May 25, 2009

Day 11: Journey to Italy

After the tour of the Swiss landscape, as I planned it the journey took a shift. It was a perceptible shift from the northern countries we had visited so far and the cold Swiss mountains. We were going to L'Italia!

I had chosen Florence as the place we'd visit and my faithful troop did not demur and ask why not the coast, why not Athens etc. I am eternally grateful for such wonderful friends. The morning train deposited us post noon first at Milan Centrale, a planned stop. We got out walked a bit on foot, getting a feel for the place. My first glimpse of Italy was more modern than my expectation. Its sort of like landing in Bangalore on your first trip to India, I thought to myself. The buildings housing mega corps were not ancient and designer shops abound.

We had our first Pizza in Italy, sat by a fountain and gazed at the passers-by.

After some time, I slowly ambled into the station to figure out the train to Florence. The terminus itself is a majestic building with a large dome and wide hall and I learnt it was about a century old.

SR raised a brow when he saw that there was no Florence in the departure board and after a few moments of disorientation thanks to the umpteen Mills and Boon I have read, I made the connection to the Italian name - Firenze. We walked to the information desk to ask for the validity of our tickets and I realized how little my English was going to help. With gestures to support we caught the train to Firenze and got out at some smaller outer station. I had by virtue of a map thought this station was closer to the hotel I had booked but coming out I realized how difficult things were going to be.

All the boards were in Italian naturally and we walked about trying to figure out the bus number to take us to the hotel. SR a self proclaimed expert in public transportation system, came back with tickets and the bus number. We got into the bus and then had to figure out where to get out. Via de Novoli seemed like a major road and the bus was supposed to take us there. I asked a young woman returning most probably from work if she could tell me when we reach the bus stop. She spoke rapidly to the gentleman next to her and explained to me there were three stops in Via de Novoli and naturally she didn't know which one she should point me to. The older gentleman said he will guide us and that he was getting down at Via de Novoli himself. He started talking to the woman - It was quite amusing to watch - I could almost dub the scene - a bus in Chennai, a middle aged man, a young woman the man asking so where do you work, does it take this much time to come back, its nice weather etc. etc. It never ceases to amaze me how people are often more similar than different.

We got out and thanked him and within a couple of minutes arrived at the serviced apartment. It was a residential area and we could go to the balcony and see the other apartments with familiar stuff on their balconies including dish antennas. People returning home to their families, people watching TV.. a sense of familiarity.

SR and ST looking at the kitchen decided to go out and buy groceries. The small shop nearby was like any other grocery store and after shopping for a while we returned and settled after dinner. The TV was not very interesting, seemed like more talk shows than entertainment.

I wondered if we should simply stay in Florence, though my plan was to split the journey and go to Rome and postpone the sightseeing of Florence for later. Cursing myself for not planning better I consoled myself that I get to see all the places after all, whats a little discomfort.

May 25, 2009