I’ve avoided writing this last post for longer than necessary, mostly because I was sad to have to truly bring the trip to an end, (and a little bit because I’ve been crazy busy.)
But if you can put up with me for one last Italian time and think back to two Sundays ago, Steph and I were about to spend our last full day in Italy before heading home…
So Steph and I woke up two Sundays ago with that feeling in our stomaches. You know the one—when your vacation is about to come to a close. And as if that isn’t bad enough, you can also imagine all the emails that have piled up in your personal inbox, your work inbox, the flashing red light on your work phone that awaits you.
People I’ve traveled with before have always gotten angry at me, because I immediately start thinking about the day that the trip will be over. I mean, immediately. Steph and I stepped off the plane in Heathrow and I felt a familiar tugging in the pit of my stomach, the tugging that attached to the voice in my head that said, “Some day, very soon, this trip will be over.”
It’s a bummer.
But two Sundays ago I pushed past it and rallied for our last Italian adventure. Our destination—Firenze.
We had spoken to someone at the front desk of our hotel the day before and knew that the train was only a little over an hour and a half ride, so we figured we’d sleep in a bit and head out after our hotel breakfast. It was our first hotel breakfast that Sunday, in the tiny little dining area at the end of our hall. But it was cute. Our lovely servers offered us up fresh cappuccino (Steph was determined to keep trying it throughout the trip, as if she could somehow force herself to eventually like it), and croissants and jam and bread. Yes, bread. There is no toast in Italy, my friends—at least not that we could see. The ladies walked around with loaves of bread and would literally slap untoasted slices of bread onto your plate. Throw a little jam on it and you can’t even tell the difference.
After breakfast we headed to the lobby to see if the kind man would print us out a new schedule of train times. At the front desk we were met by a new man, though, and he didn’t take too kindly to our plan.
“Do you think we might be able to get a print out of the train schedule to Florence?” I asked.
“Today?” He was shocked. “No, not for today, it’s too far for today. And our printer is down, but tomorrow you go to the train station earlier and you will be able to catch a train then.”
Steph and I checked out watches. 10:15 a.m. Too late? What did that even mean? Assuming we couldn’t even catch a train for another hour, that would still get us to Florence by 1 at the latest. What exactly did this man think we would be doing in Florence, anyway?
Steph and I thanked the man and walked out. “Let’s just go to the train station,” I said.
Walking to the train station this morning was the first time that we realized how close we actually were to it from our hotel. In about 10 minutes we were among the hubbub of the Termini. And then, inside, we were among the hubbub once more.
“Where the hell would you get tickets in here?” I wondered aloud.
So we walked around for about 15 minutes before deciding to pick a random line to stand in. Lucky for us, it was the right line, and for what I consider to be a ridiculous amount of money (approximately 80 euros, if I remember correctly. Now remember, that’s a little less than $160..for a train ride that would be over in an hour and a half. That’s one expensive train ride).
After purchasing our Florence tickets AND our tickets for the express train to the airport the following day (I love killing two birds with one stone), we sought out a bathroom, which it turned out you needed to pay for as well.
Finally we made it onto the train. It wasn’t until we were pulling into the graffiti covered walls of the train station in Florence that I began to feel a bit nervous. Maybe we should have planned this out a bit more? Did some research about Florence? At least bought a map?
It didn’t matter, though, we were being spontaneous—and besides, it was too late by then.
As soon as we got into the main termini Steph and I bought a map. And we picked a few of the big buildings on that map and decided we would go to them. And that is basically how we spent our day in Florence, hunting and pecking our way around, with our humongous, touristy map out the entire time. And you know what, I’m glad we didn’t do it any other way.
After fumbling our way around for about two hours, we decided we were starving, and simply could not live our lives any more without eating pizza and drinking wine in Florence. So we made our way back to one of the outdoor restaurants we had found earlier.
“Table for two,” I say to the nice-looking waiter man standing at the entrance to the restaurant.
He stares at me. “Table for two?” he questions. “Just two, are you sure,” now he’s smiling. “No boys? Where are the boys?”
Steph and I laugh. This is not the first time in Italy that people have appeared concerned for us when they find out that we are traveling alone. Not even necessarily traveling alone, I don’t think, so much as traveling sans boys.
“No boys,” we assure our worried waiter.
“Well, maybe we will seat you near a boy and we can get you some boys,” he leads us out to the outdoor seating area.
Steph and I didn’t think anything of it as we sat out in the Italian sun, finally ordering our personal pizzas and drinking our red wine.
As it turns out, though, our waiter wasn’t kidding.
“Ladies, santa has come early this year,” he joked, making his way back to our table when we were done eating.
“Oh, so lunch is free,” I joked with him.
“Yes, a nice man who was sitting behind you has paid for you.”
Still laughing, it wasn’t until worried-waiter-man placed a piece of paper on our table with a note from said nice man sitting behind us that we actually believed him. Sure, I have a photo of the actual note, but to protect Mr. Nice Man Sitting Behind Us’s identity, I will refrain from sharing it, since he left us his email address. Instead, I will tell you that after his address, this nice man simply wrote “Have a Nice Weekend!” Then he signed his name (with an exclamation mark), and wrote (Venice) at the end. Friends tell me this means we have an open invitation to visit Mr. Nice-Man-Sitting-Behind-Us in Venice whenever we like. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m in Italy.
After (free) lunch, Steph and I do a bit more sight seeing, shopping (where I again used my powerful methods of persuasion to purchase a leather belt for 15 euro instead of 30. Steph insists I would have never bought the belt anyway, if the vendor hadn’t talked me into it. I don’t believe her though), and walking before we stop off for a last gelato treat in Florence before heading back to Rome.
Back at the hotel Steph and I wash up and head back out to finish up our last bits of shopping before eating our last Roman meal. I had also talked Steph into heading over to the last touristy site we had skipped on our previous escape out and about, which was the Santa Maria Maggiore.
Turns out the basilica was right down the street from our hotel, and we had seen it already. Sitting in the bus waiting for our tour to start on our first day in Rome I had marveled at the enormous, gorgeous white building across the street, but never actually bothered to ask someone what it was. I guess I should have, it would have saved us the trip back out:
For our last meal, we headed over to the restaurant that was only a few stores away from our hotel. I ordered my last pasta in Italy (for now), and Steph ordered risotto. We ate solemnly, sad to have our trip be over, but knowing that we would both be back. Rome (and all of Italy) is absolutely magical. It captures your heart and your imagination, and I dare anyone to visit this magnificent city and not stand in awe of what the Romans built. Although I’ve been trying to blog passionately about what I’ve seen, I still at times feel like this city has left me speechless.
And so the last morning Steph and I ate our last breakfast in the tiny dining room at the end of our hall. We packed up our tiny Le Petit room and said goodbye to the lovely man in the lobby. As we walked out the front door with our bags, the men next door had just dragged the folding chairs and tables out to begin their card game, and the Italians scurried about the streets to go on with their day as normal, as if Steph and I had never been there.
But we were there, friends, and I feel like a better person just for having seen it.
Until my next adventure, bis bald, friends!
P.S. One last note. I’d like to take a second to point out that it has become a habit of mine to pick up art work on trips. I picked a little something up in Niagara Falls, something in Australia, and in Rome I picked up some street vendor artwork as well. I covet this artwork, friends. I take great pride in being able to say that I painstakingly carried something back from a foreign country to my teeny, tiny Manhattan apartment. See that owl in the kitchen? Yeah, that came all the way from Australia. Crazy, right? I know.
So it probably was my fault when I handed Steph the bag with my three precious art purchases in them and said, “Guard this with your life.”
She scoffed at me. She rolled her eyes. And I continued to remind her as we made our way from our hotel in Rome to the Termini, all along the train ride to the airport, and then from the train exit into the airport terminal.
And please know, friends, that had my hands not been full to the brim and my back not aching from what I had come to lovingly call the ‘God Forsaken Backpack,’ I myself would have carried my precious cargo.
Needless to say, after all the eye rolling and scoffing and exasperation, as Steph and I stood in line at the airport—tired, hungry, annoyed that we were leaving—I turned one last time to her to make my point.
But she’s bending down, tugging at something that has been wheeled over with the cart of the person standing next to us.
“Excuse me,” she says meekly, looking up from the ground. This is when she sees that I’m watching, and tries to stifle her laugh.
“Excuse me miss, you ran over my bag,” Steph said, a bit louder this time.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” the lady exclaims, and backs the black, rubbery, dirty, squeaky wheels one more time over my precious cargo.
And this, my friends, is where my sister and I entered into our second, and this time truly final, tiff of the trip.
I grabbed the rescued bag from her hands. “One job!” I yell.
And then I say nothing. For the next 10 or 15 minutes as we inch our way slowly forward in line I say nothing. I’m fuming. I cannot believe that after all I had said, how I had reminded her time and time again, that she would be so careless as to let the bag not only fall to the ground, but to be WHEELED OVER BY A CART FILLED WITH HEAVY LUGGAGE.
On the plane I inspect the damage, and there seems to be none. It’s also on the plane that I realize I really can’t be that mad at mini. I mean, I gave her the bag, for frick sake. So I turn to her.
“Remember the time when I asked you over and over again to take care of my bags and you let a lady roll over them with her cart?”
Steph stares at me blankly. “Stuff happens.”
Then we put our ear phones on and watched Gilmore Girls all the way home.