As you'll quickly see, it grew into quite an adventure for Dottore Gianni!
I have divided this fourth installment of the posts on the subject of my earlier travels into two separate posts, both of which should appear on the main page of the blog simultaneously.
A reminder: all passages taken directly from my journal are enclosed in quotation marks, and if I choose to make a comment in the middle of a quote, that will be placed in brackets [ ].
8 January 1997: This first journal entry was written on the flight from New York City to Florence Italy, via Rome.
"I'm seated in business class! I've been upgraded for some unknown reason (but thanks! ma grazie!) and I'm in a section of seats that features two rows of two seats each, in a sort of V-shape, and with a few single seats in the center of the V. I am in the foremost of those single center seats! Reminds me a bit of a king's throne in a Renaissance theatre...I could get used to this! Of course I'm fairly certain it was just dumb luck, but all this and bella Firenze - beautiful Florence...I'm really tremendously excited, nervous, anticipating...well, 'nuff said for now."
|Dottore Gianni's ideal vision of Florence|
9 January 1997: "I'm sitting in Rome's Fiumicino Airport on a two and a half hour wait for my flight to Florence, but I've brushed my teeth and washed my face, using the fancy dop kit I was given as part of my upgrade, and am feeling rather perky for one who had only one or two hours of fitful sleep on the trip across the pond."
"The food aboard the flight was a SIN - nuts first, and my choice of wine - I chose a good Montepulciano; then a plate was delivered which featured a huge shrimp and large portion of lobster with crunchy asparagus. Next came the primo piatto (the first course), which consisted of yummy cheese-stuffed shells, followed by the secondo piatto, my choice of red snapper or lamb. I opted for the latter, which came with teeny carrots and new potatoes; after which the cheese course, when I switched (after my third glass of Montepulciano) to a fine Barolo - eccelente! The meal ended with a lovely torta [cake] served with fresh fruit. To wash down that dessert course I chose a glass of sparkling wine, a Spumante. Did I say 'ended'? After that a tasty serving of chocolate. I turned down the coffee that was offered along with it."
"One thing I know, I will miss the food, but even more importantly the leg room and great comfort, on the flight back to the U.S."
"The weather in Rome is mostly cloudy, temperature in the low 50s. I'm afraid that Florence won't be as warm. However, once there I think I'd like to take advantage of the daylight hours to navigate my way around, as I did on my trip to Rome - time to look at the guidebooks now, so, for now, Ciao!"
[So far Su, right? see below for major series of Giù]
Later on 9 January: "DISASTER!!! Just before my flight at Rome left for Florence, I got word from Italiatour that my hotel had been changed at the last minute! Upon landing I grabbed a taxi, and when the driver began driving me out into the hinterlands I realized that my hotel was nowhere near downtown Florence. In fact it was 6 kilometers out of the city. My trip was not shaping up as I had planned, to say the least. I would have to go to the expense to take taxis in and out of Florence, I'd not be able to retreat to my hotel for a short nap to relax before continuing to tour the town...not at ALL what I had in mind."
[pause to answer the phone, which has just rung]
"I just made my decision. I fly to Rome tomorrow, and spend the rest of my time there. I don't think it's stupid. The flight there doesn't leave until 2:45 pm, so I could do a quick spin through Florence in the morning, if they'll let me check my bags early."
"This is madness - the whole trip has turned into a bad, expensive joke, but I'm beginning to think I can salvage some of it..."
|View from my hotel - pretty, but hardly Florence|
[Not sure if this is clear to the reader, but I wasn't just writing about my trip abroad at this point in my journal. I must confess, perusing this journal in 2014 I'm surprised, because I don't remember that I was living such a roller coaster ride in Ithaca as well as on this trip. But it certainly fits my theme of Su e Giù, doesn't it? Ups and Downs? Back now to the journal]
"This is not a good time to get into a deep analysis. Instead I should just recount, what happened after I told Patrizia, the young woman from Italiatour with whom I was working on plan B, that I definitely wanted to get to Rome rather than embarking on this ridiculous comedy of errors - and I'm right that it is ridiculous, that it is a comedy of errors - in Florence."
|Michelangelo designed Ponte Santa Trinita, taken from the Ponte Vecchio|
"After the decision was made and the flight set, I took a tumble of sorts yesterday afternoon, a descent if you will into the nightmarish world of Dante's Inferno - yes, yes ironic at very least! Despite the fact that I was tired, angry and upset, I decided to make the best of the rest of my first day and head into Florence. The hotel called me a taxi. The very nice taxi driver, who wanted to learn more English, took me in via a scenic route, through Oltrarno, across Ponte Santa Trinita, pointed out the Ponte Vecchio, Via Tornabuoni, other icons of the city, before dropping me at the foot of the god-like Duomo. Then, after I dropped about 36,000 lyra later (about $25), the taxi driver's fee, I found myself in the center of Florence. Maybe I shouldn't have gone in, but my alternative was to sit in my hotel room and stew. So! I walked and I walked, from the Duomo, Baptistry and Campanile to the Piazza della Signoria, in to the fee exhibition of the restored works from the Uffizi, including Donatello's powerful statue of Mary Magdelene (God!), to the Arno, along the river and across it via the Ponte Vecchio..."
|The Duomo, Baptistry, Campanile - the center of Florence|
"But by now it's getting to be fairly late so I plunged into Oltrarno in a desperate race to see the Pitti Palace, formidable, but under construction, closed and closely guarded. I headed back to re-cross the river...and, was it at this point or a bit before this?...that I realized I had totally forgotten the name of my hotel, as well as the name of the area outside of Florence where it was located, except that it was located about 6 kilometers to the south of the city!"
"So, VERY tired now, I plunged deeper into the dark night of my soul rushing back towards the Arno, Vespas zinging as they carelessly passed me by. I was becoming a bit panicked, a bit hysterical, in a sometimes laughable, sometimes horrible fashion, realizing that not only had all crumbled before me, but that just as I was trying to re-gain my equilibrium more ground was giving way: I may not even be able to get back to my despised hotel!"
"Thus the discovery of Florence turned into a discovery of how to get "home," the hotel being the only semblance of that word I now knew. I began to search newsstand after newsstand for maps, not of the city center, but of this small section of Tuscany. Alas, Florence, Fiesole and Prato were clearly marked, but the suburb for which I searched was damned to the status of nonentity - another image from the Dante-eque inferno I had just entered."
"Very little of the name of the place for which I searched was coming forth...it began with a 'c' followed by an 'i' or an 'e'...then it dawned on me that the first three letters were 'Cer'...Ah! getting somewhere! The church of Santo Spirito was still
|The Church of Santo Spirito, taken on a later visit to Florence|
|The Filippino Lippi painting|
"Anyway, more bookstands, the post office (searching for a phone book) then into a rather large bookstore which featured a good-sized section for tourists, all sorts of books in all sorts of languages on Florence and Tuscany. A little victory here! I finally found a name, Certosa, not clear what that is, some sort of abbey I think, that seemed to be the name of either my hotel, or the specific area in which it was located, then more words... "of Galluci." Digging through a hotel guide in French I discovered that Certosa di Galluci was a place and that next to it there was a hotel - MY hotel - at least so I hoped."
"Now that I think I can get back to my hotel. I realize I'm starving, so I walk around in mild desperation and find a restaurant, the Borghetto di Donatello, just next to the Duomo. I order a pizza, a salad and the house wine. My Italian has failed me almost completely [I had been studying via cassette tapes since early 1996, ahead of the trip to Rome] and the waiter speaks very little English, but he delivers aqua, vino, and a delicious quattro formaggi pizza, with a fair insalata mista - and things aren't bad, really. I leave, moving towards a gelateria, but it's cold for that and besides, I'm exhausted. I'm just going to get a taxi back."
|Piazza della Repubblica, where my initial hotel was located|
"Instead I plunge further down into Dante's inferno - into taxi hell! I wait and wait at two different taxi stands, one at the Duomo, another near Piazza della Repubblica. A great irony at the latter, central hub in Florence - I glance across the huge square while I'm waiting and I see the sign for the Savoy, the hotel I was supposed to have stayed at! Here there is a queue of about eight or ten people waiting for the elusive taxis of Florence, all apparently otherwise engaged. So I walk away, and see, at the door of the Savoy, a taxi! I try to signal him and embark on a slow dance with the driver. I finally understand (what happened to my Italian!!!) that he is waiting for a customer that has already booked his services."
|Santa Maria Novella|
"Another thought comes to me and I charge forth again, this time to Florence's busy rail station, at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and I find the station...but where's the taxi stand? [As I read this in 2014 I'm aware that I did a LOT of hoofing around Florence on that crazy, jet-lagged day!] Find it at last, I'm second in a queue, then suddenly first, as the two guys ahead of me are not waiting for a taxi, just hanging out, and with the beautiful facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella at my back, finally get into a cab. Then I try to explain where I want to go, to a taxi driver who clearly does NOT want to learn English. It's especially hard to explain to him that I can't really remember the exact name of the hotel. But, even though he smokes up a storm in the closed up taxi, in contempt, I'm certain, he does get me to the general area, and suddenly I see my hotel! But the driver seems to have reasoned that what I meant by Certosa was actually Certaldo, and knows the location of that hotel. So we pass mine! I scream for him to stop, he does, then gets angry at me, I get angry back at him - but he finally gets me to the door of the correct hotel and I give him a huge tip out of all-American embarrassment."
"Oh, the name of my hotel? The Relais Certosa."
|My hotel - pretty, isn't it? But 6 kilometers from Florence|
"Very shortly I'm in bed watching Italian TV, then asleep for only about three hours and now it's...now, as I write, because I discover that either I'm not very sleepy or I just cannot for the life of me fall asleep. Fine. I'll sleep or not, then tomorrow get on the flight to Rome, check into the Hotel Quirinale [I've seen it several times since, but never stayed there again - too expensive] and sleep THERE...and get blitzed and maybe do some great things...museums I've not seen, maybe the theatre or an opera...go to Ostia Antica, Hadrian's Villa maybe, who knows, even Naples, Herculaneum!"
"Stop - no craziness please, let's just do what we can, spend what we must to salvage this nightmare. As, like Dante, I exile myself from Florence - and head back (backwards?) to Roma."
Sidebar by way of explanation: The reason I had been moved out to the hinterlands of Florence was that there was a huge fashion gathering there at just the time. The Italiatour package included a VERY discounted rate at the hotel, and the day I left the U.S. they refused the room to Italiatour, and Italiatour was left scrambling, as every hotel in central Florence was booked solid. SCREWED by the fashion police!
|Piazza dei Signori|
Friday, 10 January: "I write as I await my flight from Florence to Rome. After my stream of consciousness epic last night, and my middle of the night writing, I fell asleep and awoke at 8:30, dashed down for a very decent breakfast, and then headed back into the center of Florence. In about an hour and a half of running around the city again, I took about forty photos of many of the spots I had wanted to explore at leisure. So much for Florence, eh?"
|Loggia dei Lanci|
Dottore Gianni did get to Roma, but for that you must read the next post, part 2 of Bloggo Su e Giù IV!