OK, this story is long and I have one thing to say—those who read this had better leave a comment! You will understand why later.
Last night was fun. We left our hotel and took a few nighttime photos of St. Peter’s Basilica. We then went to the Spanish Steps. I had told Barry that it was really nothing special—steps. The importance of this site is lost on me. Even reading the significance still did not result in any interest. Apparently, there were some steps made from some church to somewhere. What I find interesting is the street leading to the Steps. It appears to be the Rodeo Drive of Rome, chock full of high-end stores—Ferragamo, Gucci, Lagerfeld, Valentino, Versace. Think $1400 men’s shoes.
I was anxious to show Barry Trevi Fountain, which is actually a short walk. Upon arrival, we found the fountain was under renovation, surrounded by chain link fence and emptied of all water. Barry cackled gleefully, remarking that it was just his luck that he would miss out on viewing this beautiful fountain.
From there we went to the Colloseum. There was some scaffolding around part of the Colloseum for renovation. This has been ongoing for several years so it was no surprise. The structure is covered in centuries of grime and in dire need of cleaning. Not to mention the repairs needed to keep the building standing up. A few years ago several huge chunks of the Colloseum fell.
Barry, now world-famous, in front of the Colloseum
After the Colloseum I insisted we eat at a favorite restaurant of mine that I found back in 2010. It had just closed but the owner graciously offered to seat and serve us. After a dinner of pizza for Barry and lasagna for me along with two large beers, we left for our room where we once again slipped into our respective comas.
Saturday, we got up early for another great breakfast, grabbed our bags and hailed a taxi for Termini, the train terminal. We bought tickets for Florence and began the wait that, fortunately, wasn’t long.
Another word to the wise when you’re in a busy place like a train station: There are pickpockets and shysters everywhere. Four years ago my pocket was almost picked in a Metro train in Rome until my companion saw what was going on. The woman’s eyes met my friend’s. Right then the doors opened and she was out the door before he could stop her. She didn’t get anything, but had slowly unbuttoned my back pocket.
This time around, a woman came up to me as we waited for the platform number for Florence. She offered to help and took me to another screen showing the exact same information I had been watching before. Barry came with me. Another woman grabbed us and started talking excitedly in Italian. I couldn’t understand. A man with her told me the “helpful” woman was actually a huckster trying to rip us off. This woman had been talking to both of us and, in the hustle and bustle of the station, started unzipping Barry’s backpack that held our tickets. She sprinted off when the other woman noticed what she was doing. I was pissed and watched her scurry away to look for another potential victim. These people were everywhere at Termini and any large venue with lots of people in Europe.
Anyway, our train arrived and we settled into our seats for the ninety-minute ride to Florence. This is where our adventure began. Unbeknownst to us, we had chosen the wrong car. We were actually sitting in Coach 2, which was First Class. The conductor came through to punch our tickets and pointed out that we were actually supposed to be two cars back in Second Class. We picked up all our baggage and trudged back to Coach 4, trying not to bump and scrape people with our stuff.
Upon arriving at our seats, I found a woman sitting there with a child. She implored us that she needed to be with all the children (apparently, she was with a ballet troupe) and was concerned about not having them together. She asked me to change seats with her (her seat was in Coach 7!). Stupidly, I agreed and lumbered another three coaches where I found her unused seat. Barry stayed behind in a vacant seat he had found.
Settling in to my seat, I decided it would be a grand time to do some blogging as I watched the undulating hills of Tuscany sweep by. Words were flowing like beer at the Oktoberfest and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. After a while of writing, the train stopped and people embarked and disembarked. The train started moving again.
Within minutes some Americans from Dallas and San Diego confronted me, insisting I was in their seat. I protested that it was my seat (unfortunately, I had not brought the ticket from the woman who switched seats with me to prove my point). The Americans were very nice and said that they would wait until their friend arrived with their tickets so we could sort it out.
Well, their friend arrived and, indeed, my seat was theirs now. I figured that my woman had gotten off the train thereby allowing someone else to buy this seat for the next leg of the trip. I decided to go back to Coach 4 and claim my original seat with my original ticket in hand.
After bumping and excusing my way through three cars, I found my area occupied by different people with Barry nowhere in sight. I thought perhaps he had changed seats, too. Since my seat was empty, I sat down only to be accosted by a woman who was adamant that the seat was hers. She showed me her ticket and I showed her mine and we got into a shouting match. I threw my arms up in frustration and harrumphed away, back to Coach 7.
To make an already long story short, the lady I argued with was right. I had missed the Florence stop. Barry had disembarked at the previous stop and was at the Florence station while I was rushing toward Bologna, still on the train. Furious, I spent the next ten minutes berating myself for being such an unconscionable twit. As I began to settle down and accept that I couldn’t change the situation, I began to justify my stupidity by realizing that, as a writer, I had been so engrossed in sharing my words of wisdom and articulation that I simply hadn’t had time for mundane things like train stops.
As I contemplated this new reality of the rapturous glory that is me (and my writing), I began to conjure vague images of how my writing would take on new meaning since I had now sacrificed so much for my art. A missed train stop in Florence! Can Salman Rushdie top that? Can Solzhenitsyn?
Anyway, this is what I meant at the beginning when I wrote that I want comments from my readers. I self-consciously need validation that my rabidly stupid mistake was all worthwhile because my fan base is rallying to my side. I’m not asking much—a smiley face will do.
So, onward. I disembarked in Bologna and went straight to the ticket kiosk. There was a train leaving for Rome in a few minutes. There would be a stop in Florence. I bought the ticket and ran through the terminal, up and down several sets of stairs only to miss the train by three minutes.
Absolutely drenched in sweat (It was 88 degrees and humid), I spent the next ten minutes once again berating myself with some very colorful words that I won’t repeat. (Those of you who know me well are laughing at this point, admit it!) I kept picturing Barry at the train terminal in Florence wondering where I was. Since I had the hotel information, he was stuck. I had a smartphone, but he didn’t. Nevertheless, I sent him a text and left a voicemail message just in case. It was 2:00 p.m. (5:00 a.m. on the West Coast) so there was no one I could call like his daughter, Cheilsey in Oregon, to try to help me contact him.
Now Barry is a fifty-three-year old man. He traipsed through Europe alone last year and drove cross-country alone the year before. He is completely capable of taking care of himself. Hell, he was probably itching for some alone time from this slobbering boob who had left him in Florence. Either way, he was at the forefront of my mind as I fervently hoped he would figure out my gaffe and wait for me at the Florence station.
Back in Bologna, I found myself once again in front of a ticket kiosk. Another train was leaving in half an hour for Rome. I was not about to buy yet another ticket; I thought there MUST be some recourse for the ignorantocracy like me who miss their trains. A ticket agent told me to go to the main ticket office because they could help me.
Minutes were ticking away. Sweating like a pig and stinking like a homeless person under a bridge I waited patiently in line. I attempted to keep as much distance as possible between me and others as I didn’t want to offend anyone and cause them to think that Americans are such low class trash that they don’t bathe. I don’t know if it worked. The aroma was rising and I was starting to offend myself.
The line moved glacially as I watched the minute hands on the clock seemingly race forward like the clock in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Sweat dripped down the back of my neck. I was next in line! Finally! The customer in front of me took her ticket and left and I walked to the window.
“Sorry, I’m closed.”
Just kill me now.
I stepped back, astonished. Was there a conspiracy in the heavens? Were the angels consorting against me? Was there an uprising in the cosmic continuum that was lurking in every nuance of my life, waiting patiently to swoop in and piss me off?
Deep breath. OK, one window was still open. Surely, for all that is mighty and holy, this woman would not close her window.
She didn’t. I explained my plight and she told me I could take the next Rome train, tell them of my mistake and pay an extra eight euros (roughly $11). I thanked her and ran off. I had twenty minutes to run the labyrinth, sprint up and down several flights of stairs and take my place on the platform.
Well, the train arrived and I got on. Without an actual ticket for this train, I didn’t take an actual seat because I didn’t have an actual seat. Plus, I was not about to run the risk of another confrontation. PLUS, I smelled like a subterranean locker room after a Chilean soccer tournament.
The conductor never came by to take my eight euros. Sensing that life was starting to go my way, I allowed myself to relax and contemplate my plan of action upon arrival in Florence. Where would Barry be? Did he remember the name of the hotel? I had called Hotel Victoria (our lodging) while in Bologna in the off chance that he might be there. No such luck. How would I find him?
Once again, I reasoned that Barry, intelligent man that he is, would wait at the station since it would be the logical thing to do. But with thousands of people there, would we be circling the station for hours always a few feet away, just missing each other?
Arriving in Florence, I started my search. I first went to a coffee shop. It made sense. Why not indulge in some espresso and Florentine pastries to drown one’s sorrows? No such luck.
I slowly started walking from one end of the station to the other. Every person I saw began to look like him. The Ethiopian in the headdress. The black woman from Alabama with the accent. The Japanese tourist with the requisite camera around his neck. The paraplegic homeless person. Perhaps I was too tired to look.
Eventually, I found him. Probably it was took a few minutes but it felt like a lifetime. I was more relieved to find him than he was to find me. Here I had worried myself over his situation and he had calmly assessing everything to determine his next move. He had been perplexed wondering what had happened to me. Had I lost him and continued on to the hotel? Would he be stuck and have to find his own lodging and continue on to Ascoli without me? It surprised me that these thoughts went through his head, as Barry is decidedly not a drama queen. But, all bets are off when you lose your traveling companion overseas.
So, reunited and ultimately laughing at the whole situation, we walked to our hotel that was, blessedly, only two blocks away. Barry kept reminding me that this blunder of mine would be regurgitated relentlessly to everyone back in Oregon. After all, he said, “You forgot a human!” So I’m getting the jump on him here.
So we reached the hotel and relaxed. I took a shower and grabbed the blowtorch to force the encrusted grime off my body. Did I mention I had been sweating?
We relaxed for about half an hour before deciding to grab a bite to eat and just do some traipsing around. It was around 5 p.m. so everything would be closing but we could at least get our bearings. I had been to Florence twice before so I was very familiar with the area and, truth be told, the city is not that large (about the size of Salem) so everything is very accessible.
After a light meal of prosciutto paninis and drinks, we started walking. We found the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Basilica di Santa Croce (STUNNING), the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti, the Hercules and Cacus statue and the Fountain of Neptune. There’s so much more to see. A handful of photos are included. Tomorrow we will be doing much more sightseeing. We leave on July first so we have a decent amount of time here.
Basilica di Santa Croce
View from the Palazzo Pitti
On the Ponte Vecchio
Arno River seen from the Ponte Vecchio
Barry avoiding me on the Ponte Vecchio
On the Ponte Vecchio again
Archway to the Ponte Vecchio
Arno River again
Apartments along the Arno
Hercules and Cacus
Horse-drawn carriage in Florence
Another Basilica di Santa Croce view
It’s now 4:00 a.m. and Barry and I are both up. We’ve got to start getting on the local time because this is not working! So, I’m finishing this blog that started on our ill-fated train ride to Florence. As I write, Barry is playing Angry Birds because that is what you do in the birthplace of the Renaissance.
More later and I will be expecting those comments so I know these blogs (and my mondo bloopers) were not in vain.