Florence, Italy was the destination of my first overseas adventure. My rookie travels occurred before tragic events of 9/11. That is why it seemed so strange to find armed guards in riot gear watching me search for my backpack at baggage claim in the Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. And at that time it didn’t seem normal to see armed guards at the train terminal as I boarded my train to Milan, Italy. We were (are) so spoiled in the United States that it seemed unfathomable that the overnight car that took me through Switzerland before dropping down to Italy would be nearly as cold as the January night air that we traveled through. Still, all of these unusual conditions seemed like they belonged in my grand adventure. My fellow train car passengers seemed to have sensed I was new to travel. They were full of conversation as we traveled throughout the night. (My future travels to other countries would reinforce my observation that people from most of the world are much more open to conversation with strangers than are Americans.)
I had to switch trains at the Milan station in order to get to Florence, Italy. Milan is an industrial place. Train passengers from there appeared to have purpose to their travel and they seemed less interested in a naive American traveler. Thus it was up to me to figure out what the Italian signs were saying so that I could catch my train on time. In the end, an armed guard had to point me in the right direction.
About four hours later I arrived in Florence, Italy. The solo part of my adventure was over. Before my foot hit the first stair off of the train, my good friend and his father waved me down. They had already been in Italy for a week so had living and transportation arrangements set up. While it was comforting to once again speak English, I actually missed the friendly struggles of communication between myself and the friendly French and Italians. (And yes I did say friendly French. I remembered enough of my high school French to at least know how to ask where stuff was; that seemed to befriend the French!)
My friends and I drove from Florence to Greve in Chianti, Italy. Greve is in the heart of Tuscany. It is surrounded by hilly, quaint vineyards and travel is carried on over narrow roads on which two, small Fiats can barely pass. We stayed in one of the areas many country houses that double as vacation stays. The one we stayed at was run by a wonderful family who made a living by growing grapes, running a small dairy, and housing tourists in their guest home. While the day trips to the nearly cities of Siena, Florence, and Pisa were wonderful, the highlights of my trip were the times we got to dine and converse with this thoughtful and interesting family.
My ten days in Italy went by too fast. It was really easy to get used to the delicious espressos, the breakfasts of fresh market bread and cheese, and the driving along narrow, sparsely driven roads that connected the villages. Only once did I wish for something to be more American like. I ran out of money and had to stand in line for over two hours at the local bank in Greve before getting more money out of my accounts from home.