The hell train stopped at Tangiers at 6:30 am. Paul, Mabel, Maria and I shared a cab to the ferry station. It was about a dollar each, Mabel paid for Paul, as all he had left were Pounds Sterling. We bought tickets for the ferry and were on our way to Spain. We were all very relieved to be on the way to civilization. I was worried about being late to rendezvous with Tara.
Spain is two hours ahead of Morocco, so it was noon very quickly. We said goodbye to Paul in Algeciras, and headed for the bus, then the train station. I didn't get to go to Granada, where the Alhambra is. I could have got some funny pictures there. I will have to go back.
A fast, expensive train left for Madrid immediately. I got on that one, and M&M took the cheap one that left at 6. We had a little time to say goodbye. Mabel and Maria were great to travel with, and I wish they could have come with me for the rest of the trip (and back to California). If it hadn't been for them, I never would have made it to Marrakech.
The Talgo Super-train was awesome; especially when compared to the last train I was on. The doors between compartments were glass, and they opened and shut automatically. It was air-conditioned. There were monitors above the seats that showed a little map of where we were in Spain and the altitude (80m) and speed (198 kph). There were headphones on my seat when I boarded, and I watched The Truman Show and then Patriot, a nondescript Steven Segal movie, both dubbed in Spanish.
I got to Madrid in a couple of hours, and made it to another station before my night train to the French/Spanish border. I bought deodorant at the station with the last of my Spanish money.
On the night train, I had a couchette, and shared the room with 3 guys from California, one of whom, Christian, was from Sacramento. I avoided mentioning my laptop and digital camera, because I didn't want to look like a geek, but in the morning, Christian whipped out first his video camera, then his Palm III.
The other Californians got off at Barcelona, and I got off the train at Cerebre. I was supposed to meet Tara this night at Florence, but I knew by now that I was going to be late. A train left for Narbonne, then Nice at 10, then I could catch a night train to Florence.
My laptop battery was dead and my postcards were all written. I was bored and sick of trains. Luckily the scenery was nice. The south of France is very beautiful; the train was amazingly close to the beach in Cannes. I had nothing to do but take pictures and naps.
I shaved and changed clothes in the bathroom.
I had two hours in Nice, so I withdrew Francs, found an Internet café and emailed Tara about my tardiness. I told her that I wouldn't arrive until 5am the next day, and that we should try to meet at the Piazza Michaelangelo at one in the afternoon. My guidebook said the Piazza Mike was beautiful, and that one could buy ice cream there. I had no idea where it was, but I figured it would be a good place to wait for someone.
Nice was cool, and everyone I interacted with spoke English. There was a diner with the absurd name of Flunch . I wished there were someone to share the joke with. I visited a pay-toilet near the station that had a bizarre seat-ring that was positioned in front of a modified urinal.
That was my exposure to Nice.
I got on a crummy Italian train and locked my bags to the railing. The Italian girl in the car, named Alé, said that was a wise idea, because this train-route was well known as dangerous. Two women had been stabbed in the last month. I could tell I would be getting a great night's rest! We stayed up late talking about my travels and her job, and she taught me a little survival Italian.
I woke up to find the train stopped in Pisa. I was pretty sure I had to change trains here, so I quickly unlocked my possessions and got off the train. It was 3:30 in the morning. In the station, the seven people with backpacks walked outside to see if we could spot the leaning tower without venturing into the city. We couldn't.
I met two Irish guys named Tiernan and Johnny waiting for the train to Florence. They were also coming up from Morocco so we had a lot of stories to exchange. They spoke some Italian. They had spent one summer in Maryland, and they knew the name of Sacramento from the highway sign in Ocean City: Sacramento 3215 Miles. I told them about the counter-sign in Sacramento.
We were so busy chatting that we almost missed the stop in Florence. We grabbed our stuff and were in the passageway as the train started moving. Tiernan jumped out, hit the platform and fell. Johnny jumped next, hit the platform and fell. I jumped out last, hit the platform running, nearly collided with an old Italian guy, but stayed on my feet! The train was not going fast, but it was an awesome feeling! I was king of the world!
It was the wrong station. This was the Florence outskirts station. We should have stayed on the train.
We figured it would be fastest if we just hiked into town or caught a cab. It was about 5:30 in the morning. The hike to the station took about half an hour. We discussed our future careers as stuntmen and looked for coffee in the dark streets of Florence.
We stowed our big bags at the station. I used the 5000 lire note that Rob Jordan gave me before I left. I went to an ATM machine and withdrew 300,000 lire. The only thing open was McDonalds. Johnny and Tiernan's cigarettes had been stolen on the train, so they bought some more.
It was just getting light outside, so I figured I would tour the city with them until an Internet café opened up. Johnny had been to Florence before, so he was our guide.
We took a bus to the Duomo, a red, green and white marble cathedral with a giant dome. It was designed by Brunelleschi and built in the 1400s. Next door was the Baptistery with its amazing bronze doors by Pisano and Ghiberti. It was so early in the morning that everything was closed, but there were virtually no tourists, so the photography was easier. The Piazza Della Signoria (Poseidon fountain & concrete copy of David) and Palazzo Vecchio were next on our tour. When I saw them later in the trip, they were always jammed with tourists. As the morning turned to day, the streets came alive with scooters. There were thousands of scooters. Old Vepsas and New Peugots, parked in scores, and weaving through traffic to get to the front of the cars waiting at lights. Most had windshields. There were many 3-wheeled scooter-cars also, operating as delivery trucks and maintenance vehicles.
We saw the Ponte Veccio, a bridge from 1345 that crosses the Arno River.
When I found an Internet café, there were no replies from Tara, so I went to plan B, meeting her at Piazza Michelangelo. Tiernan and Johnny went with me to meet Tara. Piazza Michelangelo was the one at the top of a hill, of course. We hiked up there just before noon and saw a bronze copy of David, but no Tara. After a half-hour we marched back down. I figured she was still in bed, and had never gotten my email. Tiernan's feet were taking a beating from his new Moroccan sandals, and Johnny's guts were taking a beating from his new Moroccan illness. They decided to leave Florence for Rome before nightfall, so I accompanied them to the station. On the way, we walked past an Internet café and I peeked inside. There was Tara!
Tara was understandably pissed because I wasn't at Michelangelo when I said I would be. My email had said 1, but I thought I had written noon. She was there after me. Oops. I apologized and introduced her to the Irishmen. I picked up my stuff at the station, said farewell to Tiernan and Johnny, and traveled to Tara's hostel.
I took a shower. The first in 3 days. Tara and I got a beer, my first in 10 days. We talked about our separate travel adventures.
I am going to keep this brief: When we last met Tara, she was travelling to Nice, France. She stayed there for a week, then went to Chamonix in the French Alps. She took a tour into the center of a glacier. After two days there, she went back to Amsterdam, found the nightlife, and stayed for a week. From there she came straight to Florence. She showed me her Dutch souvenir.
She was staying in a big tent, and I shared a room with 5 guys. I was very happy to have a real bed.
With my room at the hostel, I got a free breakfast! It was terrible. It was "coffee" with bread. The bread roll was hard as a rock. I sawed it in half and spread the butter and jam on it. It was very hard. The "coffee" was brown with chicory or some such nasty thing in it.
Tara didn't get breakfast because she was staying in a tent. She was lucky. We took a bus into town and went to the large Uffizi museum.
In Italy, you must buy a bus ticket before you get onto the bus. This is an annoying system.
At the Uffizi, the line was very long. While we waited, I escaped to find a bathroom. I found a free urinal nearby, but I needed a toilet. I had a rough time finding one. I ended up trying to bribe a restaurant-worker to use his. I offered him 5,000 then 10,000 lire. He finally broke down and let me use it for free.
The Uffizi is the oldest museum in the world. It had lots Italian and European masterworks. Mostly marble statues and oil paintings. Lots of things were not allowed in the museum. I saw Botticelli's Birth of Venus (and cut off her head in the stealth photo) and Allegory of Spring, the Titian painting of the reclining woman, and a famous one of a cherub resting his chin on a lute.
I discovered some great paintings from Parmigianino (1503-1540)
We missed the science museum being open, so we walked around town. Back at the hostel, I did laundry. Boy, did I need to do laundry. The hostel was far from town, so we found it difficult to leave once we were there. The hostel grounds were wooded and quite beautiful. They showed movies at night, but we didn't attend. This night they showed Titanic.
On Sunday morning, I decided to take a survey at the hostel. I asked the other guests to rate the breakfast on a scale of one to ten. I defined a "one" breakfast as the worst breakfast they could imagine, and a "ten" as the best breakfast they could imagine. The first question I asked was, "Do you speak English?" Everyone did. I surveyed 54 people. Most people were in the act of eating breakfast and were anxious to comment on it. Many people rated it a "2" but the most rated it a "5". I was amazed, but I realized most people were rating it as a hostel breakfast, so their expectations were very low. Other guests thought I worked for the hostel. The three insane Germans rated it a "10", but they supplemented their breakfast with fruit, bread and drinks. I got to meet a lot of people, and I was always around friends for the rest of our stay there. See the complete breakdown in this Graph
Tara and I ran into a girl from the hostel, Simone, who had similar plans for the day, so we hung out with her. We visited Michelangelo's real David at the Academia Museum. That was almost the only thing that museum had. It is very big, David I mean. Everyone photographed David. They also had some antique musical instruments and a hall of plaster bust molds...mostly they had David.
Some of the angels in the paintings had color in their wings, like a parrot, instead of having pure white wings.
After the David, er, Academia museum, we headed to the Boboli Gardens. They charged us a few bucks to get in; the gardens were vast and comfortable. They were peppered with some really big modern anatomical sculpture. We took lots of pictures. Paths, hedges, fountains, sculpture, benches, hills, views. No picnicking allowed.
Simone was from Interlaken, Switzerland. She encouraged us to visit. She had worked for the Swiss tour company that had 21 people die on a Canyoning expedition in July. She relayed the story of answering the phone calls that came in from around the world. It sounded terrible.
We walked around some more, had ice cream and pasta at a little restaurant and spent the night talking.
On Monday, there was no sign of Simone in the morning, but we figured we had awoken too late to catch her (although we had a thought she might have ditched us). We met Rebecca from Sacramento in Tara's tent, and talked about home, Italian theft, and backpacker-shopping techniques.
The History of Science museum was finally going to be open, so we went there first. We ate fruit from a little stand on the way to the bus, then little sandwiches in a cafe on the way, then we spotted a posh little pastry shop called Gilli. We ordered up 2 pastries apiece and went to sit down, but then realized they would be twice as much if we sat down, so we pretended we were in a rush to catch a train and got them to go instead.
Coca-Cola seems to be behind a to-go cup initiative in Italy called the "Walky cup". There were signs all over, for 50 and 70 centiliter paper cups. Usually I carried a 1.5-liter Fanta orange in my pack (which for some reason sounds gross when I type it out, but tastes very good here and I can always find it cold). Tara carried water (non-carbonated, no gas, still).
With our feeding-frenzy over, we arrived at the Science museum only to find Simone in the first room! At the entrance of the museum, you are handed a packet of paper, describing all of the exhibits. It was about 40 typewritten pages long. We went through the museum together, skimming through the text. I expected to find Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex, but it wasn't even mentioned. Photographs were "strictly forbidden", but some of the exhibits were amazing, so I took 18 super-stealth photos. They had copies of Galileo's famous wooden ball ramps, his actual telescopes, compass and middle finger. They had sextants, early microscopes, clocks, thermometers, and barometers. They had an amazing set of unusual fetus models, but by the time we got to those, they were ushering us out the doors for their 1pm lunch break.
Once again united with Simone, we stumbled with travelerís indecision for a while before catching a local bus to the hilltop town Fissile. There were Roman ruins, including an intact theater, ruined baths, and little museum. We bought some food and a bottle of wine at a nearby grocery store. They had pesto at the deli. Simone's personalized blue-flower print Swiss-Army knife didn't have a corkscrew on it (and neither did mine), so Tara asked a barkeeper to open it for us. We found a PERFECT spot to lunch, with clean benches and a super view of Florence. We sat for hours. Rebecca appeared and invited us to see a Charlie Chaplin impersonator near the Duomo that night. It was getting less and less weird when we run into other backpackers around town.
We packed up and went back into town. We wandered around, and as it was our last night in Florence, we had already seen everything near the center. We were kind of killing time. Eventually we found a nice Irish pub, where we had a beer. The hostel closed at 11, so we were a little concerned when we missed the bus to get there by 11, and ended up slipping in at midnight. There was a foreboding note on my door: Robert Cockerham come to the front desk. I figured it was too late to do anything about it that night, and that they just wanted to kick me out after my fourth night (as was the rule).
On Tuesday we checked out and headed to Rome. I had packed up a box of gifts and souvenirs to ship home, so we went to the post office. I was somewhat amazed when the postage came to £150,000, (US$77). This was the most money I had spent on anything in months, but there was no way I was carrying that crap around on my back for another 3 weeks.
The train to Rome was leaving immediately, and as it was a short trip, I decided to forego the Eurail pass and to simply buy the ticket. We were running short on time, got on the wrong train, but were directed to another train just before it left. It was also the wrong train. Luckily it was going to Rome, but it was a Eurostar high-speed train, not the ISR rattletrap train I had a ticket for, so I ended up burning a day on the Eurail pass anyway, and wasting $17 on the ISR ticket. Oh well, that is what erasable pens are for. It was two and a half-hours to Rome.
Upon arrival in the beautiful city of Rome, we bought a map and trudged around looking for a place to stay. This is the hard part of backpacking: You walk around, sweating, from one cheap place to another, afraid that the whole town is sold out. It usually takes an hour, and after that hour your spirit starts to fail and you consider spending more money just to put an end to it. Tara had been in a glorified tent for the last week, so we popped for a lush $40 room in a pension. There were 3 beds, so I wondered if we could sub-let one of them. We unpacked a little and I transferred photos while Tara took a nap.
We got out around 5pm and took a look around Rome. We found an authentic Italian pizza joint that sold slices by the kilo. We didn't have the map with us, so we wandered cautiously. There were great monuments and statues everywhere. We quickly found the most impressive fountain of the trip in Piazza Republica, and went on to find the awesome Roman ruins and the astounding sights on Capital hill (Piazza Venetia). All the monuments on this little hill were intact (maybe refurbished). The entire hill was covered with marble columns, statues, stairs and fountains, leading up to the giant Senate building, graced with huge angels-on-five-horse-chariot statues at each corner. Rome was the new champion for impressive sights, the sheer size, variety and complexity of the statues was just awesome to behold, and the dramatic night lighting didn't hurt either. I couldn't wait to see the rest of the city.
On the way home we were invited into a little tourist barriria, "Please, come and drink some beers", the polite Asian man said.
We didn't resist. He was one of the two friendly people in Italy, so we left him a big tip.
Sept 15-Sept 21: Rome and Athens | Index of Weeks
Back to main Cockeyed Rob@Cockeyed.com Eric Tara Last updated March 10, 2000.