Here’s a short story for you: every time I title a new post, I write out ‘Episode…’ and then load my own blog on my browser to check what Episode number I’m actually on. And today? Today I had to scroll past one ‘Out of Office Note’, one reblog of something I posted on Raxa Collective ages ago, three Saturday Spotlights and two PinAddicts Challenges just to get to the most recent episode on my actual life. For this, I apologise. You deserve so much more, each and every one of you. And with Grant coming to stay in three short days*, I’d better rectify the situation tout de suite before I’m distracted yet again.
*EEEEEEEE YAYYYY OMG SO EXCITED HOORAYYYYYYYYYYY EXCLAMATIONS GALORE
I would love to tell you about how I kicked my cold’s ass today: how, after two days of pathetic depression and laziness, I finally got up today, blew off my first class of the day, unpacked my shit from Italy, picked up those two dead ladybirds on my floor, washed all my clothes, ironed in my underwear whilst singing along to spirit-raising songs and generally began to live again. So, as you can tell, I would love to tell you all about that; but what I really want to post about is what I’m sure you’re all much more interested in anyway: my trip to Italy! My friend Nicole was planning a trip for winter break, and I got jealous and snapped up her invitation to join her. She didn’t have to travel on her own, and I didn’t have to sit in my tiny Robertsau room on my own. The ultimate win-win situation! So, there follows a random mixture of excerpts from the account I kept whilst actually in Italy and the draft post I just wrote up which is totally different from the original. The aim is to combine the wittiest/most prosaic/most self-promotional parts of each: let me know how I do with that :P
So. I just spent 13 hours on a coach from Strasbourg to Florence. (Guess which part this is from). I left at quarter to midnight on Friday and arrived at lunchtime today. On a scale of one to ten, make a wild guess at how energetic and fresh feeling I am right now.
It’s actually a lot higher than you’d think: my idea of taking my drowzifying travel sickness pills totally worked, so I slept incredibly well, in spite of the three hours we spent stranded on the coach at the Swiss border while the officials, who were clearly as drugged up on power as I was on sedatives, interrogated a black man* who eventually got left at the side of the road with all his baggage to catch a bus back to France at 3:30 am. I don’t know what he did to piss those guys off, but for whatever reason, they did not want him in their country.
* I specify that he was black because Nicole’s friend Abdul later told me that every passenger on his bus that had been scrutinized on the way into Switzerland had belonged to an ethnic minority. Not, of course, because it’s relevant for my (non-prejudiced) purposes. Just sayin’.
I was all clear though (pun sort of intended >_>) and the next time I awoke it was to the sight of a crisp, snowy Tuscan morning rolling by. It wasn’t the vineyard-y sunny Tuscany I had for some reason been deep-down expecting – it was February, after all – but the landscape was breathtaking in the snow, and I knew I was seeing a Tuscany that not many tourists ever see.
When we drew in to Firenze at 12:50, I felt a lot better than I’ve felt after numerous other long-haul journeys (I won’t name names, Continental Airlines). I had a list of tram numbers that I could take to meet Nicole at her station 90 minutes later, but due to the weird tram system, I ended up getting a bus instead. Big mistake. An hour later, I was still on the number 2 bus waiting for the Stazione Rifreddi stop I’d been told I needed. But the city was sputtering out and I could see bare fields not far off: I was officially in the boondocks away out of Florence, and I didn’t expect there were many stations out here.
“Scuza,’ I said in my very worst Italian, “la fermata per la stazione Rifreddi…” I didn’t know how to finish my sentence, but the elderly lady I was addressing did. “Passata,” she told me, and gestured miles behind her. I sighed. “Y como se chiama la fermata?” I asked in my best Spatalian. “Rifreddi,” she confirmed. So I got off, waited 20 minutes, doubled back, arrived back where I’d begun 90 minutes previously, asked the bus driver where the Rifreddi stop was. “Passata” he said, evoking another sigh on my part, and explained that we’d go round again. But I was already late to meet Nicole at the elusive Rifreddi station, and I had no idea how far ’round’ we’d have to go. And I still wasn’t convinced I’d know it when we got to my stop.
Eyes peeled for a ‘Rifreddi’ stop, we were just passed Giuliano 01 when I nervously asked another signora what the Rifreddi stop was called. ‘Prossima!’ she replied, ‘Giuliano 03, questa, questa!’. The kindly old lady shoved me off the bus before the doors closed and I geronimoed into the street with my laden backpack and bursting handbag, doubled back the two blocks as instructed, and finally found Nicole who looked just as stressed as I was. Just as well I’d stopped trusting that the stop was called Rifreddi as I’d been assured. Just as well someone had posted that weird-ass Italian language-learning short film La Mappa Misteriosa on Facebook the week before and I’d put off working out by watching it all the way through, giving me a rough idea of what Italian is all about.
So, the 13-hour coach ride turned out to be a walk in the park compared to what should have been a ten-minute public bus squeeze within the city. I think I understand why non-language-learners don’t tend to love to travel as much as I do: it’s hella scary trying to get around in a country where you can’t effectively communicate with the locals.
Once Nicole and I found each other, though, things quickly improved. I was by this point a hardened bus-veteran, and got us to the city centre without any drama. We found a Tourist Information Office, got the lady to mark our hostel on a Mappa Non-Misteriosa, and found it was within walking distance, as apparently is pretty much everything in the tiny town of Florence. Just as well: I wouldn’t have got on another bus by that point if you’d paid me.
Our hostel was in an excellent location, just a couple of blocks from the awe-inspiring cathedral, and in a great district with high-fashion stores to gawp at, irresistible desserts to resist, and empty cafés which nonetheless charged you 4€ to sit at a table with a cappuccino which would cost you only 1,30€ to sip at the counter (that took some explaining, I can tell you. I’ve heard of sit-in or takeaway, but this third option was totally new to me). We also grabbed some great pizza from a snug little place that charged per 100g, bought some kickass postcards and explored a little. The slate was wiped clean and Florence was promptly forgiven for its traumatising public transport system.
Every minute I spent in that town made me wish more that I could spend more time getting to know it: probably largely due to the fact that it was February and the tourist craze hadn’t hit yet. Prices were decent even in the centre of town (just don’t sit down with your coffee!) and there were none of the merchants aggressively touting their wares as Grant had warned me there might be. Saturday was sangria night at our hostel, so I left Nicole to finish her paper-from-Hell and partied it up with my new Costa Rican friend (Small world!) before hitting the hay at a sensible 11pm, ready to make the most of Florence on Sunday. We were set to meet up with her friend Rebecca for the inside scoop on the city, and as Nicole had been up super-late working on that paper, I had plenty of time to make myself pretty before we headed out to meet her. I’ll talk about that next time, but for now I’ll leave you with some teaser photos to help illustrate how Florence went from naught to nifty in 48 hours.
Thanks to everyone for the lovely get-well wishes, by the way! I really was whining way too much about a spot of man-flu, but it was greatly appreciated and I’m absolutely on the mend, spirit first and body after : D
Lots of love and happy Tuesday,