Our experience of agony and ecstasy in Florence
We ran like hell, our backpacks bobbing, frantically wheeling our strolleys, but alas! we watched the train moving away, just as we reached the platform.
“There goes our 60 Euros! and my planned itinerary”, I cursed myself.
What really rankled was the fact, that we were not late in reaching the Station, infact we were there at least an hour before the train’s departure, but still we missed it!
That is how the Florence leg of our our Italian sojourn had started. But let me start from the beginning which should explain the predicament that we were in.
We were on a short trip to Italy and our itinerary was packed with an intention of optimizing our time. We had spent two wonderful days in Rome and were now looking forward to a couple of days in beautiful Florence.
At 5 in the morning, darkness enveloped the eternal city of Rome as we walked a couple of kilometers to catch an early morning bus that would take us to the Termini Railway Station.
A chill wind assailed us as we huddled together in the Bus Shelter, peering out in the darkness to look out for the lights of the approaching bus. Things went off without a hitch, the bus was on time and we were deposited at Termini almost a couple of hours before our train to Florence was scheduled to depart. I felt happy that everything was going as planned, we were well in time for the train, we had reservations for the 7 am Trenitalia train and we would be in Florence by 8.30 to embark on yet another voyage of discovery.
We entered the main concourse of the station, and at the early hour there was not much activity. We looked for the platform on which our train would be arriving on the LED screens, but it was too early and our train was not showing up on the screen. The inquiry counters also were not yer open. So we settled down on the available chairs to wait for some time before the information about our train became available, after all we still had more than 90 minutes for the train’s departure. At this juncture we were approached by a friendly looking gentleman who asked us if we needed any help in getting tickets, we politely declined and indicated that we had booked out seats online. The helpful gentleman took the ticket from me and after glancing at it, waved his hand towards the far distance and said that our train would leave from Platform No. 11 or some thing like that. We thanked him, but held our ground in the main concourse. I thought it better to confirm from the LED screens once the information was flashed before we made our move.
60 minutes left for our train to depart and we still held our position in the main concourse, eyes riveted on the LED screen. It was still dark outside and strangely the concourse was relatively empty. That is when our friendly gentleman makes an appearance again and seeing us, waves frantically, asking us to quickly head towards the platform 11 as the train will depart from there. Now throwing caution to the winds, we followed the direction of his waving hand and walked a good 5 minutes to reach a platform which was near the fag end of the station. We found a bench and sat down thankfully. A solitary lady in black stood on the platform and on being questioned, she indicated that the train to Florence would depart from this platform.
15 minutes left for the train to depart and there was no sign of it! We looked at each other and I decided to head back to the main concourse to double check. But it was easier said than done. There was another gentleman who was sitting on a bench, who literally blocked my path with his burly body, insisting that the the train would arrive at the platform we were on, only. But somehow I managed to escape his eye, and leaving the wife with the luggage, ran towards the main concourse. I found our train standing on one of the main platforms, ready to depart. I checked with someone on the platform, who looked at the ticket I thrust at him and confirmed, that this indeed was the train on which we were booked.
The train would leave in another 2 minutes!
It had taken me 4 minutes to reach the platform on which our train was to depart, now I had 2 minutes to get back to where my wife waited with the luggage and then head back to catch the train. It appeared to be a hopeless task.
But not one to give up without a try, I sprinted back and ran like hell!
You already know what happened next. We missed the train.
In a sombre mood, cursing and blaming each other as only a husband and wife can do, we brought fresh tickets and took another train after 30 minutes to Florence. The beautiful countryside flashed past us but we glared at each other in silence. I hoped that by the time we reached Florence, our mood would have lifted, little realizing what fate had planned for us.
We reached Florence and emerged from the station. The couple of hours in the train seemed to have calmed my mind as we headed out in search of our hotel. We were looking forward to a couple of hours of rest in a comfortable bed before heading out to explore Florence in the afternoon. We were rearing to visit the Historic Centre of Florence, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.
I felt confident as my ‘online research’, indicated that our hotel was just a couple of minutes walk from the station.
“I will get the exact location”, I told my wife as I disappeared into the Information Office located in the Station square. I waited my turn in the queue before a smiling face greeted me, I thrust the hotel booking confirmation voucher through the opening in the glass and inquired about the whereabouts of the hotel. She smiling confirmed that it was just a couple of blocks away and easily reachable. I went back to my wife and were off to the cozy confines of a comfortable hotel room, or so we thought.
We were going round and round in circles, the rain which had started pouring down, did not make matters any better. We must have visited at least a dozen or so hotels, but none was the one that we were booked into. Where had the hotel disappeared, we wondered. We went back to the Information Center, and this time I talked to another smiling face, but the result was the same. I came back and told my wife, it must be here somewhere, we just missed it! And off we went on another wild goose chase. Our phones did not work as we did not have roaming activated. I did try calling the hotel on one of the Public Phones, but could not get through. It was afternoon and we went back a third time to the Information Center. This time my wife gave me a look that could kill and went to inquire again. I waited sheepishly in the hall.
“This hotel is not in Florence!” was the earth shattering statement from my wife as she returned from the counter.
It turned out that hotel was actually in Signa which was a 15 minute train journey away from Florence and this was confirmed by a phone call made by the smiling face to the hotel.
So here we were in Florence, without a hotel, it was afternoon and we had some online bookings to visit the Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery.
We did not have time to travel to Signa and come back. We dumped our luggage in the Left Luggage counter in the station and after grabbing a quick meal of French Fries were off to visit the Accademia and the Uffizi.
The agony of the morning quickly transformed into ecstasy as we stood before Michael Angelo’s signature masterpiece, ‘David’ and looked up at the master’s labor of love. The detail of the sculpture smote our hearts and the hair on my arms stood on end as i watched in awe the thickened veins of David’s arms, readying for battle.
The trials and tribulations of the morning seemed far, far away as we reveled in the beauty of Florence and the artistic grandeur of the Masters who walked the city in years gone by.
It must have been around 9 in the night when our train pulled into Signa Station. We got down on the platform, and as looked to my right, a glowing signboard, just next to the station, proclaimed HOTEL EUROPA.
Both our hearts soared with exhilaration as if those two words were our gateway to heaven and two tired and exhausted bodies made their way to the hotel, a hotel that they had been searching for in a different place!
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