Florence – The Russian Who Couldn’t Keep Quiet & The Epicness of Florence

The light is seeping through the ajar window in the corner of the room.
I slowly wake and roll over to greet the morning.
We are in Florence, and it is nice a relaxed way to start the day.
…but is this where our morning should start?

No.

That would be too normal.
Our morning starts 4.5 hours earlier, at 4:30am.
We are all fast asleep.
All of us, except one… The Russian.

I don’t know whether he actually is Russian or not, but he could not give two rat’s asses if he woke up the whole hostel.

I mean, this guy is busting open the bathroom door, turning on the light and the fan, letting all the light and sound spill into the sleeping area. He grabs used up plastic bottles, and crumples them up, before dropping them into the tin bin near the door. He empties a few things out of plastic bags, just so that he can chuck more gear into the same plastic bags.

It is more than a joke, and it gets to the point that Bec just sits bolt upright, eyeballing him while he spends the next 15+ minutes trying to beat the world record for most decibels maintained over a 15 minute period. He heads out the door just before 5.

…WHO ARE YOU?!?!

The next time I would wake up, it would be of my own accord, and because my body clock actually wants me to wake up.

DJ is off on the next leg of his journey today, so we leave him a message on FB, and we make our way into the city of Florence. I attempt to lead our morning’s expedition, but my sense of direction hasn’t changed in the past 5 years, so Bec does the nobel thing, and lets me pretend like I know where I need to go, before she takes over, and show me where we actually need to go. I am a disgrace to men, globally.

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As with all good days, the story begins with a trip to the coffee shop. We pretty much are just on the outside of the old city. The tall townhouses line up to create thoroughfares for people to walk between, and the old roads have their own little feel of history to them.

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We reach this road which seems to be a main road into the heart of florence. Just on the loner is this little cafe with a couple tables set out the front. We sit down and order our two cappuccinos. When these things come out, they are the biggest cappuccinos you have ever seen in your life. I mean, these things are monstrous. Its good for us though, the longer we can spend just chilling out, guilt free, the better. Its the perfect location to watch the world pass by. People riding to work. Parents chasing their kids. Couples doing what couples do.

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It is the best way to start the morning coffee trip.

We thank our friend, and wander into the middle of Florence. As we do, pretty much everywhere we go, we swing into the shops that grab our attention. I mean, we actually done physically have the room to bring anything back that we might want to, so we are just checking it out for curiosity’s sake more than anything else. One such shop, we walked into was a jewellers. I walk in, and this place is lined with paintings, painted directly on the walls and ceiling.

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I am impressed, so when the store clerk returns, I ask him “Mate… Is this all original?”
“Why, yes”
“Really?”
“Yes, it was a renaissance painter”

As…
If…

This joint was painted centuries ago, and now it is a jewellery store. Get a load of that. I just cannot get my head around that hey. There is so much history floating around Rome, that they can afford to have a jeweller set up shop in a store with centuries old painted walls and ceilings. That is a joke.

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After I get over it (barely), we keep marching on into the city centre.

We were in no way ready for what we saw there. It was truly mind boggling. We were impressed with the size of the Liverpool Cathedral, and despite them over-exaggerating the claim of it being the biggest cathedral in Europe, it was impressive. But, this place was on another level. This place was a beast. There was this absolute monster of a dome at the top, in the middle, which if I remember rightly, had a height of 30m.

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It might not seem like much, but pace out 30m, and you’ll have a better appreciation for it.

On top of the church just being a bloody behemoth, the detail and intricacy is second to none. I mean, this place is a absolutely LOADED with little images and symbolism, carved out all over the outside church walls. It is absurd. You cannot make it to Florence, and miss this church.

We have arranged to do another walking tour today, so we begin to make our way there. We meet up with the group, in the middle of the square, completely at the mercies of the midday sun. And, since we have hardly had anything that even resembles summer this year, it is pretty merciless. The tour gets underway, and our guide is really not cut out for being a tour guide. He gives us a quick synopsis on his life, and pretty much, he tells us that he couldnt find any work with his agree, so he restored to being a tour guide.

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I rest my case.

Not to say that he isn’t knowledgable, but he is just pretty damn boring. One thing that was really interesting, though, was Florence’s history. This place is as old as the hills. Back in the day, this place was a real economic super power. So much so, that it brought in more money, as one city, then the entirety of the United Kingdom. How mental is that? That really is a fair bit of coin for one city.

After about the third stop, we arrive at the massive church again. We can hardly hear a thing over all the people and the ambulances tearing through the city square. This, combined with the monotone delivery of the information, Bec and I decide to pull the pin on the tour. There is a good hour and a half left, and that is an hour and a half to long for us. We decide that instead, we will head inside the church to have a good sus out of it.

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We ask the guard how much it is, and just says in his Italian accent: “Free”, without even making eye contact with us. Badass levels 10,000. We walk around the corner, and we are pretty much about to pull the pin on going inside after we see the queue. This thing had got a good 60 or more people waiting to just go inside. We just walk to the front, and ask one of the punters how long it takes “Oh, only 10 minutes”. Those are the right sounds for your mouth to be making. With this knowledge, we tear down to the end of the queue, and admire the questionable mate attraction tactics of the Florentine pigeons.

We enter the church, and it is as impressive on the inside, as it is on the outside. This whole structure really is amazing, inside and out. The really crazy weird thing is that there is a crypt underneath the church too. This is something that I am keen to see, so we head down, and as with most better-than-average activities, it costs $$. Being that we don’t want to spend the $$, we opt to not check out the crypts. We make ourselves feel better, by telling ourselves that we are going to come back to Italy at some point, and we wont be doing such a massive trip, and will have more of a budget to to this kinda thing with. So, with that in mind, we end out little excursion to the church, and go to find lunch.

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Gianluigi and Sarah, the couple we stayed with, in Salerno told us that if there is anything we do while we are in Florence, we have to make the effort to go to this one particular sandwich bar, called Due Fratellini. Being that this is our first meal in Florence, we thought that we should christen it, with a trip to the aforementioned, and we were not disappointed. This is literally just a bench top with two guys inside. One making the sandwiches, and the other taking the money. They are only 4 euro a pop, but they are really simple with their flavours.

There is usually only 3-4 ingredients per roll. But, they are all SOOOOOO flavoursome, you don’t need any more ingredients. We order our food, and get stuck right into it. It is worth every penny, and what is really nice for a change, is that it doesn’t cost a ton.

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We munch the food, as we walk the streets, and decide that we should cross over the river to see what is on the other side. We cross the most iconic bridge in Florence, and it has this thoroughfare between two strips of shops. Instead of having shutters, there are all these stores with these covers which pretty much just fold over the front of the stores, and just have a handle on the bottom to lift them up and out of the way, so that business can resume in the morning.

They are just made of wood, and its just all theses slats, together, to make one big panel that goes over the storefront.

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We wander through the streets, and decide that we should leave something for tomorrow, and head to a wine bar to chill our for a bit, so we cross back over the bridge, and as we are on the way to the wine bar, we hear the sound of these drums & horns. We were told by this blog that today, there is a bit festival for florence, but all the signs that she had mentioned that usually point toward the city’s annual celebrations didn’t seem to be present.

We were in a cooking shop when I heard it coming, so I grabbed my camera and headed outside. I figured Bec would work out what was happening pretty soon. Sure as eggs, she is out the front with me, and we are watching these guys all dressed up in the real deal, florentine outfits, all marching to the beat of the drum. They are all dressed in the traditional attire with the funky looking shorts the puff out at near the knees, brightly contrasting colours, red tights and feathered hats.

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I mean, these guys had it going on. I dunno whether it was because it was just the start of the parade, or if the participant’s mums just made them do it, instead of playing Halo 2 at their mate’s place, but either way, there wasn’t a huge amount of those walking in the parade that seemed overly pumped to be involved.

EXCEPT!

The guy with the flag that had “Fiorenza” on it.

He was having a wicked time. Throwing smiles to anyone and everyone that would look his way. He is the real MVP of the parade. My kinda guy.

We head to the wine bar, and we have a feeling that it is now, but regardless, it is pretty sick. We order something nice and light, and most importantly, within our budget! Haha. Its this real crisp and clean and real minimalist kinda vibe, and the way they have designed the whole layout of the place is awesome. We grab out seats out the back, and read out books while we drink and chat for a good half hour. Its the way to spend a casual arvo in Florence.

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We get back to doing what we do best, and start wandering through the streets of Florence again, and this time, we come across the markets that operate in conjunction with the parade. Its a pretty decent size, and there are all kinds of foods there. We get watching this old bloke and his mrs make this pistachio dessert-thingy. Its pretty much this caramelised, semi-crunchy dessert. We watch him start from scratch, mixing everything in the pot and pouring it out onto the edible waffle paper.

The best bit about making mates with people you have only just met, and can’t understand the language, and have a cultural barrier, and a huge age gap with, is that they give you a free taste. Thats not too bad. I mean, instead of him binning the edges that he trimmed off with this absolute mammoth of a knife, he gave us the edges to eat.

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What a lad.

Seriously though. This guy was all smiles and the kinda old bloke you wanna be like when you get old too.

We decide that we will head home as our feet are getting sore, and we’re a little tired cos of the Russian and the really loving environment he created at 4:30am this morning. However! We haven’t worked out what we are going to do for dinner. That is, until we passed the biggest toasties place, this side of Mars. Its called “IL Tosto”, We get our hands on them, and you can hardly get your hands around them. Coming in at 6 euro, its not too bad, but it is a feast of a toastie, and not something to tackle when you are unprepared.

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We get back to our hostel, and get to meet our new roomies. They are these two guys from Rome, one from South America, and the other from India, who are both studying on Italy. We get talking with them about language, cos pretty much everyone in Europe speaks a minimum of at least 17 languages. Among that conversation, the topic of welcomings comes up, and I tell them that in Australia, people will shorten everything they can, and that as a bi-product, “G’day mate. Hows it goin?” is the standard greeting, nation-wide.

The moment the “words” spilled from my mouth I was given looks of confusion and “What did you say?”

I look at them, and with every ounce of sincerity, ask “Have you never heard someone say that?”
“No. What is it?”. I genuinely cannot believe it. I thought that it was universally known as an Australian greeting. Obviously, not enough. I slow it right down and explain it to them, and when Bec gets back, I tell her that these guys have never heard such a thing.

Even she is astounded.

Come back for the next story,

Billy

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