It was around 4:00 p.m. in Florence.  Badr was initially going to take me to a neighborhood wine bar, but changed his mind and wanted me to enjoy a new restaurant that just opened on the 4th of July – America’s birthday.  It was interesting, and thoughtful, to me that he referred to the 4th of July as “America’s Birthday.”  I felt a momentary flash of being unable to reciprocate as there was so little I knew of Italy’s monumental days.   This would be a sensation that would return over the course of my visit as I learned how much more the Italians knew of American than I knew of Italy.

I was a wide-eyed tourist taking in all the sights:  the piazzas, the statues, the cobblestone walkways, the architecture of the historic buildings, the scrolling light posts.  If it wasn’t for all the tourists milling about, I would have felt transported to a time centuries earlier.

Badr is a knowledgeable and informative tour guide giving me the background and insights to everything we pass.  As we cross a piazza, he reveals the “new” restaurant (drum roll please!!):

The Hard Rock Café!!  I had to laugh – I came all the way to Italy and was so looking forward to my first glass of wine on a Florence patio, and it ends up being at an American restaurant.

The Hard Rock Café in Florence is unlike any Hard Rock Café I’d visited in the States.  It was opulent, ornate and luxurious.  We toured the restaurant so I could take in the modern day glitz and glamor in the heart of the old world Florence.  We settled in on the patio and I watched the tourists and took in all the magic of the moment.  I was surrounded by architecture and art that was straight out of my art history books.  This was the moment I’d been waiting for, and it hit the mark. I was awe-struck, grateful, overwhelmed and oh so very happy.

We sat on the patio, drank Prosecco, ate french fries and engaged in lively conversation.  It struck me that in many respects, he was a male version of me.  We shared so many similar thoughts on life, philosophies, and activities we enjoyed.  As the waitress poured me a flute of Prosecco, the glass overflowed with champagne.  Badr immediately shared a tradition with me – when white wine or champagne overflows the glass, you touch the wine on the table and then touch your ears and think of a dream and it will come true.  I was having the best time of my life!

We left the patio and I started to play tourist to Badr’s tourist guide.  We walked the entire city of Florence and he gave me the history as well as an insider’s perspective. I had my first Gelato and savored it on a bridge spanning the Arno river with amazing views of the city, river and horizon. He visited Medici San Lorenzo, Uffizi museum, and Dante’s home, to name a few of the tourist attractions. I learned about Florence, its customs, its history, culture and current politics.  I learned that horse hooves have a special place in the Arabic culture – there is a divinity; a quality of life in the hoof  that sparked the lucky horse shoe.

During the course of our tour, I learned as much about my tour guide as I did of Florence.  I learned that Badr studied math, economics, tourism in college and he speaks 5 languages: Arabic, Italian, English, Spanish and French. He is Arabic and his grandparents and parents live in Morocco while his brother lives in Florence with him.  “Badr” means “full moon” in Arabic.  He looks forward to having a family with 4-5 kids.  He loves the Tuscany countryside and getting away to enjoy it when he can. He grew up riding horses, swimming and practicing archery. He has 2 cats and he showed me photos on his phone – adorable.  He lives in the moment and gets along with everyone – kings and paupers.  He’s a chef and loves cooking and  wine.

We walked until 10 p.m. when we found a restaurant to enjoy an authentic Italian meal.  He selected the restaurant and I let him order the meal for us.  We sat on a patio and continued a very engaging conversation. Then, as if by magic, it started to rain.  I love the rain.  It was a sign – a premonition of the beginning of an amazing journey.  Badr felt badly that it was raining and I was beaming from ear-to-ear in pure delight. The rain was streaming down and the street lights were haloed by the effects of the rain drops.  We sat under an umbrella, which provided ample protection from the rain while allowing me to savor its secret message.

I was finally feeling the effects of the travel.  I’d been up for 29 hours, walked an entire city and I was tired. We slowly made our way back to the hotel and I thanked him for the spectacular evening.  I made my way up to my room and through my exhaustion, I was determined to journal about my experience before going to sleep.  I was utterly exhausted and fell asleep in my journal as I was writing.  I opened the shuttered windows and the cool, après rain breeze flowed through the room.  The bed was hard, but nothing would impede my night of sleep.  Good Night Florence!