Morgane, Sophia and I, the Franglish history of art trio, had always said that we should do a ‘study-trip’ to Florence before our exams. With so much of the Storia dell’arte moderna course centred there, it seemed like a good idea. And with just the three of us, and Morgane as fearful task-master, “Louisa, which pope comes after Sistus sesto?!” “Ermm……o dio, Giulius secondo???” being our usual meet-and-greet scenario, it was sure to be a productive excursion.
So at the beginning of this semester, we named the date. And all was set for a focused few days in Firenze. Sophia and I both know the city quite well, having both spent a month there before university, taking art and language courses in the ‘Grand Tour’ tradition. What could possibly go wrong?
The hostel and train were booked in advance. And we were set to meet at 6:45 am on Friday morning, leaving plenty of time to make it to the far-flung ‘platform 2e’ (BEWARE all prospective travellers from Termini station) in time for the 07:13 departure.
Sophia had the genius idea of inviting the lovely Italian Anna along from our course, and we all, remarkably, turned up on time with optimistic outlooks on that chilly morning. We had heard rumours of a strike. But that wasn’t to start before 8am. Our Italian companion agreed; all would be well.
Waiting on the platform, in the company of what seemed like the entire American segment of tourist travellers in Italy, we puzzled at the announcements of our train departing, with it sleeping beside us; doors closed, lights out, no driver. The automated messenger later conceded, it was in fact, delayed. By 5, 10, 25, 35, 60, 75 minutes…and no. it was cancelled.
No problem! Only 15 minutes until the next one. We scurried to a different platform, unfazed by an American counterpart’s disillusion “f****** italians…”
Once again, the train’s static position was accompanied by announcements of a delay…10 minutes. 15 minutes…Having waited on the platform in subzero temperatures for two and a half hours by this point, the flickerings of an idea that the low-cost train to Florence might never depart, began to emerge.
“This feels like D of E” shivered Sophia, with a teeth-chattering grin.
“But don’t you just love it all?” Meaning our stubborn embrace of all things Italian. Including train delays, metro strikes and bureaucratic failures.
“Yeah, I love it!” I conceeded merrily, losing all feeling of sensation in my toes.
After the final announcement that the train was not going to depart and a look at the hopelessly static departure boards, we were forced to acknowledge that we would be going nowhere beyond Rome that day. We said our farewells with a vague proposal to try again the following morning, and scuttled back to our beds for some defrosting.
Thinking how nice it would be to not, in fact, travel that weekend, I was persuaded over the phone that missing the trip altogether would be a great shame. With such a wonderful group I could hardly not go. Alright, I agreed. Admitting that we wouldn’t be able to see all that much in 48 hours, I decided to enjoy it for the sake of the brilliant company.
So the following morning I found myself once again, baggy-eyed, lugging my luggage down the frosty platform crowned by incongruous televisions radiating Georgia May Jagger in the Rimmel campaign, disorientatingly exhorting me to “get the London look”, in a military ensemble outside Buckingham Palace.
This time, the train departed. And at the more civil hour of 09:15. Yes, “why do we have to make every trip into D of E?!”
Three and a half hours and a timeline of Michelangelo’s life-and-key-works later, we arrived at Santa Maria Novella, met Valentin, Morgane’s elegant French friend who is studying in nearby Perugia, dumped our bags at the hostel, and set off for our first look around.
Our ambitious “to-see” list was somewhat curtailed by unusual museum opening-hours. The Bargello was closed, it being the “5th Saturday” of the month. As were Santa Maria della Carmine, Santa Croce, the Duomo and the Palazzo Strozzi, all at the times we were hoping to go.
But we made it to a three hour session at the Uffizzi, Casa Buonarotti, the Museo del Duomo and San Marco. It was a joy to go around in the group and discuss the works in Italian, as we all scrambled to remember what we had read from the course books. Cold to the bone, despite my wool coat, I found strength in the radiation of enthusiasm from my companions in the face of unencountered works by master such as Signorelli, Lippi and Michelangelo.
Inside high-ceilinged stone buildings makes it colder in than out on the street, where extortionate tourist food prices, make it requisite to eat. Sitting down for a coffee, over downing one at the bar, will set you back an extra three euros. Despite this, it was a relief to be in the calm and ordered little city at this non-peak travel time of year. Free from the dangerous drivers and hastling of the streets of Rome.
After a long day, we bustled back to the hostel in the hope of registering properly before setting off to re-fuel with pizza. We were greeted warmly and assured to be shown to our beds shortly, although the man of ambiguous nationality with a winky eye, kept disappearing and putting off dealing with us.
Finally, he conceded that he didn’t have enough beds. There was some sort of misunderstanding with our booking. He did have one bed, he said. Which we could share. For half the price. We dubiously observed the very narrow beds but capitulated. It was our only option.
“That’ll be 15 euros each then.”
“What?! We thought it was originally 10 euros a night?”
“Yes, but you didn’t turn up last night, and you didn’t cancel 48 hours in advance.”
Eternally English and starving for supper, I began to acquiesce. “Fine, let’s just pay”. But my Gaelic companion was all-fires blazing, unprepared to have anything to do with the negotiations.
Later revealing we didn’t even have a bed, but possibly some kind of sofa…we ditched the Euro Student hostel altogether and finally managed to flee, after listening to the owner’s lengthy apologies, or thinly-veiled pleas not to give him a bad review on hostelworld.com.
Luckily we were warmly greeted at the doorstop of an Edinburgh exchange student friend, on his semester abroad in Florence, and all found mattresses and sofas for the night.
Apart from the dodgy opening times, everything went fairly smoothly from there. A bottle of wine at lunch saw us through, and we tipsily sauntered through the streets and found our way to the station in time for our evening train, gossiping about our lecturers’ private lives, and merrily agreeing that it really had been the most marvellous weekend.