The spring of 2010, my junior year in college, I was blessed to study abroad in Florence, or Firenze in Italian.  As a student majoring in Art History and working towards a minor in Italian, this was a DREAM!  Sometimes it feels like it still was.  For a semester, I wandered the charming streets of Firenze, visited countless museums, galleries, parks, gardens, bars, clubs, libraries (well, more like librarY.  Education came more from culture), restaurants, an opera, a ballet, wine and olive oil tastings, and ventured alone.  I had 7 other roommates who I met there and came to love, but I strolled alone quiet often.  The city, and the country as a whole, spoke to my heart.  I felt this peace and excitement that I hadn’t in a very long time.

As a group, we traveled to Prague, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice, Murano, Burano, Perugia, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Chianti, Fiesole, and I traveled to Paris and London by myself.  But Firenze, will always be my favorite place.  Sure, I missed my family, some days were not all sunshine, and I was often nervous in a foreign country… especially being someone who has a habit of wandering.  But I never wanted to leave.  When I dreadfully returned to the U.S., I was very depressed.  I can look back now and laugh at my immaturity, but at that time it was miserable.  All that was on my mind was this magnificent city and all the memories and freedom that came along with that experience.  I probably didn’t handle the transition very well, but I knew I would never be the same.

 

Fast forward to the Fall of 2010, my senior year of college, back in America.  I met John at the very beginning of the year, the semester after Firenze, and we officially began dating November 14, 2010.  It was the week after my birthday, and we didn’t say we were dating until several months later.  But we both knew we had something special and lasting…

John had also been to Firenze, when he was in high school, but not with someone as obsessed as me.  So we decided to take this European adventure in the Fall of 2014 for an anniversary trip.  My crazy, fearless little brother was already backpacking through 10+ countries, so John and I went to join him and trek on our own too.  We landed in Prague on my birthday for several days, then to Vienna, then the biggest chunk in the most deserving place, Firenze.  We arrived in Italy the evening of November 13th.  Anyone that knows me is aware how much I adore Europe, but Italy…Italy is my heart.

That night, we ate some pizza by the Duomo, strolled down to Piazza Signoria and the Arno, and then went back to our quaint hotel.  The hotel was so historic, we had to leave the key there when we left for the day.  They only had one key for each room, and it looked like a key for a castle!  Charm is EVERYWHERE! 🙂 The next day, the 14th, was potentially our only sunny day there, so John asked me to plan our day outdoors.  I planned the whole day, little did I know I was planning our proposal!

 

14 November 2014

Our first stop that day was the Bell Tower..  We climbed to the top of the in the center of the city that morning (we both have climbed the Duomo previously and decided to climb the tower this trip).  When we got to the top, the clouds began to break open to reveal a beautiful blue day.  Both of us were so grateful for this glorious autumn day.  The view is perfection; crisp blue sky above the green landscape.  Ahhh…

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We then ventured toward Palazzo Pitti, a palace turned museum, and went through a few galleries then out to the Boboli Gardens.  The love I have for this place is probably considered insane.  😆  I wanted to wander through the gardens longer but John reminded me about watching the sunset (sunsets are my other obsession. It’s my favorite time of the day!).

 

We stopped by a supermercato to purchase wine for our sunset.  I didn’t think anything of it, I just love Italian wine!  This moment takes me back to my regular trips to the mercato when I lived here.  Nostalgia.

So we head on to Piazzale Michelangelo.  Lots of walking, climbing, and taking off our fall layers this day.  And adding them back on once we’d find stillness.  John kept asking me where the best view of the city was.  I told him there were a few, but this was my favorite and easiest to access.  Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the best, Tuscany on one side and the view of the city center on the opposite.  It’s very touristy, but it’s understandable as to why.  The views. The sky, which was open and beautiful clouds scattered around the sun by now.  A woman was singing and playing guitar on the steps.  Have you heard someone singing in Italian?  No wonder why it’s considered a romantic language!  THIS is why I love Italy, the culture.

We stopped to listen to the music, and maybe catch our breath.  😉  I was so full of joy, sharing this place that is SO special to me with the man I love.  We slowly walked around the piazza and took in the views.  Magic.  We took photos on our phones and Canon.  After we viewed the city view, we walked over to the more quiet side.  There was almost no one near us.  We were basically alone.

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I took my yoga photo, of course.  Then John asked me to take photos of the wine bottle with the landscape behind.  Again, not thinking anything of the request, I went into full artist mode. 📸  Italy inspires me.  I don’t know how many photos I took of that wine bottle, but they all turned out lovely! 😄  During my photo session, John was pulling the ring out of his backpack and moving to his pocket, I later found out.

There were some sweet moments between us, all mushy stuff.  We hugged, and I remember telling him how much I love him, forever.  The next thing I knew, he was down on one knee, holding my hand, saying, “Sarie Michal Swearingen, will you marry me?”

I cried and cried as I shook my head yes.  I might have even said, “stop it,” amidst all the tears.  In that moment, John felt so far away from me.  I needed him to hug me, hold me, and never let go.  I pulled him up as we hugged and kissed, and I continued to cry and cry.  Shocked, stunned, blissful, surprised, full of love.  A ring?! A ring!  He the put the most perfect diamond on my hand.  His promise to me to be his forever.

I called my mom on John’s phone for a brief moment.  In between the tears, I told her we were engaged as she pretended to not know.  I made it a quick call and only told her, so we could enjoy this special time just us two.  Being engaged without the chaos of wedding planning was very important to me.  Of course, this did not last long, but for a few days, it was just us.  The next morning, I messaged my sister and all my best girlfriends when we had WiFi.  I think I posted on social media the day or so after.  Without constant access to WiFi though, we were free to be ourselves and celebrate privately in the most magical city.

John really thought this out! 🙂  I felt like we were in a fairytale, our own fairytale.

As we strolled back through the city, across the Ponte Vecchio, I could not help but to look down at my hand dozens and dozens of times.  It was just beginning to get dark.  I could not believe the sparkle, especially beneath the charming European street lights.  My eyes were still watering, and I wondered who around us knew.  I felt so special, I’m sure people could see it beaming from me 😉  We had a special dinner and chose to sit on the chilly patio because we wanted to enjoy every part of it.  We each had our delicious entrees (I had a vegetarian lasagna) and my favorite wine and a lot of bread and olive oil.  Basically, my favorite meal ever.

We strolled a little that night and then had 4 more days to wander Florence as an ENGAGED couple.

Yes, it was the best vacation ever… and the greatest proposal story of all time!!

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