Detour: Florence Part I – The Entering

My family went on a trip to Italy.

On this trip, we went all over the place, starting in the Italian Alps, then heading over to the Mediterranean, stopping in Umbria for a few days, hitting Rome and Venice and Verona, and finally flying out of Milan. It was a good trip, but a busy one. We were all very exhausted by the end.

One of the days, we were planning on going to some of the villages in Cinque Terre, a series of five small towns along the Mediterranean coast connected by footpaths. Upon arriving at the first location, Monterosso al Mare, and not finding any parking anywhere, we decided, after much deliberation, to travel on to our lodging for the night and come back earlier the next day via train. Now, this day was our only chance to check out Florence, about an hour away. I had already been on a previous trip, but Florence is probably my favorite of the big Italian cities, so I encouraged us to try to visit the Tuscan city.

This post is a recounting of that adventure. Long before the night was over, we would come to regret our decision to visit Florence. My older brother, with whom I first visited Florence a couple years ago, was the only one who stayed behind at our lodging. He was wise to do so.

On our way to the city, I am in the back seat looking through Italy for Dummies for good places to eat. When I travel, I eat. That’s how I prefer to experience a place. But it is tricky when you’re in big touristy cities. There are a lot of places that look good, but they don’t really have good, authentic food. They cater to the taste buds of the tourists. But I want the real deal.

So I narrow down a couple places and keep track of the info. I should mention, my phone is very low on battery at this point, we don’t have a charger with us, and we may need it to get in touch with my brother, who has my mom’s phone. So I put it into airplane mode. That’s the only phone we have with us, so we can no longer use a phone for navigation or information purposes.

In the Italy for Dummies book, I also find a place with parking. The idea is that we will park just outside the city and take the Metro in. Our GPS is taking us toward that parking area. Well, we hope it is, anyway.

Around 5 o’clock, the GPS is saying we are only a few minutes away from the destination. We decide, instead of going there, we will just try to find parking wherever. We find a parking garage, head in, park, and walk out to the streets. Where now?

I have tried to pick up a little bit of Italian while being there, so I stop a man on the sidewalk and try my best to say, “Where is the train station?” The man replies in Italian, almost none of which I understand. But what we do gather is the general direction of the train station. And so we walk. My dad stops to ask another person how to get into the city, but I don’t see the importance of a second opinion, so I keep walking. When my dad catches up to us, he says that the other man said it is better to take a bus into the city center. I can’t remember the bus number, but for the sake of ease, I’ll say it’s the 23 bus.

Two different sets of directions. Great. We keep moving toward the train station. Along the way, we see the bus stop for the 23. But it looks like we’ll have to buy bus tickets at a store. This seems overly complicated. Let’s keep to the original plan.

We have to ask multiple people where the train station is. They keep pointing in the same direction, but we can’t find it. We wander around for a bit. Finally, running up ahead to check, I find the entrance to the station. At last. We go down and look at the train schedule. But what we were expecting was the Metro. Not an actual train. We got the latter. We consider what to do. The train will be more expensive probably and the timing will be weird. We opt to go try the bus.

Turns out you can buy bus tickets at automated machines by the bus stop. They are €1.20 per ticket. No problem. But the machine only takes exact change. And you can only buy one ticket at a time. We don’t have €1.20 in exact change four times over. Our change box is in the car. We don’t realize this, though, until after I’ve bought my ticket.

Finally, back at the car, we decide to try to drive closer in to the city, to the parking area we had originally set out for. All of this till now has taken a couple hours. We had hoped to be in the city by around 6. Oops.

We pull out of the parking garage, and start following the GPS. But the GPS starts to go crazy. It gets confused in the tight streets and starts taking us all over the place and changing directions after every block. Tensions are high in the car. We give up on the GPS, but now we’re lost. We are so turned around, we don’t know how to get back. By some incredible stroke of luck, we eventually find our way back to the parking garage we just left.

What do we do? We have tried just about everything. The train didn’t pan out. We can’t drive closer into the city. The bus didn’t work out. Well, actually, we just didn’t have the money for the bus, but we’re back in the car now with our change box, so why not try? But we are so tired. All of this walking around and going in circles just to get into Florence. The sun is setting, we are getting rather grumpy at each other, and we are all very hungry. But my dad and I are proud people, for better or worse. We have set out to try to get into Florence. In my mind, if we can just make it into the city and get some food, it will justify all of the frustration. Let’s give it one last go. Let’s try the bus. A reluctant assent from my mom. And we’re off. It’s not a short walk to the bus station. When we’re a block away, we see the 23 bus pass us on its way into the city center. Of course. We’ve missed the bus and now have to wait for the next one.

We get to the bus stop, buy the tickets and wait. Hungry, tired, anxious. We wait. And we wait. And wait.

“Okay,” I say, turning to my mom, dad, and little brother, “let’s wait here until my ticket expires.” Remember the ticket I bought earlier? It expires at 8:47 p.m. It’s about 8:25 now. That’s right, we’ve been trying to get into the city for so long that my bus ticket is about to time out. I continue, “Once 8:47 rolls around, we’ll call it quits and go home.” Everyone agrees.

So we keep on waiting. The bus isn’t showing. Time ticks away. A part of me wants 8:47 to come so that we can go home. It’s starting to look like that will be a reality. My expiration time is about two minutes away. As we are about to leave, I look left, and around the corner, bringing a strange mixture of disappointment and smug satisfaction, comes the 23 bus, just in time…

Come back for Florence Part II – The Eating!

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