Ben and Marissa left their jobs in January 2014 to do some long-term travel in Europe and test their 12-year relationship by spending all their time together 24/7 for four months. 2014 saw them visit Ireland, Scotland, England, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of these adventurers, in Italy.
Today we’re leaving Minori, the fishing village on the Amalfi Coast where we’ve spent the last 10 days. It rained for eight of those, so we’re happy to at least have a little bit of sunshine for the beautiful (but terrifying) bus ride along the cliffs and out of town. We go to an ATM (bankomat in Italy) and it won’t let me take out cash on my debit card. Hmm, this same machine worked a week ago. I take out a cash advance on my credit card, and the first conclusion I draw is that my debit card has been de-magnetized. This should make for an interesting few days, considering almost everything we have done in Italy so far has been cash only. (See also: 11 Tricks to Using ATMs Abroad)
8:00 am We wander over to the bus stop. There’s only one road through town, and lucky for us the stop is right across the street from the apartment we’ve been staying in. Our bus is late, which makes me nervous – I don’t want to miss our train into Florence.
9:00 am Bus arrives and we get on after stashing our luggage below; it’s getting to tourist season now and it’s standing room only. We guard our pockets and backpacks, as the last time we took this bus, Ben was pick-pocketed and we lost his ID, along with debit and credit cards. He only had €15 cash and the passports luckily were elsewhere, so nothing serious came of the theft. But it was still a hassle and made us feel pretty vulnerable.
(Editor’s note: I understand! I had my purse stolen in Cusco, and it was no fun).
10:00 am Finally we arrive at the train station in Salerno and Ben goes to buy our tickets while I wait with our luggage. Approached by a few people with various questions, I am wary of pickpockets now and am on alert. I also know very little Italian, so answer with as few words as possible.
11:00 am We board our train, and I plan to sleep on the way – it’s a four hour ride. But our fellow passengers are all talking and besides the noise, they’re rather entertaining. Italian is such a lyrical language, and even a mundane conversation can sound beautiful. The view out the train window is just too good to sleep through.
3:00 pm Arrive in Florence and get lost on our way to meet our host Francesco in the Oltrarno neighbourhood. Dragging our carry-on roller luggage across the cobbled streets, through puddles and around dog shit, we curse ourselves for being too cheap to invest in backpacking gear. We arrive a half-hour late, but Francesco doesn’t complain. He shows us the studio apartment and tells us where to get WiFi (in the nearest piazza, Santo Spirito) and where the good, non-touristy, restaurants are. We thank him and take a quick nap before cleaning ourselves up for dinner.
7:30 pm We find a trattoria with a prix fixe menu, cheap Chianti and good TripAdvisor reviews so we head inside for some traditional Tuscan fare. Italian dinners are usually comprised of a primi (first course, pasta), secondi (second course, meat) and finish with an espresso. I’m vegetarian so I order two primi (Tuscan vegetable stew and gnocchi with salad), and the server doesn’t seem to mind – he understands when I say only “io sono vegetariana – due primi por favore?”
9:30 pm We take the laptop into the piazza and watch the cafes fill with people drinking wine and eating; we Skype my mom, who I haven’t talked to in a couple of weeks, on the free city WiFi. After half an hour the connection times out and we’re cut off mid-sentence.
10:30 pm We head back to the apartment and set up the pull-out couch. I fall asleep immediately but Ben is up most of the night pacing back and forth and shivering from the cold symptoms he has and the sunburn he got on his back a few days ago in Minori; I find this both terrifying and funny (I have never seen anyone have a reaction like this to a sunburn). I make him take an Advil and it seems to help a bit.
7:00 am We wake to the sound of birds on the window sill. After showering and getting dressed, we wander to a nearby bar for cafe y cornato, then head towards the train station to buy our bus tickets to Avignon, Provence for later in the week.
10:00 am After getting lost again, we finally find the ticketing booth, where we learn that the €200 fare is cash-only. After trying cash advance at a couple bankomats, it looks like there’s something wrong with my credit card now.
12 noon I call my Canadian bank from a crappy payphone in Piazza Santo Spirito, next to a busy cafe. The phone won’t dial a collect call and I have to use my other credit card to pay ($300 CAD that I will later contest and not be reimbursed for). Turns out my travel note on the cards expired. After almost 45 min on the phone, and my father-in-law back in Canada going in person to our bank branch, the travel note is re-issued, credit limit upped, and I can again take out cash advances.
2:00 pm We finally go back and get our bus tickets but the attendant spells our last name wrong. When we show her, she shrugs and crosses out the spelling error and corrects in pen. I hope they still let us on the bus with tickets that don’t match our passports. It’s an international trip but since we aren’t leaving the EU I doubt it will be an issue.
We spend the afternoon sightseeing. Today we see the outside of the duomo, the ponte vecchio, find a gorgeous rose garden on the hillside just outside the city walls, and an outdoor replica of David, which stands in a parking lot.
5:00 pm We take a nap, knowing that we want to go out and walk the city at night.
7:00 pm We head back out and have some gelato at a famous shop on the river. It’s expensive but worth it. We walk around and look at the sights at night; the city seems like a completely different place in the dark. We contemplate going to see a movie (I’ve wanted to see The Grand Budapest Hotel for a while) but decide to save our money and go when we’re back in Canada in July.
8:00 am Today we decide to go see the inside of the Duomo. We meet a mother and daughter from London (where we visited five weeks ago) while we wait in line and trade travel stories, and laugh about the mayor in our hometown, Rob Ford, who has been making international headlines lately for his erratic behaviour. They take a photo of the two of us together, one of few that we will have taken all summer.
1:00 pm We wander around near the duomo for a while and try to decide which museums we will see in Florence; there are so many and it’s difficult to choose. After a while we wind up sitting on the fountain in the Piazza Santo Spirito again, this time with a bottle of wine and two glasses.
8:00 pm We watch the sun set over the Arno from a bridge; the city looks like a romantic movie set in this golden light. We walk around town for a few more hours, and a man approaches us selling single roses. We say no, grazie but he insists, and we say no again. Street vendors are everywhere in Europe and they approach us every day; it’s starting to get really annoying.
Today we take a day trip to Fiesole, a small town on the outskirts of the city with amazing views over Florence. It’s a short bus ride but feels like a different world, and we wander up the steep streets, through a monastery, and spend some time just looking out over the valley below. We don’t look at our watches all day.
10:00 am Today we go to the Bargello, the national museum in Florence (even this is cash only), and look at too many famous sculptures to name. Ben sneaks a selfie with Michelangelo’s David-Apollo.
2:30 pm We wander into a prosciutteria and order wine and plates; for a meat shop, they make a decent veggie plate. Between our limited Italian and the workers’ broken English, we’re able to have a couple laughs.
4:30 pm After lunch we head back to the rose garden and nap in the sun for a bit. I think this is my favourite place in Florence.
9:00 am Today is our last full day in Italy, and we finally go in to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito church to see the crucifix made by a 17-year old Michelangelo as a thank you for letting him learn about anatomy on cadavers.
11:30 am We head to the mercato centrale, where Ben tries his coveted lampredatto and I drink some fresh juice from a vegan shop, which I wasn’t expecting to find.
1:00 pm I purchase some new leggings from H&M to replace my old ones which are falling apart (and frankly getting too tight, I guess from all the pasta and gelato). We walk around and relax for the rest of the day, and wind up drinking in the Piazza Santo Spirito again.
12:00 am I’m starting to feel homesick; it’s almost two months that we’ve been traveling. Maybe it’s the stress of dealing with the wallet theft and my card issues but I cry for a good hour before I’m able to fall asleep.
9:00 am We find an American bakeshop and cafe, which likely exists thanks to the many young American women who study art history in Florence. Since I’ve been feeling homesick we decide to have drip coffee (really difficult to find in Italy) and bagel sandwiches, followed by mini cupcakes. I spend some time uploading photos to the laptop and backing them up on a external hard drive.
1:00 pm We hike up into the hills, past our rose garden, to San Miniato al Monte, one of the oldest churches in Florence and enjoy the cool interior as an escape from the hot sun. We sit outside for a while and enjoy the view.
7:00 pm Time to pack and walk to the train station where we will catch our bus to France.
10:00 pm The bus is an hour late and there is much confusion and anger; a man swears at me in Italian when I get on the bus before him (we were the first ones at the stop, so I’m unsure of the exact basis for his anger toward me). The only two seats left together are in the back row and do not recline; we sit behind a mother and her baby, both of their seats reclined all the way back so that they are basically sleeping on our laps. The mother snores for most of the night and the baby wakes periodically, hungry or with a dirty diaper, which the mother changes on the seat. The man beside Ben sleeps on his shoulder.
We doze off now and then but are awake for most of the trip, nearly 12 hours in total. It’s bittersweet to be leaving Italy; both maddening and wonderful at the same time.
Ben and Marissa are spending some time with family in Canada, while they decompress from the travel grind and decide on their next steps. Marissa is working towards a location-independent career and their next destination might be New Orleans. Check out their adventures at Ben and Marissa Do.