Ladies and gentlemen, after a slight intermission induced by a lack of chargers I’m back online! Thanks to a well stocked Florence train station store I’m armed with a micro USB charger and ready to write. Please bear with me as this post is going to be long, after all it has been about two weeks since I lasted posted. When I left you I was in Ramsgate with Jane and now I’m in Prato, Italy with Laura, writing in an adorable little apartment that we have all to ourselves for four days. From Ramsgate I spent two nights in London, three nights in Prague, three nights in Vienna, two nights in Bratislava, three nights in Rome, two nights in Siena, two nights in Florence, and now I’m in Prato, a small town 17 kilometers outside of Florence.
I left Jane in London and spent some time on my own to decompress after the stress of being a house guest. London is an expensive city and I mostly was just there until my flight to Prague so I spent most of my time hanging out with the people who worked in the hostel. Drinking and chatting on the stoop of the hostel was a nice break from the usual tourist activities of museums and over priced food. Also, note to anyone hanging out in hostels, they often have deals with surrounding restaurants and if you are nice to them they’ll order you food at staff member prices. I got a 15 pound pizza for 5 pounds and good dinner company so I call it a win.
After a terrible flight (don’t fly Ryanair unless you have a death wish) I made it to Prague to met up with Laura, my best friend from high school. As an added bonus Karen, my prior traveling buddy, happened to still be in the city so we got to explore Prague as a trio. We saw the castle that the Rolling Stones helped light up (the prince was good friends with the band), drank beer in the cave of a monastery, had a very hungover tour guide, and ate more carbs than humanly possible. Czech food sits like a brick in your stomach.
From there Laura and I split off to Vienna, the city of grumpy people and good music. We saw the Spanish Riding School, a Mozart concert, and the Jewish History Museum. The Spanish Riding School was gorgeous (the arena had chandeliers), the concert was surprisingly entertaining, and the museum was slightly uncomfortable. The reason I say uncomfortable is that it took Austria 50 years to accept their part in the Holocaust and it was VERY apparent in the museum. They never once used the words genocide, World War II, murder, or Holocaust. They only vaguely referred to “the war” and it was the Jewish History Museum in Austria for Christ’s sake. Aside from the blatant glossing over of history, we enjoyed the sights of Vienna. What we didn’t enjoy was the heat or the hostel. Vienna is also very expensive so we stayed in a chain hostel, A&O, to save money. Do not, I repeat do not stay in any A&O hostel or hotel, they are large, impersonal operations that charge extra for everything, including access to the computers because their wifi was basically non-existent. There was no AC, the window only cracked open an inch, and it was 100 degrees outside so we could hardly sleep due to roasting alive in the concrete oven that they called a room.
We couldn’t stand another night in that room so we took a boat down the Danube to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. There we found the exact opposite of the hostel in Vienna. The hostel was warm and friendly, with free laundry, a very well priced restaurant attached, and tons of interesting travelers. The first night our dinner table consisted of four Dutchmen, three Americans, two Scotts, and a Belgian. We drank good beer and, at the Belgian’s prompting, reminisced about home. He wanted to hear what California was like and after a bit of talking about the beach, the sun, and dolphins I was properly homesick. I did convince him that the west coast was the best coast though so it was worth it (Californians may not all have national pride, but we sure as hell have state pride). The night ended with more beer at the castle overlooking the city and talking about life. It was perfect.
Then it was a bus back to Vienna to catch our flight to Rome to experience our first taste of the complete shit show that is Italian public transit. We waited over an hour to get my bag and then proceeded to take another hour to figure out the train into the city. We finally found the apartment we were looking for, a bed and breakfast run by an old Italian stoner named Olga. I didn’t really think weed was big here, but apparently for the 70+ it’s the thing to do. The next morning we struggled to get into the historical center, waited for a train that didn’t run anymore, got on the wrong bus, walked across the city, and were pretty convinced that the metro didn’t actually exist. Turns out the metro does exist, Italians just don’t believe in maps. Once we made it to the center we saw the Colosseum. The Colosseum has a long line, like any big attraction in Italy, but it was worth seeing. It’s smaller than it seems from the pictures, but the most interesting part of a visit there is the strange feeling that hangs over the place. You can almost feel the amount of needless death that occurred there, the slaughter for entertainment that spilled the blood of the poor so the rich could laugh. It is an eerie place.
Considering the amount of things to do in Rome and that we only really had two days, each day was go go go. The first day we walked for 8 hours and the second day we walked for 10 hours, mostly within Vatican City. Yet again there were lots of lines, but after seeing Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel it was worth it. What wasn’t worth it was being so tired after the Vatican museum that we went to a coffee shop right outside the exit (mistake number one) and ordered without seeing prices or asking (mistake number two). We paid 14 euros for an iced coffee and an iced tea. I nearly cried when I saw the bill. Moral of the story is never eat or drink anything within sight of a tourist attraction, especially in Rome.
From Rome we ran away to the Tuscan countryside and found beautiful little Siena. With winding cobblestone roads, laundry hanging out windows rimmed with flowers, and rolling hills it looks like the setting for every single romance movie set in Italy ever. Eating a dinner of homemade pasta with wild boar ragu paired with Chianti and followed with tiramisu gelato I fell in love with Tuscany. I briefly considered learning Italian, getting my citizenship, moving here, and finding a beautiful Italian man to cook me breakfast in bed. Ah Tuscany, the home of wine, food, and romance. Siena was the perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Rome, but alas we only had two nights there before moving on to Florence.
I was expecting Florence to be less touristy and crazy than Rome, but I was wrong. It’s a city filled with history and art, after all the Renaissance began there, but it has recently been overrun with tourists. It’s smaller than Rome so it feels like the whole thing is crammed to the brim with fanny pack toting, Segway riding tourists. However, it still is worth going to for Michelangelo’s David alone. I waited an hour in line to get into the Galleria del Accademia to see him and it was worth every second. David is the perfect statue, there is literally nothing wrong with him. I was in complete awe that Michelangelo could see that perfection in a block of marble and crave it out. The genius that it took to carve David and paint the Sistine Chapel was never more apparent than seeing the works in person. We all know Michelangelo and have seen pictures of his works in textbooks, but they hardly do them justice. The feeling of awe upon gazing at the Sistine Chapel or David is priceless, thus Michelangelo is always worth the wait.
And now we’ve made it to the end of the terribly abridged yet somehow still excessively long version of my last two weeks in Europe. Our apartment in Prato is the perfect place to breath before the tourist hell begins again in Venice. My plan for the next couple days mostly involves food, wine, running, and writing. Tuscany makes me happy, I wish I could stay longer.