Yeah, you read that right, VD, but we’ll get to that in a little bit!
Well, some of you know this already, but most of you don’t: I’ve been to Italy 3 times before, but always as part of a tour group. As a consequence of always traveling with tours, I’ve never gotten to stay in one city for any substantial amount of time nor have I been able to see random places, since everything was planned out. I think tours are great and I really loved getting to travel, no matter the circumstances, but one thing I’d always wanted to do was cross the Arno river in Florence and explore the other side. I looked on a map before I left home and saw that there are tons of gardens and historic places on the other side of the river, so that was my mission today!
I woke up at about 8:30, but didn’t get out of my hostel until 10:30. Once I left, I went to the tourist office in the Santa Maria Novella Museum and bought a FirenzeCard. It costs 72 Euros, but you get access to the city’s WiFi network, 3 days of unlimited public transport and entrance to all of these museums and attractions for free or reduced cost. After getting the card I was walking back toward the river and an Italian man leaned out of his car and asked me where Via della Scala was (in Italian) and I successfully gave him directions. I gave an Italian directions in Florence, what the what?! 0__0 After finally figuring out how to access the free Wifi, I headed straight for the river. I was really proud of myself because yesterday evening I walked down this road called Via de Tornabuoni and figured out it was going to the river, before I turned around to go back to my hostel. So, this morning I just got on that same road and walked across Ponte Santa Trinita, without using a map or my iPhone…and anyone that knows me knows that hell just froze over if I was able to navigate successfully without a GPS!
After getting across the river I used my FirenzeCard map and made my way to Il Giardino Bardini. I didn’t really know what to expect because I’ve only been to botanical gardens in the U.S. and I have never really been impressed, but boy was I surprised. I also used my Firenze card and got a ticket for 6 Euro, instead of 10 (there is a sign saying they don’t take FirenzeCards, but I had mine out and she gave me the discount! It’s 4 acres overlooking the city and it is beautiful: statues, fountains, beautiful flowers, and a gorgeous view!
After I left the garden I was going to try to find this other garden that I happened to see on the map that is triple the size of this one (I plan on doing that tomorrow, so stay tuned!), but then I saw Forte Belvedere and decided I would go check it out. Apparently I arrived at the backside of the fort though, because there were no people around and two shrines to this dead woman:
The story on her memorial made it sound like there could be foul-play or some kind of other shenanigans involved, so I got freaked out and left. But take note of those elephant figurines surrounding her second shrine…
After leaving Forte Belvedere I decided to walk back down to the river because it was 2 and I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. On my way down this old British couple I had passed in the garden, stopped me and the husband asked me where Giardino Boboli was, IN ITALIAN! I told him I spoke English and told him how to get there! Anna-2, Navigation/Italian-0! I kept walking and randomly passed some awesome houses where GALILEO stayed:
Once I got back down to the river I walked around for a bit trying to find a reasonable place to eat, but I saw a bunch of Italian kids sitting on this cool staircase so I decided to get some takeaway food and go back there. On my way back some creepy dude was standing there staring at me, so I went back to the river and sat on the wall and ate. I got something called Torta Pasqualina.
It was like a cheese and spinach quiche, with more pastry than egg. I got two, but only ate one, so that I’ll have something for breakfast in the morning!
While I was sitting by the river, a man tapped me on the arm and asked me what time it was. I tried to say I didn’t know before I realized my phone was in my hand. I told him it was two and he said, “Thanks, here’s a gift for you!” Guess what it was?! One of those red, wooden elephants that was around that woman’s memorial shrine! #NOPE
I said no thanks (I wasn’t trying to be mean, but the street merchants often hand you stuff and when you take it they chase you until you give them money, so yeah…) and was completely and thoroughly freaked out!
After I finished my lunch I decided I would go back across the river and get a coffee because the jet-lag was starting to catch up with me. I went back to the same place I met up with my friend yesterday because I’ve been there every time I’ve been to Florence, I know where it is and it’s extremely reasonable! I got a cappuccino and had a selfie session, just to make sure everyone KNEW I was American, haha!
Little did I know that the most interesting part of my day was about to begin!
After the coffee, I still had several hours until dark and I didn’t want to go back to my hostel, so I just wandered. I went into 3 churches before I found a park (Piazza dell’indipendenza). It’s in the sector of the city with a high density of immigrants, so I got some gelato and just sat and watched people, which was really interesting. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the park was completely filled with groups of 5-6 Asian and African men. They seemed to be having fun, but it made me so curious about immigrant/migrant workers in Italy. I’ve seen Biutiful and Io Sono Li (the latter is on Netflix), about Asian immigrant life in the EU, but now I really want to make a documentary about African immigrants in Italy.
Anyway, after I finished my gelato, I figured it was a good idea that I leave that park since I was the only woman there. I looked on my phone and realized there was a bigger park just a few yards away, Giardino della Fortezza. I walked over there and cleaned out my bag and then was just sitting on the bench getting some sun, when this old man with a cane came up and started talking to me in Italian. I asked if he spoke English and explained that I didn’t speak much Italian, but he didn’t miss a beat and asked to sit with me. He ended up talking to me in Italian for almost an hour and a half! Here’s a little snip-it!
I couldn’t really answer back, but I did manage to say, in Italian:
- Yes, there was a lot of venereal disease in France during WWI
- WWII was a tragedy, but good for liberty
- My dad was in the Army
- I’m glad it’s sunny, I need to tan
- Have you lived in Florence your whole life?
- The 100th anniversary of WWI is this summer
He told me that he was 4 during WWII. His dad was in the war and lost two brothers. We also talked about how Germany is the most powerful and rich country in Europe. He told me about American GIs and VD and Syphilis in France. He informed me that Montenegrin women are the most beautiful and that at one point men would pay 14,000 Lira to have a Montenegrin wife. He talked about the multitude of African and Chinese immigrants in Florence. Told me he was just getting over bronchitis. Sang a few songs. He also talked about how many people died in the war. How he likes kids because they break the solitude. His name was Davide and he was a crazy-cool old man!
SN: I recorded him singing one and I knew at the time he was saying “dick,” but later looked it up and he was singing about a man with a “hard on” hahaha…old men are a TRIP!
I had planned to get an early dinner so that I could actually go to a restaurant, but since I spent so much time conversing with Davide the BAMF Florentine dude, I had to rush back to make it before dark. I got a slice of pizza at a takeaway place by my hostel and then went up to my room.
I walked 8.5 miles, saw some beautiful stuff, and made a new friend!
Tomorrow I hope to go back across the river to the huge garden, maybe check out some old cemeteries, and take A LOT more pictures (the battery in my camera was dead today, so I had to use my phone).
Buona Sera, you crazy kids!