Heather’s Post

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”–Mark Twain

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My sister Heather is not writing this post.  I just wanted to make that clear as the title may be a bit misleading.  I named this post as it is because I think she’d appreciate having her own special section of this blog.
Heather was originally supposed to come and visit me in London.  The idea was for her to come and stay in my flat for a long weekend and I’d show her Europe’s (probably) most important city.  Long story short, that plan evolved into my traveling to Florence, Italy to visit her while she studied abroad there.  Fair enough.  There are worse places to visit than Florence.
It was really important for me to see Heather while she was in Europe because my forthcoming trip home will coincide with her being in Italy, so had it not been for my brief stint in Florence, I wouldn’t have been able to see her until October.  That would’ve been 14 months since the last time I saw my sister in person and considering how close Heather and I are, it was too long a period of time.
Heather seems to have adjusted reasonably well to her new environment.  I was happy to hear about all of the places in Italy she’s been able to see besides Florence.  She’s been able to see Roma of course but also Napoli, Pompeii and I went with her to see Pisa.  As I’m writing this she’s cruising the Amalfi coast with some of her friends that she’s made.  I’m proud of her for adjusting so well.
I think if someone were to ask me what’s one thing I found curious about Florence, I’d say that it is easily the most ‘American’ city in Europe.  I don’t mean that to give the impression that everyone speaks with a yankee accent and watches basketball and football.  What I mean is that I’ve never been to a city in Europe that was so heavily infiltrated with Americans.  Florence is a city but it isn’t a big city.  Considering that fact it really is strange to hear so many American accents and university/fraternity/sorority sweatshirts.  I saw people from colleges all across the country.  I suppose Florence is the American study abroad capital of Europe.
The food was excellent, which is probably to be expected of almost any city or town in Italy but it still amazed me.  All’Antico Vinaio was my favorite place and I made sure to go there twice.  It’s this little hole-in-a-wall sandwich shop just around the corner from Piazza della Signora and they make the best sandwiches you’ll ever have in your life.  Two guys work behind the counter and offer up the best ingredients (made across the street in their bakery) in giant sandwiches that’ll keep you full for hours.  The icing on the cake is that this mega sandwich costs only €5.
I could rave about the food for another 5 posts but I’ll keep this relatively focused and straightforward.
The only real bad experience about the trip was my hostel.  I was on the fence about it for the first day because I couldn’t tell if I enjoyed it’s rustic attributes or hated all of it’s terrible things.  After 4 days I settled on the negative side.  On one hand Villa Camerata is this cool, old Italian villa on the base of one of the many hills surrounding Florence.  I haven’t stayed at many places like it so I thought that this alone would be good enough.  Apparently that’s what the people who own this place thought too.  There were three big negatives about this place.  The first is the bed bugs.  Easily the worst thing that can happen to anyone staying anywhere, it happened to me.  4 nights of getting eaten alive certainly did not endear me to the Villa.  The second negative revealed itself when I asked the front desk for a towel.  At most hostels I stay at you generally pay €2-3 to get a towel and it’s no big deal.  At this one, however, I paid €1.50 for a biodegradable towel.  The experience of using it was a lot like how I’d imagine trying to dry yourself off with only toilet paper.  It was a disaster.  And the third negative was that the hostel is a good distance from the city center and the bus routes just barely clip the entrance to the Villa.  I bought a ticket for the bus which later turned out to be stupid as no one ever checked to see if you had a ticket.  It felt good to vent about this a bit.
If you plan on visiting Florence you’ll most likely be inclined and maybe even forced to climb to the top of Il Duomo.  Avoid it if you can.  Everyone will stress how amazing the view is but truth be told the long line, 463 steps, and admission fee aren’t worth it.  Especially when you consider that an even more impressive view awaits you if make the journey to Piazzale Michelangelo.  This place is basically a glorified parking lot but it sits atop a hill that overlooks the city and gives you an awe-inspiring panoramic view of not just Florence, but the surrounding Tuscan countryside as well.  I spent about an hour and a half up there knocking back some cold ones waiting for Heather to finish her classes for the day.  One of the best parts of the trip.
I guess I’ll stop here.  Really the trip was all about visiting Heather and spending some time catching up and exploring together.  I think it’s safe to say that we accomplished that and I’m sad that I won’t be able to see her again in person until October.
On a happier note, I will be reuniting with a lot of long-lost family and friends in a couple of days as I head home to New Jersey for 2 weeks!
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