The Duomo in Florence sneak attacks you like a spring storm. You’re walking down the cobblestone, turn a corner, and bam—you get blindsided by white and green and red, a cathedral so expansive it takes four separate shots to capture it on film. Inside, the arches dazzle like umbrellas, the domed ceiling pulling you heavenward: Christ in glory, in precious metal glow, surrounded by everyone under the sun.
In Orsanmichele, the tabernacle that houses the Madonna and Child is spindly as lace, looks delicate and ornate as a faberge egg. It takes half a day of entering churches and seeing leafy branches lying on altars before we realize it’s Palm Sunday. Everyone is carrying sprigs of green. Everywhere we go, even the Palazzo Vecchio, there’s so much God and so much gold, I lose myself in a whirl of Gothic and Baroque.
A baby starts having a fit in Santa Maria Novella, the screams echoing from front to back, top to bottom, shrill cries ricocheting from stone to space to stone. They let us inside the cloister of the convent—I don’t know why—but we have to check the backpack, and we can’t take pictures, and a guard stands watch at each corner, eyeing our steps. We make a game of pointing out the grumps in every fresco.
The morning we leave, I run alone, my brother too exhausted from the crowds, the streets, the everything. I get lost, but find my way back by finding the Duomo, forced to sprint—Scusi! Scusi!—through the very masses I’d designed my out-of-the-way route to avoid. At dinner the night before, a waiter led a group of American women to a table, and as he left, one said, “Grah-zee,” like topsy, like she wasn’t even trying.
In the beginning, the train out of Florence is ninety percent tunnel. Through my headphones, Hayley Reardon sings, “So don’t ask me what I did with all that freedom / ‘Cause there were nights I couldn’t breathe.” We surface only long enough to get glimpses of pure green country, before being sucked back into the dark. Hayley also sings, “I’m gonna make some good of who you’ve made me.” After Bologna, the ride is nothing but sky.