four, six, sometimes eight hours each day—or we both would be huge.)
I got to see that she was truly becoming a local. The shopkeepers and cafe attendants recognized her. She bargained like a native. It was really fun to see. She had even gotten connected with a local church which caters to college students and I was able to meet some of her new family-away-from-home. That was special as well.
Originally attracted to the idea of taking the train to Venice or Rome, the announcement of an upcoming strike encouraged us not to go quite so far, which would have involved an overnight stay. Rather than risk getting stranded, we opted for a day trip to Bologna (see map). When I had studied Italian in college, my professor proudly proclaimed that the best food in Italy was in Bologna, and that if I ever had the chance I should go there.
We were REALLY glad we did. It was a perfect day (if long): we had just the right amount of time to enjoy the train, to explore the sites—and the food!—and still get back to Firenze only moments before the scheduled start of the strike. Our tour was a true adventure: we didn’t really plan or know anything about what to do there—until we got there. Then we found our way around, were amazed by what we were able to see, and even stumbled onto a FABULOUS restaurant that convinced me that my professor was right!
I could have stayed much longer, but my work and ministry were waiting for me back home, and Anna would be starting her regular schedule, so I headed home. I hadn’t paid much attention to my itinerary, but my return flight, through Paris, involved an overnight layover. On a whim, I found and booked a cheap hotel (it could have been a display room inside an Ikea store!) near the airport, and took the train into town for a quick look around. Oo-la-la!
I had never been to France, so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity by spending the whole night in the hotel (and at my age, I certainly wasn’t going to sleep in the airport!). It was rainy all the way in on the train; I had to connect to the Metro once downtown, and hoped I would get out at the right stop. When I emerged from the tunnel and looked around, I thought I had made a mistake. I couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower, which I knew should be visible. Crossing the street to the Seine River, I was startled to realize I was right underneath it; it had been hidden by my proximity to a building (wonders of geometry). I was less than a block away. I also realized that it had stopped raining—just then. Amazing blessing, because although I had rain gear in my luggage, I had left it at the hotel. (It resumed raining later, but not until the return train ride.) I arrived just at twilight, and the Tower immediately began a twinkly light show. It was beautiful. I inquired at a tourism booth about walking to the Arc de Triomphe, and set out to explore, returning to the Tower, and then followed the River toward Notre Dame Cathedral. I passed the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, and numerous other sites, each of which could require days to explore. Alas I had to keep in mind the schedule, lest I miss the last train to the airport.
When finally I reached Pont Neuf, I still had not come to Notre Dame, and was despairing my ability (and energy) to get back to the Tower in time to catch the Metro that would get me to the train. (See my route on the map, to know that I was only a couple blocks away from the cathedral!) But wait: there under the bridge, was an entrance to the Metro! I did my best to decipher the signs, but couldn’t see the schedule or the direction I needed to go. Then around the corner was a stairway, which led to the lower level, and viola! I was there on the right platform, in time (by ten whole minutes) to catch the last train to Charles De Gaulle Airport. And as mentioned, the rain resumed en route.
This whole whirlwind tour reminded me what I have previously learned: that God (in spite of my best planning—or lack thereof) will in fact direct my steps, even as a tourist. (See Proverbs 16:9.)