Day 8: January 1st 2018 Swiss Alps to Florence
In the morning, it’s apparent that I’m about the only one not nursing a hangover. And we’re leaving for Italy at the crack of dawn too.
Nobody is happy to be up so early after such a crazy night. The stories filtering in of the escapades (stripping, projectile vomiting, etc) only confirm to me that I would have been very out of place at the party. I regret nothing.
Still, we all hate the accomodation in Switzerland and the less-than-accomodating, slightly kleptomaniac landlady. We’re keen to go somewhere a bit warmer and not having to traipse through the snow to take a shower you have to pay for.
Outside, the snow and ice has melted, making the ground a dance with death to take your suitcase to the coach. Several people stack it in a spectacular fashion.
Breakfast is a subdued affair, with many eating very little. As for me, I can’t get enough of the still warm, fresh baked bread.
On the coach, sick bags are handed out in bucket loads. They are definitely needed. It’s delightful.
Throughout the day, most people sleep or watch The Hangover. How fitting.
For lunch, I have a hot pita bread sandwich. I think I’m going to love the food in Italy.
At dusk, we reach the town of Pisa, famous for a certain tower. There’s a crowd of people all trying to take the same stupid photo. You know the one I’m talking about.
But it’s not just the Leaning Tower to gawk at here. There’s also a very beautiful church. Sadly photography isn’t allowed. It’s a shame. My grandfather would have loved to see this.
We’re in for a pleasant surprise with the hostel in Florence. The rooms are huge, the WiFi is excellent, there’s a pool, great laundry facilities and ensuites. Dinner is in true Italian style, with massive amounts of bread, cheese, pasta, florentine steak and gelato. After Switzerland this feels like five stars. And best of all, this hostel is part of a chain so we’ll be staying at more locations. I’m cool with that.
Day 9: January 2nd, Florence
It’s official. I love Italy. When I head to the dining room for breakfast, I’ve never seen such a spread. They even have cake. Cake!!!
First on the agenda today is a walking tour of Florence. It’s a beautiful day and about 10 degrees celcius. No thermals needed here. I don’t even have to put on my winter boots.
Our guide is a wonderfully energetic local woman named Eleanor. She carries a flag so we’ll never lose her as she leads us through the streets of this beautiful city.
The cathedrals are gigantic, the architecture absolutely exquisite. We see the copy of Michelangelo’s David and learn how he secretly bribed officials to study cadavers at night, which was highly illegal, in order to make the statue as realistic as possible.
Eleanor explains the history of each landmark and finally gives some tips on how to get the best gelato (avoid the stores that have the ice cream piled high in mountains. It looks pretty but it’s mainly ice and air). She finishes the tour in the leather district where Morgan is waiting for us.
We enter this beautiful leather and jewellery store to receive a leather demonstration and learn how to tell the real deal. Afterwards, we go around the store and many of the girls are keen to get puzzle rings. Puzzle rings are interlocking rings which fall apart when taken off and there’s only one way to put them back together. Historically they were created to help men catch cheating wives. Ever so slightly sexist, but they’re still pretty and I simply have to have one. I fall in love with the two-tone style, rose gold and silver.
The woman in the store takes one look at my hands. “They don’t make them that small, dear,” she says. “You’ll have to get the smallest one and wear it on another finger,”
A small price to pay for something so unique and lovely. My puzzle ring will live on my middle finger of my right hand. Now I just need to learn how to put it back together.
After this, we’re free to explore Florence and do whatever we like. A group of us are keen for shopping and gelato. I’m fine with this as I want to see as much of this place as I can. Walking is the best way to do so.
We’re all absolutely delighted with where we go for lunch. It’s a giant fresh food market, filled with Italian cheese, herbs, spices, pasta and other goodies. But upstairs is an array of food stalls with everything you can imagine. I select pasta. I’m in Italy after all. For 6 euros, I get a perfect sized serving of freshly cooked pasta and parmesan. It is without doubt the best pasta I have ever eaten. Sorry Mum.
The day ends all too quickly, but I head back to the hostel because there’s something highly important I need to do.
Day 10: January 3rd, Florence to Rome
I’m really going to miss Florence. But Rome is our next destination and I’m more than keen for that.
On the way, we stop in a lovely small town called Orvieto. It’s truly a hidden gem in Italy. Morgan tells us of a huge church that looks like a liquorice all sort and when licked, the stone actually tastes like mint. Well, we get there and after some people try this out, they realise it was a joke. I certainly got a laugh out of it.
We have the option to try a wild boar sandwich for lunch. I can’t do it. Not with the boar heads on the walls. We instead find a nice restaurant.
In Rome, a new group of people will be joining the tour, doing the Winter Rhapsody. And sadly, some will be leaving since the March To Rome ends here. But first, it’s time for a walking tour. Morgan leads us through the streets of Rome, starting at the Spanish Steps.
I’m struck by how much more crowded Rome is. Imagine how much worse it would be in summer.
Rome has gangs of gypsies and there’s pickpockets everywhere. I’m very grateful for my Pacsafe anti-theft bag. It’s one less thing to worry about. Thanks Mum. Although to be fair, if anyone tries my pockets, they’re only going to find tissues.
High above the Spanish Steps, you can see a glimpse of the Vatican, which we can visit tomorrow. Next stop is the sight I really want to see. The famous Trevi Fountain. It’s tucked away in a backstreet. On the way, Morgan buys everyone a gelato. I choose caramello.
Because the Trevi Fountain is so crowded, tour guides are forbidden to talk in front of it. We’re given the history of the fountain in a street next to one of many drinking fountains. They’re all over Italy. Some even dispense sparkling water.
The Trevi Fountain is absolutely stunning at dusk. But the crowds are something else altogether. I’m beginning to think I’ll never get a decent photo, let alone the chance to throw some coins in, when I spot the fence nearby, leading to a more empty spot in the corner.
I slide through the tourists towards the gap. I duck down and swing myself through the bars, jumping to the lowest section. This is one situation where aiming low was definitely the better option. My pictures are more than satisfactory from this angle. And yes, my coins find their way into the water. The equivalent of 3000 euros is thrown into the Trevi Fountain every day. And it’s all given to charity. Yay.
It’s time for dinner and quite honestly, this is where things went kind of wrong. Anybody who knows me is aware that I’m the size of a rake and have the appetite of a sparrow on a diet. It also doesn’t help that prior to Europe, I’ve somehow lost at least six kilos, making me look even worse. The bottom line is, I’m tiny. Very tiny.
Given that I’ve eaten a lot today, I’m really not that hungry so I go for something from the entree menu. Surely I can handle that, right? Wrong. The plate I’m given is the size of the Soviet Union with enough for three of me on it. I do my best, but there’s no way I can finish this all. And unfortunately for me, two of the waiters are VERY unhappy with me for my lack of appetite. They’re visibly annoyed and telling me off. My dinner companions assure me I’ve done nothing wrong but I can’t help feeling a little upset.
After dinner, the tour comtinues with the remnants of ancient Rome. I’m deeply impressed by the Forum, and the remains of an ancient 6 storey shopping centre. Yes, really. Of course, it all pales in comparison to the scale of the Colosseum.
We take the metro back to the coach, which then drives to the campsite where we’ll be staying. And I’ve really lucked out here, because we have odd numbers and I have a whole cabin to myself. Please and thank you.
Next time: Part 4/11 Rome and Venice