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Italian Initiation Journey, Day 1: A Touristy Day

July 31, 2011

Day 0

July 21

Florence.

At around quarter to six in the morning, we gave up our attempts at sleeping. In night trains, the upcoming stops aren’t announced, so you have to watch for your station. Luckily, it was light by then, and thus much easier to tell that we were moving into Florence. We passed smaller train stations, and I spotted the first fig trees, bougainvilleas and oleanders. As we passed through Prato I remembered one of our more memorable trips to Sardinia, when I was about five years old. I don’t really remember it myself, but I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the story of how our car broke down in a tunnel near Florence, and my parents had to let it roll out, with no lights and two little children in the back. The car was then towed to a garage in Prato, and the Clown Brother, our mother and I stayed in a hotel while our father took the train back to Innsbruck to buy a new alternator because there were no replacement parts for Mitsubishi cars to be had in Italy at that time – this was the only time in the first twenty or so years of my life that I stayed in a hotel.

A little past six o’clock, it was time to get ready to get off the train. We waded through luggage and sleeping people, carrying our saddlebags and rucksacks, only to discover that the bike carriage was also full of sleeping people, who were lying even between our bikes. They finally woke up as we arrived at Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s main station, and sat up, so we didn’t knock out any of their teeth after all.

The plan had been this: 1. find a toilet at the train station, freshen up and have a much-needed pee 2. find a baggage room to leave our bags and camping gear, and lock up the bikes. 3. find a tourist info and ask for campsites. 4. do some sightseeing, come back to get our bikes and luggage and go to the campsite.

Not an unreasonable plan, right? Except that… there was no toilet. There was no baggage room. And there was no tourist info. Or else they were very well hidden.

So instead we walked up to the first newspaper kiosk, which conveniently also sold city maps. We bought one of those, then asked the kiosk owner if he knew any campsites. I think he spoke some rudimentary English… in any case, he told us there was one up near the Piazzale Michelangiolo. We had no idea what that was, but found it on the map, so we set off. First down to the Arno river, across the first bridge we came across, and up the hill. A pretty steep hill. With a full bladder and an empty stomach. I wasn’t too happy.

© Pink, used with permission

At the top, we found a public toilet. Which was closed until 10 AM. It was barely seven.

Then, we found the Piazzale Michelangiolo. Which had statues, a nice view over Florence, but no signs pointing to a campsite. I walked up to the first souvenir vendor I saw.

“Do you speak English?”

A headshake.

Ooookay… “Camping?” I asked, with a hopeful and questioning look.

“Questo viale,” he said, pointing along a road. “Cento metri, a sinistra.” He probably said more, but those were the words I understood – hundred metres, to the left. I reported back to Pink, and off we went again, for considerably more than hundred metres, but the campsite was indeed on the left.

Hotels make me nervous, because I’m just not used to them. Campsites I can deal with, having spent all my childhood holidays on them. The process may not be much different, but I find it much easier to walk up to a campsite reception booth and tell them I need a spot for two people, one tent, one night, than I have walking up to a hotel reception desk. Hand over a passport, sign some form, be shown a spot – and finally, finally use the toilet!

We ate some biscuits while waiting for a few people to leave so we’d get a good spot, put up the tent,

crawled in and fell asleep.

Well, not really. We showered, looked at a map that was too big for our tent:

ate salami sandwiches and balcony-grown tomatoes

and then fell asleep.

When we woke up at around 3 PM, we looked at each other and said, “Huh. Didn’t mean to do that. Let’s go and have a look at Florence!”

Back up to the Piazzale Michelangeliolo, from where we had a view over our campsite, where the tents were hidden under olive trees:

and over Florence – the Cathedral and some other stuff that we couldn’t identify, but took pictures of because it stuck up over the level of the house roofs – I could probably find out what it is, but I don’t really care enough.

The Arno, the Ponte Vecchio and some other bridges:

© Pink, used with permission

On the way down, we passed this tower:

© Pink, used with permission

And pretty lamp posts:

We saw ice cream, but instead bought a toothbrush.

And crossed the Ponte Vecchio – I know just enough Italian to know this means Old Bridge, and Pink, who has been to Florence before, informed me that it’s the traditional home of the goldsmiths. It’s still lined with windows full of jewelry, and presumably workshops behind them.

Wandered around looking dreadfully tourist-y in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, clutching cameras and city maps…

Yours truly in front of the Cathedral. © Pink, used with permission

Little as I care for this whole looking-at-town stuff, the Cathedral is admirable. Why can’t they build pretty and long-lasting things like that any more, instead of ugly concrete-and-glass constructions that fall apart after a couple of decades?

The problem with pretty buildings is that there is never enough space to go back far enough to take a picture of all of it – you always bump into some wall first, not to mention three dozen other tourists also staring at the building. And anyway, if you could back far enough, you wouldn’t be able to see all the details any more.

At one point, we walked past the botanical garden, which didn’t look so impressive that we wanted to go in, but we could see some pretty Cycads through the fence:

At some point, I thought it would be a good idea to buy ice cream – the cone turned out to be gigantic and the amount of ice cream in it even more gigantic, almost justifying the gigantic price of € 10. Well, now I know better than to buy ice cream in some very tourist-y place without asking for the price first.

I was still trying to finish my ice cream when we stopped at a grocery store for some bread, cookies, salami and fruit. We walked back up the hill, past figs and pomegranates, and ate a supper of salami sandwiches, tomatoes and a canary melon.

After sunset, we walked back to the Piazzale Michelangiolo for a look over night-time Florence, which looked very dark except for a few buildings like the Cathedral. Neither of our cameras is good of taking pictures in the dark, so we just stood and looked for a while, listening to some street musicians, and then back to the campsite to snuggle into our sleeping bags.

Day 2
Day 3

 ~*~*~*~

And snuggling into my bed is what I’m now going to do, at last – WordPress decided today would be a good time to act up and eat part of my post, and resizing pictures and hiding our faces takes quite some time, so it’s way later than I’d like it to be, especially since I have to go to work again tomorrow. But I have a nice and comfortable bed waiting for me. And most importantly, my pillow – I can deal with thin mats, chilly tents and sleeping bags, but that tiny cushion I brought was just not enough!

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