Where were we? That’s right, Italy. Bologna, to be precise, even though the ticket was for Florence. After buying many second-hand clothes and lugging my luggage around a flea market, I headed back to the train station, a little sweaty, dirty, and with bubblegum stuck to the bottom of my lovely, lovely, swishy dress. As much as I had enjoyed the flea market, I was also a little paranoid about the women walking about with children. See, my Dad had told me that there were scams running in Italy where an old lady would walk up to you in the street and throw (what looked like) a baby at you, and when you dropped all your things to catch it, she would run off with your stuff (turns out the baby would just be a bundle of rags or similar). Or, women would come up with children, and as they were talking to you, distracting you, the children would rustle through your bags and take your wallet. Of course, in my paranoid brain, this translated into ‘Avoid all women and children for all times and forever,’ rather than, just the ones that were begging. So, I found myself crossing the road when women dripping in diamonds and dressed in Armani started walking towards me with their designer children. I also began to get very paranoid about the skills of pickpockets in general, who I seemed to think were some form of magicians or wizards, and could steal your purse and passport just by looking at you. In fact, according to me, all people in Italy were pickpockets. This is not me being racist, by the way, its just the way I always feel when I come to a new country. I take all the anxiety and fear and worry I have about not knowing where to go, where to get food, how to get to my hostel, what to buy, what will happen if I get lost, etc. etc. and I turn into extreme paranoia about the people who surround me (don’t believe me? Check the post from London in January. And the one from Stranraer in February).
Anyway, it was kind of a relief to get back to the train station, away from the flea market, and next to a very attractive young man with sparkling blue eyes, dark hair and who was reading classic English literature on his Kindle whilst we waited for the train. Clearly he was not a pickpocket. I mean, he picked up my water when I dropped it. Heart of gold.
I was looking forward to the train journey and had booked a window seat, expecting to watch the countryside as I sped to Florence, but, unfortunately, most of the train journey took place in a tunnel through a series of mountains. Arriving in Florence was a blessing and a relief, but I was still far from my hostel, and it took me another hour to get there. When I got there, they informed they would still be charging me for the 2 nights I had booked, despite the fact that I had been in Amstersdam the night before. I pointed out that I had informed them the night before I would not be arriving. They told me they had a 24 hour cancellation policy. I asked them how they expected me to give them 24 hours notice when my flight was cancelled? They were unmoved. They asked me to ask the airlines to pay for my night’s accommodation. I pointed out that the airline had already put me up in Amsterdam, paid for my dinner, my breakfast, put me on another flight, given me wine, given me toiletries. The airline was clear of responsibility, as far as I was concerned. They were unmoved. At this point, I had a minor meltdown. I started to get very angry. I was tried, hot, my arms were falling off from carrying my bags around Bologna, I hadn’t eaten since 6:30am, and these bastards weren’t giving me any sympathy whatsoever. I started telling them that I would understand if their hostel was booked out, but it clearly wasn’t (they had just offered me accommodation the next night instead of the Friday), and it just wasn’t fair. We then started having an argument about whether or not the hostel was actually fully booked or not. She offered me free dinner as a compensation which I explained was useless to me as I was leaving that evening. She continued to attempt to give me dinner, until I told her I was going to a wedding celebration that night. About that time I burst into tears, grabbed the key, and went off to get to my hostel room, ignoring the instructions given to me by the hostel staff, meaning I first walked into a linen cupboard, and had to come out again into the reception to get the instructions again. Not at all embarrassing. After lying on my bed for 15 minutes and having a little cry (and then realising the room was not empty and getting embarrassed again), I got up, re-did my make-up and headed out to reception to apologise for my previous behaviour so that I could get directions to where I needed to go. Even more embarrassing. As soon as I got out of the hostel, my mood improved.
The wedding celebrations was astoundingly beautiful. They took place in an old Italian villa that is now part of a European university. Photos:
The view as I walked down the stairs and out into the garden was enough to make all the troubles of the past day go away. It was like being in a Hollywood film about Italy. It was like being in Under the Tuscan Sun, except without that annoying actress hanging around and being depressive and ruining things. The only problem was I knew absolutely no-one. No-one. Well, ok, I knew the bride and groom, but I was really only good friends with the bride, and she was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know what to do. I got some champagne. I finished it pretty quickly. I got another. I sat in the garden. I messaged a friend in the UK. I began to feel very, very uncomfortable, though I was doing my best to appear nonchalant and carefree. Luckily, someone saw through the rouse and came and befriended me. A lovely German woman, who was married to an Aussie and met my friend in the Blue Mountains many years ago. We had a wonderful chat, I met her gorgeous children, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner. I was sat at a lovely table of mainly Australians, though all were scattered around Europe now, and ended up having a fabulous night. The food was, unsurprisingly, amazing. The Italian waiters were mainly, unsurprisingly, attractive and charming. The wine and the limoncello was, unsurprisingly, impossible to resist. I had intended on not having a big night, but, before I knew it, the last bus, 1am, was on its way, I had gone past my stop to the hostel, and I had to head into town with the other young folk for another drink. This meant I ended up having my first glimpse of the famous duomo, late at night and far from the summer crowds. This made me feel special, different, unique etc. and the duomo was, of course, perfect:
We went for a drink in the middle of an old piazza, and then I stumbled towards a taxi with two lovely Texans and back to my hostel.
When I woke the next morning, I realised that the hostel was lovely, a converted convent, whitewashed walls, high ceilings and not at all hot or stuffy, as most hostels are. It still didn’t make up for the double charge of the room, but I did wake in a fairly good mood. I packed up my bags, got into one of my old nonna dresses and checked out, intending to spend the day walking around Florence.
The thing was, that, as I had drunk so much limoncello the night before, I hadn’t noticed that my legs had began to chafe terribly in the hot, hot, Italian heat. Now, this is pretty gross, and may be considered sharing too much on the blog, but it needs to be said to explain the rest of my day. When I changed into my dress on Sunday morning, there was blood all over my inner thighs, that is how much they had chafed together the night before. It was more than a little horrific. My legs were attacking each other. The inner thighs had turned on each other and were attempting to beat the other into submission. I had never experienced such a thing before, and I, of course, blamed my weight gain. But, who knows if I had just so acclimatised to Ireland, I could no longer bear the 28 degree heat of Italy. As I walked out into the Sunday morning sun of Florence, they began to chafe again, but determined to see Florence on foot, as I attempt to see all cities, instead of stopping and getting a bus or something, I decided instead to start walking with my legs about a metre apart from each other. So, I was in my fat, nonna dress, doing a fat nonna waddle down the street, carrying my luggage and blinking in the sunshine from the hangover. I must have looked ridiculous. By the end of the day, my legs felt like they were on fire, they were that sore. I read up on chafing when I got back to Ireland, and the advice is: STOP WALKING. At least until they’ve healed. Which seems kind of obvious and self-explanatory now that I’m home again, but I’m not one for sensible thought whilst in the midst of ridiculous behaviour.
Anyway, I managed to see some of Florence, as well as buy some delicious Margherita pizza for my breakfast (paid for by the weight, which charmed me for some reason), some better gelato for my lunch and sit, in an exhausted, hung-over heap by the river for a little while too. By about 2pm, the heat was just too overwhelming, and I took the bus to the airpot, drank 1.5L of water and slept in a plastic chair until my flight at 5:30pm. Of course, the flight was delayed, and I began to panic that I would be stuck in Amsterdam again (though it wouldn’t have worried me so much – more attractive Dutch giants, and an extra day off work). When we landed at Amsterdam airport, we sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes, meaning, by the time I got off the plane, it was 10 minutes until I needed to board my next plane, and Amsterdam airport is huge, and I would have to go through a passport check still. We actually drove past my Cork flight as we were finding our gate, which only added to my anxiety because I could see it was on time. I ran through Amsterdam airport, ignoring the horrible chafing and pain, and got to passport control. I handed them my passport and ticket and said, through gasping breaths, that my flight was boarding in 5 minutes. The passport man was nonchalant. ‘Oh, this is ok. You have plenty of time.’ Still, he put me at the head of the queue. The man at the desk said the same thing. ‘You must calm down, take big breaths, you are ok.’ I wanted to slap them. But, still, they were right. I got my flight to Cork, and my host father was waiting for me when I got off. The only problem? My bags had been left in Amsterdam, as no-one had run them over at top speed to the Cork flight, as I had done with myself. Never mind, they were hand-delivered to my front door, by a taxi driver the next day, which was impressive in itself. All in all, I was fairly impressed by Aer Lingus and KLM, even if everything went wrong, they fixed it all very well in the end.
So, that’s the end of the Italy trip. I have just booked a 4 day jaunt to Paris to meet up with two Sydney friends, and I cannot wait. Paris was another place I hated when I visited it back in 2002, and considering how much I loved Italy this time around, I have high hopes for how I will feel about Paris.