November 29, 2023

The Secret of Alba

By Elaine Milardo
The Secret of Alba

Vacation is a time for sleep. At least that’s part of the beauty of a vacation- rest and relaxation...and someone who makes your bed when you go out exploring a new city for the day. I get that, so it comes as no surprise to me that when I ask my friends who come to Florence for vacation if they have walked the Florentine streets at dawn, alba, they chuckle and say “maybe tomorrow.” We both know they’ll be sleeping in tomorrow. Only I know they are missing out on the secret. 

There is a silence and a beauty at alba that surprises me every time I experience it. I fall in love with the city all over again. There is something particularly amazing about walking through the streets of Florence at alba. Walking across the Ponte Vecchio alone (give me all the gold!! Yes! All for me!!!) or walking down Via Tornabuoni and actually window shopping with no guilt. No cars, no tourists, no noise, only the glimmer of the street lights reflecting in puddles on the freshly cleaned streets. It’s that moment of limbo between night and day. A moment especially ironic if you find yourself in Piazza del Limbo, another secret of mine (but I’ll save that for another post). Without all the dodging of people and cars one remembers to look around, to look up and take it all in. The spectacular architecture you studied in school, that artisan’s boutique you are only now noticing because you are walking a little slower, the Duomo… The Duomo! It is amazing how much we miss when we are walking through the maze that Florence becomes after alba. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the only one out at alba. There are other pendolari, commuters, who, like me, have no choice but to take the early train from outside the city. Don’t feel sorry for us, though. This means we get our choice of warm croissants and all the attention from the barman. He doesn’t know my name, but he knows my profession. He calls me “teacher” and I smile every time he prepares my cappuccino without me having to ask him. I’ve figured out the secret. There is no hustle and bustle at sunrise, just a moment to actually enjoy everything. Taste everything. See everything. 

You observe so much more at alba. Yes, you actually see the monuments and the statues without having to worry about ruining someone’s vacation photo…but you are also witnessing the people and their culture under that magical orange glow that only comes at alba. While the sun starts to rise, store owners raise the shutters of their shops and shout out “buongiorno!” to each other. It is a new day and a fresh start. I think that even the Florentines remember how lucky they are at alba, they are in on the secret.