07 June 2011

It's Not About the Money, Part Two, Episode 6: Italian is Basically Spanish, Right?

After an impromptu summer vacation ... I’m back! Let the fun times resume. I’ve been owing you guys a EuroBlog for a shamefully long time (last installment was here; the beginning of the series is back there), so we’ll start with that.


Last time (ever so long ago), Josh walked you through our last day in Paris. After that massive criss-crossing-the-city adventure (did we mention that the Eiffel and Notre Dame are at opposite ends of town?), to say nothing of our earlier travel traumas, we were more than ready to move on with our trip. Our next set of hostel reservations was in Florence, but since we had been unable to get a train/plane/mule train that went directly there, the plan was to fly into Rome and take the train backwards to Florence, hopefully resuming our original plan of action from that point.

So. Bright and early the next day, we kissed our ghetto little hostel goodbye, fortified ourselves with a good French breakfast, and headed out.

So long, boys. It's been real.

'spresso time!
(Side note: before this trip, one of the things I was most nervous about was travelling through countries where I didn’t speak the language. As it turns out, bus lines and train stations in Western Europe all basically work the same way. You’re still running mostly on luck, but a little deductive reasoning will take you a long way.)

In the airport, I made a friend – Victoria from Shanghai. As it turned out, she was also studying abroad in London and travelling to Italy over the Easter break. Her major was International Law and English, or something along those lines. She was nice. We also met an older American couple when the wife (taking us for French people!), came to ask Josh whether he knew how to connect to the airport’s wifi. They were on a long-term trip through slightly less western Europe: Germany, Austria, Belgium, etc.

Victoria and I study our European Phrases.
Our flight was uneventful, if crowded, and once we reached the Rome airport, we had to pay for a shuttle ride into Rome proper. (But it’s OK; it was a Mercedes.) We were tired and hungry and already poorer than we would have liked, but as soon as we got moving, I knew I was going to like Italy. It just looks cool.

That said…Termini Station is a bewildering place. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s a bit like the main terminal in Waterloo station but all in Italian. I know, I know, a little deductive reasoning, right? Problem was, we were on a tight schedule to catch our train to Florence, and for some reason we couldn’t find our departure listed. Which was worrying, to say the least.

So we waited. And watched. And waited some more.

Finally, with us both out of ideas, Josh got in line for the information booth, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs and suddenly realize (about two minutes before our train was scheduled to leave the station) that we were looking for the wrong thing. Forget the train line names. We should have been looking for the departure number, which, handily enough, is the same in both English and Italian.

Well. I ran to find Josh, and then we both ran in mad circles trying to find our departure platform, and by the time we got there, here was our train:

Bye, train.

It’s probably best not to mention what kind of mood we were in at this point. Let’s just say we bought tickets for the next one (no, of course they wouldn’t exchange our tickets, we bought those in France, it’s not the same thing at all), boarded it on time, and continued on our way.

At some point during this journey, Josh let me know that we didn’t have anyplace to stay for the night.

See, originally, we were meant to take an overnight train down to Italy, and a hostel wouldn’t have been an issue until the next day, when we did have hostel rooms. But we already know what happened to those plans. Josh realized this oversight much earlier in the day than I did, but didn’t tell me until then because he knew I would freak out.

Which, admittedly, I kind of did.

(Protip: freaking out never helps anything. Especially when you’re in a foreign country, your blood sugar’s running low, and your plans have already been set awry. Have a dose of perspective and just don’t do it.)

This is Joshua. Joshua is not freaking out. Be like Joshua.
Soooo…that was our arrival in Florence. It’s the end of the day, we stumble off the train, Josh calls the hostel to see if we can get an extra night. Good news! We can. Bad news! The last bus to our hostel (which is just slightly outside the city center – more on that next time) left five minutes ago.

I think I may have shaken my fist at the heavens and gone “WHY OH GOD WHY” at this point, but I don’t recall for sure.

Our highly scientific method for dealing with this problem was to leave the bus station, proceed down the street, and ask about one-night room prices at the first hotel we came to. Fortunately, there were quite a few. We couldn’t even begin to afford the first two (besides which, they were full), but a kind receptionist recommended us to the next one, and there we ran into a bit of luck. Finally.

I don’t have a picture of Hotel Rayan for you, which is sad, but it is the most wonderful place on Earth and if you are ever confused and alone in Florence after dark, you should go there and they will take care of you. Not a fancy place, obviously. And neither the owner nor his wife (Signore y Signora Rayan?) spoke a word of English, but they were very accommodating where amateur mime and schoolchild Spanish were concerned.
They had exactly one room left. We took it. For five Euros extra, we got breakfast too. Instant happiness.

Care for some Italian-language crime drama? They had NCIS.

Have I mentioned that the key to sane travelling is flexibility? Because it is.

That was our introduction to Florence. Don’t worry. It gets better. Josh will tell you all about our market-wandering, pastry-eating, and our harrowing trip to “the camping” next time!

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