6/5-the frenzy begins.
The bus arrives at the station and I have time to kill. Perfect cafe spotted. Less than perfect pizza tasted. I relocated benches. Pigeons fly in and out of the station. They squawk and fumble and do that strange head thing that annoys me to no end until I notice that one of them is tangled in a piece of string. Try as it might it can’t fly and it’s really awful to watch and the man with sunglasses and a sleeping bag sitting next to me must agree because he tries to help the pigeon but it won’t let him and that’s even more awful to watch. The man looks sad and I feel sad for him. A kind soul like that deserves more than a sleeping bag in a station. I walk away feeling a bit heavy wishing everyone who wanted to fly away could. The walk to my hostel is wobbly, hilly, and sweaty but the hostel is nice and the showers are clean and the kitchen has wide corners so I can relax because clean showers and wide corners lean towards luxury. The next day I go for a run, I eat breakfast, and I feel truly satisfied because Northern Italians are above cocoa puffs and passionate about pan-fresh focaccia and that is a rare culinary find.
Smiles here are also rare. The man in charge of breakfast looks particularly dire. He must know about all the cocoa puffs I’ve consumed this past month. I’m a cocoa puff girl, he’s a light-smattering-of-nutella-on-foccacia man. We must not converse.
I walk to the center of town, sit by the fountains, find a gigantic bookstore with a tiny English section. My head is soon bloated with book blurbs. I resolve to write a children’s book about a hideous vampire so as to destroy the fascination of them early.
I walk to a pastel-colored fishing neighborhood an hour away. Sometimes google imaging is enough.
I walk along the shore- my canvas shoes are melting away. I’m now certain of two things: my shoes smell of burning plastic and Genoa is a bit boring. It looked more interesting on google images so maybe I should rescind my previous statement about google images being enough. Back at the hostel I eat mozzarella and tomatoes and all the words I would like to throw at my fellow hostel dwellers who are throwing don’t-you-dare-small-talk-me signals. I go to bed, I wake up, I pack, I brush my teeth, I bump into a South African girl in the bathroom who is cleansed of all cocoa puff crankiness and asks about my travels and tells me she’s happy for me and I don’t even catch her name. Instead, I catch the catchphrase I’m always throwing around in my mind: every place has its redeeming qualities.
People are the redeemers.
I think I know what hot yoga feels like now. My hostel is 8km away from the city center which means two buses and a long walk uphill. A nice couple with stacks of English newspapers on the backseat give me a lift when I’m 200 meters away-one less droplet of sweat to be shed.
At the hostel/converted monastery they give me water, plums, and Italian lessons. My room is a wooden alcove- apparently monks used to sleep here. Now the mosquitos do. Grrr.
At dinner there’s pasta, wine, a view overlooking Florence. The company is good, great actually. I sit next to the coolest South African family I have ever met. The mum dances the Flamenco and speaks fluent Afrikaans. The dad cracks jokes and wishes he could dance the Flamenco and the teenage kids, fourteen and sixteen, discuss the political instability of Zimbabwe and Gossip Girl in length.
The next day I wonder around fantastic Florence with a Texan. The day after that a French girl who plays the harp and devours guidebooks. I visit the Statue of David (worth the queue), meander around the Palace Gardens, walk back and forth on the Ponte Vecchio, and eat a cow stomach sandwich…I should explain further because cocoa puff girls don’t usually go for cow stomach sandwiches. I was led astray by the French girl with the guidebook who said a “Lampredotto” was a must try and it smelt good and they coat the bread in truffle oil which seemed classy but good grief, what was I thinking! One bite in I knew I wasn’t eating just regular beef and I turned green with the realization and then the green feeling grew sprouts. I used to think it was really strange that people eat sprouts in sandwiches but I could really go for sprouts right now. I envy the sprout eaters.
I survive the cow stomach and wash it down with lemonade at a really swish cafe. The menu says six euros for a lemonade (always look at the menu before sitting down) but they offer us a discount of 4.50 euro (still crazy but alas, I ate cow stomach so nothing about today makes sense).
We eat gelato later and I’m back to a happy level of eating. We walk by the Duomo and through the major piazzas then back towards the bus stop. I pass by an amazing piece of street art of Salvador Dali and smile wide like I’m greeting an old friend because two years ago I found a strand of hair in the shower that looked like his profile so I wrote a poem about it and the vitality of art. Now, as I look at this mural, I smile towards Galileo’s direction (literally-there’s a mural of him down the street) because this is all the proof I need to confirm the world is not flat.
Travel far enough and it all comes full circle.
I pass by the tower countless times. On my runs, on my way to the gelateria, on my quests for books and parks. I spend the next two days eating mentos, reading The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time (superb read), going on self-designed park crawls (the non-alcoholic kind) and taking absolute delight in all the people posing in front of Pisa.
Take note: Pisa would be a great place to start an impromptu Tai Chi class.
Five villages along the coast, all outstanding though I only manage to go to four. I spend the night in Porto Venere-not one of the villages but just as beautiful. The Montreal native who basically lives at the viewpoint agrees.
Cliff. Pastel.Cliff. Pastel. Different shades, different heights, the same unusual amount of American tourists. In Monterosso, I eat a paper cone filled with fried vegetables and I feel pretty chuffed because I order it in Italian and get an air high-five from the cone-maker. When the cone is hollow once again I walk along the cliff edge into Vernazza and resort to the train after that. I end in Manarola, the most beautiful of the five villages. Because it’s so beautiful I spend less than 30 minutes there (can’t explain it but the thought process makes sense to me).
From Manarola, I travel back to Florence. I splurge on a taxi and talk to the driver about motorbikes and maple syrup. He tells me that when faced with a beautiful girl or a beautiful bike he will always choose the bike. However, he calls his own bike Megan Fox because it is the most beautiful bike of all. We get a bit lost but he stops the meter until we find the hotel/camping ground hybrid I’ve chosen to stay at tonight. The receptionist looks stressed beyond stressed so I think about giving her a hug but I really ought to shower first.
A man in a golf cart takes me to my room and asks if I work for NASA because my backpack is so heavy. I morph that into a compliment and tell myself I’m strong. I have a private room at a low price and the toilet doesn’t flush but the shower is free of rust and I’m free of worry. Tomorrow, I go to Lamporecchio near Montecantini to live with a friendly vegan family with a fabulous camper.
The frenzy continues.