Dearest guests

“In the cherry blossom's shade there's no such thing as a stranger.”

Kobayashi Issa

I thought it was the right time to send a personal message to you from lovely Florence & from Hotel Firenze Number Nine. I am sure, that like us, you are experiencing difficult and challenging times during this moment of Covid-19.

The city is closed and empty and although on the one hand it is sad to see Florence so deserted, I am finding the opportunity to truly appreciate the beauty of the city without the daily normalities of before. As I walk to work to spend some time in the hotel (it feels like my second home and a dear friend to me too – I cannot just leave “her” without company), I take the time to properly study and see all the beauty around me.

My first visit to Florence was in 2001 and I remember I was awe-struck with the Duomo, the David, the palaces, the streets, the Ponte Vecchio, the river – the list goes on and on. Having lived here for over 11 years I realise that it is easy to take things for granted, to not actually see what is under my nose if you will – Not so now!

It is amazing to see how enormous the Cathedral looks, as it stands majestically alone in the piazza without a single person there other than myself. I feel incredibly small beside such a stunning creation. To see the sun shining on the river, with an empty Ponte Vecchio at its end is just breath taking.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful little puppy in my life – Mabel, a French bulldog – whom some of you will have already met in the hotel. I, therefore, have the perfect excuse & reason to leave my apartment and walk around the city streets, albeit briefly.

Florence is truly unique, with an estimated 30% of world’s art treasures in this tiny city. We are truly blessed to live here. For you, who have been fortunate enough to spend time in Florence I am sure that you can understand exactly what I am writing and feeling.

I truly miss seeing you all at Number Nine. I love speaking with you in the morning and hearing you recount the wonderful dinner you enjoyed, or the incredible vineyard visit, your reactions to seeing Michelangelo’s David for the first time, to making it to the top of the Duomo or even your opinion on the best gelato or pizza (questions which have been known to divide families and friendships).

I will be in touch with you again very soon with news, updates, offers and packages. I also write a blog contained inside of our website where I post about My Florence in thoughts and ideas etc.

Here’s the link: Florence Times

Number Nine will open again shortly, and myself and my team will be here waiting to welcome you to what so many of you call your “home away from home”. We will continue with our wonderful hospitality, our desire to create the perfect stay for you and of course our great comfortable accommodations and facilities – all with renewed energy and pleasure!

Myself, my team and the owners and creators of Firenze Number Nine extend our very sincere and best wishes to you. We truly hope that your love for Florence, Italy and of course your affection for Number Nine will bring you back with us in the not too distant future.

Astrology, Florence and the will of destiny

“There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be...”

John Lennon

I was walking to work just the other day and in the 20+ years that I’ve known this city it was the first time I had noticed a plaque on the floor in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

It says:

“every step I have taken

in my life

has led me here now” 

It is an installation by Italian artist Alberto Garutti.

I have often looked at my life in Italy in this way so many times, so you can imagine that finding this cemented into the ground in Florence one morning was surprising and also somewhat affirming.

My rapport with Florence began unknowingly around 1992 in California of all places. I had met with an astrologer who would answer the question of where in the world was best for me to live. After plotting birthplace, time and other information which I no longer remember, a map was produced with indications of my best locations for a good life. The only place I clearly remembered was Pago Pago – a pacific island which didn’t really attract me.

Jump forward to the year 2000. I was staying in a guest house in North Yorkshire and there was a poster in our room which fascinated me – an old image of a walled city called Firenze.

Bear with me here – this all builds up to a point…

Now to 2001 – we arrived in Florence for a weekend break (by chance actually – having changed destination at the last minute due to military action in the Gulf). In walking around the wonderful city of Florence and having already lived in the UK, USA and India by this time in my life I was immediately struck by an overwhelming feeling of being at home here in Florence, I was in fact standing in Piazza della Signoria, in front of the wonderful fountain of Neptune. I said out loud “one day I’ll live here”.

Now jump to 2008 – after many many visits to Florence in the preceding years, making friends and carving out a life for ourselves here we took the plunge and decided to move. We found an apartment, quit our jobs and started selling and packing our things for the new life. 

Now…..this is where it finally gets interesting ……(thanks for bearing with me)

While packing our house into so, so many boxes to move them to Florence (we are now in 2009 by the way) I came across a small box of things which I had kept from my time in California – inside I found the astrologer’s map. I have mentioned before that Pago Pago always stuck out as the option but I was amazed and relieved to see that on the right hand side of the page, circled in blue biro pen was the name “Firenze”. I, at the time of the reading in 1992, had no idea what or where Firenze was and so you can imagine my surprise and relief at finding and seeing this.

Although life has not been all “chianti under Tuscan sun” I have to say that I have been living a wonderful Italian life. I have mastered the language, changed the rhythm of my life to that which is here, I use my hands when I speak Italian more than I was aware, I have argued more than I ever have in my life here in Italy (the latin passion has got me!!!). All in all I live like an Italian. I am so proud of being British and I love my home country it’s just that Florence suits me – 

It was written in the stars you could say!!!


It is clearly written in the floor in Piazza Santa Maria Novella

“every step I have taken

in my life

has led me here now” 

Saint Valentine’s Day – I have to write something about love I suppose

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”


Saint Valentine’s Day –I have to write something about love I suppose

If you know me well you’ll know that I am not a gushy, all hearts and flowers kind of person. The Latin of you will often refer to me as “cold and English” – not sure I totally agree but if that’s the perception who am I to challenge?

So I started thinking about what Valentine’s day means – I immediately thought of extortionately priced red roses, increased champagne sales and the desperation of every young guy in love to find the “perfect” gift – No pressure there of course!!!!

We at Hotel Number Nine are getting ready for Valentine’s day with the orders coming in for our lovely rose petal welcome, evening turndown with chocolates, obligatory bubbles and we are even keeping the spa open until midnight on 14th. We’re just about fully booked but you may be lucky if you’re heading this way.

In preparing for Valentine’s day I started to wonder what is was really all about – it’s history if you will– I found countless stories which ranged from not so loving moments (killings and wars) to discovering that “hitting on” someone actually came from Roman times with men physically hitting the woman they were attracted to!

Not finding my ideal thread there I then turned to my favourite source – Literature. What did some of our wonderful writers have to say about love?

This line from perhaps one the most famous love stories of all time Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell simply made me laugh out loud (perhaps because it’s so true).

“You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.”

In fact it made me think about who and how I’ve kissed and whether I or he knew how to do so!

Then I came across this pensive moment from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part…………………Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!”

This left me thinking about my own situation, my own life. I’ve obviously been in love and even married (I still am married in fact) although now separated. We still have a great relationship and a deep affection for each other (call it love if you will). It’s an honest and mutually respectful relationship which we have decided to keep after Berniéres’ madness subsided as he says. I think we are both proud that we have arrived at this point – a pat on the back to us both I think!

I remember that I was so totally moved by Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Those final moments of the story with these following words just leave me speechless and not so dry eyed every time I read them

“I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”

What patience, what hope, what a reward!

Honesty needs to be present in love too I think. At the start I believe we’ll say anything to make the other person fall for us and to convince ourselves that this is more than mere passion and physical attraction. I think this line  from milk and honey by Rupi Kaur is true honesty and somewhat amusing to me too.

“You might not have been my first love, but you were the love that made all the other loves irrelevant”

In conclusion to Love

Whatever you feel or don’t feel, believe or don’t believe Love exists for each of us in our own way. Having worked as psychotherapist for many years in London before relocating to Florence I learned more than anything that everyone’s perceptions and understandings of life’s emotions are unique to each and every one of us.

I have felt love in my eyes, I have seen love in another’s eyes, I see every day the purest love that my little French Bulldog puppy Mabel  gives me – or maybe that’s only food related on her part (I am sure not – she really shows a pure affection).

So whatever you do for Valentine’s day my invitation to you is to be honest, to be joyful, to be congruent and of course eat lots of chocolate washed down with champagne (that just goes without saying!).

Socking it to you – an intimate and unique Florence experience

To choose one sock from each of infinitely many pairs of socks requires the Axiom of Choice, but for shoes the Axiom is not needed.

Bertrand Russell

Practical? Of course they are – they keep your feet warm, they absorb perspiration from your feet, they provide insulation against frostbite in extreme conditions. The word we use today derives from Old English “Socc” which means “light slipper” and from Latin “soccus” a “low-heeled shoe”. Sometimes made from skins, leathers and even matted animal hair. From 16th Century machine-knit socks were first produced along with the previous hand knitted versions too. Today they are nearly all made by machines – in silk, cotton, wool, hair etc.

So – do not think of the sock is as a banal object to be ignored or disrespected nor left with a hole in the toe!

I remember first visiting Italy nearly 25 years ago and seeing how all the Italian men were wearing their trouser hems so much higher than I had ever seen before. This high hem or shortness of the trouser leg left their socks on full view to the world. It was a revelation to me however I wasn’t brave enough to try the look. I returned home to conservative England happy with trousers breaking at my shoes and my socks only on view, peeping out quietly as I walked.

I can however happily announce that after 11 years of living here in Florence my trouser legs have been proudly and gloriously raised up and my socks are on  full display to world!

This of course gives so much opportunity to play. A simple and elegant grey suit with an added POW of an orange striped knee length sock. Navy casual trousers revealing lion faces on a green background of soft cotton (again knee high). I think I am hinting here that knee high socks are the norm for me.

There are socks everywhere from Zara to H&M to almost every menswear store however here in Florence there is gem of a store that has been here since 1895, located in Via Porta Rossa 45/r. It is called:

I cannot tell you enough how worthwhile a visit to this store is. They sell undergarments of all types, stockings, sleepwear ( I have a night shirt from with the most elegant piping and soft, soft cotton), pocket squares, handkerchiefs, even a bra carrier and of course what seems like an endless supply of SOCKS.

Don’t be afraid to enter the store – the windows will certainly grab your attention – they are almost bordering  a little exhibitionist in their openness -by displaying colourful underwear, stocking and bras etc. As you enter this tiny store you are greeted by wonderful helpful staff standing behind a huge wooden desk (probably the original one from 1895) who know every single product in the store.

It is at this point that a special magic and dance begins that puts every other store that sells such articles firmly in their shadow. As you ask for socks or underwear or any other item (none of which are visibly displayed I have to add here), the folks in Quercioli & Lucherini run around stresslessly and with certainty in finding box after box, which as they open before you they reveal just what you were looking for. I think of it as a style of “choreography of intimates”. Imagine also a  bank safety deposit box vault where long containers are gently removed from their spaces and opened to reveal their secrets – IT’S THE SAME IN HERE I PROMISE. An experience absolutely not to missed.

My suggestion to you – when you’re invited to a dinner party or other gathering  and you have to find something  to take for the host(s) – perhaps wine? Everyone does that. Flowers maybe? Of course but they’ll last a short time. The good old dependable chocolates? Good idea but where’s the wow? How about considering SOCKS? – in a  colour loved by the host, a pattern perfect for him or her, something to bring a smile maybe. I can guarantee that every time I have gifted socks from Quercioli & Lucherini they have proven a big hit! I have to admit also that I take a little pride and satisfaction in the fact that the wines and chocolates brought by my fellow guests are quickly whisked away into the kitchen while my socks are opened to oohs and arrhs and voices of congratulations for such an original gift (perhaps from this posting I can no longer claim the original part – you’ll all be doing it!)

It is sad that we see so many unique and niche stores disappear and larger “all-in-one” stores open up – I implore you don’t let them all die – ESPECIALLY this one. If you’ve never been there just pop in I am sure you fall in love with it. You’ll want to see this dance of finding the article, you’ll want to walk out with something, you’ll want to bring an original gift to the right person too. Invite me to dinner and I’ll bring the socks!

What is Luxury for you?

Luxury must be comfortable otherwise it's not luxury

  • Coco Chanel

What is Luxury for you?

This is a question I often think about. More specifically the question of “if I could afford anything what one luxury would I have in my life?” or “What couldn’t I live without”.

Perhaps a chauffeur, a private chef, a massage therapist on call? Maybe my home always filled with fresh flowers? Or finally my own butler ready to do whatever is needed (within reason of course!).

Although each of these would be fantastic the one luxury that I would introduce into my life would be an Evening Turndown Service – like the ones enjoyed in many 5 star hotels across the world. I would have this is my home – without a second’s thought!

I cannot convey how much I love, when I am staying in a hotel of a certain level, that I can use the shower, the bathroom, every towel in existence, sit on the bed for a while and use all the coffee cups before leaving it all behind without further consideration as I head out to dinner.

Then, when I return to the room later on, as if by magic, the room has been transformed and organised for me to sleep. I simply love it – it’s as simple as that!

I was reminded of my love for the turndown because last evening I slept in one of our wonderful fresco’d junior suites here at Hotel Number Nine in Florence -where we have just totally changed the style of our Turndown Service.

As the manager of the hotel I often sleep in the bedrooms as a quality control check. It’s important for me to feel and live as our guests do here in the hotel. Over months of sleeping, checking, thinking, creating and of course annoying my housekeeping team with my observations and my requests we have arrived at what I believe is a wonderful service and experience.

What do we do?

Well, we recently changed all our bedding and towels for a wonderfully superior quality – that’s the first thing. Then we were asked to logo everything – I was horrified. It’s a real annoyance to me to see the name of the hotel or the hotel chain on every pillow, sheet, towel, glass, cup ad infinitum! I had an idea – one which I think is brilliant (even if I say so myself) – instead of a logo we have had a message embroidered on the sheet (revealed a little later on as you read).

Another point of annoyance is the lack of total darkness in a hotel room. I need to sleep in the dark – even the slightest light prevents this (I know, I know the princess and pea story – don’t tell me!). In our rooms, in fact, I kept seeing the tiny green light on the heating/air conditioning panel. And so another (brilliant) idea was hatched.

So (imagine a drum roll please) this is the Hotel Firenze Number Nine Turndown:

You arrive back to your room to find the lights readied and low, the “elves and fairies” have tidied the bathroom and replaced your towels and hung your bathrobes neatly. You’ll  notice that the bed covers are turned down to reveal the words “Buonanotte & Sogni d’oro” embroidered elegantly in grey to wish you a personal “good night with dreams of gold”.

Then you’ll see that this little green light on the heating panel has been completely covered by the wonderfully perfect words of William Shakespeare “Sleep perchance to dream”. Your slippers are placed by the bed awaiting you for the morning. Candies & your room service breakfast request are on your pillow and (on your last night with us) an elegant postcard from us to take away with you. It’s a turndown – one you need to experience.

What’s left to do now?

You just need to enjoy a good night’s sleep and those precious golden dreams. Buona notte e sogni d’oro!

The not so humble Scarf

The not so humble Scarf

Watching the thousands of scarves on display at Pitti Uomo, I thought of memorable scarf wearing moments:
The first one is the Isadora Duncan moment – she wore her colourful scarf long, flowing and carefree. Clearly if you’re way to die needs to be fast and glamorous what better way other than speeding along the French Cote d’Azur, trailing a fabulous cloud of silk behind you just before being strangled as said scarf tangles in the rear wheel axle of a convertible sports car?

Of course I have to mention our dear Queen Elizabeth II who wears a scarf, particularly when she’s in the countryside or in the Highlands of Scotland – she elegantly retains her hair under control while adding a touch of colour most probably by Hermes I imagine.

I also love the movie moment in Bridget Jones when she tries to add some glamour as she hurtles through the English countryside only to lose the scarf and arrive looking as though she were dragged through the English countryside instead driven!

You’ll notice that these examples are focused on women wearing scarves – there are not many that I can think of involving men actually. Go ond try to google “men wearing scarves” and see what you get – nothing as crazy nor memorable – there is the odd exception however, such as Lenny Kravitz rocking a huge scarf and looking amazing (and sexy) doing so.

Pitti Uomo however does a great job in allowing men (and women) to explore and enjoy scarves at every moment. Pitti is a great time to accessorise and have fun – in fact as I was getting ready for a night of parties I added a Bordeaux coloured cashmere scarf from Etro, twinned with a full length blue military coat with white and red stripes on the sleeves from Tommy Hilfiger and then topped it off with a wool hat in a burnt orange shade – “If you can’t do it during Pitti when can you?”.

  • Check our Number Nine Experiences dedicated to fashion: book your personal shopper or discover the fashion vault, a secretly located warehouse full of designer clothes and accessories.

I have a love for scarves or perhaps better described as an addiction. I believe I currently stand at around 200 more or less (I’m embarrassed to officially count and confirm this affliction). I wear them all year – including summer when I switch to light cotton or linen options. I clearly have my favourites – a “one-off” scarf from India with the most wonderful hand embroidered faces placed onto to a washed grey cashmere for example. I also love, love, love my Etro chic basics which are mono-coloured, light cashmere – I have Bordeaux, bottle green, beige, white, navy blue (I think that’s all – or should I say is that all!!!). They are simple, elegant, understated and luckily they are light and also warm. As I write this I am now racking my brain for what other scarves can be upgraded to my favourites. Oh yes there’s a huge cotton scarf from Canadian designer Lost & Found with a photo print of a crocodile tale and then I remember another Lost & Found gem of light black cashmere modal with an x-ray image of a two skeletons having sex – you need to see it to understand it I’m afraid. I have to admit that I have way, way too many scarves in my collection and I also have to admit that I won’t stop adding to them (4 so far this winter).

Why do I love them so much? They of course have a long history –
The Egyptians used to wear a strip of cloth across the breast whereas the Romans called them Sudarium, meaning ‘rag’. The actual word Scarf (italian sciarpa, german Schal), probably comes from old north french escarpe ‘sash, sling’, which is sort of identical with old french escherpe a ‘pilgrim’s purse suspended from the neck’. Perhaps it comes from Frankish skirpja or some other Germanic source (compare old Norse “skreppa” which is a ‘small bag, wallet or satchel’), or even from Medieval Latin scirpa ‘little bag woven from rushes’.

As a cold-weather covering for the neck the first reference is recorded in 1844. The word plural scarfs began to yield to scarves early 18c at the time when words such as half became halves etc.
Whatever the origin of the scarf, the word or the use, I just love them. For anyone reading this who needs gift ideas I say that you can never go wrong in giving a scarf. A scarf can communicate comfort and warmth – we always feel the need to adorn a snowman with a scarf don’t we? It can communicate your religious beliefs too. A simply black scarf can show your sorrow and grief. It can worn for practicality or even to show power (look at Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada) as she wears a hot and colourful silk scarf tight around her neck!

Choosing a scarf can be as simple as adding a touch of colour to your chosen clothing of the day – go on and try it and fall in love with the feel, the look and fun of wearing a scarf.

Viola, Befana and me on the Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Viola, Befana and me on the Twelfth Night

Let me tell you a lovely story. I had this dream last night. She was coming my way, and when she got closer and smiled at me, I felt a thrill in my heart. She was old and sort of witchy, you see, black shabby dressed, with toothless mouth and a funny pointed hat. Also she was riding a broom with neither steering wheel nor engine.

She glanced at me, then winked at me and with her sweetest voice she said: ‘Hi honey, what are you up to? Climb on – get on board baby and let’s fly away’. Her words had the sound of music and I swear on my ancestors, she was an actual witch and it was love at first sight. Like Duke Orsino I exclaimed: If music be the food of love, let’s go. Oh, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets. I jumped on the broom riding it behind my unexpected heartthrob, and we took off for a magical mystery tour above Florence’s Twelfth Night. Are you Viola? ‘I am the Befana, darling’, she replied as we flew on.
“How old are you?” I asked, “Where do you come from?”. You won’t believe what she answered: “Young man, please! – I’m a couple of thousand years old, I come from all over the world and am on duty tonight to bring coal to the naughty children and huge pretty presents to the good children!
Well, she must be quite experienced and all, that’s what I said to myself while she was landing on a roof not far from Ponte Vecchio. “Bouge pas” she ordered and dismounted from the broom. “Bouge what?” I questioned, confused. “You do say some strange things” I added. “Oh, you are right, my dear that’s French, but aren’t we in France?”. I scoffed “Ah ah, No you are lost. Don’t you see where we are ?” I pressed. “Can’t you see the Arno? see the Duomo? see Palazzo Vecchio?”

“Just a moment she snarled – don’t move. “Work is work and I have to go down this chimney now!”
She parked the broom and disappeared. So I stood there like a pigeon, watched the moon glisten on the river. I soon realized how cold it was and how I wasn’t dressed for flying around on a broomstick in the middle of the night. I didn’t really know one is supposed to dress for such an activity. The city was asleep, still, noiseless, just car roaring far away in the distance. She took her time and when she reappeared after about an hour, guess what?, she was blind drunk. She couldn’t even ride her broom.
“It’s not my fault” she justified herself and opened wide her toothless grin: “Down there I found a gal dressed up as a Befana who said she was the Befana. But as you know there is only one Befana, and it’s me, I assured her. I also asked for her Union ID but of course she didn’t have it. In short, she was a fake Befana with a family to support. She said her husband was unemployed and had two young kid. I did pity her a little and else could I do? So I had a couple of bottles of champagne in my bag and we toasted our good health.”
I suspected it was a lie because I had heard the voices. There was a man, it was Santa down there with her – fake or real no matter. And they were giggling. I hear him ask “What about the guy on the roof?” to which she replied “No one really, just a friend”. Then there was a long silence while I was absolutely dying on that icy Twelfth Night roof.
Why was Santa hanging around almost two weeks after his duty was over? When I asked Befana blushed, she understood that I had understood. “You know”, she said, “there was plenty to eat and alcohol galore so we had a little party. He decided to work overtime this year in order to have days off next year and go on a Christmas holiday.
I was disaapointed. I looked at my watch: it was 25 o’clock, a very weird hour. I had never heard of it. Since when a day has 25 hours?
Then a long silence while I was absolutely freezing to death. I thought maybe I’d better wake up. In fact, forget the roof. I opened my eyes and I was in my bed. Mabel had stolen all of the covers as always and started to wake me up to get on with her day – well, a walk and food. I got up, had a coffee and went to drink it in the living room. And then I saw them: two gift packages on the fireplace top. I unwrapped the first one: a coat and a note, ‘for the next time’, signed Santa Klaus. Inside the other, a navy blue cashmere sweather and a note too, ‘SWALK’ from Befana. Sealed with a loving kiss.
Was it real or was it just a dream? We’ll have to wait until next to see if we meet again.

Unconventional New Year while Florence sleeps

Unconventional New Year

New Year with Mabel while Florence sleeps

It’s the first of the year and as always a lovely morning in the centre! Mabel woke up in a particularly good mood this morning – maybe she knows it’s a special day or perhaps she’s just happy that we have an extra day off together today. She started playing immediately on the bed this morning – she has that little smile (I know it’s strange to say that a dog smiles but she truly does).  She smiles while she gives me those little puppy bites interspersed with face licks. She’s never unduly bothered about eating first thing but prefers play time and pulling every toy from her box and littering my apartment with them. Mabel (a black French Bulldog) is a surprisingly well behaved puppy for her young 7 months – born on 22nd May 2019.

I swore I’d never have another dog (unless one found me) and that’s exactly what happened – a very generous gift to me. I thought that I had to choose between three little puppies but in reality she chose me – she saw me, came to me and hasn’t left my side since that day last August. We are currently undergoing a difficult time trying to find the right food for her – it’s a constant battle that eventually we will win. I had hoped that ready-made foods would be possible but as you might have guessed already this is not the case. She’s currently enjoying fresh turkey and vegetables all prepared by me at home!

So back to this morning – a cold, fresh and crisp morning in which to explore the quiet of this city on this very special day of the year. I’m wrapped up and finally I’ve convinced Mabel to accept a jacket/sweater too – she’s not happy about it at all but at least she walks with less resistance. Being up so early is thanks to not being out late last evening – No excessive volumes of champagne to keep me sleeping this. New Year’s resolutions are of course to drink less, eat well and exercise more – as are everyone’s. I have no excuses considering I manage  a gym in the centre of Florence (Klab gym in Via dei Conti)! One resolution I truly want to keep to is to read more – Less Netflix and more literature. Let’s see how that goes.

So… we’re off into the centre of the city – making the most of the time when there’s hardly anyone up. Florence is always so busy and it’s such a special moment to walk around all the sights on New Year’s Day when I can feel that I have the city to myself – this year to myself and to Mabel. The clock says exactly 6.31am so there is still more than an hour left until the sun rises.  It will make its appearance punctually 7.48, not a minute before, not a minute after, as we say we English. The icy air is still and silent – nothing moving apart from us few early risers. But silence is total and such silence has a powerful aesthetic value, I recommend it in this noisy world – one which will wake up again in the next few hours.  The silence also gives a peace – the peace of philosophers and anchorites – a time to reflect, ponder and think. This new year marks my 11th year of living in Italy. I recount the most poignant points which have punctuated these past years – losses, gains, fun times, challenging times and of course some sad moments too. But I’m still here in the country and the city that I love – the first place I have ever felt truly at home.

Now my thoughts turn to something even more important – Where can I get a coffee? It’s too early on this particular day to expect anywhere to be open. Florence is still sleeping. There must be somewhere – I remember I used to live behind a baker who opened each morning around 4am to sell piping hot croissants to all the people returning home after “a night on the town”. Sadly it’s no longer there – I passed it the other day and saw it deserted and boarded – a sad sight to see and a sad moment of a wonderful place – such a pity is no longer there especially this morning. I wonder what Mabel would have made of all the smells coming that place?

I am now in front of the cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori. The famous Duomo enjoying the backdrop of a sky coming to its first dawn of the year, its stars being replaced by an emerging clear blue and the soon to be rising sun. It’s cold  – zero degrees – this is a very special moment to study the wonderful marble façade contrasted with the unique Florence skyline – it’s my annual homage to the city. The incredible stained glass windows by Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno are all coming to life – the mass will start soon. I’d love to take this opportunity, when there is no waiting line, to enter the Duomo and see what I think is the most beautiful inlaid marble floor in the world. But with Mabel I can’t enter – her sweet little face looks at me as it to say “I’m sorry” – but it’s all fine – another time I’ll go in. I remember another New Year’s resolution – to be a tourist in my own city more often. I must revisit Santa Croce, San Marco, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Santa Maria Novella – there’s no shortage of places here in Florence – we are surrounded by Michelangelo, Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi – the list goes on. If you’ve never need here may it’s time to add this city to your new year’s resolutions?

So I walk around the basilica and head down Via Calzaiuoli towards Piazza della Signoria. I’ve changed my mind & now I want to go and wait for the dawn on the Ponte Vecchio. I’ll get to pass my favourite sight in Florence on the way – the Loggia dei Lanzi, which I simply love, and even Mabel can see it too. I marvel at the bronze Perseus by Cellini which is incredible (I’ll share a secret with you about this particular sculpture sometime), masterpieces by Giambologna like the Hercules with the centaur Nesso and also The Rape of the Sabine Women – all to be enjoyed for free by the many tourists and also the many pigeons in the piazza.

The city is starting to move – only a little but there is movement. We pass other early risers who perhaps are doing as we are and enjoying the stillness of this day and this hour. Perhaps some are returning home after a late night of celebrating. We smile at each, exchange New Year’s greetings – our “Auguri”, everyone is more interested in Mabel however – and she loves the attention. I come across garbage collectors who do the most amazing job after the 31st evening – all the broken glass and post party rubbish is miraculously spirited away leaving Florence sparkling and ready for another day.

I pass the Uffizi gallery – I haven’t been inside for many years to be honest. I often wonder about how many of the world’s masterpieces are housed inside and realise how lucky we are. I think about all the work and pain that went into pieces such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” which is now just hanging there, just a few metres from where I am walking. I imagine how the corridors must be at night after closing time –  Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Michelangelo all living peacefully side by side in the Uffizi now – a far cry from the reality of their times I believe.  On to the Lungarno, turning right and then we cross the street and slip under the loggia of the Vasari corridor. Once on the Ponte Vecchio, I pass an old night guard who heading home on his bicycle, his eyes tired after the long testing night. “Happy New Year” followed by the reply of  “Happy New Year to you too”. It is past 7.30am now and noises are beginning to be heard: a car traveling far away, a bus squeaking as it turns, window shutters opening. I don’t want this silence to end, I want to enjoy this intimacy with Florence for as long as I can.

I stop in the middle of the bridge on the east lookout, I take Mabel in my arms and together we look towards the east. Lucifer, the morning star, is already fading in the first light of the day. The street lights go out, the night slowly dies. Minus ten, nine, …. minus two, minus one. Bong! There are the hills. The sun must takes command of the day – the first day of 2020. The sunrise is a little late but then that’s perfectly Italian –  in this country not even the sun arrives on time. The water of Arno reflects the changing sky, she’s running calmly right now – a great relief after the tirades of water we’ve seen in these months. To enjoy the Ponte Vecchio without the entertainers, the crowds, the many people crossing the city is a sheer joy to behold – try it one day, you’ll really appreciate its charm and beauty.

A song called “Firenze Sogno” (Florence Dream) is perfect for this moment:

Florence is beautiful tonight

covered In a blanket of stars

there’s a flickering glow in the sky

like flames,

in the shadows lovers hide

their mouths tremble as they speak of love

surrounded with so much poetry

for you my love

my heart sighs.

The silvery Arno

reflects the firmament

When with a sigh and a song

You are gone …

Florence sleeps

under the radiant Moon,

but behind a balcony

waits a dark lady.

On the banks of the Arno

feel the harmony of love

of sighing lovers

embracing tightly

heart to heart.

I look at Mabel and her sweet little face is saying enough! It’s breakfast time for me – home we head reflective, appreciative, grateful and hopeful. Time will tell how well i do with my new year’s resolution too!