Seven cities in 10 days: Part 5

If you’re just joining us, you might want to check out Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 first.

We’ve been in Venice for two days. Today we’re leaving its welcoming, pedestrian-friendly streets for the bustling crowds of Florence.

Day 5: Thursday, September 20, 2007

No early-morning walk today: I overslept. After a quick shower, we headed down [to the Hotel Rossi’s dining room] for a breakfast of bread, butter, and coffee. We chatted with some Brits who were also leaving today, and they suggested that we reserve our train tickets to Florence.

So, right after breakfast, we walked to the train station. We’d gotten great advice. Not only was there already a line at the ticket booth, but there were only two trains to Florence that day—and the morning run was almost full.

We chatted with some Aussies as we stood in line. Esteban quizzed them enthusiastically about Australia. I gave them our leftover vaporetto tickets. Everyone was happy.

We ran back to the hotel to settle our tab with Signore Rossi, and then ran back to the train station. We were on our way within an hour.

The train was crowded. Across the aisle from us was seated one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever encountered. He was boisterous, uncouth, culturally clueless. And he was American. As if to seal the stereotype, he was wearing shorts and white sneakers. The Italians seemed amused by his incessant braying.

We arrived in Florence mid-afternoon to crowds, traffic, and the ever-present sound of horns. There was an inescapable feeling of congestion. It didn’t help that the sidewalks were only eight inches wide—or that we had our luggage in tow.

It didn’t take long to find Il Bargellino. Carmel showed us to our room. A quick tour of the second floor led past her kitchen and onto a beautiful patio. Carmel introduced us to Pino, her Italian husband. I felt like I was invading their home.

Esteban and I headed out for a stroll. Maybe this city’s charms were being lost on me, but I found Florence unpleasant. … It was a warren. The streets were so narrow that I felt claustrophobic.

The drivers, who seemed (understandably) tired of tourists, would aggressively speed toward us at crosswalks. As we rounded one corner, Esteban and I saw a woman who had been hit, and who was lying in the street. She was an American, in her 50s or 60s.

And to top it all off, within a half hour of our arrival, some mook had already tried to grab my bag. Such was our introduction to Florence.

We made our way toward the market street, where we stopped for dinner at a sidewalk café. Then we ducked into a small store for a gelato. Little did we know it would cost us three euros for my single, and nine for E’s double. We were furious, but we paid up. There’s no sense in getting arrested over ice cream.

Armed with our $20 gelatos, we fended off the street vendors and fought our way through the crowds to the Duomo. It was spectacular, but we were too tired to enjoy it.

We grabbed some halal and headed back to the hotel for some peace and quiet. The sun was setting as we enjoyed our dinner on Carmel and Pino’s beautiful patio. It was hard to believe that this peaceful oasis could exist in the middle of all that chaos.

Carmel joined us after a while, with a bottle of wine and a box of Scrabble. Esteban only lasted a couple of games, but Carmel and I kept at it. We went through two bottles of wine and some 200 words before calling it quits at 1:30 [a.m.].

Here are some shots from our first day in Florence. Mouse over the photos for a caption.


Will our second day in Florence leave a more favorable impression? Stay tuned for Part 6!

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