After just barely catching our train at Interlaken, Switzerland, we began south through small Swiss towns to the Italian border. After the first stop we were scolded by a ticket checker because we had changed the date on one of our 15 travel slots on our Eurail passes because I had mistakenly got the date wrong. I argued that we hadn’t gotten the spot stamped like our previous slots so we should’ve been fine. He was not happy with that, and told us to get off at Spiez, Switzerland to get our passes revalidated (later found out that altering any of the dates voids the pass). So we got our passes revalidated and asked the guy who did it when the next train going south to Italy was. He said that all trains going to Italy required a reservation, and that all trains going to Italy for the next day were entirely booked full. This was unacceptable. He said we could try our luck with just hopping on the next train and standing without a reservation. This ended up being okay even though it was a little nerve racking not knowing if we were going to be thrown off the train before our final destination. So on we went through Brig Switzerland and into Domodossola, Italy. The train apparently had lots of people who were in our same predicament. It was super packed with the entire aisle of each car completely packed with standing persons. We luckily got some seats. The difference in land and architecture from Switzerland was instant. The homes were more earth colored, more compact, and made for living in a hotter climate. The landscapes looked beautifully mediterranean; flat plains with settlements alongside smaller streams, with the mountains from where we came providing a backdrop in the background. Onward past Stresa and Milan, Italy we went. At Milan we made a transition to another train, which we stood on for the whole duration for, and after the 2nd italian city stop after Milan, I was relieved because then if they kicked us off for not having a reservation, it would be at Florence where we needed to be. We showed our passes to one ticket checker and she let us stand in the entry car where we were. I enjoyed the view of the small Italian hills and mountains more without worrying about that.
In Florence, we had a rough idea where the school was, based on an email I could access without wifi. It was about 9PM by the time we wandered into the building we needed to be. We stared at the door which had a passcode until someone let us in, and we were given a brief run down on scheduling, orientation the next day, and our apartment before being given our keys. Our apartment was a mile or so away and up 4 stories of stairs. Inside we met one of our 2 room mates, Salasi, who is from Boston. He had been in West Africa for some period of time before he came to Italy. I had my first italian pizza at a decent restaurant nearby. Jordan, from Eau Claire, would arrive later that night. Sleep felt good after that hectic day of travel.
But of course we couldn’t sleep in, because a full day of orientation was at 9AM the following morning. It was in a nice venue called the Odeon Theater. We went through a lot of basic safety stuff, which included some fun horror stories about past students from LDM (Lorenzo de Medici, our school), and some tips from a local police official. We also got information on school led trips to Rome, Cinque Terre, and the French Riviera. We considered it; each trip included private bus, ferry, a couple meals, and usually a nice hotel. But each of these trips were $330, and as nice as those things would have been, we figured we could definitely do it cheaper on our own and at our own pace, especially with our rail passes.
Orientation continued at another LDM building not too far from here for Wisconsin attendees of the school, where we got info on classes, academic policy, different services, etc; The usual boring stuff that everyone hates.
LDM later hosted a welcome dinner at a really really fancy hotel that was for sure a royal palace sometime ago, as it was adorned with expensive mosaics, artwork, statutes, exotic carpets, you name it. The dinner included unlimited orderves, which was honestly some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. I couldn’t even begin to describe what they were except perhaps the finest Italian food that I have had here. This included a voucher for one glass of very nice red or white white.
I used the next few days to relax a little bit after so much travel from the previous weeks. I explored various parts of the city, including a nice park next to an old fort, complete with a large pond and dozens of over affectionate Italian couples. I also went to the Piazza de Michalleangelo which has a fantastic view of the city. It’s been a regular destination for me every few days. I made the necessary trip grocery shopping this first weekend, and ate at a couple local eateries with Gelato, which is as amazing as it was hyped up to me. We didn’t have class on Monday because of a national holiday for the founding of the Republic, and so Jacob and I went to see “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at the same theater we had orientation in, and which I’ll have a review up of at some point.
Arrival in Florence was nice because we were finally in a more permanent living arrangement and could go grocery shopping for cheaper food. I could wander around the city more and get a real feel for everything. Florence, simply because of the time I will spend here, will be the city in Europe I take the most out of from every nook and cranny.
I will make a couple more blog posts on my times in Florence sometime soon and of what I’ve been doing, including my classes and general observations of the florentine culture.