Firenze and fun times.

Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
Trip End Feb 06, 2008

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

As maybe many of you are, I am now behind on my posts. You are behind on reading them, and I am behind on writing them. This is probably a major issue, or something. At any rate, I updated photos from Albisola and Bologna (in the Albisola post), and this post will cover my 5 days in Firenze, but briefly.

Firenze - Arrived on Tuesday and trekked across the city to the campground where I laid my bags. In Italy, there are these campgrounds that have nylon high tents with real bunkbeds inside, and are much cheaper (obviously) than a real hostel. This one was on the south side of the Arno river, overlooked the city brilliantly, and cost a bit cheaper for one night... but then again, it was 5euro per hour on the internet, and their "supermarket" was double price of anything else anywhere other than the UK.

I met up with my friend Katie, whose birthday it was, and whose father and aunt & uncle were in town. We went to an absolutely amazing dinner. Probably 7 courses if we were counting, in an intimate and posh little restaurant. The head chef had long, stringy white hair that flayed out behind him, making him look like a renaissance art virtuoso. After tasting the food, I think that is exactly what he is. His son is a waiter, and wore a 2003 NBA playoffs shirt underneath a ton of necklaces and about 200 silver bracelets per forearm. They kept bringing us complimentary dishes on the house, and since I was the only one who didn't really eat a huge lunch (or anything much at all that day), everyone was encouraging me to be the garbage disposal for all this sumptuous food.

As it turns out, Katie's dad is a very close colleague of my father's, a fact that neither of us or them knew until recently. We are from the same hometown, and we all probably should have put 1 and 1 together much earlier, but never did. What fun coincidences on the road.

After about 3 hours of amazing dinner, wine, and conversation, Katie and I headed out to meet all of her and my friends from the Stanford in Florence program. I have three ex-residents there, and also as I found out upon entering the bar, Katie's roommate's boyfriend is also a friend of mine from school. A great night out in a city that, in the downtown bar district, feels like a college town in the US due to all the American exchange students. I was treated to a night in the 3rd bed at Dr. L's hotel, so that I didn't have to trudge across the city at 4am to my tent.

Fast forward through a week of walking many, many miles a day, past huge, important museums and structures, sculptures, massive tourist groups, gelato shops, restaurants, hotels, and jewelry stores. The center of Florence is like a shell, filled with buildings to photograph and museums to custom, but without any true Italians other than those in the tourism business. You are more likely to hear an American 20something accent than Italian being spoken. While the sights are spectacular, the city's hollowness bleeds out and leaves you feeling a bit the same.

I hung out with my residents Marci, John, and Ann for an afternoon or two in the middle of the week, and through this and the nights out, ended up meeting a fair amount of pretty awesome Stanford students. Abroad programs always remind me of the diversity that exists amongst people whom, from an outsider perspective, might all seem like priviledged American elites. At Stanford, you find a niche, you hang out with that group, and you often run parallel with people who aren't quite all that different from you, but at the same time, are completely opposite in certain modes of thought, hopes, emotional circuits and responses, etcetera.

I ate really well in Florence. Aside from being treated to a few meals by Katie and her father, Marci and John also showed me sweet digs, such as lunch spots and gelaterias. I tried as much as possible to thank Dr. L and Katie for including me in their family dinners, but I'm not sure anything I say can truly encapsulate the gratefulness I felt eating fabulous genuine Italian meals after so many weeks of dining on peanut butter and loaves of bread for lunch and dinner. On my own, I would often stop in to gelaterias throughout the day and scoop some delicious substance. Gelato is ambrosia of the gods.

After some more great nights out (5 euro one-time membership fees gives you a lifetime? membership to exclusive "clubs" with peepholes and stern doormen), and an interesting hostel experience with yelling managers and loud deathmetal, Saturday rolled around. Peter played in Florence in his playoff series at 3pm. About 6 of us decided to head to the game, and also decided it would be fun to drink some beers on the way. Something was in the air - that something was Cinco de Mayo. We figured this out after purchasing 1L CANS of beer called FAXE, a Danish beer. It was delicious, and we coupled it with freshcut meats and cheeses from a market.

Peter's team dominated. It was a whole lot of fun to watch, and I got to reunite briefly with some of his teammates (Frederico especially, who now calls me "Carlton", e.g. the Carlton Dance from Fresh Prince). The level of water polo is insanely high. There are also fans with drums and chants, which is fun. While much of my time in Firenze was spent in the rain, overall I had a great time... but I was excited to move on. I was getting the itch to get going, especially to the non-Christian world, where I will be for the next 4-6 months (aside from South Africa).

After this, I spent one more night in Firenze before heading to Cinque Terre - the post and the pictures will come soon.
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