Seven cities in 10 days: Part 1

In September of 2007, Esteban and I set out on our most ambitious trip to date.

We’d never been to Italy before, so we wanted to get a taste of several cities. Our original itinerary called for Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome.

Although we discussed flying into Rome, we were concerned about the cost. So we booked the cheapest flight we could find — on Icelandair, to Paris — and decided to take trains between each of the cities.

The trip eventually grew to span seven cities in 10 days: Reykjavik, Paris, Milan, Venice, Florence, San Gimignano, and Rome (with return stops in Paris and Reykjavik).

I chronicled our journey on the backs of maps, train schedules, and museum passes — a messy stack of paper I’d forgotten until recently, when I found it behind a bookshelf.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer some excerpts for my friends who haven’t yet heard all the tales from this amazing trip.

Day 1: Saturday/Sunday September 16, 2007

Maybe I’m getting better at traveling. The flight to Paris seemed to speed by effortlessly. There were a few moments of fitful, uncomfortable shifting, but still I arrived feeling relatively rested and relaxed.

The feeling didn’t last. Almost immediately, I started leaking money. The AirFrance bus was 18 euros per person. … The bus ride took us past the northern suburbs of Paris, which roughly resemble pictures I’ve seen of Cabrini Green. It was a stark contrast to the genteel veneer of Hausmann’s façades a few minutes later, near the heart of the city. Paris is full of such contradictions.

It took us a few minutes to find the Hotel Castex. … In spite of the handy map I was clutching, Esteban and I still did a bit of unnecessary strolling. It felt good, though, after being folded into right angles for 11 hours.

From the front, the Castex looked exactly as I remembered it. But the interior was unrecognizable. It had been given a posh face lift, including the addition of a minuscule elevator.

Our room was another matter. Its twin beds occupied 85% of the floor space; our baggage took up the rest. (Later that night, poor Esteban bonked his forehead when he got up to use the bathroom, and I stubbed my toe. In the darkness, neither of us had remembered the thick stone wall that lay at the foot of our beds.)

After a refreshing shower and a change of clothes, we set out for a walk. Within a few blocks, we were at the Place des Vosges, which was replete with families and couples out for a Sunday stroll. … Music filled the cloistered walk. We listened to a flamenco guitarist, a Russian pianist playing Chopin on a portable keyboard, and a very scaled-down orchestra tackling Mozart.

Esteban and I ambled back toward the hotel for dinner at an outdoor café. We joked that we felt like zombies. Happy, dazed, slightly-more-impoverished, hungry, rumpled, mangled-French-speaking, American zombies.

A couple of croque-monsieurs and some glasses of red wine later, and we were out like a light—for 13 hours. Just like that, Saturday had morphed into Monday.

Check back for Part 2, in which we’ll take a train to Milan and begin our Italian adventure. More to come soon!

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