Day 8 – Tuesday 28th June, 2005
Rome – Florence
Usual wake up call of around 6 am, brekkie, then drove to Florence, back up the same roads we’d taken to get to Rome. I think we got there around 2 or 3pm, so the drive wasn’t too bad I guess. Most people were just enjoying the fact that we were in air conditioning again and like most days, the large majority of the bus would have been asleep for the first hour or three of the journey. For those who can’t sleep on buses (like me), I have no idea what I did, probably stared out of the window and tried to catch up on writing my travel journal. Which is a lot shorter than this is.
The first thing we did was drive up to a look out above the town and have our group photo taken. Which wasn’t that fun because it was in bright, bright sunlight and we all had to move for the first time in a few hours. So that only took about 10 minutes and then we were back on the bus and driving down into Florence. Reuben drove us as far into the centre of the city as we could get, then we all got out and followed Amanda through to the town centre. She showed us the meeting points, then took us to the leather demonstration place, where some guy who was probably younger than most of us showed us in a really basic way how they make Florentine boxes. Then of course came the sales part, he took us through to the store and lead us through the leather section to the jewelry. I had a wander around, as I’m been on the lookout for a leather jacket for a few years, but although it was pretty reasonably priced – around €300 for a nice quality jacket – I still didn’t see anything I liked.
Afterwards Kirsten, Allison & I decided to go for a walk and see what shops we could find – Kirsten was after a nice handbag for a friend of hers, but wouldn’t listen to me when I told her the shops she was finding the bags she liked were expensive until she held one up and asked the cashier how much it was, and got the reply that it was €120 (or something like that). Strangely enough, after that, she believed me. So we just wandered around the town, took the odd photo by the river, then Alison decided she wanted to go on the guided tour that was included in the price (as in, it wasn’t an optional extra), but although this day wasn’t as hot as the day before, Kirsten & I were kind of toured & churched & sunned out, so we waited with Alison at the meeting point until some others showed up (I think Rachael and Justin showed up first), then we wandered off to find the internet cafe?? Amanda had mentioned. It wasn’t too bad value; I think I got 1⁄2 hr for €2.70.
After our net time had run out (and after we’d made use of a rare free toilet, even thought I think there was something leaking… I can’t quite remember what, but there was something wrong) we started walking back towards the middle of town, and ran into Kevin, who I think had decided to walk around on his own but was a little lost (not that he’d admit it). So we went to grab some ice cream (our second dose for the day) and went to eat it on some steps not too far away. We relaxed there for a while, tried to figure out if most of us actually knew other peoples names, saw some people who had been on the walking tour, then Kirsten & I decided we were going to try a bit of quick shopping, so we went for a walk up some streets, couldn’t find anything suitably cheap, so we just went back to the meeting point for the afternoon and waited there.
As usual, we were among the first to turn up, so we got to see what everyone had been doing/buying and we all just hung around chatting until 4.30, when we all were there and we went back to the bus. Most of us got a little excited when we saw the hotel, as it looked like each room had its own air con – which did turn out to be true, but it was set at only around 22 degrees, which was better than nothing but not fantastic, and we couldn’t find the remote to change it.
We had around 2 hours to get dressed for the night ahead – a dinner in the hills and then a nightclub. Thankfully my roomie wasn’t going to the dinner, only the nightclub, so she just went to sleep while I rattled around changing and making noise. I think this was the first real chance we’d had to dress up on this holiday.
After some hallway talk and a few changes of clothes, most of us were ready for the dinner, so we met up in the lobby (Kirsten came & found me, and she was nervous about the dress she was wearing, so made me walk into the lobby first) and a few of us waited outside on the stairs for Reuben to pull the bus around. I have a feeling that he got a few comments for being nicely dressed in a suit; come to think of it, Kirsten might have started that one. Anyway all of us who were going to the dinner got on the bus and we went on out to the hillside somewhere. There was a funny moment when it came to the entrance of the place, as the bus had about 1 inch each side to spare as it went through the gates at the bottom and top of the driveway. So when we’d been inched through them, we cheered. Kirsten & I had decided to be the first on the bus when we’d left the hotel, so we’d taken the seats right up the front. As a result, we were the first off the bus and therefore the first to be welcomed by the staff, and, most importantly, first to be given our free cocktails for the ‘mingle’ time.
Our mingle time really wasn’t that long, it was more an excuse for the staff to get everyone in and in one area before seating us, so we wouldn’t get confused with the other tour groups (one other Contiki, and a few others). Our group had two tables to ourselves, and Amanda & Reuben were sat at a little table out of the way, and were joined by the other groups’ tour manager & driver when they arrived. The restaurant was quite smart in how things were run, for the most part. They staggered the group arrivals so that the waiters could go from table/group to table/group with each course, allowing time for it all to be cooked and so on.
It was a really nice evening, and it wasn’t just a dinner that we had. Throughout most of the evening there was a piano player for background music. Twice (at least, I think it was twice) throughout the evening they had an Opera singer come and sing for us. When she was up, they asked for sile nce, which was fair enough. Most people had kind of turned up their noses at the idea of an Opera singer before we got there, but no matter if you like it or not, there is a definite thing about live music – and this woman who was singing for us was just amazing. I know some people were getting teary and so on, just from listening to her.
At one point in the evening, they found out that a woman from one of the other tour groups was a Soprano singer, so they decided to pick a short song and she got up and sung for us all as well, which was great.
The food I don’t remember much – apart from when they forgot our table with the potatoes, but they were really apologetic. We had free wine, nice big bottles. I’m not sure if it was just supposed to be one bottle – our optionals sheet didn’t specify like they did for the Moulin Rouge – but anyway at one point I heard them say ‘no more wine’ referring to our table (and that’s about the only Italian I know!!), but then not too long after that we had a new bottle of red & white on our table. I never quite figured that out, because it’s not like they were saying no more wine to us to annoy us – one waiter said it to another, and it was in Italian… but we were happy with more wine, so in the end nobody seemed to care.
After dinner & desert, we ended up having some dancing. It had slowly started as we were still eating, with the other groups that had been staggered in front of us. Staggered was actually quite accurate for some of us, I do remember something quite funny happening with the toilets, I think someone was about to walk into the females but didn’t notice the pots on the ground (despite the fact that they had plants a few foot high in them) and so walked into them. Then they proceeded to nearly walk into the male toilets.
It was quite relaxing in between courses, just sitting and taking in the entertainment, we had perfect weather – a long evening, sun, no rain, and a light breeze supplemented just a little by ceiling fans. The restaurant was sort of open-air: those of us on the long tables were covered by some kind of either thatched or decorated roof, but there was an open area with light coverings where the tour managers & drivers were, so there was plenty of space & light coming in. I don’t remember them having lights around in the ceiling, but I guess they must have; it was getting dark when we left.
Anyway, after we’d all finished dinner, they gave us an espresso, which most of us didn’t drink (and definitely not me, since I don’t drink coffee, but I did dip the spoon in it and lick it, then grabbed my wine to wash the taste away as it was gross), then they put on stuff for dancing. Most of the older groups had left by this point, I think, so they put on stuff like the Macarena, which I have the odd photo of (but will not share!), and the Chicken Dance, which I got dragged up (can’t remember who by) and into doing that. Damn those dances are actually a really good work out!! And pretty fun.
So when we finally left (protesting, as Amanda had told us we would) we got back on the bus, tipsy, and they drove us back into the centre of Florence, for the nightclub stop. For the thing that I had actually sort of been looking forward to, it wasn’t exactly a let-down, but it just wasn’t quite what I expected. Still had a really good time though.
We were let off the bus near the club, and had to walk down a little alley-street to get to the entrance. Now, earlier in the day, Amanda had warned us that the people who live there are quite used to a lot of drunken people walking down their street. However, ‘used to’ doesn’t apparently equate into acceptance. So we’d be warned that if we got too noisy, it was highly likely that they’d tip buckets of water out their windows at us – and she had seen it happen, and that we shouldn’t be offended if she was to walk down the street ahead of us so she didn’t get wet when we did! Of course, by the time we’d gotten there, we were still tipsy from the wine at dinner, and we’d all been singing loudly on the way into town (stuff like “Girls just wanna have fun”, all those type of songs) so we’d pretty much forgotten about her warning. To make things more interesting, most of us girls (not quite sure why I say ‘girls’ all the time, given I was easily the youngest and most people were 25-30) were wearing heels, as it was one of the few nights you had an excuse to dress up.
So we were all tipsy, and to make things worse, we were having trouble walking on the cobble stones which paved the street. Consequently, we only remembered about halfway down the street Amanda’s warning – for me, I remembered when I saw her walking way ahead of us down the street. Naturally, as we were all tipsy, it ended up in loud “shhh’s” all the way down the street. Thankfully, we weren’t drunk enough to be really loud, so we all made it down the street dry.
Anyway, we got into the club alright, they didn’t really even check us out, we all just drifted in, but then again this time of year they get at least 1 Contiki group per night, so they were used to us, I guess. And the night we were there the other group who’d been at our dinner was there too. Actually that group was part of a 16 day tour who’d been following us the whole way though Italy. Some of us were bummed cos that tour was pretty much made up of guys, and ours had so few that weren’t attached.
I seem to remember there was a big pilgrimage to the women’s toilets when we first got there. Then we got drinks in the downstairs section and headed up to the dance floor. It was a pretty good club, but you got the feeling the only locals who went there were the desperate ones who really needed to pick up. Anyway, we spent a while up there, watched some of our group podium dance (which was bloody hilarious), then we realized that we’d lost someone. I think it was Mary-Helen, and although we all got pissed off by her at some point, the last time we’d seen her was with some guy. So I think it was Silvia & I who went downstairs to the bar/karaoke section and tried to see if we could find her. We did in the end; she was bugging some other people. In the end we stayed there for a few songs, I distinctly remember a heap of us singing along to “Wannabe”, before heading back upstairs to the dance floor again.
We spent the next hour or two dancing upstairs, screaming when they put Contiki people or Australian people up on the screens, and desperately avoiding the Italian guys that were there. I seem to remember us hiding behind each other and grabbing the nearest person off our tour when they tried to approach us. If they were particularly persistent we grabbed the nearest guy from our tour. Actually, the guys were a bit of a disappointment, the ones from our tour. I think that in the whole time we were there only four of them came to dance with us; the rest either hid downstairs or sat around looking ‘cool’, and were completely boring. The Italian guys really raise a whole new level in the meaning of sleaziness, despite the things I said before I went on this holiday!! They were annoying – they’d kind of paw at your arm, hoping you’d go dance with them. At least we assumed they were talking about dancing – that’s probably a bit of optimistic thinking.
So after we’d gotten sick of dancing, we went downstairs again to the karaoke area, which had cleared out a little by this point. Some of us took over a table, got another drink and sat down watching people singing. I decided that I wanted to have a go, just not on my own, so I convinced Kirsten to sign with me. We tried to think of a song both of us would know, but as neither of us were feeling particularly thoughtful by this time, we just decided on doing our tour song, “All the small things”. At best we figured that some other people might join in (as a lot of our group were there by then) and at worst everyone would get pissed off and stare at us – but as I remember saying, at least they’d all remember us for that!! So I went up to the DJ who was doing the songs and asked him to put us on the list. In the songs we had to wait, I went to the bar to grab another drink, and saw Amanda there talking to some people from our group, so I told them Kirsten & I were up soon and then told them what song we’d be singing, to a few groans.
Anyway, about 5 or so songs later, the karaoke DJ nodded to me and we figured that meant it was our turn. And despite the groans that people had let out beforehand, nearly all our group joined in and it was pretty fun. I was happy with the sound mix though – you really couldn‘t hear us specifically over everyone else, which I was very grateful for.
Pretty soon after that we started getting tired, so we went and paid for our drinks, got an exit card and started to find groups of people to get in a taxi with. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of those things were people were like “Oh no, so-and-so is coming, lets wait for them to pay too”, one of those times where if you’d been polite and waited for everyone to get organized, you’d have been there for another hour. So I just walked out of the club and found some people waiting up there, and got in a cab with them.
We got back to the hotel around 12.30, and between the four of us (I think it was four anyway) who were in the cab, it only cost us about €3.50, so that was pretty good value, even though it was only a 10min or so ride. So we walked into the hotel, picked up our keys from reception and started to go towards the stairs, when we all ran into Travis, who was coming down to see if his roommate Jackie was back yet. He was drunk as, and so funny. Our keys had little weights on them and he kept pretending it was a microphone and put it in front of us every time we spoke, then wouldn’t reply until it was back in front of him. I remember saying to him, “Travis, you’re pissed mate” and he replied (with his ‘microphone’) in a drunk version of a stage whisper, “No, I’m just very very intoxicated.” And so we were asking him what he was doing, and he was just saying that he wanted Jackie to be back soon so he could go to bed and not be woken up. So us four girls that had been in the cab together immediately started with comments like “Oh yeah, baby, come to my room.” And so he looked at us in some delayed kind of shock and goes “Fuck yeah, four chicks!”, then went out to wait for Jackie in the car park. The rest of us just cracked up laughing and went up to our rooms. (In hindsight, it all sounds a little sleazy, but it was all just comments in good humour.)
I don’t really remember much from then on of that night, I think I had a quick shower and stuff before going to bed. But the next main thing I remember is waking up at some time in the middle of the night, probably 2 or 3 am, and noticing someone on the other single bed in the room. Now, as far as I knew, I’d just gone to bed and that’s it, and now I’d suddenly woken up and saw some person there. So I started to wonder if I’d left the door unlocked by accident, not that that is the sort of thing I’d do, and I know I’d purposely left the room key in easy reach of my bed so that when Kate came back I could unlock the door for her (I didn’t mind doing this every time, I think the people who leave their doors open or unlocked while they’re asleep are just plain stupid), but as far as I knew, I hadn’t let anyone in my room. And yes, for a second as I was thinking that, I wondered if I had left the door open, Travis had found it and for some reason crashed on the other bed. So all that went through my mind really quickly, and while I was thinking that I was feeling around on my bedside table for my suitcase keys, as I had a little blue torch on them. I managed to find them, and shone the torch on the human lump on the other bed. It was Kate. I had no idea what so ever how she was there, but I saw the key near her, and fell back asleep.