Day 18: Surprise Encounter with Ol’ Friends

Day 18: Surprise Encounter with Some Old Friends
Saturday, June 17, 1995
Florence, Italy

We woke up to a typical European breakfast of rolls with butter and some wonderful coffee. I was really groggy since we woke up at the last minute, but I still managed to meet up with four really sweet girls, and of course—cuties! I gave them the address of a cool place to stay in Venice. We finished up our eats and carried ourselves off to the Uffici.

Unfortunately, by the time the line into the museum actually brought us to the door, we had a little over an hour to spend inside. On top of that, many rooms were still shut down due to the terrorists bombing in 1993. However, things that were open were just incredible. My most favorite exhibits were the works (drawings) of Dürer. Consult the souvenir map for some specific works that I liked the most. The Da’Vinci works were actually disappointing since there were no drawings, but Michelangelo’s Holy Family was outstanding…primarily for its true feel of realism expressed in the folds of fabric worn by Holy Mary. Huge bells rang precisely at closing time, marking the end of our short stay @ the Uffici Museum.

Our next plan was to circulate through the markets—Mercato Centrale—north of the Duomo. We didn’t have any plans to buy anything, but you’d never know it if you had seen us walking away from the place with armfuls! The markets supported some pretty good deals, but you had to search for them. Many vendors sold items identical to ones sold in neighboring carts for almost twice the price. There weren’t many different—or should I say the variety of the goods sold was limited. As I strolled up and down, I could swear that I was surrounded by a moving backdrop that would repeat the scenes every so often. The cart owners sold leather goods: bags, briefcases, planners; and they sold clothing: cheesy tourist tees, dresses, sweaters, and some nice clothing; they had stationery: pens, marbled paper/books, leather book covers; and various random street salesmen offered colorful paintings. I walked away with a vest, a button-down shirt, and a Leonardo DaVinci tie. S bought a beautiful leather attaché case. We also went to the food market, which has two levels. The bottom level, the butchery, smelled like the inside of a cow as it sheltered AMAZING amounts of meat. Whole chickens, I mean WHOLE (feathered) chickens hung from awnings and boars’ heads were not uncommon. The top level contained merchants of fruits and vegetables. I picked up some oranges and kiwi.

A few moments later, as we rounded the corner on our way home from the market, we bumped into none other than Dave Greenbaum and Ketan Kapadia! What a blast! We didn’t even plan to meet in Firenze, but it happened. We spent close to the next ½ hour exclaiming, “I can’t believe we ran into you guys!” over and over and over again. We updated each other on the last few days ‘cause it had been a while since we had seen them…62 pages ago, to be exact! We exchanged adventures on the way to the train station since the four of us had things to take care of there.. We were really lucky to get reservations because the train system is supposed to go on strike some time after tomorrow! These are the little things you don’t think about until they happen to you—what the heck were we going to do if the train system went on strike????! We split up with Dave and Ketan after making plans to meet them at the campanile at the Duomo.

We got ready and started for the door a little before 20.00. On our way out, our Pensione Mother recommended an excellent trattoria called ‘Il Contadino.’ It was cheap, popular, close by, and had great food. We ran to meet those guys at the Duomo. When we finally caught them, we found ourselves in the middle of a road race or marathon that was about to start from the Piazza. It was very cool to just hang out for a while and watch the runners prepare. We eventually bored ourselves with that and convinced the two fellow engineers to eat at Il Contadino with us.

The place was incredible—a true taste of Italian food—especially the large quantities of it. For a mere 15,000 lira, we were offered: a first plate (pasta), a second plate (meat), a side salad, and all the bread and wine we could handle. But because of these incredible rates, the wait was also quite incredible. To pass the time, Ketan and I went to the Jolly Café just down the street. Here I picked up a souvenir napkin, a nice LaBatt’s coaster, and a pretty darn good buzz from a glass of Campari and Soda. Sooner or later—mostly sooner—our table was ready and Stacy appropriately heralded us. The four of us ate with two Argentines. I thought I would have a chance to practice some Spanish before getting to Spain, but the table was large and the room was buzzing with young, American travelers requiring casual conversation in Spanish be premeditated. I was totally satisfied with the atmosphere, food, and quality of this place. If you’re passing through Florence—don’t miss it! We’ll have to come here for lunch tomorrow.

Actually, the entire block, which contains the aforementioned spot, is a great place to visit on Via de Palazzuolo because, just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we saw the neons of a discotheque on the same street. Kick on. It was about 22.00 and we were all pretty well aglow—except Stacy, for some reason—and rarin’ to go clubbin’. Dave and Ketan still had some stuff with them. Since we lived close by, we took a run with them over to our place to drop off some weight. No problem, right—they or we can just come back later tonight to pick it up, huh?

The disco was super-dooper! It cost 20.000 lira just to enter the place, but they were nice enough to throw in a free drink. Yes, we ate all that food and wine for 5.000 less. We managed to swindle our way in for only 15.000, which is a little under 10 USD. The cover was well worth it. The place actually had two levels. The lower level, featuring rock music (classic & oldies) attracted a very temporary crowd, since this is where you’d find the bar! The top level, featuring soft-techno and eurodance mixes was the place to meet people. Clubs are the best! Nothing beats a night of dancing! The techno level consisted of a dance floor headed by two stages. One stage, the lower of the two, stood at the front of the main floor while the second, higher stage, stood just above the other on the catwalk that circumscribed the main floor. It was on this catwalk that I first heard the Annie Lennox song called “No More I Love Yous.” It was insane. I could feel every word of the song through my heart. I don’t know why this song affected me so much, but it did, and I cherished the feeling while it lasted.

The bar, which dominated the lower level, was formed by full size fish tanks. It was incredible. Instead of being filled with tons of glasses hanging upside down, the overhead area was actually filled with upside-down liquor bottles with special one-at-a-time shot dispensers. Very cool.

The night extended well past our curfew into the morning. We didn’t leave until after 01.30 when Ketan finally decided not to hook up with the high school girl who already had told her chaperone that she wasn’t planning to return home that evening! Sorry, readers, no good hook up stories for me tonight. Well I guess I could make one up…naaaah. Anyway, we were pretty well-crocked by now, which made for quite an intersting walk home. Shit, we risk our lives ever SOBER minute avoiding loony moped drivers. Adding alcohol to this crazy game of keep-away was an interesting—but not so sane—variation on a theme. To add fuel to the fire, we were already 1.5 hour past hostel curfew.

Heh heh. The Pensione owners were just as happy as we thought they’d be with us as we waltzed in at that hour reeking of Margaritas and Whiskey Sours •. We were warmly welcomed by a securely locked door equipped with a bell, which looked like our only hope to access a bed and a roof for the evening. Just as a rang the bell, I noticed a startled Mr. Ottaviani (or whatever his name was) jump from the couch on which, moments ago, he was comfortably sleeping. He was understandably bitter with us since by now it was well after 2.00am. Now imagine what a treat it was for us to mime to him that “Dave and Ketan had left some things in our room before we went out, we were wondering if it would be alright if they came up for a minute to gather them.” Well, to make a long story short, I ended up sneaking out through windows or whatever into the back alley as they waited below. Oh what a night!