I grew up in the gentle embrace of the Central Valley, which is a smoggy little place in more or less the geographical center of California. Set between the Pacific Range and the Sierra Nevadas, the Central Valley is a glorified – and irrigated – desert and the temperatures can climb into the low 100’s (Fahrenheit). You might think that would have prepared me for summer weather in Florence. You would be wrong.
On my first visit to Florence, the high was a blistering 113 degrees. Given my paper white skin, it’s a miracle I didn’t end up with third degree burns covering my body, seeing as I couldn’t find a store that sold sunscreen to save my life. I spent the better part of an hour walking up and down the same two streets near Ponte Vecchio searching for a convenience store. Everyone I spoke to insisted the store was nearby, but no one could agree on how to get there. Eventually, I decided I’d be better off sitting in the shade without sunscreen than traipsing around under the blazing Tuscan sun in search of it.
With that end in mind, I made my way over to il Giardino di Boboli, thinking that it would be a nice place to relax, with trees and fountains and large grassy expanses. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Boboli Gardens. If you have, you’re probably laughing your ass off at my stupidity. If you haven’t, allow me to elaborate. The Boboli Gardens are the rather expansive and gorgeous grounds behind the Pitti Palace – the Florence seat of the infamous Medici family – boasting art from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and even some pieces from Roman times. That 16th century garden design lends itself to wide gravel paths lined with sculpted shrubbery and statuary and it’s all terribly impressive.
Unfortunately, it’s also terribly hot and almost entirely uphill. So naturally, on this hellishly hot day with soaring temperatures, I found myself trekking up the gravelly hill toward the top of the garden – directly beneath the glaring sun that I was trying to avoid. I was wearing a backpack that felt like it weighed at least 50 pounds, even though the heaviest thing in it was my 1-liter water bottle, which I’d drained two or three times already that day.
After two hours of dusty walking up and down the many steps and tiers of the garden – and taking many unflattering, red-faced selfies among the gorgeous statuary – I finally stumbled out onto Palazzo Pitti (which is basically a concrete wasteland where the air shimmers and ripples with the heat rising off the pavement). At this point, it was just a miracle that I didn’t drop from heat exhaustion and that I made it all the way back to my hotel.
Sitting in my blissfully air conditioned hotel room, I took stock of myself: my feet were filthy and aching, my clothing and backpack soaked with sweat, and I was so lightheaded and faint that my hands were shaking uncontrollably. But it was worth it. Up there at the top of the Boboli Gardens, all of Florence was laid out at my feet, and what’s a little heat exhaustion in the face of timeless beauty? Still, I wouldn’t have objected to a little more shade. So, if you ever find yourself in Florence during the spring, go see il Giardino di Boboli. It will be gorgeous and relaxing. If it’s summer time, maybe skip it and visit a museo instead?