So where was I? Oh, yes, sitting on the suitcases. Turns out, Tony’s car reservation was actually NOT a real reservation, and when we tried to run our debit card to rent the car, it was declined of course, since we’d withdrawn all the money from our American account so we could have cash in Italy. You can’t rent a car with any amount of cash, apparently, at least not any amount we were prepared to offer.
So after a few hours of tense deliberation, we rode the bus into Torino, spent the night there, worked out the car problem, and were driving down the autostrada just 24 hours later than we had planned. Our idea was to drive down the coast, hit the leaning tower of Pisa, and arrive in Firenze with plenty of time to check into our apartment by the 8:00 p.m. cutoff. Of course, everything takes longer when you are jetlagged in a foreign country. Especially when that country is Italy. We stopped for lunch in Genova, and to change money. Unfortunately, none of the five banks we asked wanted our dollars. This was another problem, since the apartment rental agency wanted cash on arrival, and banks are open for somewhere around five hours per day in Italy. We continued down the autostrada, stressed out about the problem and later than we’d hoped, due to not factoring in the time it would take to stand in line at all those banks.
By six o’clock we were in Pisa. We took our obligatory silly photos holding up the tower, had our first gelato in Italy, and headed back toward the car. Luckily, there was a money changer right next to the gelato shop, and she actually had a good rate. So Tony changed money and we hopped back in the car. Of course, we didn’t have sim cards for our phones yet, so he had to ask a perfect stranger to let him make a call on his cell phone (do pay phones exist here? we’re not sure) and tell the rental agency we were on the way. He said he would wait till nine o’clock, and if we didn’t make it, we’d just have to get a hotel.
We didn’t want a hotel. We wanted to be home. Being in a hurry never improves our navigational accuracy. At the turnoff to Firenze, we went the wrong way. Two wrong turns later, we found ourselves unaccountably on the road we were supposed to take (thus disproving the old adage that two wrongs don’t make a right. Several lefts actually DO make a right). After a few more missed turns (every time we entered the old city we lost all sense of direction), we managed to park a block from our new apartment. It was ten to nine.
Florence really is a lovely old town. We live in the Centro Storico (Historic Center), but on the opposite side of the river from the Duomo and all the famous museums. So the shops around our house actually sell vegetables, bread, meat, and other useful items, rather than just jewelry, expensive clothes, and antique furniture. We also have a nice park right around the corner, one of the few public parks in the old city. So we feel very pleased with our apartment. We pretty much remember all the Italian we ever learned, and hope we’ll soon improve upon it.
We’ve been puttering about a bit, but I can’t do justice to a description of Florence yet, since we’ve been mainly occupied with food, shelter, and things like that. We did, however, get our very first Italian easter egg for Family Home Evening treat last night. I hope you’re not picturing a little plastic one. In Italy, an easter egg is a gigantic chocolate affair wrapped in cellophane with a surprise inside its hollow center. The shop windows at this time of year are filled with fanciful displays of them, ranging from the small foil-wrapped variety to huge ones decorated all over with chocolate flowers and weighing in at a kilo or more. We even saw some real blown eggs re-filled with chocolate.
We were unfortunately unable to find raw milk. I guess it doesn’t exist in downtown Florence. But we got some pasteurized milk, which my kefir grains (smuggled through customs in a baby bottle, courtesy of Grammy) are happily culturing. More news later!