Gypsy's Travels

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Florence. Italy - The Arrival

Ask almost any person who has “retired” and you will most likely find travel at the top of the “To Do” list. I am no exception except that traveling has always been at the top of my list. “Your middle name is ‘Go,’” my mother always said, and she might have been right.

I was delighted when P, my next-door neighbor, suggested we travel together on an Elderhostel tour to Italy. DH and I had always traveled on our own and, although I had never been on a guided tour before, I felt it was a good way to “get my feet wet.” Even though P and I were neighbors and active in many of the same activities, we had never been in close daily contact for the 18 days we would share on this trip. Knowing my sometimes low tolerance level, my daughter asked me on our return if I was ever irritated with P. Happily, I could answer “no” quite truthfully. P turned out to be a great traveling companion – punctual, no complaining, a good sense of humor, a “can-do” attitude, a spirit of adventure, a desire to experience new things and to push her comfort zone. A good traveling companion can make a great difference in overall enjoyment.

Of course, we all hope for a smooth, uneventful flight and tranquil trip, but what we recount are the extraordinary happenings that set our trip apart from everyone else’s. In spite of the dire warnings of seasoned travelers, our one-hour connection times between legs of our trip proved to be sufficient. Only on the last leg did we miss a flight. A small mechanical repair took one hour, the length of our layover in Munich. When we finally arrived in Vinci, Italy, several hours late, the group lamented our delay, that we had missed lunch and a walk around the town. We did miss lunch, but in exchange, we had a wonderful experience. We met a lovely German woman living in Italy, who assisted us in arranging transportation underwritten by the airline, and invited us to join her at her Italian villa if we ran into problems along the way. Instead of flying into Florence, we flew to Bologna and were driven by private car to Vinci, passing the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the way.

After two weeks of being carefully shepherded around the small towns of Tuscany, we embarked on our own adventures. We arrived in Florence by train, dragging our luggage behind us, in the rain, the city teeming with people – most of them with maps and guide books in hand.
“We can do this!” we kept muttering to one another.
I had a map to the hotel which was situated near the Duomo, the grand cathedral in the middle of the historical part of town. We dodged people, puddles, elbows, cigarettes, and cars that appeared out of nowhere.
“Look the driver in the eye and keep moving!” we had learned from our Elderhostel guide. That might work in the small towns but it was scary in the relatively big city of Florence.
We were beginning to wonder if the hotel actually existed as we walked up and down the street trying to keep up with the changes in street names. Finally, I stood with all the luggage while P headed to ask at one of the several hotels across the street. It turned out that they might say hotel but the were actually “abregos”, a sort of B&B with no desk at the door. We walked some more and I left P with all the luggage while I traipsed from shop to shop looking for our inn. No one knew where it was but “according to the map, it should be over there,” and each person pointed in the general direction we had been searching for over an hour.
Finally, I found a knowledgeable man, who spoke English and explained it was right around the corner. We must have passed it a dozen times but there was a bright brass plate on one side and an obscure one that blended in with the building on the other side of the centuries-old doorway. Of course, the dark sign announced our temporary home.

With some trepidation, we boarded an ancient elevator that worked on an exposed pulley / cable system and were thankful we did not have to carry our luggage up the three flights of steps. Our innkeeper must have heard us coming; he opened the door after the first tap. A stooped and grizzled old man greeted us effusively. He called me by name, then turned to P with open arms, grabbed her by the shoulders, and began chattering in Italian as if she were a long-lost daughter.
P explained later that he had approached her on the street and she had brushed him off thinking he was collecting money for the church. He apparently had searched for us since we were so late arriving and it was getting dark.

There is always a sense of awe and wonder at the sights when you travel. There is joy as connections are made with people of a different place and culture. For me, however, this trip was more. This trip was one of empowerment as I successfully met each mental and physical challenge. I CAN do it!

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