Thought of the Day: I wish I’d charged my FitBit

Yesterday I spent hours walking around Florence alone. I saw the David and the tomb of the man who made him in the Basilica di Santa Croce, alongside Galileo and Rossini and Machiavelli. All these familiar words from art and history now the atoms in the very air I breathed, the actual bones of the hands that sculpted the most famous body in the world just fingertips away. Stories made real. Hundreds of years ago and right now meeting on the time continuum.

My thighs could still feel of the burn of every one of the 414 steps I had climbed to the top of Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower next to the Duomo), but somehow the day’s walk was a pleasure, stepping out from the shadowed chill of narrow streets into sun drenched piazzas, taking time to bask a while before deciding my next direction. I had given myself the whole day to explore.

I decided to cross the river and climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which promised amazing views across the city. It’s the #1 tourist spot on TripAdvisor. One asthmatic reviewer warned it was a bit of a hike but I thought: “That’s alright. Today I have somewhere beautiful to go.”

Shortly after this declaration of optimism, my phone abandoned me, leaving me with just a paper map for support. I pressed on with neither knowledge of the time nor the promise of a photo when I reached my destination. On that day, it felt right – when I feel so disconnected from my life, from my own mind, being disconnected from my messages and work emails for a few hours might have been a good thing.

At the start of the ascent, I stopped for a late lunch. Normally I avoid eating alone in public, always using room service on business trips. I can just about cope if I have a book or my phone. I spent the meal scribbling in my notebook, old school style, telling myself that sightseeing alone is normal and I should not feel conspicuous. But those negative voices never go away completely.  Anxiety thrummed its way through my week in Italy – my constant travelling companion: an anxiety attack in the narrow stairwells of the bell tower, too embarrassed to ask anyone the time even after an American family had spoken to me, constantly fretting about blood test results and a hundred things I ought to be doing instead. At least all the walking meant I sleep well.

In the end the climb was fairly easy for asthma-free me, uphill for a few minutes and then about 150 steps. The view was as spectacular as promised, straight out of a painting, the river at my feet, the shops spanning the famous Ponte Vecchio, and the city beyond with its sandy and terracotta hues, dominated by the Duomo and austere medieval palazzos. My view of it in that moment will only ever remain in my mind – held in neurons instead of pixels. I bought some gelato and settled down to enjoy the sunset over the Arno.

The sunset was disappointing, casting only a faint red glow that barely reached the river, let alone the city skyline. I could not hurry the sun and left before it was over, I literally could not continue to listen the 90210-style chat of the American students who crowded the steps any longer. Perhaps I was just jealous of their youth and their wine. Definitely the wine.

I reflected that the walk had not been as tough as I was warned, my fears were unfounded. Even though I was apprehensive and phone-less, I had stepped forward alone rather than retreating. And it was alright; I had somewhere beautiful to go.

I have always struggled with how you love your life the way it is, without losing motivation to change it. It’s something I have meditated on without success, and this week a few hours of solitude may have helped provide part of the answer.

Perhaps I just need to know, every day, that I have somewhere beautiful to go: arriving home to my son, driving to work through Richmond Park, dinner with friends, even sweating in the gym.

Because, you know, I’ve seen the David now. I don’t need to see it again. But there are some views that I seek out time and time again. I just need to remind myself how beautiful they are.

Raynes park
Raynes Park: the dome of home
duomo 1
A view of Florence