My train to Florence was about 4 hours. There was a switch at about the 3-hour mark, which is when I met Gilly, Amada, and Johannes. Gilly and Amanda were from California, and Johannes was from Germany. We all talked for the entire hour, but we were mostly interested in Johannes' stories. His mom was Russian, his dad was Czech, and his fiancťe was Japanese. He had studied and lived just about everywhere imaginable, and was getting ready to go study in Antarctica next semester. He claims there's a city on the ice that has about 500 permanent residents. He also said he'll send me an e-mail with a picture of it. He might have been one of the more interesting people I talked to. I wish the train would have been longer than an hour.
Once in to town, Gilly and Amanda were going to the hostel, and I was headed to the hotel recommended to me by the guy in Paris. I would have stayed at the hostel, but at this point, I'd given the number of the hotel to about 6 different people, so I needed to stay there. The hotel was unmarked, meaning that there's no sign outside indicating itís a hotel. I found the address, and there was a buzzer. I rang, and someone let me in. The lady who ran the hotel didnít speak a single word of English. Not a word. As I was trying to ask for a room, another couple came in, fluent in both English and Italian. They translated for me that the lady was saying that there's only one room left, and it was a 4-person room. She didnít want to rent it to a single person, and I really didnít need a room that big. I asked the couple to translate that I needed to leave a message for the people who would be calling. It dawned on me about an hour later that I left a note written in English for a lady who only spoke Italian to read to someone who would be calling, asking to speak to me in English. Even if they had a single room, it would have been impossible to get messages. I left the note, in hopes that the people I was supposed to meet would stop by and see it. As I was leaving, the lady offered me a bedroom in her house if I wanted it. If I didnít have plans to stay out late, I would have jumped at the offer. I needed to stay somewhere I felt comfortable coming and going as I pleased, and could get a message. The hostel was out, as messages would be tough, besides, I wanted a nice room. I found 3 hotels that all had triple rooms, and none of them would rent one to me. I explained that I had been looking for about an hour for a room, was getting desperate, and my bag was heavy. None of them would rent me one. I couldnít believe it. What difference did it make if they got the 100,000 Lire from one person or three???? They told me to go out and find two other people and then come back. Sheesh. Finally, I found a really nice hotel that was a little pricey, but had a room. It was also 100,000 lire (only about $58), but the room was awesome. High ceilings, queen size bed, a TV with nothing I could understand, and maybe the biggest bathroom I've ever seen. Well, almost.
After setting up in my room, I set out to get something to eat and call Manda's roommate to let her know my new number. I had assumed that Manda had left London by then as that was the plan. While I was out, I ran in to Amanda and Gilly. Florence was small enough where I kept running in to people. Well, not that it was small, but the areas people hung out in were rather centralized. They were headed to dinner, so I joined. We went to a REAL nice place, which was exquisite and had awesome food. It only cost 20,000 ($11), and that included everything. I tasted the specialty of Florence, which is this white beans dish. It was ok.
Afterwards, we went to an "American" bar, which the guidebooks claimed was "awesome, fun, a great time, etc". It was called the Red Garter. If you go to Florence, avoid it. The bar was pretty beat, but then again, it was a little early. We asked the guy if there was band coming in and he said yes. We decided to stay. The guys outnumbered the girls in this bar about 20:1, and here I was with two girls. I knew it was only a matter of time before more guys came up. Sure enough, this guy, Martin, saunters over. Turns out he's on vacation, and is from Germany. He lives in Stuttgart (where they make Porsches), and is a guitar builder for Warwick guitars. He told us the story of how when he decided he wanted to make guitars, he went to the builder, and asked to be an apprentice, and was then taught. Sounded so different than the "go to college, send out rťsumť's" way we do it here. Anyway, he's built guitars for Prince (or 'the Artist') and Garth Brooks to name a few. He spoke perfect English.
As we were all 4 talking, some other guy comes up and says to Amanda "Excuse me, but donít you go to University of California Berkley?". A look of shock came over both of their faces. They knew each other from school. His name was Brian and he was with two other girls, Adriana and Lauren. We all talked for quite sometime, and decided we'd all hang out together the next day.
The 'band' eventually showed up. It was one guy who had a guitar, a beat machine and a CD player. He'd put in his favorite CD, turn on the beat machine, and sort of sing along with the words while playing his guitar. It was awful. He butchered songs by Nirvana, U2, and the stones, just to name a few.
The next day, I woke up, and found a phone and called Manda's place. It turns out she hadn't left yet, and the plans had changed. She was now coming down on the 30th, and only coming with one other guy. Oh well, that was fine. I gave her the new number, and we figured we'd meet up.
I decided to do some light hiking as my plans to meet up with the Berkley crew wasn't until 4pm. I looked around Florence, picked a pretty tall point, and started heading towards it. I turned out to be a really nice peak. There was actually a footpath that led to the top, as well as a road that led up the back of it. As far as I could tell, of all the tourists up there, I was the only one who didnít drive. I think it gives you more of an appreciation of a view when you walk to it. It was cool. I sat atop the peak and read a little more of my book. Around 2:30, I headed back to meet up with my friends.
We had a rather relaxed night of walking around and going out again to a really nice dinner. During our conversations, Brain, Amanda and Gilly decided they'd go to Rome for new years. There was still 4 of us, Me, Martin, Adriana and Lauren. The girls couldnít leave for Rome either as they had a friend coming in as well. Also during our conversations, I learned that Pisa was less than an hour by train. I figured it would make a nice day trip to check it out.