Episode Fifteen: Florence
David, Karaoke and a Room With A View
The train stops and the sign outside says “Firenze”, but the station looks
somewhat odd. I remember reading that the main station is located in the
heart of the city, but this surrounding countryside looks like an Italian
version of Deliverance. Two girls with packs ask us if this is where we get
off and we shrug in unison. We decide to stay on the train, which turns out
to be a good move as we roll into town. I guess naming two stops Firenze is
not confusing to anyone but us.
The girls, Gigi and Mary, are Canadian. Mary is cute and sarcastic, a good
combination. Chris thinks Gigi is the prettiest girl we have met so far. I
argue that the lady from the American party is my favorite, though Gigi does
come very close to ousting her. From our conversation, one would think we
have been away from female companionship for just a little too long. One
would be absolutely right.
Upon entering Florence, we have made no reservations. The girls are staying
in a small hotel two blocks form the station and the prices are supposed to
be decent. We tag along and the landlady says she can accommodate us. Our
room is like a little hallway with a sink, the beds are against the wall,
end to end. The first thing out of my mouth is that Chris cannot sleep with
his feet near my head, nor his head near my head, which leaves him with
little other options. The window is a thick, wooden thing that opens out to
a view of Florence rooftops. Chris paraphrases E.M. Forster by saying every
young woman should have a room with a view. He is not crazy about our view,
but says that since he is not a young woman, he will have to be okay with a
I, on the other hand, think the view is magnificent. It looks out over the
red-tiled roofs of Florence, and in the background, purple hills reaching to
the blue, Italian sky. Gigi comes to our room and asks if we would like to
do something later. I suggest dinner and she agrees. This excites us, but we
have hours before dinner comes about, so we decide to go out onto the
streets of Florence.
Our first turn is a bad one and we get lost. We are supposed to be able to
use the giant dome in the middle of the city to guide us, but we end up
walking through alleys with tall walls and pass right by without seeing it.
We somehow end up crossing the river and wandering into some hills. This
type of being lost is fun, but after awhile it becomes annoying. The fact
that we are walking through forestland while we are supposed to be in the
city makes us nervous. We find some steps and what looks like a park, which
makes us feel better that civilization is close, but still does not help
with the fact that my feet are starting to hurt.
Lost and confused, we stumble onto a parking lot and see a statue up ahead.
It is a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David. He is facing toward the far
side of the parking lot, which we find overlooks the entire city of
Florence. How we got that far out of the city, I cannot tell, but where it
has led us makes it worth every step.
From here, we have a panorama of Il Duomo and the bridge, Ponte Vecchio,
which spans over the river Arno. I use up an entire roll of film trying to
take the perfect picture. We are all alone up here and we wonder if people
know about this spot, but we assume they must, as we see one of those
telescopes that let you spy on things for a coin or two. We find a trail
that takes us back to town and our upcoming dinner dates.
Something must be wrong with Chris today. Maybe he accidentally used my soap
or is wearing my socks. I say this because we are lost again. Everything is
fine the first few minutes. I mention that I am in the mood to buy a new
shirt and we head off in a direction that shirts may be sold. Suddenly, we
find ourselves unable to figure out where we are. We stop to ask a woman
where the train station is and she points to the left. We go that direction
and find that we have reached a train station, only, it is not the one in
the middle of town. Still not knowing where we are, I make the mistake of
rubbing my eye too vigorously. To my chagrin, I have torn my contact in
Tired and half-blind I stumble behind Chris. We decide to follow the
railroad tracks back into town. Our logic is that they will eventually lead
us to the main station, but we are also wondering if we are going the wrong
direction, toward the countryside. After a while the train traffic becomes
heavier and we start to see more buildings. We are behind the main station
now and our hotel is only two blocks over. For some reason, when I am lost,
I have adventures. When Chris is lost, it is just annoying.
We arrive at the hotel an hour after we said we would, but the girls are
still waiting for us. They are poor like us and are looking for someplace
cheap to eat. Gigi says that she heard the train station has a restaurant
that is supposed to be good and cheap, so we go. Chris orders the lasagna
and the two girls get French fries, I get this weird thing that I see
displayed at the counter. It is a piece of meat full of spices, but not like
a meatloaf, more like a hamburger patty. I finish it, and while everyone
else is talking, I go back to the counter to find out what I have just
The cook tells me the name of it and I let him know I really enjoyed it. He
tells me to follow him and takes me into the kitchen. He grabs a patty of
meat and puts it into a bowl full of tomato juice. He says let it soak for a
while and then take it out. After this, he places it on the counter and
begins to massage different spices and herbs into it. Once this is done, he
pours some of the tomato juice into a hot pan and then drops in the meat,
cooking it with the boiling juice. He lets me know the lesson is over with a
smile and a wave of the hand. I thank him and leave, taking with me
everything about this food item except its name.
We head back to the hotel and the girls tell us that we have to find a place
that sells gelato. I tell them I have had it, but they both swear that a
gelato outside of Florence is not real gelato. I would hate to tell that to
someone from Rome. We walk around and finally find a small store that sells
the Italian version of ice cream. I order something that is the color of
cream and tastes like raspberry.
We walk out of the shop and Gigi takes a bite of hers. She spits it out and
tells us not to eat it.
“This,” she says, “is not a good gelato.”
I tell her mine is good, but she says that she does not want us to think
this is the way they are supposed to taste. I tell her I will do no such
thing as I continue to make mine disappear.
Back at the hotel, there is only one shower. It is a large bathroom that
closes with two sliding doors. Gigi is the first to shower and then I go
next. When I return to the room, she is sitting on my bed, hair wet and in a
robe. I walk in and she says there you are, gets up, says see you later and
walks out. With my eyebrows aloft, I give Chris the international smirk that
says way to go buddy, but he appears confused. He says that she came in
asking where I was, says she will wait for me and then when I get back from
my shower, she leaves. Gigi and Mary are supposed to meet up with this
Australian guy in front of the Dome later, and want to know if we would like
to join them. Of course, we say yes.
The Australian guy’s name is Murray, and the first five seconds talking to
him, Chris says that he does indeed have a certain Murray-ness to him. He is
one of those attractive free spirits that either attracts or repels women.
No one has any plans as of yet and I suggest that we go to the parking lot
Chris and I discovered earlier, to look over the city at night. On the way
up Gigi tells me that she left home last September and will not be back
until next August. That is almost a year without seeing her family. She says
her parents keep sending her to different schools and money to travel with,
almost as if they are trying to keep her from coming home.
We reach the lookout point and find that it is full of tourists and tour
buses. Apparently, we did not stumble upon some forgotten viewpoint earlier
in the day; it is just that no one else was around. The place is called
Piazzale Michelangiolo. After we ooh and ahh over the city lights, we go back
down and attempt to find a disco that Murray has heard is good. We wander
the streets endlessly and are all becoming increasingly annoyed. A guy
approaches us with free passes to a disco down the street, so we go. The
dance floor is supposed to open at ten, and it is only nine, so we decide to
sit in the lounge and wait.
The lounge consists of big round booths facing a large television screen. We
have entered a world of Karaoke, which is fine, except for the fact that I
hate Karaoke almost as much as mimes. The DJ hands each of us a microphone,
so that the entire table can sing along, and soon we are one of four tables
belting out the words to Bryan Adams, The Simple Minds and Prince.
Gigi is leaning into me and I cannot tell if it is a positive toward me, or
because she has lost the ability to balance. Chris does not want to join in
the singing, but I keep buying him beers and eventually he picks up his
microphone. I am not paying attention to what he is doing, but it looks like
the DJ is. After making noises, humming and laughing into the mike, Chris
gets his taken away. Sometimes I do not know what to do with this boy.
The disco does not open at ten. They tell us they need more people to
arrive. By eleven, the music is thumping, but they still think there is not
enough people to open the doors. By midnight we have given up on dancing and
have given in to Karaoke. Many beers help me make this transition.
Murray announces that his hostel has a curfew and he has to leave. Chris,
Mary and I say farewell to him. Then we notice that Gigi is getting up. We
ask her where she is going and she says that it is time to go because Murray
has a curfew. Chris, Mary and I look at each other, trying to figure out at
what point any of us became Murray.
We ask Gigi if she is leaving and she says that we can do what we want. We
take this as a sign that she wants to be alone with Murray, but he leaves
and it is just the four of us. Assuming the dance floor will never open, we
decide to call it a night and head back to the hotel. My bed is firm and we
have decided to sleep in. I am excited because we have our own room at the
end of the hall. I plan on snoring like a crazy man.
The next morning we sleep in, lounge around and generally take our time. We
go to the outdoor leather market and shop for trinkets to send back home.
Once again, the beauty of the Italian women strikes me, though this time
they are not zooming by on mopeds, they are instead zooming by on
high-heeled leather boots. The Italian men are all studs, but this only
makes me jealous, so I avoid looking at them. The market is fun but crowded.
I buy a leather wallet that smells like a new Mercedes and then we work our
way to an outdoor cafÃƒÂ©, where we drink cappuccinos and write postcards.
We go to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. The map makes it look
like it is just down the street, but we walk for many blocks and are
beginning to believe we have taken a wrong turn. Then I spot a cigar shop,
and outside the door, are hundreds of postcards of David. They have him
posing from the right, left, above and below. They have him wearing
sunglasses, boxer shorts or a toga. One has a hole in it for a light switch
to poke through and I avoid turning it over, afraid to see Made in the USA
printed on the backside.
Up the street is the Accademia, but the line is ridiculous and the tickets
cost more than our hotel. The people are barely moving and the museum is not
open for much longer, so we decide to forego this masterpiece and return to
town. I am positive that I will be back in Florence soon, so I do not feel
too bad as we walk away from the cities most famous art piece. I can only
hope Michelangelo forgives me this choice.
We go to Piazza della Signoria, a square in the middle of town, where we see
an exact replica of where David had once stood. I remember reading that this
is where it was originally placed. It was brought in a cart at night, and
Michelangelo had to sleep next to it, to keep kids from throwing rocks at
it. After several nights, they finally reached this spot and it was
unloaded. In the morning, the people of Florence had gathered around it.
Michelangelo was expecting the worst, as the Florentine’s are stern art
critics, but the people accepted it with open arms. They were excited to
have something that would bring so much pride to their city.
We go inside the building it guards, Santa Croce, and see where some of the
cities most elite are laid to rest. Michelangelo’s tomb is impressive,
adorned with marble figures resting upon it. Dante’s tomb has a life-size
marble statue of him, looking both frightening and scholarly, though his
body is not actually in this location. Galileo takes up a smaller portion of
the wall, and a little further down, a plague commemorating Leonardo Di
Vinci. Outside is a garden of sculpture, but it is fenced off and we are in
no mood for scaling.
From here, we walk to Il Duomo and I am mesmerized with all the people. I
cannot stop taking pictures of the panhandlers. With their soiled garments
and handlebar mustaches, they look like they have been dropped here from
another century. The art around Il Duomo is impressive, as is the enormity
of the dome itself. Every street in Florence has been right out of a picture
book and I have gone through almost all of my film today. The rest of the
day is spent looking at art, people and buildings. I eventually come to the
conclusion that Florence is now my favorite city.
We eat at a restaurant that specializes in my favorite thing, calzones. We
then walk off dinner by going to the main bridge to watch the sun set. The
wall around the river, as with most of the walls in Florence, is pietra
serena, the serene stone of Florence. It is a special stone that comes from
the hills around this area and I decide I want some. My rock collecting
habit has become obsessive, but it is too late to stop now.
I remember that a friend of mine told me that her dad took a rock from
Russia when he was visiting there. They caught him at the airport and told
him it was considered stealing from their country. He was let go, oddly
enough, with the rock still in his possession. I wonder what the rules are
against taking European rocks. Surely, it is not as bad as taking an
artifact, painting or the skeleton of a saint, but then again, who knows? I
am weighing the pros and cons of this endeavor when I see what I want. A
piece of the wall has broken off and shattered on the ground. There is a
triangular piece as big as my hand that somehow tells me it has always
wanted to see the States. Assuming it will only be swept up and thrown away,
I give in to its request.
On the way back to the hotel, we stumble upon an American bookstore. I want
to buy something to read but cannot help but feel guilty that I still have
not read Don Quixote, so I abstain. The girls have just returned from a day
in Pisa. We are all going to Venice tomorrow, but we are leaving early and
they are taking a later train. Gigi tells us to meet them in the main
square, where they will be meeting Murray, and then we can all ride the
Gondolas. We agree and then head to our rooms.
It is raining hard and there is a rainbow outside. The smell of wet is sleep
inducing, so we decide to leave the window open. Later, the sound of
obnoxious Italian teenagers is not sleep inducing, so the window is closed.
Tomorrow we reach Venice, Italy’s city of the canals.