To try to describe all the details of the day leading up to New Years Eve, and the events that followed would be impossible. If you've read since the beginning, you'll remember that I mentioned that I was 3 days without sleep, and sort of brain dead afterwards. This is about where it all begins. Well, the sleeplessness begins tomorrow, because I got back from Pisa on the 30th. Regardless, my memory of this point on gets foggy, as the sleep deprivation took a lot out of me.
I returned from Pisa early evening, and met up with Martin to grab a bite to eat. We had a little dinner and decided to head out for a few beers. We found one bar that was ok, but not much going on, so we ventured elsewhere. We were walking aimlessly by many bars, and they all looked the same. We really couldnít decide which one to go in, as from the outside, they all looked dead. Regardless, we passed at least 20 bars before we picked one at random. That turned out to be where Adriana and Lauren were. They had met three guys from Holland, who turned out to be some of my favorite people I met. They were also joined by other 3 Californians, 2 brothers and a sister. The sister was the one Adriana had to meet up with. There were also two other guys from the US who joined the group and another Californian girl who met up with us later. For those playing along at home, thatís a total of 12 people who really donít know each other from a bar of soap, hanging out as if we're best friends. It was very cool. After we all had a few beers, we decided to leave the bar in search of somewhere a little more happening. We knew of a place called Zoom. We went to check it out.
Zoom was alright. It would have been a better club had it been more packed. We (the 12 of us) represented over 50% of the customers, but they had good music, and we enjoyed it. Well, we must have, we were there until after 3:30am. They close at 2am, but as we were buying a lot of drinks and tipping well, they stayed open.
The next day, I awake with a splitting headache, only to find there's no message from Manda who was supposed to arrive yesterday. I call her place and she answers. She says that she's now coming down alone, by herself. Furthermore, the people that she was going to stay with were her friends' friends, so she's coming just to see me. This wasnít making sense. 20 of her best friends are going to Amsterdam for new years and she's coming to Florence to see someone that she's known for 4 hours? I was pretty sure I was getting set up. Some sort of practical joke of Grants, maybe? Was he behind this? She said she was coming in at 9:30 pm. Her plane would go in to Pisa, and her train got in to Florence at 9:30. She didnít have a train number, she just knew 9:30pm. Something was fishy. I agreed to meet her at the station at 9:30, thinking that I would be the butt of some joke, waiting there as the rest of the town partied. Or was everyone from London coming? Who knew? The only reservation I had was that this city was going to get crazy, and I wanted to be with my friends. If I left them to go to the station, there's a chance that I might not find them, and spend new years alone. Yuck.
Well, I walked around the rest of the day, finding tall things and climbing them. This time it was the bell tower. Again, the plans were to meet at 4, so I had plenty of time. I went out and bought: 1 bottle of vodka for our planned pre-party (which in French is called a prechauffee, which I think is a much cooler way of saying pre-party), one bottle of champagne for new years, and one bottle of really, really expensive wine for my parents for a Christmas gift.
We began our prechauffee at about 7pm. As planned, we had all brought some sort of drink. We basically had no destination and wandered through the streets, drinking. People were gearing up for this night pretty hard. I didnít know until then, that pretty much anyone who is in about a hundred-mile radius of Florence comes to Florence for new years. The only bigger party town is Rome, and thatís about 200 miles away. Everyone in town (including us) were shouting "a goudi" which loosely translated means "best wishes".
At about 9pm, I confirmed that I'd meet the group back at the bar we were in front of at 11pm. I had to go to the train station. I was nervous because at this point, my whole group was pretty drunk, and I could see them forgetting to meet there at 11. I had to risk it. I went to the train station. 9:30 came and went, as did 9:45 and 9:55 when I decided to leave. I'd been had. I went to my hotel to grab my bottle of champagne, and was going to leave a note at the front desk with the name of the bar in case she showed up. At this point, the phone rings, and the guy at the desk says "its for you". It was Manda, in the train station. I told her I was at the Palazzo Vecchio Hotel. She relayed that to the guy that she had just met to help her find her way. He said he knew where it was. I should hope so, its only right across the street from the train station. About 20 minutes later, after she doesnít show, we get another call. Manda says over the phone, "I'm at the Palazzo Becchio. Where's the hotel?". Sheesh. The Palazzo Becchio was on the exact other side of town. I got directions from my doorman, and set off running. It was a good 15-minute run. Luckily it was near the bar. We looked for a hotel for her stuff, but EVERYTHING in town was booked. I told her to just put her stuff in my place. This meant we had to run to the other side of town, and then run back. Luckily, our friends were outside the bar, and I told them it'd be a few more minutes.
At this point, Manda and I dEcided it was time to party! We met back with the crowd at the bar, and headed to the Palazzo Becchio, which is actually a very large square capable of holding about 3000 people. We probably had about 5000 smushed in there. On the way to the square, there were numerous guys that would approach Manda with romantic interests. She is a rather attractive young lady, with some pronounced features that seemed to attract every guy within a 10-mile radius. In order to deter them, she simply said that her and I were dating. Most of these guys were not afraid to ask me if I was willing to share. Had she really been my girlfriend, I likely would have been pissed, but it really just amused me. We simply said no and laughed.
When we got to the square, we packed in like sardines. Everyone was crammed in this plaza. At the stroke of midnight, everyone who had a bottle of champagne (about one out of every two people) shook it and shot it up, shaking it wildly. Champagne shot up everywhere and it rained champagne for a good 30 seconds. There was no where you could go to avoid it if you wanted to. Right after this, people started lighting fireworks. Loud ones. Rather dangerous in a close crowd. They started exploding everywhere at peoples feet. The whole crowd moved back to form a big circle and people threw the fireworks in there. After a couple minutes, the bottles of champagne which were now done (there wasnít much left to drink) were thrown in there. It was amazing. Everyone chanting "a goudi" and singing songs in Italian, dancing with bottles breaking and fireworks exploding, surrounded my marble statues that were hundreds of years old, in a town that was equally as old. It was awesome.
Once things died down a little, we decided to head back to our bar. We no longer had the group (which had grown to 18 or so) we had started with. We were down to 5. The three Holland guys (pictured right), and Manda and I. We headed back to the bar, and before we got inside, we met 3 Italian girls in their mid 20's who did not speak any English at all. Somehow, we talked to them for more than half an hour. Lots of charades, and hand gestures and pointing. We could understand what they tried to convey, and vice versa. We were able to figure out that they were going to a dance club. I think. They headed off, and for some reason, we thought it was wise to follow them. I really do not know why we followed them. We left the guys from Holland, and followed 3 total strangers who we thought might be going somewhere to dance. Who knew why? All of a sudden, one of the 3 girls runs in to someone that could have been a parent, or an aunt or something. Words were exchanged (all very pleasant), and the girls waved goodbye as they had to go another direction. We were not welcome to join, thatís all we knew. At their age, it wasnít like they were being told to go home, it was as if they had to go somewhere. I donít know. All I knew was that I had no idea where I was at this point, nor did I have any idea where to go. For some reason, it felt like everything was ok, though. Like that was where I was supposed to be anyway.
Then she walked up to me.
Possibly the most beautiful person that I'd seen on my whole trip. She was walking with a group of friends, and walked away from them to come by us. Her and I just sort of stared at each other for about a minute. Then she said "hi". I was glad she spoke English. We talked for about a minute or so, and I asked her where she was heading. Whereever this girl was going, is where I was headed. She told me her name was Irene, but its pronounced EE-Rain-AY in Italy. She told me that its customary for people in Italy to swap something on new years eve with just one person, and she wanted me to be that person. I surveyed what I had, and that wasnít much. I took out my wallet, and remembered that I had an American $1 in my wallet still, and asked her what she thought of that, as it was about all I had that I could give as a swap item. She chucked as she then passed a 1000Lire note. We both thought that the bill exchange was pretty lame, but what else did I have. We got to the bar, and ordered a few drinks. I was so engrossed in conversation with this girl it was unbelievable. I felt bad that I wasnít hanging with Manda, but she had already met a bunch of new people and really didnít mind. I couldnít tear myself away from the conversation, and neither could she. It was very unusual. Not just the talking, but there was a weird vibe going on. The vibe wasnít about attraction, although I was very attracted to her. No, it was just about this connection thing. All of a sudden, she says "I know what we can swap", and takes off a ring and hands it to me. My heart about stopped. How did she know? Anyone who has read this since the Paris episode will remember that the only thing I didnít like about the Europe ring was that there wasnít a good story behind it. Here was my story, and furthermore, I had a ring to give her (the one from Paris). This was too weird. I asked her if she wanted to go somewhere to dance, and she said that she knew of a couple of places nearby. We rallied everyone, and took off. One place charged 30,000 to get in, and the other was less, but it was outdoors. It was pretty cold out, and Manda wanted to dance inside. Irene's friends wanted to dance outside, as the 30,000 cover was a little high. Manda and I said that we were going to go to the indoors club. Irene said that she would join us. I didnít ask her to, nor did I expect her to. I was elated. We danced for a long time, and I asked her to teach me various words in Italian, including how to say the phrase "I'd like to kiss you." Cheesy, I know.
At 5am, she had to leave to meet her friends to catch the 6am train back to Pisa. We had exchanged numbers and addresses, and I knew I'd keep in touch. All the same, I walked her to the train, and Manda joined me. As we got to the train, I gave her a kiss goodbye. As she went to get on the train, she stopped and turned around and asked "Do you believe in Destiny?". I said, "Yes". Then with a smile I will never forget, she said "Me too", and turned and got on the train.
Manda and I left the train station, trying to find another bar. The best we could do was a coffee shop. We went in and again talked at length with people who spoke no English. Somehow, this amused us to death. It was a fun game, and the people we played with seemed to enjoy it too. We would ask anyone if they knew a bar open, and everyone who could figure out what we were saying was shocked that we would ask such a thing at 7am. Someone said there was a bar that opened up at 9. Suddenly, I remembered the wine. Sure, it was a present, but tomorrow the stores would be open. We'd drink it now, and I'd buy one tomorrow. It was a grand plan. We went back to the room. I remembered the instructions of the guy who had sold me the wine. Open. Let sit for 3 hours. Drink from a goblet, not a glass. I opened it, let it sit for 3 seconds, and we drank it from plastic cups, and talked for hours. About 9:30 we went out looking for that bar someone said was open, but couldnít find it. We went back to the hotel and tried to sleep, but it was no use. By this time, it was daylight, and I was wide wake. We decided to get up around noon and do some sightseeing. It was fun, but I was still a little dazed. Theres something about sobering up without sleeping.
We kicked around the rest of the day, looking at shops, etc. We tried to find a really nice restaurant for dinner, and ended up finding some weird little place that was ok.
Later, Manda and I decided that as I had to catch a train at 7:30am for my 2:30pm flight, that if I tried to sleep, that I would likely miss the train, and miss the plane. I couldnít risk that. As this was my last night, I was going to go out, but if I was going to go out, it had to be all night long. So be it.
I think Manda was my female party counterpart. We just liked to have fun in the exact same way. She was a non-stop type of person that would sacrifice sleep if there was anything fun left to do. If there was nothing fun left to do, find something ordinary, and make it fun. I can not describe how thoroughly I enjoyed partying with her. Oddly enough, we both agreed that even if we had lived in the same city, despite the fact that we found each other attractive, we likely wouldnít date, as we didnít find each other to be our respective types. However, we both agreed, we'd likely party together every weekend, or possibly every night.
We went to the bar where we had all met the night before, in hopes that the Holland guys would be there. They were. They too had to catch an early train. I shared my theory of the all nighter, but they weren't having it. "The Boss" (far left in the photo above), which was the one guys name, was up for it. He was the wild one of the crew. Convincing the other two was the trick. By 3 am, we were all having a blast, and had met 3 other Italian girls (these 3 could speak English), and one guy from California named Ore. The 9 of us headed out looking for a dance club. As long as we had the 3 Italian girls with us, the other 2 Holland guys were game for an all nighter. I credit that one to the Boss for talking the girls in to coming. The bartender at the bar we were at told us of a club called Amides that might be open. We went, it was closed. We met a guy who said he knew of a place that was open. We walked a long way, following this guy, and the club was closed when we got there. As we arrived, 2 other guys showed up, each alone. One was pissed the club was closed. The other was very pissed. They started yelling at each other, and were ready to fight over the fact that the club was closed - a fact they both agreed on. At this point we decided to leave. We got back to the hotel the Holland guys were staying in at about 4, and they had some wine there which we finished. We all talked until about 6:30am, when I said my good-byes. Ore, who was visiting relatives or something, didnít want to stay, as the Holland people had paired up. He came with us. Manda and he walked me to the train station with all of my stuff and Manda's. Manda had decided to stay with Ore at his friends place, as all the hotels were booked.
I hopped on my train to RomeÖ.