Finishing Italy in a Hurry

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

If Adrian and I could handle Rome in basically a day and a half, then surely Florence didn't stand a chance. We did the same routine, got into town midday, got into our hostel and then set out walking around to find lunch and then the major sights. And Florence was small enough that by the middle of the afternoon we had so many of the major sights knocked out so early that we had to stop ourselves so we'd actually have something to do the following day. Florence is one of those cities that everybody raves about, I've never heard anything but great things said about it and it's one of the main hotspots for Study Abroaders. I did enjoy it, it's a nice city and some good sights but in a way it left me with that same empty feeling of Venice. It was so overrun with tourists you didn't see many Italians except for the ones who wanted to be noticed by the tourists. And part of the problem with backpacking Italy in general is that one of the best things to do in a new city is to walk around a bit, decide you've done enough touristy junk for the day, look at the friend you're traveling with at the time and simultaneously say, "Right, beer?" All throughout Eastern Europe cafes are plentiful and beer is cheap so it doesn't hit your wallet. Meanwhile you're relaxing, cooling off and watching the world go by. You can learn a lot more about a city and a culture than you'd think by just sitting out on the street and people watching. In Italy, though, any cafe in a spot where the people are worth watching is gonna nail you for an ungodly amount for a pint.

But Florence once again proves how much Italians care about their religion. I thought the duomos in Venice and Milan were fairly impressive, then I got to Florence. Keep in mind that I had just come from Rome so it would take a fair bit for me to bother taking out my camera for a church. But Florence manages to maybe even top St Peter's, from the outside anyway. I had been warned by my cousin about the duomo because apparently it's the number one pick pocket spot because every one is so busy gawking at the church.

Florence was also good in the respect that it scratched another item off the list of things I never have to see again. After hitting Rome and the Vatican I would've felt fairly content if I never saw another church (particularly the inside) again -- you've seen St Peter's, you've seen the top of the scale. And now, thanks to Florence, I never have to see another statue again now that I've seen Michaelangelo's Dave. And if you think I'm being obnoxious and silly about this whole never having to see another statue again thing, well, there's a quote more or less to that effect right in front of it. And David does live up to the hype. It's even bigger than you think and the detail is amazing. It's impressive enough that LÁccademia, the museum that houses it can force people to make reservations, make those who don't have a reservation wait on line and then charge €9.50 to get into a museum that really is pretty worthless aside from the world's most famous statue.

My one complaint about Florence is that my first night there was the most worried I've been about going home since I've been traveling. It certainly didn't help in general that I've been hanging out with Adrian all this time, an Aussie who likes to bash Americans any chance he gets (and having one around gave him plenty of excuses, he didn't know what to do with himself when I was the token in a sea of Aussies and Kiwis at Oktoberfest), but that night we went to a bar that was holding a beer pong tournament. I advertised it to him as a way to get a glimpse into a little American culture, and I had no idea how right I was. The tables were turned as he was the lone Aussie amongst nothing but Americans. The problem was, though, we were bored out of our skulls. Just about everyone was too self-absorbed to bother meeting someone that they didn't come to the bar with or who wasn't in one of their programs and every effort we made to muck around and entertain people completely crashed. That combined with €5 pints made it an early and disappointingly quiet night. I just hope that that's not the sort of thing I have to look forward to whenever it is that I do come back.

From Florence, we moved on to spend our one hour in Pisa. I propose that the town council of Pisa vote to build a new train station right next to the main plaza where the Leaning Tower and the duomo (it's a decent duomo, but a) I'd just come from Florence and b) I was there to see a tower not a church) to make it that much easier for people to get in and out quickly. Still we managed to hop the bus from the station, run into the plaza, take our picture kicking the tower down (had to try to come up with something original -- is it original, I don't know, but no one else did it), take the obligatory picture holding it up and then get back on the bus while our one-hour public transport ticket was still in effect. And I didn't feel the least bit cheated by the experience.

What I did feel cheated about was missing out on the Cinque Terra. Ask anyone what they think of Cinque Terra and the answer is always, "amazing, the pictures don't even do it justice." The plan was to get into a town nearby that morning (it was still early, we were go getters and got up with the sun in Florence), find accommodation, ditch our bags, do the hike through the five towns, get a proper night's sleep then "screw the pooch" and head on to Switzerland. The only problem is, Lonely Planet sucks. They talk so much about how Cinque Terra is something not to be missed, then when you actually get to the entry on it there's barely a paragraph that only vaguely hints on how to handle minor things like where you should get off the train. Of course I couldn't make sense of it all until we were speeding away from the town where we should've gotten out and it didn't become crystal clear until the train didn't stop again for another hour and a half. So instead of leaving at La Spezia, we ended up in Genoa (Columbus' birthplace, if you care), and again we got screwed by LP. Genoa has two train stations and the guidebook says that if you get off at the first one you can find decent accommodation and if you get off at the second, you're closer to the water but you're also in a shady part of town -- so you're inclined to get off at the first one. What they don't mention is that only the second one has a tourist information booth, so you won't actually be able to find that decent accommodation if you get off at the first. There was a solid hour or so of walking around (it was hot out and we had our packs on, an hour is a fucking long time in those conditions) before we found something remotely helpful. And what we learned from that remotely helpful find was that we were going to have to deem Cinque Terra a loss since we weren't going to be able to do it that day and we didn't really have another day to waste, nor did we want to pay the absurd accommodation costs in Genoa. We were set on the idea of going to Milan for the night where we could potentially find a hostel, have something to do at night and Adrian could snap a photo or two of the duomo, when I got on the horn to Roland (the French guy from the West Coast road trip, and yes I expect you to keep up on the cast of characters, even if that was six months ago) to see if maybe it wouldn't be a big deal if we crashed on him in Geneva a day early. A few moments later we got the OK and Milan was out of the picture and we were on to Switzerland after a mere five train rides that day. (Or so we thought. Before I noticed the spelling on the board above the track and realized we were getting on a train to Genova, Italy and not Geneve, Switzerland. Between Genoa, Genova and Geneva I'm sure there's a lot of confused, misplaced people.) And we never even really had a chance to say a proper goodbye.
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