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Troublesome Journey to Florence – Day 66
Monday 5th October 2009 – Florence
Today was a very strange day, it didn’t turn out as expected at all. I imagined it would take around an hour and a half to get to Florence, as this is how long it took a couple of days ago to get from there to here. I then thought I would just chill for a bit, maybe go out for a meal somewhere, but have a relaxing day. It was, as I mentioned, very different.
I think I had a good night sleep. I didn’t hear everyone else come in so I guess I must have been away with the faeries. I woke a couple of times early morning as I usually do. I was up and ready in good time, and down for my breakfast, which today was even worse. Those who were unlucky enough to have paid for it were offered a stale bread role, a sachet of butter and jam. The small plastic cup of coffee was also included. It was so hard to eat that it took a while before it was all gone. On the radio they played the same song again and again, which sounded like the Italian West Life. The first time may have been bearable, the second, forth and sixth times I was ready to scream. It took me that long to eat my bread role! Having come out of the breakfast room with my teeth still intact and my eardrums not yet bleeding, I considered it a successful breakfast.
I walked the distance to the bus depot where I knew the bus would take me back to the train station. I had to cross 6 lanes of busy traffic along the way using the zebra crossing. I have to say, I’ve become a bit of an expert now at these crossings. The trick is to just step out in front of the oncoming traffic. If you wait until the cars stop, you’ll be waiting all day. As soon as you step out, they stop, but only lane by lane, so you still have to be very careful. Its a bit unnerving when they are all driving around 60mph. I’m still alive though, so I guess it works.
At the depot I bought my ticket and watched as the bus I needed pulled away and left right in front of me. I missed it by seconds. It wasn’t too much of a problem though, as the next one was there within 5 minutes. I got on and for the first time in a long time, I was actually able to grab a seat. I nearly always had to stand on the bus, sometimes because there were no seats, or to let others sit down, so today was a luxury, and I wasn’t going to give it up that easily. That is, of course, until the driver told us all to get off and get the next bus as this one was out of service now. I felt like screaming at him for taking away my seat.
Being the last off with my big bags, I didn’t hold out any hope of getting a seat this time, but I was in luck. I bagged the same seat I had before, and I was happy. This time the driver got on and drove us on our way in the direction of the station.
Throughout the journey people kept looking at me, expecting me to give up my seat I think, but I just looked the other way. I kept the seat to the bitter end.
Along the way I watched outside the window as motorbikes weaved in and out of the cars to get ahead. Cars were parked all along the side of the roads, and in places they would never get away with parking back home in the UK. Some were even parked in the middle of the roads at junctions, so cars had to go around them, it was madness, yet perfectly acceptable.
I got to the station and waited a short while for my train. I boarded an empty train, but it quickly filled. This was where I realised how long the journey would be. When I bought the ticket, the lady asked me if I wanted the fast train or the normal. I opted for the normal, as I was in no hurry to get to Florence, plus it was cheaper. So instead of taking 1 hour 30 minutes, it was actually going to take 3 hours 40 minutes. I fell flat on my face with this one I must admit. But I had the whole day to get there, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
As I sat waiting for the train to leave I was approached by 3 or 4 guys walking the trains trying to sell socks, or something similar. I said no each time but they are so persistent, you almost have to shout at them before they go. And they only pick out the tourists, not the local folk. Its the same wherever you go, even if you are out and about. They shove the products in your face, hoping you will give in to the pressure. One guy even put a bit of paper in front of me. Without reading I just shook my head and said no. He then picked the paper up and waved it in my face, pointing at the text. I only grasped the words ‘university’ and ‘6000 Euros’, so he was obviously after money, a lot of it by the looks of things, but I just said no, being slightly annoyed by this point.
This brings me to another point I may have touched on before. Beggars and homeless people are everywhere, especially around the tourist areas, but they are all exactly the same. I swear it is the same person you meet again and again, in different cities. They all cover themselves completely, and kneel right over on the floor, arms outstretched. They also all shake rhythmically. Some try to walk along the streets in crutches, bent right over so they are almost touching the floor with their faces. I’m not saying I don’t believe they are homeless, or in need of money, or that they do in fact have a disability, but they all do the same, and it just seems very unlikely. It is as if they have all gone to the same school of begging. Maybe I’m too cynical, and I’m sorry if I am being disrespectful, but I think there are others out there who need money more than these people.
I also don’t like the fact they are in your face all the time, almost demanding you give them money. They walk the trains and stalk you until you buy something from a shop, then ask you for the change you get back, sometimes even beginning the action of taking the money themselves from the shopkeepers hands, which I must admit, did take me by surprise.
Some try to sell water on the trains when it stops, and also sandwiches. Its just a little worrying when you see these same people taking plastic bottles from bins around the city, and bagging them. As I have always said, though, I will and I do give generously at gift aid and charity events, and to genuine charities to help people who really need it. I just don’t think some of the people I have encountered are in need of my help as much as they plead they are. Again, I’m sorry if I offend anybody with these thoughts. It’s when you see these people periodically sitting upright, adjusting themselves, maybe having a stretch, then putting the loose change into their pockets, seemingly as though they have no disability whatsoever. Then they bend themselves over again to resume begging.
Anyway, back to the day. The train journey was long and tiresome, and the toilets were a disgrace. One was in pieces, shattered all over the bathroom floor, the other was caked in mess. It was no wonder that the women all turned back once they had a look inside. The flush didn’t work, and neither did the water to wash your hands. Not nice, but easy for us guys when all we need is a good aim, (slightly harder on a moving train).
We finally arrived in Florence where I began to look for the ticket office. I found it and got my final train ticket. It would prove to be the last and the worst trip though, totalling 8 hours 30 minutes of train travel. Still that was for another day, today I had to get to the tourist info place.
All I found was a bus ticket office outside, where he told me I needed bus 17 to get to the hostel. He also told me where the bus stop is, but when I looked I couldn’t find the stop for bus 17. I looked and looked, and eventually found the actual tourist info place. I asked the same questions, and she told me I needed bus 17C, and that the bus stop was in a different place. She said I should get off at the very last stop. Confused, I headed for the bus stop. I found the stop for 17, not 17C, I guessed it was the same bus in different directions. No 17C came along, so I asked the driver of a 17, showing him the map, but he said I needed bus 7. By this point I wanted to throw a tantrum, but I didn’t have the energy. I crossed the road to view all the other stops, no 17C, but as luck would have it, 17C pulled up right next to me, so on I got.
I went to the last stop like I was told, and found myself out in the sticks. I had literally no idea where I was. With my map and sat nav, I couldn’t figure out where in the world I was. I asked another driver who told me I needed 3 bus journeys to get to my hostel, and I needed bus 7. I decided to get back on 17C, which became 17 as it pulled away, and go back to the station. I considered walking from there.
We approached the station, but the bus was packed, and when I realised it was the station bus stop, it was already too late for me to fight my way through the crowd to get off the bus, especially as I had to put my bags on. I thought to hell with it. I was going to ride to the last stop to see if this was the bus I really needed all along. A couple of stops from the end, and I gazed out the bus window to spot a sign for the hostel that I needed. I was in luck at last. I jumped off the bus at the next stop and proceeded to walk back.
Between four people who know, or should know what they are talking about, I was given 3 different buses to choose from, 2 different places to find the bus, and false information about when to leave the bus, or where they would even take me. By this time it was 5pm, and the easy day I had planned turned out to be anything but.
Furthermore, it was a long walk up a country road to reach the hostel, but I was thankful at least that I was on the right route.
The hostel itself was actually quite beautiful. It was set in a park out of the city, obviously, and next to a quiet camp site. The grounds were lovely, with a nice garden, and balconies that were in use probably in the summer months. The room was only a 3 bed dorm, and was very light, with a big window that opened over the walkway to the path. I had to close the window quickly, though, as the mosquitoes were homing in. I was pleased to be here at last.
I went down at 6:30 to get some dinner from the bar area, and when I ordered spaghetti carbonara, I was a little surprised to see her grab a packet from the freezer and put it into the microwave. 4 Euros 50 it cost as well. I got a beer and waited 6 minutes, then tucked into my overcooked microwave meal. It didn’t fill me, but it was food, as I always say. A chocolate bar from the machine filled the rest of the space.
The beer made me sleepy, and I took a quick nap, only to be woken by a loud goofish laughter coming from the hallway. It got louder until I heard the key at my door. Great, it was this room he was in. The guy who walked in was not the guilty party though, and seemed quiet, although kept asking me things in Italian which I couldn’t answer, to no great surprise. The other guy walked on to another room.
I slapped on the mosquito cream and settled in the dining area for a while on the laptop in the evening, and I began to feel hungry again. Refusing to give into the urge to buy some more food, I took myself to bed, laid myself down, and slept (myself).
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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