I read that when Stendahl visited Florence he was so overcome with the beauty of the place that he fainted. Apparantly Florentine doctors deal with several cases of Stendahlissimo every year. Perhaps it is because anything would look faded after the perfection of Assisi but it hasn't hit us yet. We arrived on a second class Italian train, through the bits of the city that no one wants to look at. We knew that we had to catch the number 7 bus, but before doing that, we booked a ticket for Venice. It was here that I discovered the first big difference between Florence and Rome: no one at the ticket counter spoke English and I was given a ticket for the wrong train: the ultra fast Eurostar instead of the slow local train which we preferred for both economic and rubbernecking reasons. So, back to the counter, and with gesticulation and sign language, cancel (for a fee!) and rebook, only to find we were still on the Eurostar. Que sera sera, good money after bad and all that, so a 320kph whizz through Northern Italy on Thursday it is, then.

Then it was outside to check on that number 7 bus. We found it, again with much gesticulation and sign language, and pretending not to understand the notice warning us of the dire consequences of talking to the driver, pointed to the bit on the map we hoped to travel to. He nodded, said something incomprehensible and took off. I noticed the ticket machine behind him, but the instructions were, of course, in Italian, and the thing was not exactly intuitive to use. What the heck, I thought, it's only a few blocks. Bad mistake. At the next stop three guys got on, all leather jackets, moustaches and 3 days stubble. Once the bus was moving, they pinned badges on themselves and began to demand biglietti. It was the Florentine ticket enforcement flying squad performing a surprise raid on bus number 7. One looked at me directly. Biglietto por favore. It was time for emergency plan A: Look bewildered and speak English; Unfortunately he was the first, and perhaps the only person in Florence who could speak English. I was snookered and it was therefore time for emergency plan B: look bewildered and speak Maori. That seemed to do the trick. He told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of foreigners trying to rip off his beloved city but seeing as it was an obvious case of stupidity he would waive the €45 (each!) fine this time if we bought tickets from the driver. So, in clear breach of the sign, we yet again spoke to the driver, bought a couple of tickets and got off at the place the map seemed to indicate.

We are staying in a very old part of town. The Santa Close neighbourhood was once a notorious slum. It has moved upmarket over the centuries, but there are still plenty of opportunities for gentrification for the discerning speculator. We have a huge room on the third floor of a monastery and some wonderful Albanians have gone out of their way to settle us into our quarters. After Assisi, and even Rome, Florence looks like a harder edged, more gritty place. The lawns in the Piazzas are uncut and there is graffiti everywhere. We finished the day with a walk into town - 25 minutes if you don't want to risk the bus squad - and had our gobs well and truly smacked by the Duomo. I climbed to the top of Brunelleschi's dome and stood above the old city, taking in a very Room With A View panorama. Today we have seen some of the more traditional tourist bits and pieces, and seen why Stendahl might have been affected. I still think he was a bit of a wuss, and he's lucky for his health's sake that he never made it to Assisi.


Alden said…
Amongst all the incredible historical delights of Florence that I saw when I was there two things I recall easily. One was the high tide stains very high up on the walls around the city from the last flood and the other was a street entertainer who played a repertoire of classical music with a couple of spoons on a myriad of glasses filled with varying amounts of water - his rendition of Vivaldis Four Seasons was incredible - if you see him please buy me his CD - consider it a benevolent act on your part in the re education of an unrepentant Mamma Mia lover.
- and let me also say that your act on the bus is so classicly KPW it amazes me how you ever got yourself ordained - reminded me of an action of yours in Collingwood after we had walked the Heaphy track - and yes if anyone wants to know what that was all about moi does have his price.
Catherine said…
Got your post cards!

Love you both so much
Katherine said…
Spoke Maori to avoid getting into trouble! What audacity! You delight and amaze me Kelvin.

Alden, I'll have a talk to you over at your place re. price.

Assisi must have been wonderful. I loved Florence. But I didn't faint. I waited until Switzerland for that.
VenDr said…
I might just faint here in Venice. What a place!