Wednesday, July 16, 2014

weekend with a stranger

It wasn't on THE LIST, but it might as well have been.

About a month ago when I was still in the city, I met an Italian guy who was visiting Manhattan on vacation and we had a drink. We chatted for weeks afterwards, discussing my upcoming trip, etc. I asked questions about flying into Milan if that's where my standby flight ended up putting me, and how to get to the trains and so forth. Then he offered to pick me up at the airport and drop me at the train, and I thought why not? Then after mentioning that I planned to spend my first couple of days in Florence before heading to work, he offered to join me. And by offering to join me, I mean invited himself. So I thought, why not? 

So after agreeing to spend a weekend in Florence with essentially a complete stranger whose name I couldn't pronounce correctly, I considered myself crazy. I have NEVER done anything like this. Could it be dangerous? Maybe, yes, possibly. But for some reason I just had a hunch it wouldn't be dangerous really, just perhaps awkward and uncomfortable. For a person who doesn't like being alone though, this would guarantee me company in a country where I don't know anyone for at least 36 hours. 

Was it awkward? Yes. The airport pick up went fine, as I ran into my new friend, South Dakota, and he helped me gather my ridiculously large suitcase out of baggage claim. He also directed me to the correct exit, and we parted ways. Sadly, I did ask his name, but have since forgotten it. I'll blame the jet lag. After being picked up by "Steve" as he said I could call him, we drove into Milan and took the train to Florence. Let's be real..I don't speak Italian and he speaks English enough to hold a light conversation, but it was definitely interesting. We discussed basic things about my trip, our families, etc. Would we be able to hold a conversation for the entire weekend? I feared not. 

As a detailed "planner" of everything in my life especially on vacations and trips, I was surprised that I didn't care that we had no hotel booked until our train ride to Florence. Ha! Look at me now being spontaneous! Steve assured me we would not "be homeless." Clearly a different translation to English. 

We found a decent budget hotel in a good location with two twin beds mere inches from each other and I breathed a sigh of relief that at least it wasn't expected to sleep in the same exact bed as a stranger I've only met once. Although I hadn't slept in more than 24 hours, I wanted to get out and explore Florence. It was weird for me to be there, as a little less than a year before I was walking the same streets with someone who I thought I'd be spending the rest of my life with. Ghosts follow you, I guess.

That being said, I wanted to go to places I didn't get a chance to last time, and not re-visit any of the same spots I did before. Make new memories. First place on my list was Piazzale Michelangelo. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio (which translated means "old bridge".. no, really?) 

and walked/climbed up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, passing small, cute little shops and restaurants. We were rewarded with amazing views! 

Afterwards we had an "apertif" on the rooftop of the Westin Excelsior. Cue more amazing views. 

Now, at this point I'm practically falling asleep but I explain to Steve what rallying means, and we make it to dinner. Here we end up discussing various things, including when Steve referred to dog's paws as "hands" when teaching a dog "Please give me your left hand" as a trick. I laughed probably a little too hard at this due to the bottle of wine that was being consumed. 

Skip to next day. I didn't sleep at all. Turns out Steve snores. Oh, and the part about sharing a hotel room with a stranger. 

We grabbed a cappuccino and maybe one of the best croissants I've ever had on our way to Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. They wrote "lei" on mine which means "her," so fancy!

Boboli Gardens was well...not exactly the type of garden I had expected. Where were all the flowers?! It was a green park. With fountains and trees and paths..but I could've counted the amount of flowers on my hands. It was pretty, but a bit misleading! I took pictures of any flowers I could find.

Onto a picnic lunch from a ridiculously cute "cold sliced meats shop" (aka deli) as Steve called it with said meats hanging from the brick ceiling. The owners were a married couple who were gracious enough to allow me to take a photo. I shoved the focaccia sandwiches in my bag and we brought them into Bardini Gardens to climb more steps for more great views. Also Steve suggested we "take the sun" which I figured out to be get some suntans. 

After lunch where Steve said that I "eat like a baby," we
stopped for some gelato. I had the strawberry and it was refreshing!

We went to dinner at La Divina Osteria, me in my "elegant wear" as Steve called my casual summer dress. I laughed, but it did make me feel fancy. I had homemade ricotta and spinach ravioli that was nothing short of amazing. And I consumed all of it. Eat like a baby my ass! Afterwards we found (and by we I mean me)an Irish pub to have a beer and watch the World Cup game. Several times Steve asked if I wanted to leave and go have wine somewhere else, emphasizing that we didn't have to watch the rest of the match. What he didn't understand was that I WANTED to watch! I assured him I was perfectly content with this. We returned to the hotel for another sleepless night in our twin beds. For me, anyways.

Though it was one of the crazier things I've ever done, I think it was good to push myself out of my comfort zone. We discussed possible plans to visit some of the places I'd like to see after I'm done with work at the camp, how he could cook pasta for me, and all in all it was a pleasant time. However, although Steve was a perfect gentleman, and didn't try anything at all..not even once..except for several flattering comments, I feel like it's just a friendship on my end. And that's completely fine with me. We departed with a hug and a promise to text. 

But not before the rest of my journey to Lucca began with a bang at the Florence train station...

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