As I watched a dazed turtle slowly crossing the road, cars whizzing by, completely oblivious to her impending peril, I reminisced on a recent Florence fiasco. Awake for over twenty four hours with two international flights under my belt, multiple train rides and zero caffeine consumed, I was operating with the mental speed and dexterity of a box turtle. Let me make one thing clear. I’m not a wild world traveler who can drink and dance the night away, get up the next morning, then catch a 15 hour flight to Munich. I’m more of a mid-thirty’s, never drank a day in her life kind of girl, who even in her prime, left an all-night senior party to go sleep. And might I add that unfortunately for me, driving while tired is akin to being completely inebriated. I didn’t make it home from that party before nodding off then awakening to the nightmare of my Nissan Sentra—Betty Boop—and me careening off the freeway. Basically, if I don’t sleep bad things happen.
My husband Travis, well aware of my sleep deprivation issues (that include but are not limited to, falling asleep at the wheel, leaving behind my cell phone, purse, wallet, sunglasses, wedding ring, and anything not tethered to my body), reminded me that we only had a five minute connection in Florence. I groggily nodded in agreement, grasping my bag, ready for takeoff. Arriving in Florence I was the first to jump off the train, slinging my adventure pack over my shoulders and darting to catch our next train. As we stepped onto the train bound for the Cinque Terre, I proudly reached over to high five Travis. “We barely made it!” I proclaimed. And then it hit me. That adrenaline pumping, terror stricken, sinking feeling when you realize you just did something stupid. “Nooooooooo! My backpack!” I screamed. “It’s still on the train to Venice underneath the seat!” This was NOT just any backpack. It was a hand made Italian leather bag, ironically purchased by Travis in Florence over 20 years ago. Inside were my most valuable blogging possessions: $1,500 worth of camera gear, our priceless Bustling Abroad mascot Duck Norris, and not to mention my purse.
The Hot Pursuit
Leaping off the train—Travis in tow—I sprinted with all the determination of an antelope about to become dinner for a famished cheetah, as the train we had just worked so hard to catch now sped off to the famed Cinque Terre without us. There was no way I was letting that train headed for Venice leave the station before I got back on it and rescued my bag and dear Duck Norris! Darting around the corner I saw the train and kicked it into turbo. However, right as I reached the bullet train the doors closed and locked. The cheetah was now at my heals, and with one pounce was about to devour my entire blogging business. As the train lurched forward I raced along side of it, pounding on the door, screaming wildly for it to “STOP!” But apparently high speed bullet trains are no respecter of persons, or at least not wild eyed crazy blonde girls. And as the cheetah pounced, bearing his claws into my back, I realized that even with such a valiant effort, I was one dead deer.
Too horrified to even care about the spectacle I just made, I dropped to my knees and searched the hidden pocket of my large bag for my RFID wallet that included all of my credit cards and photo ID. As my hand brushed against the smooth hard case of my wallet I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. At least in my foggy stupor I had remembered to take my wallet out of my purse and put it into my bag. Still kneeling on the train station floor, dignity in shreds, I flung a prayer heavenward in front of the staring bystanders, begging God to have mercy on my stupidity and send his almighty angels to protect my hand made Italian leather bag and it’s valuable contents.
At this point Travis caught up to me panting and spewing out every Italian theft statistic he could muster. He painted a picture of impending doom. “That’s it! You’ll never see that bag again! Italy has the highest theft rates! It’s gone! The camera is already stolen and you’ll never get it back” he vented. Not easily daunted and having already recruited the Almighty and His angels, I replied “That may be true but I have faith and am not giving up without trying!” Chasing down the nearest conductor we pathetically begged for his assistance and he had mercy on us, telling us in broken English to go talk to a man behind a small kiosk. There was one man already in line in front of us and never have I wanted to be Hercules more than then. If I could have picked him up and tossed him aside I think I would have. Muscles twitching, heart pounding, it was a character building lesson in patience to wait my turn. Finally I was up and we hurriedly explained that my bag was on the high speed train to Venice. Unfortunately he was not able to help and told us to rush inside to counter #19 for assistance.
Jumping Through Hoops
Now patience has never been a virtue I possess, and unfortunately Travis does not make up for my deficiency in this area. Rushing to the front of counter #19, while passing a long line of patiently waiting people, Travis butted into the conversation between the clerk and the lady at the counter. Never have I been so proud yet so embarrassed all at once! I wanted to cheer “Gooooo Travis! Do whatever it takes to get my bag back!” yet at the same time duck behind a pillar so nobody would notice I was with him. However, the clerk was not as impressed with his determination as I and angrily said something in Italian while pointing to a number above the desk. Undaunted, Travis insisted that the man help him because we were told to come to the front. It quickly turned into an angry encounter that the clerk won, as he continued shouting in Italian and pointing viciously to the number above the desk. Apparently we were to obtain a number by waiting in a long line and then wait in another long line until our number was called. My stomach sank and my resolve to fight deflated as I realized my bag would be halfway to Venice and in the hands of a lucky Italian thug by the time we made it through the first line. I also had a feeling that all I would remember of our trip to Europe was this giant Florence Fiasco!
Fortunately when my positive tenacity runs out that’s right about when Travis’s kicks in with full force. He marched up to the front of the line to get a number and spoke to a girl who thankfully was fluent in English. She called the angry clerk who could not speak English and explained to him that our bag was on a train to Venice, needed to be recovered immediately, and that we were told to come to the front of the line. GOD BLESS THAT SWEET ITALIAN WOMAN!
Back again with the irritated clerk, he gestured for me to fill out a form that was written completely in Italian. I am ashamed to admit it, but at this point I broke down crying. I was so incredibly exhausted and frustrated, not to mention the only word I knew in Italian was “Chao.” The clerk softened at my distress, and using his best charades helped us to fill out the form and finally understand that he had called the train and we were to return in three hours to recover my bag.
Plan B: Florence Fiasco Fun
Knowing there was nothing more we could do, we headed out to ditch our luggage somewhere and explore Florence for a few hours, trying desperately to believe that the plan B’s of life are often the best. We found a FedEx and to our luck the nice guy behind the counter spoke English. He assured us we’d be better off carrying our luggage as the place next door charged too much to store bags. He gave us some great tips for exploring the city and we headed out in the 90 degree heat—two pack camels—in search of the Duamo and the Statue of David.
Having never been to Florence I had no idea what I was in for when Travis said we were going to see the Duamo. Stepping out of the tall shadowy alleyways into the bright sunny Piazza de Duamo, my first glimpse of the the Santa Maria del Fiore (aka The Duamo) took my breath away. If there could be a soundtrack for this moment, I think the Hallelujah Chorus would do.
Standing over 10 stories high in white, green and rose marble, weighing over 40,000 tons, containing over four million bricks, and almost the size of half a football field across at its base, the Duamo dome is the largest masonry structure in the world. If it could take my breath away in an age of technology, imagine the awe it struck in the hearts of Florencians back in a day before technology?
Even more amazing was that a committee came up with the building plans for the Duamo in 1293, long before they even had the technology to complete the dome portion. However, they determinedly moved forward with construction for over 100 years before Fillippo Brunelleschi found the answer and was commissioned to build the Duamo dome, thus finishing what is known today as one of the greatest architectural masonry feats. What inspiring tenacity! If Florencians could keep their faith for over 100 years, I could stay hopeful for another three hours and believe that my precious bag would be recovered!
Standing in the direct sunlight admiring the Duamo, we were inspired but also drenched in sweat. We debated whether or not to take the twenty-minute trek to see the Statue of David and in the end reasoned that we’d only be here once so we might as well suffer through the discomfort and just do it. After the first ten minutes of trudging I was sweltering, aching, and willing to pay a Sherpa $200 to put that sweaty, miserable, shoulder-cutting bag onto his back and haul it for the remaining three hours. How could a carry-on size bag feel so heavy, I wondered?
Right about then my hubby piped up, saying he just realized that they would not let us into the museum that houses the Statue of David since we were carrying large bags. He said we might as well go see the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge instead, and to my disgust and dismay, it was in the opposite direction. Seeing the look of utter horror and fatigue on my face, he chivalrously insisted on carrying my bag. I threw a fit telling him that it was ridiculous for one person to carry so much gear, but he ignored my protests, grabbed my bag, and took off in the opposite direction.
Truthfully, I was so relieved to rid myself of that sweaty behemoth bag! Watching Travis labor with my overpacked bag, I shamefully recalled all the cute outfits for Italy that I just couldn’t leave behind. Now I couldn’t help but think the poor guy looked like a sweaty overworked pack mule with one bag on his front, another on his back, and a backpack in his arms! It was then that I vowed to be more practical and travel lighter.
We finally arrived at the overcrowded yet charming Ponte Vecchio bridge and took a few pictures while tourists shot quizzical glances at my lack of bags and my husband’s overweighted shoulders. I stood in wonder realizing that the same bridge I just crossed over was also used by the Ancient Romans nearly 700 years prior. What a testament to endurance! Even the Germans were impressed by this bridge as it was the only bridge they spared during their 1944 retreat. Wanting to escape the heat and the flood of tourists, we finally left behind the bridge, it’s bustling shops, and the main roads. For the remaining hours we just meandered the shady alleyways of Florence, taking in the ancient buildings and quint shops.
Found in Florence
Although exhausted from walking around Florence for several hours, I happily trudged back to the train station, glad to have had the unexpected opportunity to explore such a great city. We arrived at the station, took a number and once again waited. When the clerk called my number I stepped forward, and peaking over the counter, I saw my bag! My heart pounded in anticipation as I anxiously waited to find out if anything was stolen. I quickly filled out the required paperwork and then the clerk handed over my bag. Kneeling down I opened the bag and too my relief Duck Noris, my purse, and my Canon camera were all inside! Not a single thing was missing!
There on my knees, I said a prayer of thanks, then grabbed both of my bags and headed out to catch the next train. Glancing down to check the time I asked Travis, “What time is our departing train?” “3:53” he replied. “It’s 3:52!” I shrieked in disbelief. Without another word we took off towards our bullet train with all the vigor of our long lost youth, stepping onto the train just as it lurched away from the station and headed for the beautiful Cinque Terre. Doubled over with laughter I reached over and high-fived Travis. And then it hit me. That overwhelming feeling of satisfaction as I realized that plan B turned out way better than I possibly could have imagined and that this Florence Fiasco would make for one heck of a story!