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Florence, the dark side

Journal sketches Florence Train station

We sat on a luggage cart, Rose’s head resting on the handle while I slumped on my suitcase.

Actually it was a ski bag. A big, red, rectangular Norco ski bag, the kind with sections on the end for ski boots. But I wasn’t on a ski trip, I was in the Florence train station, with my mother-in-law, and I had just dragged that thing over cobblestone streets for hours, looking for a place to sleep. My shoulders ached, my feet hurt and I was covered in what felt like a thin veil of grey grime. It was almost 6 o’clock in the morning, Italian time.

Rose is my mother-in-law. This isn’t a story about how she ended up sleeping in a train station. Rose is the wild one. (You can read more about Rose’s adventurous spirit here.) This isn’t a story about my ridiculously heavy ski bag that I vowed that night to never travel with again. This is a story about living on the edge, because that’s when stories are generated.

Rose has met with her ‘tennis friends’ every Thursday morning for the past forty years. The foursome plays a game of doubles, then they head to a diner for soup, coffee and a good gossip. These ladies know each other’s offspring and spouses intimately – our ups and downs, weddings and birthing stories, renovations, travels and kid updates. Events turn into adventures, salaciously told between sips of coffee with cream. But I know that nothing beats that Thursday morning after Rose and I returned from our trip to England to visit her father… The ladies were probably expecting the quiet village stories involving long walks, pints in the pub, how her father ate meals on a militaristic schedule. The usual. Instead, she mixed things up.

On day two of the trip we popped into the high-street travel agent and booked cheap flights to Italy. My sister Lee was interning in Siena – why not visit her for a few days? We couldn’t get a flight to Florence, but Venice was available, and only two train trips away. We went for it.

Except our flight to Venice was four hours late. We arrived at 5pm, not 1pm. Boring people would have stayed put in Venice for the night. Not us. We caught a train to Bologna, waited there an hour, then caught another train to Florence. Siena was just a 30 minute train trip from Florence. We’d be tucked in our hotel beds before too long, and eating spaghetti with Lee by lunch. Bueno.

But trains and busses and car rental shops shut down at 8pm. Florence would be our last stop that night, a fact we learned upon arrival.

You already know that Rose and I cruised the streets of Florence for hours, Mary and Joseph style, my Norco bag dragging behind me, searching for a hotel room in busy late September. My journal tells me all hotels were ‘completo‘.

This particular journal spans the years 2000-2003. It’s a big, hardcover book, full of clippings, drawings and memories. It banged around in my purse, as they all have over the years. Thankfully I had it that night; what else is a girl to do when sitting on a luggage cart but draw and vent?

1:05 AM

…Not even the five star or the scary hotel had a room. So here we are, at the train station, waiting for the first train to Siena. Six hours to go. A man is here cleaning. A few backpackers are hanging out. A homeless man is sitting next to me. Rose is on the other side, reading her book. She is so cheerful, I can’t believe it. I’m more grumpy than she is.

Rose spotted a nun walking towards us. She thought she might be handing out sandwiches to stranded people like us. But then the nun asked us for a smoke. A ‘cigaretta.’

We’re being kicked out of the station. It’ll open again at 5. 


…Florence is finally waking up. We’ve been to MacDonald’s. We hung out with our new friends from LA – Raymond and Chris. Rose bought us all filet-o-fishes. They told us about being DJ’s in LA. Rose shared a smoke with Chris and told him she was a grandmother. 

The bus station opens at 6am. That’s our best bet.

…It’s amazing how people survive on the streets. Finding friends, strength in numbers. The night is probably their only peaceful and quiet time. Soon it will be a zoo in here…

We made it to Siena. We drank orange juice and sipped coffee in the square while we waited for our hotel room. Rose napped in the sun.

I love knowing where I will be sleeping each night. I need to know where – and when- my next meal will be. It’s my boring side, but it makes me feel safe. But sometimes I break free, especially when I’m with Rose. Someone has to take one for the team to add a little spice to the Thursday morning gossip sessions.