Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Summer of Fun: Florence, Italy

Read the beginning chapters of my Summer of Fun here.

25 May
Flying out of Egypt, bound for Rome.
I went down to reception early because I needed to print my boarding pass. Naturally, this was a minor debacle as no one knew the printer password. It was finally sorted and I waited and waited for my driver Bishu. Half an hour later he emerged apologising and we packed into the car to drive to the airport. The time by now was after 8am, and my flight was at 10.30am.

We drove through terrible Cairo traffic and got to the airport at 9am. I looked for my flight on the board but there was nothing for 10.30am. Wait…that looks like my flight. Why does it say 9.30am? Panic ensued. Bishu and I scurried to each of the counters to try to find the correct carrier. Bishu took the reins; there was much excited babbling in Egyptian between he and the counter staff, while I rung my hands in utter panic.

It was now after 9am, and my flight was to leave at 9.30am.

The next thing I knew, the man behind the counter jumped over the barrier and began to run, motioning for me to follow. I shouldered my 15 kilo backpack and set off after him. 
We ran through security. 
We ran through customs. 
We ran down the corridor, my breath expelled in ragged gasps. 
Having not eaten for almost a week, my stamina was fading and fading fast, when finally the gentleman spotted a cart and waved it down. He pointed for me to get on, told the cart driver which gate to go do and, after a wheely spin we set off to the sound of my wheezing.

9.20am.

That's the time I arrived at the gate. The staff there smiled and nodded at me having been warned in advance. I thrust my luggage towards a gentleman and I waved it goodbye, certain I wouldn't see it again. With burning lungs, legs and heart I collapsed into my seat, begging the flight attendant for some water.

It was at around this point I started giggling like a madwoman. What. Just. Happened. I reflected on the lack of security in the Egyptian airport equal parts concerned, bemused and thankful. I fell asleep.

This first leg flew me to Athens where I disembarked, had a Greek Cheeseburger from Maccas before boarding again, this time for Rome, Italy. It was on this flight that it occurred to me that my boarding pass luggage tag only said Egypt-Athens, and I became convinced that my luggage wasn't going to make it to Rome.

Needless to say, I cried when I saw my purple backpack going round and round on the carousel in Rome. I bought my train ticket from Rome airport to Rome central (missed my train, of course), and then Rome central to Firenze (Is that Florence? I don't think it's Florence. Is it Florence?) and arrived, at last, at my hostel at around 9.30pm that night.

What a day. On arrival I organised to stay an additional night (on the caveat that I wouldn't have to change rooms). One hundred percent of people told me that Florence was amazing and that I should spend more time there than in Rome. Excellent, a spare room and an upgrade to boot. Exhausted and definitely requiring a shower I powered into my hostel room, to a chorus of "Oh hey! We have a new roommate!" I summed the remaining sliver of energy I had left, drew a deep breath and said loudly, "Hi everyone! I'm Sasha. Nice to meet you…"

I had a fun night out with my hostel roommates, grabbing a locally brewed beer and my very first Italian pizza, before I crashed hard and slept like a baby. 

It had been a long, panicky day, and I was glad to see the end of it.

26 May
Florence
I chose to do a free walking tour of Florence so I could get my bearings. The tour wasn't amazing and spent an awful lot of time marvelling at mediaeval turrets, but it served the purpose it had set out to do, and that was give me an idea of the layout of the town. At the end of the tour, I found some lunch at an overpriced restaurant in the square with a lovely view of the statues and Castello di Vincigliata, the castle.

David has 3 small sausages in Florence;
The real one, in the Accademia Gallery, one atop the
Piazza de Michelangelo and this one in the square.

Here, I had my first pasta and Italian wine. Delicious! It started raining quite heavily, and I was strangely impressed by how the street hawkers instantly changed from selling selfie sticks to ponchos and umbrellas. I went to find the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's David but, finding myself completely lost in the rain, returned to the square and joined the queue for the Uffizi Gallery instead. I stood in the queue for approximately an hour and a half, which did keep me out of the rain but was rather exhausting. As I reached the front of the line, the man pulled the tape across before me and I almost wept; please let me in!

None the less, I finally made it inside the beautiful gallery. There were a lot of tour groups, and I positioned myself front and centre so that they wouldn't block my views of the paintings. Here I saw the Aphrodite and many other incredible works of art. I spent a couple of hours here, and upon my exit I bought the biggest gelato I have ever witnessed (my first gelato in Italy!), exclaiming to the tourists next to me that "I don't even care how much that costs!" before hoeing into it with great gusto.

The Birth of Venus, Botticelli

My phone had died by this point so I embarked on an adventure to find my way back to the hostel, picking up a bottle of Chianti on the way to share with my roommates. We had a few glasses and Supreet, Ebony, Iris and I decided to check out a little cocktail bar on the other side of the river. It was cheap as it was for locals, and it was delicious and generous and I had a most enjoyable evening with these lovely ladies. Supreet was leaving in the morning, and so we bit our adieus.

27 May
Woke up early, with a plan of attack. First, to get to the Accademia Gallery early to beat the queue. I was a little later than I intended but still reasonably pleased with my placing in the line. Why the Accademia Gallery? This is the home of Michelangelo's David. I hadn't been sure I wanted to see him, but I am glad that I did. I was far more impressed by him than I expected to be. He is enormous. Well, except for his teeny tiny todger, poor guy.

There he is, there's David.

Weenie willies aside, the marble work, detail and sheer size of David was marvellous. I took a couple of cheeky selfies (and naughty Shazza did too), before I had a quick look around the rest of the largely unimpressive gallery and burst back out onto the street.

I experienced a rather life changing mocha-and-lemon-cream-filled-croissant breakfast before heading to the station to buy a one-way ticket to Pisa. One way, because one of my roommates had forgotten to validate their return ticket and had kindly given it to me so I could use it again. Naughty! I only had one thing I wanted to do in Pisa and that was to see the leaning tower. 

Pisa is only 1 hour out of Florence and the train ride was lovely. I made a beeline straight to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, following the crowd and the signs. The first time I caught sight of it: I snorted giggled. I knew it was a tad askew, but I hadn't somehow been expecting this. 

I asked a lady if she could take "the photo" of me: major fail. I sat down and took some photos of Shazza doing the Pisa lean, when I spotted a couple of tourists who looked like they knew what they were doing. I ventured over, and while the photo isn't perfect, they did a pretty decent job for me. One final lady offered, and she also rode the fail train hard.

Peek a boo..I see you!

The Leaning Tower now sufficiently wonky, I was starved and it was time for lunch. I found a random pizza place and ordered myself a margarita pizza with a small carafe of wine: Our house white is prosecco, are you sure that's ok? More than ok! I felt amazing. The best I had felt in a week. I had a belly full of carbs and Italian pizza and bubbly wine and life was grand.

While I was sitting here, one of the strangest experiences on my trip occurred. I saw two gentlemen walking in the direction of the tower, and I couldn't quite place where I had seen them. They were too far away for me to signal to them when it dawned on me - the Canadian boys I had been talking to on the rooftop in Athens! No way - how small is the world that I see them on a random back alley in Pisa? This was not the first time this was going to happen to me on my trip.

Righto, Pisa, done. I scanned my ill-gotten train ticket and returned to Florence, it now being the mid-afternoon. I wanted to climb the Duomo of The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore but knew I was going to be joining a bit of a line. The cathedral is in the middle of Florence and it is one of the most spectacularly beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Ornate, colourful, detailed, enormous, it stood in the middle of the square as a shining marvel above. I purchased a ticket, another gelato and then joined the queue. Here, I started chatting with a young guy about music and all sorts, but he was a little overbearing and I wasn't keen on remaining in his company for too long.

The gorgeous exterior of the Duomo.

The climb to the top of the Duomo is a casual 463 steps, with many of the passages barely wide enough for one person, let alone someone passing the other way. We waited some time up near the roof where we could marvel at the muriel painted on the ceiling. The beauty and intricate detail of the outside of the cathedral is strangely juxtapositioned with the plainness of the interior, apart from the painted ceiling. Soon, it was time for us to ascend the final few stair cases to the very top, where we were presented with - quite literally (after 463 steps) - a breath taking view.

The red roofs of Florence, the sweeping green hills and the dramatic cloudy blue sky made me fall in love with little Firenze of Tuscany even more.

Oh my.

I finally tore myself away - this had been a very big day for me - and, after a short nap back at the hostel, started the long trek towards the Piazza de Michelangelo. Having had multiple recommendations to visit here for sunset, I made my way up and up and up (not an easy task after those 463 steps!) until I reached the piazza at the top; the edge of the terrace lined with people. I did my usual trick, and gently edged my way between two groups of people making conversation and offering to take photos of them if they would humour me with a little bit of space to set myself up on the wall.

I had my wine and a chat with those around and watched as the gorgeous sun began to set over pretty little Florence. When the sun finally popped! behind the horizon, the crowd cheered.

Well done Sun. You did good. 
Great job, for setting, as you've done for thousands upon millions upon billions of years. Congratulations.

As silly as it seemed, I couldn't help but clasp my hands together and feel a intensely happy; I was proud of the little sun for popping off to sleep in such a spectacular fashion. The sun now gone, I turned and continued talking to those around me. A group of uni students had taken up the space beside me, and we chatted and drank red wine until they had to leave. A girl to my left then piped up, saying "I recognise your accent, are you from Australia" "Yes I am!" I replied, "Would you like some wine?" And so we stood there and chatted, drinking red wine and eating strawberries for a long time, before Sarah and I decided we were starving - and now a little bit tipsy - and would find some place for dinner.

Stahp..just..stahhhp...it....

Dinner was more delicious pasta, and wonderful random conversation and a lovely way to end the evening (although the full bottle of bubbly wine did serve to make me rather embarrassingly incomprehensible). This was my last night in Florence, little Firenze, and I was sad to be leaving.

I understand why 100% of people are in love.

Florence, you took my breath away and stole my heart. I will be seeing you again.

Next up: Rome, you dirty scoundrel.

xx

Italian food and wine agreed with me -
a picture of good health again!
The glee at the size of my gelato is evident.
Whoops! Fell over. Look at everyone doing
Thriller in the background. 
Florence, I will see you again.