Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Italy - Florence

Dedicated to Tabbi's Bad Experiences in Florence

The last night in Rome was characterised by a very long search for accomodation. It's a public holiday long weekend here and everything cheap was full. I eventually found a dorm bed, by chance, and shared it with five young women. Three were American students, one was a Belgian international volunteer, and I spent much of the evening talking to an Argentinian named Roxana.

The train ride the next morning was gorgeous when the landscape was visible. Tuscan and Umbrian fields shrouded in fog, golden light from the afternoon sun over autumnal leaves, and occaisional medieval stone villages clutched tightly upon mountaintops around castles. I was hapy to have found such a cheap train ticket online, but then realised that it may have been due to accidentally ordering an under-18 year-old ticket. I know Italian ticket checkers are vigilant about spotting tourists and making them pay substantial fines for mistakes like that, but miraculously, he didn't seem to notice. Or I was in the right. Who knows, but it felt very lucky indeed.

I'm now staying in a youth hostel that gave my dear sister Tabbi a hell of a time when she came to Florence. For her, it was a combination of after-midnight arrival, unhelpful bus drivers, being lost in a new city, hunger and rain. I sought to avoid all those things, from her experience, so I checked it out mid-afternoon.

It's about 20 minutes by bus from the city (which I'm supposed to pay for, but haven't figured out the ticketing system. Not knowing how the ticket system works has saved me quite a bit of money), and another kilometre's walk through a beautiful pedestrian avenue of old mossy trees and vineyards. The building is a former villa, very big indeed, with coloums, balconies, a garden and a reception area lined with architectural murals. As I arrived someone was practicing on a saxophone upstairs. Great initial atmosphere.

However, when I returned later that evening I saw it for what it really was. A destination for Italian and Spanish high school groups to run riot without their teachers, and make a hell of a noise in all the communal areas. These areas are very big and clinical, so there were no quiet areas to update my diary. No internet either, but at least the bathroms are well able to cope with the crowds. It's not a bad place, but it's too big to be social, and the annoying school groups really don't make it any easier to find other backpackers. I'm booked for three more nights as it is so cheap.

Anyhow - I'm off to get my museum tickets booked for the next couple of days. I explored much of the city centre last night, as well as the San Marco museum. The queues in this city are phenomenal - tourist crowds equal to the density seen at the Vatican and the Athenian Acropolis, but not even moving!!!

Maybe off to Siena tommorrow, as many of the museums will be closed.


  • At Monday, October 31, 2005 7:56:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good luck Bro!

    If you actually want to get IN to the museums I'd leave before the sun rises and start queueing - I managed to read the entire second book of Lord of the Rings while in the line for the David, and never even got in!!!

    Your hostel sounds nicer than the one I was in.

    Have fun!


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