Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The City of Flowers and other things.

A story always begins at the end.

There is no other way to tell a story.

Not the ultimate end mind you, all stories have tentacles that reach out in every direction past, future, and linear, through characters and objects, side to side, but a semblance of the end nonetheless.

The end of this story finds me back in my house in Alquerias a day later than I intended after a delayed flight, a missed train, and a lucky break or two.

The flight was to leave Pisa at 6:55 pm and arrive in Valencia two hours later. Arriving in Valencia at around nine would have allowed Jeff and I to catch the metro to the Valencia Nord train station and arrive somewhere around nine-thirty or nine-forty-five. The last train leaves the Valencia station going north toward my house at approximately ten-thirty. However, the departure of the flight was delayed by forty-five or fifty minutes, and we departed Pisa about eight o’clock rather than near seven…strike one…


We arrived at the airport and as soon as we could disembark we began running (as much as you can run in a busy airport) toward the Metro station, which luckily, much like O’Hare in Chicago, was inside the airport at the far end. We had checked no baggage so we had only our carry-ons, which facilitated our rapid movement toward the Metro. We arrived before the subway left for the train station. Jeff had a ticket for the gate already, but I had to stop ad purchase one. Before I could buy my ticket and get through the gate the subway left. Nine-fifty-five… strike two.

The next one pulled in around ten and we waited and waited and waited… It finally left about four minutes after ten for a near half-hour ride to the station where we needed to arrive and purchase a ticket before ten-thirty. Ten stops between the airport and the train station seemed to take forever. Jeff got caught in the gate as we exited the Metro which subtracted a few more precious seconds from our time. We then ran up two flights of stairs to get above ground, across five lanes of traffic,(which was thankfully sparse on a Sunday night) and into the train station. We shouted to the ticket counter as we ran up that we needed two tickets for the last train north. He made the sign for “Cut off” and yelled back that it was on track one if we wanted to try and catch it and buy a ticket on board. We turned in unison to look toward the tracks just in time to hear the air-brakes release and see the train begin to move forward…strike three…

The next train headed north was at 5:55 the next morning. We either had to find somewhere to kill seven hours or had to find a place to sleep. We wandered around aimlessly for a bit trying to think of the best course of action. Cab fare for 45 or so kilometers was over a hundred Euros and was out of the question. We had no way to know where to find a hostel or a cheap hotel. Both of us use prepaid cell-phones over here, and we were both out of minutes so we couldn’t call anyone… Cell phones… I had a thought. I decided not to bring my laptop because of the weight and the possibility of theft, but for some reason I decided to bring my Iphone on the trip (which I have not been using and has no service here) in case I wanted to try and use the Wi-fi feature. I dug down in the bottom of my euro-man-purse and found it. Now our quest was easier. We would walk around until we found an unsecured network and look up directions to a hostel, which we did. Thank you technology. Usually I would consider my self not to be someone who is dependant on technology, but it sure is nice when it helps you in a pinch.

We found directions to the nearest hostel which was only a kilometer or two away. The Indigo Youth Hostel was fully booked when we arrived, but the young lady at the desk was very nice and called and reserved us two beds at another hostel another fifteen minutes walk away. She even drew us a map. So we arrived at the Valencia Center Hostel at about fifteen minutes til’ 12, but the cash box was locked until the next person arrived for their shift at midnight… So we stood outside and talked with some Germans, Italians, and a carpenter from Quebec. Even though we were tired, we lost track of time (travelers tales are fun.) and stood outside far past the shift change that we were waiting for. We did finally get a room for twenty-two euros each. Seeing as how we were already stuck for the night, we decided to go walking around with the Italians, Germans, and the carpenter from Quebec. We were near quite a lively part of town, and managed to stay entertained until about 3, which is when the little pubs and shops close and only the discotheques are open. I decided that was late enough for me and I headed to bed.

We bought our tickets around eleven the next morning for a twelve-twenty departure, and we arrived back in Alquerias about one or thereabouts not too much worse for the wear. Except for the fact that somewhere on the long long Sunday my throat decided to hurt and my nose started to run…and I began to get the same kind of summer tonsil/sinus crud that I get about once every 2 years. So now I am sitting in bed with a fan on me writing and taking my vitamins and a drug or two. (Thanks Doc.) It sucks to be sick when its over a hundred outside and you live in a house with no A/C.

Thus goes the end of the story.

As for Florence, the City of Flowers, it was fantastic. If I am to go again, I would like to practice a bit of Italian. I could get by with speaking Spanish and English, but Italian is hard for me to understand. It was very warm in Florence. There was not much of a breeze that I can recall, but the parks full of big old trees and the narrow streets surrounded by the high buildings gave shade for the largest part of the day.

the view from the hostel roof

The hostel that I stayed at was like a 4-star hotel that just happened to have seven beds in every room. That is a bit of exaggeration, but by hostel standards it was obscenely nice. There was A/C in every room a separate room each for the sink and toilet and for the sink and shower. The beds were clean, the sheets were crisp, there was a balcony on my room even though I was on the first floor… what else… a roof top bar and café, a basement bar and restaurant with pool tables and ping pong, an indoor pool with a steam room and a sauna on either side, and a staff that was very multi lingual and very nice and helpful. Not bad for about twenty four euros a night…

I met a ton of cool people. I hope I can remember and find all of the email addresses. English, Irish, Canadian, Colombian, Kiwi, German, Spanish, Cameroonian, Americans, and of course Aussies… Lots of Aussies. Everyone was coming from somewhere and going somewhere else (go figure on that one), all traveling around Europe for the summer. It was fun to swap stories and learn new things and look at pictures, and most of all have someone to pal around with while doing all of these things and exploring a new city.

I took a tour of the Chianti region around the Florence area. I just love the country more than I do the cities… I can’t help it. The countryside was all like a painting. I don’t know if I saw a piece of wasted space in the entire region. Over the last few thousand years they have become pretty adept at cultivation and use of space, I guess. Everything looked like a manicured lawn. And no doubt I was seeing through the rose colored glasses of a tourist, but nonetheless it was Tuscany, and it was beautiful.

Will the Aussie having chocolate and lemoncello gelato

We visited a couple of vineyards and tasted some wines and olive oils (Truffle olive oil is awesome.) We had a lunch of Italian cold cuts and bruschetta under some olive trees, and then visited Sant Gimingiano for some world famous gelato and a view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill. All of the towns in the region are located historically at the top of hills for better view of the surrounding area and better protection as a result of the time when the area was filled with warring city-states.

San Gimingiano tower.

I visited the famous art galleries that are filled with the works of many painters and sculptors from Italy, obviously the most famous being the David of Michelangelo. Personally I preferred gazing at the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo. There was something so raw and lifelike of the figures emerging from the block of stone as if they were being born into the world full-grown but were trapped and petrified in stone for eternity. The chisel strokes were still there on certain parts, which made the finished parts of the statues even more unbelievable. Of the paintings, I am not sure that I liked the ones that I was supposed to like. I did see many unbelievable works of art though. I have no idea what could possess a man to endeavor to paint a canvas that is thirty feet tall and twenty feet wide with any hope of completing it. Likewise for the cathedral domes and ceilings which were all exquisitely decorated. I think the painters liked their demons better than their saints though. The demons on the Dome are much more lifelike and interesting than the images of the saints.

Ah, yes the Dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, The Duomo, the 3rd or 4th largest cathedral in the world. It is hard to believe that such a thing was built by the hands of men. The exterior façade of the church is all red, green, and white marble and is truly unbelievable.

The obligatory "I was here." picture in front of the cathedral.

I paid to climb to the top of the dome. One must ascend flights and flights of stairs something like 464ft. to the top. There is a very narrow corridor constructed of stone not meant to be traversed by people more than six feet tall. As a person who is about six feet tall, I hit my head more than once. The corridor is packed with people, and the stairs are steep, and it is hot, and the line only moves as fast as the slowest person, and there is no room to pass. The view was definitely breathtaking, but the bell tower is free and there is more room and it’s only a few feet shorter. If you go to Florence, climb the bell tower.

The View of the bell tower from the top of the Duomo.

I spent most of the time running around with Jeff or a couple of Aussie blokes. I had Italian food, Thai food, and went to a hookah bar. I saw the markets where the famous leather goods are sold. I was taken in by a shop-keeper who said he would give me a good deal because I had a beard like him. He hypnotized me with his broken English and many uses of “My Friend.” He practically sang to me about the quality and the durability of the jackets he was putting on me… I understand how people end up buying things they don’t want… But I let him sing his siren song of sales to me because I knew I was only carrying about 10 euros. I told him that at the beginning. Thirty minutes later when I had tried on everything that he wanted my to try on and I actually showed him that I was only carrying a 10 and would not be buying anything you would have thought he was going to cry.

I walked around Florence at about every time of day. I think I liked evening and night the best. Less people and cooler weather. All day and night, though, tourists tourists tourists. At least in the summer, Florence exists for the tourist. I wonder how long it has been that way. A traveler definitely gets gouged on the price of even the smallest things. I forgot that a one liter bottle of water does not actually cost 2 euros (about $3.20). Here in my town I buy 9 liters for about 1.20 euro.

My flight home was from Pisa. So naturally we visited the tower and all that jazz. I think Pisa out away from the touristy areas was very nice. We walked a few blocks either side of the tourist hot spots and found some very cool piazzas, gardens, and older buildings.

A nice public building in a piazza in pisa. The red cross at the top is the symbol of the city.

I bought a small painting from an artist who was sitting on the street selling some works done by her and her sister. Daniela and Silvia Pedretti I believe were their names, and she gave me some tips on how to see the real parts of town.

It was fun for sure. I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but I enjoyed it. I think I put on a few pounds thanks to the Italian food, but I’ll be back on the bike and going to class again this week.

As always thanks for reading.

I like graffiti.


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