Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Florence and Venice

Florence, Italy:

Just walking from the train station in Florence to the hostel was a magical experience, getting to chug through cobblestone streets between world-class designer clothing stores, beneath the most beautiful Christmas lights, while hauling a massive pack on my back and another one on my front - I clearly fit right in.

The hostels I selected in northern Italy may tie for some of the worst hostels I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. Upon checking in, I discovered that some error with the hostel's website had allowed them to continue accepting reservations long past capacity. My ten-bunk room slept twenty-five people that first night. There were cots flung everywhere, and some people shared twin beds or slept on the floor. One person even slept in the luggage storage closet. It was mass chaos, and out of that utter disorder arose some of my favorite travel friendships. Miles and Arlo, whose South Dakota origins made them the only other Americans, and I instantly bonded over the absurdity of the situation. This hostel was also notable because of its all-male staff, and the bathrooms which were right off the kitchen where communal meals were prepared and consumed. One day I was walking to the shower in my towel when an overweight, greasy, balding middle-aged man asked if I "needed any help with the shower." Disgusted, I raised an eyebrow and shot him a sarcastic, "Really?" His buddies just laughed, and he felt obligated to clarify that he was "joking."

Miles, Arlo, and I explored Florence together. We saw the magnificent Duomo and the art museum which houses the famous David. I had no idea how big that statue is in real life! Arlo wandered off to do his own thing, so Miles and I sat on a wall and watched the muddy Arno river, which picked up and reflected the colors of the surrounding Tuscan hills. This was one of my favorite afternoons of the trip - we talked for hours about the Big Topics, like love and loss and religion and politics. I learned all about his lovely girlfriend, who I would have the pleasure of meeting the following summer back in Denver, and he learned all about a boy who (though I didn't know it at the time) would break my heart as soon as I returned to the US.

Inside of Duomo's dome

Front of the cathedral

Bridge, or the photo where the water matches the walls
Miles and Arlo agreed to hunt down a gluten free pizzeria with me. As soon as we stepped out of the hostel it started pouring rain, and of course we didn't bring an umbrella. We stood under an overhang on the side of the road, and Arlo took a selfie-video of us in the downpour. You see, Arlo was recording a short video each day of their months-long trip, and was planning to compile the clips upon returning home. (Unfortunately, some jerk broke into his truck back in South Dakota and stole his phone with all the video footage, so I can't share it here). Anyway, we eventually kept going through the rain, only to find that the pizzeria was closed. So instead, we went back to a surprisingly affordable, cozy, classy restaurant which I had found the night before. It ended up being one of our favorite meals of the trip, because it was delicious and came with multiple courses and wine for somewhere around 11 Euro. There was an entire gluten free menu, including bread and dessert! We also probably shocked the diners around us, because each of us is filthier and funnier than the last.

Gluten free gnocchi in a beautiful setting
After this night, they were headed to other cities, but mentioned that they'd be in Venice a few days from then. I said I would be in Venice too. They asked what hostel I'd be in, and I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be the same one they were in. So we hugged goodbye and said maybe we'd meet up in Venice.

The next morning, I walked up to the hill overlooking Florence where Michelangelo originally installed the David statue. On the walk up the hill, I found a lovely little Japanese garden where I sat down and drank in the views and contemplated. I also visited Museo Galileo and learned a lot about scientific tools over the centuries, which was pretty neat. I can see why so many people fall in love with Florence - what a charming city.

Venice, Italy:
Then I arrived in my last stop in Italy, Venice. When I think back on my time in the city, I remember a lot of meandering through misty canals at night, completely lost. Eventually I learned to navigate the canals, but at first it's super disorienting.  After trying to find a place to eat dinner the first night, I decided to just sleep.

The next morning, I go to make breakfast, and who do I see? None other than Miles sitting at the breakfast table. I was wrong and they were right - we were at the same hostel. Arlo and our new friend Fran were in poor shape because things had gotten a bit rowdy in the pub the night before, but they were able to rally and we set out to explore the canals together.

Do I have something in my teeth? Also, Ponte Vecchio is cool I guess
"Arlo, take a picture of me being basic!" [feat: Miles and Fran, photobombing]
We saw St. Mark's Cathedral, which has to be my favorite church I've ever visited (and that's saying something, I visited a LOT of them). I loved the Eastern Orthodox style of art and the gold foil shimmering on every surface. We also saw the outside of the Doge's palace, the waterline, and a whole lot of canals. We happened upon a musical instrument museum and went in on a whim, where I saw advertisements for a string sextuplet playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons that night in a church. I bought a ticket, on another whim, because it just felt right - Vivaldi is from Venice, after all. The boys went back to the hostel, and I (on a third whim) went back to St. Mark's Cathedral because I loved it so much. It wasn't nearly as pretty the second time around, perhaps because it was already getting dark and the gold didn't sparkle as much in the dusk. This was a poignant lesson on the impossibility of creating life's greatest moments, and thus an exhortation to be fully present as things happen.

Outside of St. Mark's

Inside (kind of) of St. Mark's - the part you can photograph, anyway

That night I tried to look as presentable as I could for a backpacker - I put on a scarf with my black dress and tights, and I even wore the black flats which I schlepped around for months for the "fancy" occasions I anticipated. Honestly, I only went to a handful of nice places, and every time I wore the flats they gave me mad blisters, so I should have ditched them and worn my trusty combat boots. Anyway, I didn't stick out too badly at the concert, and I quite enjoyed the music, even if I nodded off a bit during the adagio songs.

Smirking because I know I don't belong
I bid Miles, Arlo, and Fran farewell, by sharing one final crass joke, and then I was on my way to the UK!

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