June 22 – 23
Journeys and Jetlag
After Dad left me at Pearson International security (I may have shed two tears but that is all) I bought a bagel and waited to board the plane with some really nice German people, some really pushy German people and a group of Obnoxious Canadian couples who were travelling together in such reclined comfort my knees rather despised the flight. I sat next to a runner named Kevin and we talked for a bit about school and TV shows then I watched some TV and tried to sleep. That did not exactly work out for me as my head kept falling forward and I’d jerk myself awake. After maybe an hour of restless head-jerking non-sleep I gave up and watched How to Train Your Dragon. It was okay. I liked it but it’s not worth Dad and Sophie’s time.
By the time we landed in Munich I was surprisingly calm. I handled customs like a pro and found my next flight with ease and class not usually expressed by me. Munich has a nice airport. I liked it and it’s probably worth Dad and Sophie’s time.
The plane I boarded in Munich was a teeny little 40 seater (at most) and was filled with languages I did not understand. I looked out my window (window seats are the greatest ever) and saw a few tiny German villages before sleep claimed me. I woke up briefly and thought “I wish I were awake to see the Alps!” and it just so happened I was! The Alps were right there below me! Then I fell back asleep until Florence.
The Florence Airport is dirty and small and confusing. There are very few signs, very little space and very many people. I met a guy from a rival dig who was attempting to get to the train station (where I too was destined) and I found the shuttle bus for us and we rode it while he told me about the different languages he speaks when he gets to different stages of drunkenness (French, Spanish, Italian, then Latin, if you care to know). I was slightly amused. Impressed I was not. Especially because his sober Italian was considerably worse than mine and I only know four phrases: Mi scusi, Grazie, Per piacere, and Dov’e (Excuse me, Thank you, Please and Where). I figure if you only know four phrases in another language three of them may as well be manners.
I got lost on my way to the hostel because instead of a map I had written directions from the train station. Never, ever, ever attempt to get from Point A to Point B in Florence with only written directions. Especially if they are not very good. And because Florence’s street signs are hidden on the buildings and the streets change names every couple blocks. So “As you exit Santa Maria Novella through the main entrance, turn left, cross the bus lane and the set of traffic lights towards the McDonald’s, take the first street on your left, Largo Fratelli Alinari, continue up Via Nazionale, go straight up to Piazza Indipendenza onto Via di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria” means: “Turn right out of the train station and turn left onto the first street you come to – Via Nazionale. Walk straight until you get to the hostel. It’s on your left and marked with giant sign that says “HOSTEL”. Two signs even.” Just so we’re clear on that. Because I was definitely not clear on it and wandered around with my bags and a confused expression for half an hour before I found it.
I did find it though, check in went smoothly and I headed to my lavender and fuchsia 6-girl dorm. And the dorm was lovely. The whole hostel was fantastic. Stay there again? I probably will. The view was lovely, the beds were as comfy as a hostel bed can be, it was clean, the staff were knowledgeable and kind and I felt safe. So despite the confusing directions (and maybe they were only confusing to me because I was going on 23 hours awake and a nap and a 6 hour time difference) I say that this hostel is quite nice indeed.
At this point in time it was 2:00 pm in Florence. Only 8:00 am regular Siobhan time. And I was tired. But I wanted to stay up until bedtime and sleep like a baby.
That didn’t happen.
I napped for an hour or so then woke up and got to know two of my roomies Sam (from Australia) and Christy (from Virginia) a bit and we decided to eat dinner at the hostel and watch the Aussie Soccer Game at the terrace bar. There are HEAPS of Aussie backpackers all over Europe and a huge number of them happened to be at my hostel. It was hilarious and overwhelming and incredible to be where I was, when I was and with all these other people crazier than me. We stayed up chatting and watching the game until about 11 then headed to bed.
Florence by Foot and Fancy Pants
Christy was heading to Pisa (I think?) in the morning and the other two girls in the room had plans so Sam and I teamed up to wander around the city to see what we could find. Sam wanted to see the Duomo and Michelangelo’s “David” but the lines were long, the entrance cost money we’d rather save and it was such a beautiful day that we decided to leave that and just walk all over this gorgeous city and see where we ended up.
The buildings are all old, huge and roofed with red clay tiles. I absolutely adore the look of red-clay roof tiles. And wrought-iron curvy fences that bulge out in front of windows. And big wooden doors that have no handles. And cobblestone streets. Alone, each might seem like a pretty insignificant
detail, but as I noticed each one it began to really hit me that I was in Italy.
We saw numerous piazzas and markets and walked around the cathedral and made our way to the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio and then up to the Pitti Palace (where the Medici hung out) and the attached Boboli Gardens (which were beautiful but I couldn’t help feeling if Grandma had been there at the right time with the right resources they would have been even more infinitely fantastic).
We hiked up to the Michelangelo Viewpoint of Florence which was closed for firework preparation then decided to go back to the hostel to put our feet up for a short while before going off to the event we had bought tickets for in the morning; the Calcio Storico.
Every year on June 24, St. John’s Day, there is a festival of great magnitude in Florence which consists of a medieval rugby game followed by a parade and fireworks.
The game starts with much pomp and pageantry (mostly for the tourists) with drums, organized flag-dancing/throwing and marching around the giant rectangular dirt playing area which is in front of Santa Croce. The game is played by two times, the Whites and the Blues. Their fans clap, shout and somehow produce columns of white and blue smoke respectively to cheer on the players.
From watching the game I have concluded that these are the rules:
1) Each team of at least 14 men has an end of the playing field marked by their flag in a tent. The goal is to throw the ball onto the opposing team’s wall to get a point for your team. The team with the most points at the end of an hour(ish) wins.
2) When a point is scored, a cannon is fired and the teams switch ends.
3) The ball is moved by throwing and running with it as fast and erratically as possible to avoid being tackled by the opposing team. Everyone is on offense and everyone is on defense at all times.
4) To limit the number of players on the opposing team that the ball can be passed to the players engage in spontaneous one-on-one wrestling matches all over the field, resulting in a player from each team being so involved in holding the other down that neither are actually available to be part of the ball’s movement.
5) The players have to wear fancy Renaissance pants.
Sam and I were seated in the Blue cheering section. The Blues won. I think our presence was a deciding factor in their performance.
Exhausted from our day we went back to the hostel and crashed.
Markets, Men and Museums
Sam took off for Cinque Terre and her next two months of backpacking that morning (good luck! You were a lovely walking companion!) and I felt a bit icky and exhausted so I slept in until 11:30, then washed some clothes in the sink and hung them to dry on bungee cords I had strung between the beds. Then I went to the market.
Coming from a tiny Ontario town, the crowded market was somewhat terrifying. Vendors are shouting at you from all directions, there’s way too much to see and you’re paranoid about pickpockets. But I had fun. One jewellery vendor named Ricardo claimed me as his New Best Friend and tied a gift bracelet around my wrist to prove it. I told him I’d try to bring my friends back with me if I returned to Florence and he was ever so grateful. Another vendor showed me his leather jackets and the store where he works and he and owner kept offering me ‘special prices’ on a gorgeous brown leather jacket. I told them I had 6 weeks in Italy still before I fly home in August but if I have any money left I’ll come back and buy the jacket. They liked that, not as much as if I’d bought the jacket right then, but they liked it.
To all my friends who complain that a lot of guys at school are creepy, come to Italy. Real creepy men abound. “I love blonde girls” was one phrase I heard frequently with an inflection I did not appreciate, along with “Aaay! Bella!!!”. Being a lone girl makes you a bit wary but I laughed a bit, because if I didn’t laugh I would probably have gone back to my hostel and hid from the world, and kept walking. I wound up at Santa Maria del Fiore where I bought a delicious sandwich and then enjoyed a gelato while I continued to walk.
I admired the architecture, the weather, the vespas, the INSANE traffic and wound up lost. Turning back down a road I thought would take me back to where I had come from did not get me to where I thought I should be at all. I walked a little further and saw the sign on the building in front of me. I had gotten myself lost and ended up in front of Florence’s Archaeology Museum. Admission was €4.00 so I bought a ticket and went in. A whole chunk of their collection isn’t on display right now but the two stories of artefacts I did get to peruse were incredible. There were finds from Thebes, Greece, Etruria, and Southern Italy and I spent a good hour and a half in the relatively cool (temp) building before going outside into the 29 degree Celsius weather and going back to the hostel. I read and rested and repacked my bags for the morning and had some pasta at the hostel and got to sleep as soon as I could.
The hostel organized a Pubcrawl that night and 3 of my 5 roommates attended. They got back at about 4 in the morning which was fine but a bit disorienting for my poor little brain, as demonstrated in the morning.
The Real Adventure Begins
Check out from the hostel is 10:00 AM. I awoke at about 8:00 and promptly fell back asleep thinking: ‘I don’t have to be in Siena til 6pm to catch the last bus to Vescovado so I can sleep in.’ I woke up again at 9:26 thinking: ‘Idiot.’ I had a rapid shower, packed up everything I had not packed the night before, stripped my bed and made it to the check out desk at 9:46.
I knew the bus to Siena was faster than the train, and I knew the bus station was next to the train station, but it was on an unmarked street and tucked away so it took me a while to find it. I’m pretty sure there’s something about luggage that makes you panic and not think clearly when you cannot immediately find what you’re looking for. And it’s freakin’ heavy.
I found the busses, bought my ticket and waited. I almost missed the bus to Siena because the ticketmaster told me to wait at Area 4 and the bus was in Area 5, but my keen observation skills allowed me to catch the bus “Rapido” to Siena.
Once at Piazza Gramsci in Siena which is where all the busses are, I had to make my way to the train station to catch the bus to Vescovado. I bought my ticket and waited. And waited and waited and waited.
When it finally arrived the driver was running late so he was grumpy and driving fast and I thought I might die. Siena is a medieval city build to maximum precariousness on a hill. The streets are narrow and winding and the bus was just flying around the corners. I would have loved to take some pictures of the city because it’s absolutely gorgeous, but it’s tough to capture a decent image when you are ripping through the city on a bus.
The bus ride takes maybe half an hour and drops you off in Vescovado with your bags. In case you did not know, Tuscany is hilly. Very hilly. There were some returning staff on my bus who led me to the house/hotel where we stay which is up the steep hill to the left, right and left again. Oh, and it was hot again yesterday. I was sweating like a pig. But so was everyone else.
I still cannot believe how jaw dropping the view is from the house and I’ll try to get some decent pictures but I know they won’t come anywhere close to being here. Pictures can’t capture the small (SMALL!) size of the commune and the quaint, ancient feeling you get from just being here. Yesterday we went to the teeny grocery store and had sandwiches freshly made by the cute little Italian ladies who run the store. I am so lucky to be here and so incredibly appreciative.
It’s Sunday now and everything’s closed and everyone is hungover from the festivities of being back in Vescovado and watching the USA/Ghana game last night in the hotel bar so it’s pretty quiet. I’ll try and post stuff at least weekly, so keep checking the blog Sundays and hopefully I’ll have more stories for you to enjoy. I miss you all terribly but am so excited to be here and cannot wait to start digging on Tuesday morning (on site at 7!) It looks like this is going to be a fascinating summer!
PS: No sunburn yet!!