If travel doesn’t broaden the mind, it certainly widens the eyes. This has been a great and adventurous Easter holiday. We went to visit friends in Brighton for a couple of days and then, after deciding it was time to make a longheld dream of mine come true, we went to Florence.
Arriving at Pisa airport, we grabbed our luggage and then I spotted two armed security men opening up the suitcase of a seemingly disinterested man. I couldn’t help it, I should have just walked off, but I was entranced by the event unfolding in front of my eyes. The suitcase was opened up delicately as if by a surgeon performing an intricate surgery. From its innards was born a plastic bag. It was sliced open and unfurled to reveal another bag inside full of white powder. Oh my god, DRUGS, this was a drugs bust. By now totally transfixed, I’d lost track of time and space and was gawping. Another small parcel wrapped in brown paper…unravelled…MORE DRUGS. Eyes on stalks at this point, I couldn’t believe the nonchalance of the traveller in the face of such big big trouble.
A small tap on my arm and I span round – Miniminx was desperate to get out of the place and I had no idea where the exit was. Oh, hang on a minute, right by the drugs bust. We walked past. Welcome to Italia!
We sauntered over the to foreign exchange till and I asked for 100 Euro.
‘Ciao, how can I help?’
’100 Euros please’
‘You buy 100 Euro and we take 21 Euro’
‘We take 21 Euro from you’
Blimey I thought, what a rip off.
‘It’s ok, I will leave it, thanks’
We found an ATM and headed to get the train to Florence. There was no child option on the machine so I paid for two full price adult tickets and waited for the train, desperate to reach the end of our journey and hoping that our first 10 minutes in the country would not set the tone for the rest of the trip.
It had, and it did. Having left the welcoming arms of myhotel in Brighton – our space age rooms with iPod surround system, and general mollycoddling, that no sane person would turn their nose up at – we arrived tired, hot, sweaty and hungry at the wrong train station and then managed to get to Firenze SMN and into a cab. It was only 10 Euros to the hotel which seemed okay, but then as we walked around town the next day, we realised the journey was a short walk and that we had been driven around town on a long detour to make up the cab fare. Rotten luck.
We checked into our hotel, set within an old Palace with many original features (ie. nearly but not quite on the verge of falling down). The room was fantastic with double height ceilings and a view over the River Arno. It was decidedly low tech. I have to admit I was by now in the throes of culture shock.
Having settled in, it was time to go and get some proper Italian food and see some sights. The food was awful – Miniminx had a watery pizza and I had a tuna salad all for the princely sum of 35 Euros. Oh well, I thought, we’re here so let’s enjoy.
I was stunned by the orgy of ancient art on display and was keen to get stuck into a few museums. I certainly hadn’t banked up on the sniggering and tittering that would be bubbling up just below shoulder height. The ‘sights’ garnered quite a reaction from Miniminx, in fact a total gigglefest. A city of wall to wall statues of naked men – how dumb could I be? It soon became obvious this trip of enlightenment and study of Renaissance art was not going to go quite the way I planned it.
Light relief soon came in the shape of a horse and cart tour.
‘Go on one of those?’
‘Better check how much first’ I walked over to a man in charge who sent me to someone else.
‘It’s 50 Euro for fifteen minutes’ she said.
’50 darling is too much’
‘No Mum it’s fiffff teeeeen’
‘Are you sure?’
We hopped in. It was great and we enjoyed it. The sun was shining and the lady driver gave a quick history lesson as we clip clopped through the cobbled streets and along the river. All too soon it came to an end and yes, the fare was 50 Euros.
Unperturbed by the continual empyting of my purse, we dawdled around and gorged ourselves on Italian fare. Miniminx was in her element – pasta, pizza, icecream in no particular order.
Our last day was really sunny and I’d promised Miniminx pizza in a piazza in Pisa. So we went and mooched, munched and meandered around. We were approached by street sellers with fake designer watches and plastic jewels draped on their arms. ‘Ciao bling bling’ was their mantra.
After some last minute shopping, we headed out for dinner and giggled our way through three courses. Back at the hotel it was time to pack. We had an early flight and a 5.30 start. I began to realise my dream of Florence that I’d nurtured for years had become a bizarre reality. The romantic vision of the Merchant Ivory classic Room with a View was long gone.
Instead it was replaced by a memorable experience and characteristic of our lives and noone else’s. Our first night in Florence was spent applying Hedrin (at least I got it duty free) and then I had a cheese induced nightmare about Jamie Oliver – I woke up screaming (and probably scared the living daylights out of the other hotel guests). I lost my bankcard so had to get money wired over, that was a bit hairy but we pulled through. The romantic street life I’d imagined was in reality teeming with hordes of tourists. Huge groups of them were wearing yellow or blue or red baseball caps according to their tour party and were herded around like cattle. Most of the food was pure cliche and the market stalls full of tat. People were very arrogant, often pushing us off the pavement and unceremoniously into the gutter. My shopping fantasy (Prada, Prada, Prada) transmuted into a trip to a pharmacy for facewash and bubblebath and as you know my culture vulture ambition collapsed into a fit of giggles. Amid this hubbub of chaos, a Mother and Daughter had a whale of a time and as you can see from the picture, a pretty nice view too.
Then began the journey back. We arrived at the airport for sunrise and after several coffees boarded the plane. And then home to a pristine house and all order replaced with chaos within five minutes; suitcases strewn around the place, bizarre purchases unwrapped and tossed aside, a doormat full of mail rifled through, yes, messiness is our middle name.
Time to wake up the house to our friendly chatter and din. Music on, kettle on, tv very loud, shoes off and then the big post flight, slump on the sofa….
Now it’s the eve of the new school term, there’s a year’s supply of Easter eggs waiting to be eaten. A freshly filled fridge, a roast dinner demolished, skimmed through Sunday papers are folded untidily. The slosh and whir of the dishwasher and washing machine says we’re back in the business of domesticity.
Sunshine has been streaming through the windows today, the blossoms are shedding their petals while the lush greenery unfurls itself.
High energy kids called across the garden fences…
‘When did you get back?’
‘Where did you go?’
‘When are you coming to play?’
‘See you at schooool!’
Oh boo hoo. It’s over, the Easter holidays are at an end and already it feels like Summer is here. And in the words of Miniminx ‘There will be no pizza, pasta or icecream for a very long time…’