Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Florence: Artits, Artful Towers, and Alley Cats of the Roof

This time it's impossible to get lost. Just outside of the train station, we cross the road (severely damaged luggage still in tow) and pop down what we're pretty sure is the road to our hotel. And for once, we're correct. Dodging terrible parked cars, we manage to drag said luggage up a small flight of marble stairs, into a dark lobby complete with one of those old fashioned lifts that looks like something off the Titanic. I mean seriously, you have to close the metal door behind you before the thing will move. Up to the third floor we go, and upon pushing open a heavy glass door, we're spat out into a warm reception, where the concierge enquires as to whether we'd like a room with one double bed, or two single beds. Anything, just give us a place to throw down our bags! So we're ushered into the nearest room, and I collapse on the bed in mock exhaustion, side-eyeing the massive blister that's beginning to bloom on my smallest toe. We throw open the shutters to a view of Florence's residential rooftops... and cats. We were to spend the next two days observing the neighbourhood cats and their movements between the rooftops. Because cats. 

Florence, it turns out, is a haven for cheap handbags and luggage. I manage to pick up a bright pink suitcase for 30 Euros (more than I'd like to have spent, but still), and a new handbag with a zipper for a handle. Pretty cool. I also can't tear myself away from the shops and shops of pretty, sparkly things, so my earring collection has several additions by the time I depart. 

But Florence isn't all shops and money-dropping, we do a fair amount of sight-seeing too. Filled with bridges and rivers and artists, it's quite a place. I also launch a crusade to find the Hard Rock Cafe, and although when I finally do, I'm far too poor to actually afford to eat there, I do stand and gaze at a t-shirt that once belonged to Elvis, and a handwritten speech by The Boss, before tearing myself away to browse the t-shirts - which I'm also too poor to afford. 

But let's get back to the artists I mentioned. Months before, Tatum's parents had been to Florence, and taken a picture of an artist, which T had fallen in love with. She'd made it her life's mission to find this man and speak to him, so I simply had to try my hardest to locate him! I was going off one picture in which he was seated upon a few stairs, clad in an eye-patched, and smiling next to his artworks. And so I proceeded to walk the city of Florence flat ... until I happened to stumble into a very familiar-looking square... and right there in front of me was the exact piece of art in Tatum's mom's photo! But the artist himself was nowhere to be found. Cue lingering around the square until he finally reappeared and I was able to take a photo. So that's what people feel like when they complete a challenge in The Amazing Race!

We wander around town some more and get lost in the baking midday sun, then find a pub for lunch, where I dine upon spaghetti bolognaise and beg for lemonade; giggle at the school group traipsing through the 34 degree heat in their best clothes; attempt to hack into a university's wi-fi; and then make the pilgrimage up a very dark flight of stairs to locate the loo, which is in a part of the pub that looks like it might play host to the occasional karaoke night. 

Mosquitos seem as attracted to Florence in the summer as tourists are, and sleep that night is scare commodity. I keep waking up and swotting my face, but still wake up in the morning covered in marble-sized red bites all over me. Perhaps they're some kind of mutant mosquitos. 

But we're so close to Pisa that we may as well just take a train to the Leaning Towers itself! After being instructed to hurry to the train down yonder as quickly as we can, we then spend the next 45 minutes waiting for the thing to leave. The American tourist carting his entire family with him is far less patient than us, and switches carriages at least four times, luggage and all. I entertain myself watching the interactions of another American man and his son, and trying to decide if they ran away from their tour group or family. By the time we finally do arrive, the sun is high, and the tourists ar plentiful. In fact, one group marches past us complete with audio headsets. My, my, we are serious, are we not? 

As we wander casually through town, I begin to wonder when we might catch sight of this famous tower. I mean, it's surely huge, so why haven't we seen it by now? My question is answered when we round the next corner, and suddenly - there it is! Now, I wasn't expecting the Petronas Towers or the Burj Khalifa, but the Leaning Tower of Pisa is positively tiny! It's adorable! Okay, I've just googled it, and apparently it's 56m tall. Whatever. It could fit in my back pocket. 

Food is, as always, the first order of the day, and I down a margarita (the pizza) and chips (oh, glorious French fries!) and then rip myself away from the gelato, because I'm so stuffed that another morsel of food would almost certainly cause me to explode. 

And so, like the tourists we are, we angle our bodies so that we can obtain the perfect shots holding up the tower, pushing down the tower, and everything else. Note the policeman shouting at everyone doing the same thing to - in no uncertain terms - get off the gosh-damned grass! Seriously, why even have grass outside the tower?

And so a few more souvenirs are purchased, we get lost yet again, and then finally locate the train station to head back to Florence. Cue the - fruitless - attempt to find a TV station that's in English (the only words of the mother tongue I heard are Mika's cries of "underwater, underwater, underwaaaaaaater" on an advert), cue stolen tea from the breakfast room, cue one last check on the rooftop cats, and the next morning we've packed my brand new suitcase, and we're off yet again. Wherever shall the next train land us?

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