As the plane descended, I kept thinking, "There's no way it's that gorgeous"...But it is.
After flying from Cleveland to Chicago to Frankfurt to Florence, I met with the people holding the "API" sign. I'll never forget the look on their face and their first words to me: "Oh, you lost your baggage?"
Them: "Oh...you packed light."
My arms didn't agree with them. But, I am pretty weak.
My first act as an American tourist in Florence? Doing what I never EVER want to do...smacking some poor airline passenger in the head as I take my carry on out of the overhead compartment.
...Did I mention that I'm weak?
After a short bus ride from the airport to the Grand Hotel Baglioni (a 4-star hotel that is absolutely GORGEOUS), we were given a few hours to roam the city before our evening meeting and first dinner as a group. I acquainted myself with my new roommates, and we set out on the cobblestoned streets of Florence.
I was proud of myself for already knowing several things that others on the trip apparently didn't. Like, don't trust that a car will stop if you're crossing the street. Don't speak English obnoxiously loud. Don't stay on your cell phone the whole time. Don't acknowledge the beggars. Walk like you have a destination and a purpose, even when you don't. At least make an attempt to speak the native language--they know that you're American, but they appreciate that you tried. And, don't let the first thing you do in your experience abroad be go into the cheap corner grocery and buy wine to bring up to your hotel room, which strictly goes against API regulations (yes, someone actually did this).
I almost got frustrated with the number of immature people who could only talk about their plans to hit the town that night and get drunk. I almost got frustrated by the abundance of pastry shops sporting fresh crepes, waffles, and canolis. I almost got frustrated when the room started spinning because I accidentally ingested a truffle three days ago that contained traces of barley.
But then, I remembered: I was here, it was special, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I saw the Duomo, and tears came to my eyes.
My roommate and I walked for close to an hour and a half, and I swear, I was keeping track of where we were. Turned left down the small alley, stopped at the base of the cathedral, turned left again, walked about half a mile, turned right, then turned right again. But, when it got dark and came time to backtrack, I did what I knew I would do and what I will undoubtedly do again. I got lost in Florence.
I knew that we could ask anyone for directions back to our hotel. But, there is the danger that the individual you ask will follow you back to your destination. So, we went into a McDonalds. I asked the man at the counter (in choppy Italian) if he spoke English and if he could direct us to our hotel. He couldn't understand which hotel, so I pulled out my key card to show him the name on the card. He looked at the card for a moment, and said "Ah, Baglioni. Left, left, right, left."
More like left, left, reaaaallllly long walk, right, reaalllllly long walk, left. But, the McDonald's Guy saved the day. I acknowledge that.
Getting lost in Florence was a breeze. Dinner was what I was most worried about. API was bringing us all to a local fancy restaurant for some true Italian cuisine. They gave me a little red card to put on my plate to signal that I had celiac.
Everyone got salad. I got salad. Everyone got fresh bruschetta. I got to smell and look at the fresh bruschetta. Everyone got pasta. I waited. And waited. Then...I got pasta. And it was the most delicious pasta I have ever had.
Then, the waiter gave everyone forks for the dessert. I didn't get a fork. They started dishing out tiramasu. I didn't get tiramasu. I sat, and waited. And waited. And then...I got lemon ice. No tiramasu,...but who am I to complain about Italian ice?
Of course, I was still hungry, so when I got back to my hotel room I ate an entire bag of Reeses cups.
No, I am not ashamed.
My high school French seems to be coming in handy already. I am able to understand what most signs say just by guessing. And, you don't need to speak Italian to know what "-70%" means in a sale window;)
This evening, as we were settling in, my roommates were complaining that the shower had no hot water. When it came for my turn to go in, I looked in the shower, and asked them, "Did you turn the knob that said "C" or "F"?
They both said, "Well, C means cold, doesn't it?"
"C could be similar to "Chaud" in French, which means hot. And F could be similar to the French word for cold..."
They took another shower after that discovery.
It was a hectic, exhausting, but rewarding first day in Italy. I will obviously have to get over the gluten cravings, get myself healthy again, and continue to improve on my skills in ignoring the Italian beggars and men who call out to women as they walk by. But, I look forward to learning.
And maybe improving my upper arm strength...that poor German girl's head.