Travel Stories Not on IG: Florence
Florence was the second stop on my whirlwind tour of Italy. We'd taken a train up from Rome and got to our hostel in the late afternoon to drop our bags off before adventuring around the city. We went to the most iconic spot in Florence first, the Duomo. I am a huge sucker for intricate churches. I love stain glass windows, detailed tiling, and the multi-colored marble inlays of the Duomo blew me away.
We watched the glow of the fading sun paint the white stone orange while eating the first of many gelato. We wandered down to the Mercate Nuovo and caught a couple of vendors who were late to pack up. I'm terrible at bartering and got an overpriced, but still beautiful, maroon leather bag complete with the Florence stamp before stopping into a small restaurant for an authentic pasta dinner.
By the time we made it back to the hostel, it was well after dark. The floor had 3 rooms, rented separately, that shared a bathroom. I couldn't wait to shower and get some much needed sleep. While I dug through my bag for my toiletries, one of my two travel companions, who I'd lived with for the past 4 months, found a note written in three languages taped to the wall. "Bedbugs do not stay here." My heart dropped.
The hostel was very cheap (about 20 euros a night) and in a pretty central location. When my roommate booked it a month ago, she said the reviews weren't great, but we could survive two nights someplace a little run down. However, there's a big difference between someplace in need of attention and someplace with bedbugs.
I ripped open the sheets looking for signs of them only to hear a scream in the neighboring room. The three Danish backpackers staying there couldn't fall asleep because they kept feeling something crawling on their legs. Eventually, one of the women turned on the lights to see what was there, and shrieked when she saw hundreds of tiny bugs covering the wall.
Every inch of my body suddenly felt itchy. Every breeze felt like something crawling on my leg. I was out. If I could have quit the trip then, I honestly would have thought about it. The other group called the hostel owner who'd checked all of us in, and told us he'd be over shortly to sort this out.
I'd never asked for my money back anywhere before, but felt we had some pretty solid ground to stand on here. Unfortunately, the hostel owner did not agree. He'd already give the Danish group their money back and was not about to lose anymore money on a room that had been "fumigated for bedbugs a month earlier." The argument lasted hours. We didn't have any proof. We didn't know as much about bedbugs as him, though we had degrees in biology and he thought bedbugs couldn't move between rooms. We weren't being "polite young ladies."
Eventually, the third room arrived, a bilingual American couple. When we told them about the bedbug situation, they argued for their money back in Spanish, which is very similar to Italian. The hostel owner eventually gave the American man his money back, and then conceded to do the same for us. In the stairwell afterwards, the American said he thinks English can be an abrasive language, and the hostel owner must have been sweet-talked by his Spanish. I said the hostel owner was just a sexist con-artist.
At this point, it was roughly two in the morning. We were exhausted and, since we didn't get our security deposit back, a bit defeated. If I'd considered ending the trip earlier, I was planning it now. I could take the train back to Rome, hop on a RyanAir flight for maybe 30 euros and be back in my own bed by tomorrow night. I texted my old neighbor from home who was traveling with us but staying in another hostel that night to let her know what happened and make a plan to meet up in the morning. I didn't tell her I'd be saying goodbye in the morning because this trip had beaten me.
We checked into a cheap hotel down the street. It was only a little more than our hostel, but I would have emptied my bank account for someplace clean to sleep. I didn't unpack my bag in case we needed to make another quick escape, never fully fell asleep, afraid something would bite as soon as I closed my eyes.
In the morning, we went to a cafe and ordered pastries and expresso while we waited for my old neighbor to get there. She arrived with a couple of new friend's she made the night before. They were all talking about a hike they wanted to do that day up to some church at the top of a hill. Like I said, I'm a sucker for old churches, so I agreed to go. My emergency flight home could wait until later that day.
That morning, was cool but rapidly warming as we moved from the crowded streets to quieter backroads. The shadows of big building around us gave way to bright sunlight. We walked on a cobblestones surrounded by gray stone walls overspilling with plants. The houses were hidden deep in gardens, and each driveway was blocked with a rustic gate.
Up the hill, the road become a paved street with a sidewalk. Between patches of green, the city of Florence poked out, a mix of red and yellow clay buildings. We kept climbing. The trees created a tunnel around us as we left the sounds of the city, which we filled with small talk. Where are you from? Is this your first time in Italy? What did you think of the Duomo?
The trees started to clear and we were there. An outlook gave us an un obstructed view of the city and the river we'd started near earlier that day. We climbed the last few steps up to the church feeling like Rocky.
The church was beautiful, white and green marble outside and stained glass inside. Around it were graves dating dated hundreds of years ago and some more recent with flowers still beside them. The whole top of the hill was silent. Each visitor soaking in the small pilgrimage we'd just made.
We posed for photos on the outlook, and started our way back down. It was hotter now and we knew the way so it went quicker. We talked about what we wanted to see in the city still. The statue of David, the lucky boar, another market. It'd been a rough night, but on our way down, we were finally able to laugh and joke. I remembered why I wanted to go on this trip in the first place. Partly to see the David, Florence's lucky boar, and its markets, but mostly to have experiences like this one. To discover someplace I'd never even heard of, make new connections with the world around me, and meet people I would have never gotten the chance to meet if I'd stayed home.
Every trip has it's "not instagram-worthy moments," but that's life, and those moments help lead you to ones you wouldn't want to miss (though I really could have lived without bedbugs).