July 24, 2010 by jessperriam
It was all going so well until Florence decided to teach me a lesson.
Over the past seven or so weeks I had lucked out in the hostel stakes – most of them have provided fantastic experiences, where at best I’ve made fantastic friends and had adventures or at worst been mildly bored yet comfortable nonetheless.
But Florence had other things in mind for me when I visted her turf.
Oh yes, the prospect of one night in Florence almost turned into an earlier than expected arrival in Paris.
Yes, there are a few lessons you must learn from the Florence experience.
Lesson One: Never trust a hostel because it says it will give you free breakfast and dinner.
On the hostel booking website, this one looked fantastic. It looked fun, full of characters and most importantly, they gave you breakfast AND dinner. And when I arrived at 10am, lugged my packs up three flights of stairs to drop them off and explore Florence, it looked fantastic.
The hostel owner looked friendly, his mum was good at giving directions. They said, “Go explore, come back and have a shower and get settled in later.”
So I did, I walked, climbed stairs, stairs and more stairs, got sunburnt and arrived back at the hostel at 5ish. Only to be shafted. They had overbooked the hostel. I was bumped.
“Turn left out the door. Go to McDonalds, turn left. Then second street on the right, Via St Reparata. Number 33 Hotel Veneto.”
Shit. Did I mention I had climbed stairs, stairs and more stairs? I love stairs now! But the prospect of more walking in the Florentine humidity amongst the hoardes of tourists made me want to stab myself in the face.
Lesson Two: The replacement hotel will never, ever be as good as the hostel.
I like to call Hotel Veneto the backpacker’s ghetto. Because pretty much everyone I met there had been bumped from the hostel, and were cranky.
The people at the reception were giggly, gossipy and slow. They clearly couldn’t help but show their glee at the sight of all these backpackers, streaming in with their obligatory slip of paper from Mama at the hostel.
They took their time getting the room papers sorted, giggling between themselves in what I could only make out to be not Italian, nor English.
“Room 302,” they said. Which could only mean one thing: at least two more flights of stairs.
Thankfully one of them grabbed a bag and hoofed it up the stairs with me. We made it up the stairs, past the 1970s posters (you know the kind – overtly Kodachrome, thick, black borders) advertising the hotel and then down a linoleum corridor to be greeted to a red and black door.
Room 302. The door wouldn’t budge. No matter how many times the woman tried to lock and unlock the door, jiggle the key in the lock or, slam her tiny frame against the door it refused to open.
“I will try to find another key,” she said vaguely, unapologetically.
And with that I sat down on the dirty linoleum, resigned to the fact that I would be sitting there a while.
She came back. Tried another key. No avail. She banged on the door many, many times. Clearly no one was home in this little corner of the backpacker ghetto.
“Why don’t you sit over here?” she said, motioning down the corridor to a dilapidated vinyl couch. It seemed I needed a real seat to settle in for the long haul.
I looked ahead to see the appealing vista of a concrete wall through the window with a slight breeze rustling the apricot curtains. To the left was a cabinet for the fire extinguisher that was strangely empty. A glance down the corridor saw the fire extinguisher moonlighting as a doorstop.
I sighed, my internal monologue went into overdrive.
“How can Florence be so bad? How dare they overbook the hostel? What if there’s a fire?” were just some of the questions I was asking myself. And then there was the big question:
“What if… they can’t open the door… ever?”
I was frantically flipping through my Eurail timetable booklet trying to figure out if there was a way to get from Florence to Paris, quick smart. I gave the hotel staff half an hour to break down the door while I read Vanity Fair (I read it for the articles, not the handbags!).
Half an hour passed. Still no sign of that door opening. Cranky and passive-aggressive, I left my bags in the lino corridor from hell, walked downstairs and told them I was going out. The girls at the desk emitted some kind of half-hearted apology and sympathy for my plight.
By the time I returned with a full belly, the door was open. Thank goodness. The backpackers ghetto room was everything I expected. Five single beds squeezed into a room designed to hold a double bed and a single bed. The head of my bed was nestled in between a wall and a radiator.
Lesson Three: If you have as much trouble opening a door from one side, chances are you’ll have just as much trouble opening it from the other.
Once I’d showered, changed and rinsed the sweat and anger away I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I was tired. I had an earlyish train to catch the next morning. There was no one to have a drink with. So I decided to have a drink with myself. Earrings on, hair pulled back, I was ready to head out.
I reached for the handle, pushed it down and tried to open the door.
It wouldn’t budge.
I shook the handle a few times.
Still wouldn’t budge.
I grabbed the key, locked it, unlocked it, locked it again. Turned the key halfway, quarter of the way, all ways were fruitless.
Bloody hell (insert stronger, more accurate words here to get the real idea)
I wandered to the window, pushed up the shutters and looked down at the street below. Was it really going to come to this? Was I going to have to yell at someone to rescue me from my Florentine hellhole?
At first I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I played with the door some more. No luck, predictably.
Head out the window again, I searched for someone who wouldn’t think I was a complete idiot for yelling at them, Rapunzel-style from a third floor window.
As luck would have it, a girl on the floor below stuck her head out the window.
A confused swivel of the head ensued.
“Up here! I’m stuck in my room, the door won’t open.”
“What room are you in?” she asked, completely unsurprised by my predicament.
I replied, she said she’d go downstairs and get them to open the door.
In what seemed like an instant, there was a knock at the door and there was freedom in the way of a young man with a bemused smile on his face.
He pinched my bicep (or is it tricep) to show me that I was weak, had no muscles.
In return, he got a death stare.
I couldn’t get out of that hotel and into the red wine quickly enough.
Lesson four: if there is a strange, semi naked man standing around in some bushes near the Torre San Nicolo, wiggling his bare groinal area, you should probably start walking in the opposite direction, quickly.
Just like I did, shaking my head.
Florence is strange lady. I don’t know what I did to her but she had it in for me, I swear.