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Florence: Getting there and away

April 21, 2009

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By the time we reached Bologna, the honest people were sound asleep and hopefully not awaken by the slightly high-pitched purling of our Spaček. Half way through the deserted city, a small group of women caught our attention. As our naive, small town bumpkin heads gradually realised that they were not waiting for a late late night bus. A few seconds later, as the attention of the driver and navigator returned to the road, we realised that we were driving in the wrong lane of the four-lane street. The only problem was that there was a small concrete fence separating the lanes and we had to drive in the opposite direction for a few hundred meters before we could get on the right side of the fence. Apparently if you were once a communist, you always end up on the wrong side of the concrete fence ;) Could things get worse? Sure, how about a huge truck speeding in our way? Luckily, there was none and the cars headed our way didn’t really bother beeping as much as I had expected. Than all of a sudden, we noticed a police car driving parallel to us, on the right side of the concrete fence. There was swearing. There was sweating in the cool night. And all sorts of scenarios flashed in our minds. All except the one that the Italian police had in mind. They took one good look of us and speed just up the road, leaving us with puzzled and relieved faces.

A coffee break later, we were curving up the old road between Bologna and Florence which is probably a dream road for any 2CV enthusiast, as its many curves make it bounce like a spring on amphetamines. Not to mention that you can roll off the sun roof and watch the swirling of starry night sky till the driver starts nagging about being cold but is more likely just jealous because he can’t enjoy the view. As the dangling radio was conveniently playing Satriani’s Driving at night, we caught a first look of Florence sprawling into the darkness of the night and I guess for the first time, the chance of not being able to find G’s girlfriend briefly crossed our mind. But as we snaked downhill, the optimism returned and an hour later, you would find us confidently dozing off on comfortable seats that previous owner had installed into the car. He had really made a series of convenient modifications to the vehicle, among which was a double carburettor that enabled the heap to reach the neck breaking speed 110km/h. 

After a refreshing nap, we set out into the summer morning in search of the language school. I think we found it even before we had our first coffee. It was in an old building overlooking a nice little square and we waited till noon for the classes to finish. As the students started coming out I spotted my ex-girlfriend who was also taking the summer course there. I put a stupid grin on my face and walked over to her. “Surprise.”

Have you ever noticed how stunned faces usually come in pairs? After getting over the initial surprise, she returned the favour by telling me that N. is not going to be the only one surprised. There was this guy from Switzerland, or wherever it was and G’s visit to the fourth floor of the old building overlooking the romantic little square was rather short. I waited outside and as he emerged from behind the big wooden doors, he was still in a state of shock.
“I need a drink,” he said and we walked into a nearby cafe,
where we literally cooled down in the narrow, dark place.
G ordered a coke.

Another one of my father's many maps of Italy. »Wa have quite a lot of road maps for a family that never owned a car« I said to my mother the other day. »Well, we never traveled with agencies, plus your father was crazy about Italy. Once while he was still working in Switzerland he said he could not make it home for Easter and than I got his postcard from Italy«. They divorced nearly three decades later.

Another one of my father's many maps of Italy. »Wa have quite a lot of road maps for a family that never owned a car« I said to my mother the other day. »Well, we never traveled with agencies, plus your father was crazy about Italy. Once while he was still working in Switzerland he said he could not make it home for Easter and than I got his postcard from Italy«. They divorced nearly three decades later.

When we re-emerged onto the streets of old Florence, G still wasn’t talking much. Being a good friend as I was, I launched a distraction programme and dragged him across the Ponte Vechio for a random tour of the city. He was too shocked to resist it and too numbed to appreciate the Duomo et al., however after about two hours, my plan for staying in Florence for a few days anyway was over voted (for some reason driver gets more votes than navigator). We proceeded with plan G, which was getting the hell out of there. I was barely able to convince him into documenting the (ad)venture by taking the pic above. We took the highway and by the end of the day, I would be making us a soup at the rest stop just outside of Venice. By the time my friend had finished his soup, he was a bit better and by the time he crawled out of his sleeping bag the next morning, I was able to convince him to make a quick tour of Venice which ended in yet another close encounter with Italian police from which we, after 15 minutes of hard bargaining (none of us spoke Italian and their English was, well, Italian) miraculously managed to wiggle out without a hefty fine.

When I decided to make a similar daring surprise visit a month later, there were even more people shaking their heads. But little did I care, I was in love, plus this time I had the exact address of the place which I needed to find.

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