Perhaps it was last weekend’s memorable Casa party, or just nostalgia of my freshman year, but this week I’m sharing my first foray into spontaneous international travel. My upperclass partner-in-crime had gone abroad to Florence, and one day while in my sad and deranged state mourning her loss, I serendipitously came across a very cheap flight to Florence. My roommate certainly thought I was crazy, but his approving “go for it, Johnny” was all I needed. Logically, I booked the flight right in the middle of the quarter — Valentine’s Day weekend. Soon enough my phone was “lost,” I came down with a “really bad cold” and I winged my way across the Atlantic for some wine, gnocchi and gelato.
I’ll never forget that memorable flight to Munich on a Lufthansa A346. I had pulled an all-nighter right before in order to finish up some assignments, or maybe I was “getting on Europe time,” of course warranting an extra bout of “socializing.” If you show up exhausted to a long-haul flight, you’ll be more likely to sleep, right? Just be sure to stay awake for the meal service!
I was a bit taken aback when I was greeted in German upon embarking the aircraft. Was my German heritage fooling this flight crew? Or perhaps it was the flair of my European style. Regardless, I nodded, pretending to know exactly what the flight attendants were saying, and played along with their game. Later, I flawlessly ordered ein bier. Knowing fully well the need to rehydrate in the dry cabin air conditions, I ordered wasser. There is a choice of waters? Remember German conversation class, Johnny! Ahh of course — mineralwasser bitte! Huge mistake. Sparkling water — not the most rehydrating. Not losing face, I pretended as if sparkling water were exactly what I had wanted, all the while growing ever thirstier. Let’s just say that after 11 hours of this behavior the descent and re-pressurization was less than pleasant. Stupid freshman Johnny.
Upon arrival in Florence it was night, I overcame my fear of taxi drivers, attempted phoning my friend to no avail, and yet, soon with crisp Euros in hand and a less crisp Google printout map, I met my friend for a glass of Chianti on the Duomo steps. What I was thinking not bringing a jacket to Europe in February, I may never know, but after a few days and the acquisition of a quintessentially Italian puff jacket with fur collar, I “walked and talked” like a “local.”*
*(Just my perception, not actually true).
Florence is small, so in a couple of days you can hit up all the must sees — sweeping views from the top the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, the Medici palace, Galileo’s house, kiss your sweetheart in the Boboli Garden. Leave a bit of staring time at the Uffizi’s Botticellis, not to mention the required appreciation of the masculine beauty of Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia. Note that the Academia, as well as many other museums, is closed on Mondays. A free and always open gallery of Renaissance sculptures is the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria. Be sure to check out my favorite work — Rape of the Sabine Woman — from a variety of angles. You can easily and cheaply subsist on gelato and panini.
Head up to Venice, just a few hours by train, and lose yourself in the fairytale land amongst candy cane striped poles, bridges, and canals. Water taxis are great, but be sure you know exactly which one you’re supposed to get on! The Modern Art museum is awesome. Browse Venetian glass shops, but remember it’s tacky to take too many pictures. If you go during carneval>, be prepared to don a mask, ball gown or cape, and revel in the carnivalesque celebration. Remember: no white socks, tennis shoes or shorts. The dress code is always trendy chic. Scarves in the winter are a must. If it’s sunny, you should probably invest in a pair of brightly colored sunglasses, but try not to pay more than €5. Also, as I’ve learned, don’t jump into other people’s “peacock displays.” Yes, I was wearing my lime green one-piece ski suit with a Brazilian flag cape. No, the sparkly purple-feathered person did not particularly appreciate my jumping in front, diverting the tourist attention unto myself. I can only imagine the look of disgust below that white porcelain mask.
Power trips may be short, but they are exciting, if you are up to the challenge. I’m still happy with my decision to go to Italy as a birthday present instead of throwing an insane birthday party for myself. Yes, considering my naïveté, my trip should have been a disaster, but working against the odds, I learned some travel lessons that hopefully you won’t have to. In the end I ended up dancing in a club alongside Coolio, which I consider an epic win.
Johnny wants to know your favorite gelato flavor. Email him at [email protected].