Our trip was a general success until we boarded our final flight to Firenze, Italia. The plane, a bit on the heavy size, could not land in Florence due to tailwinds, and was diverted to Bologna, a city two hours northeast. After waiting an hour for the airport in Bologna to sort out the confusion, we were bused back to the Florence airport, and waited in line for another hour to report our “misplaced” luggage. By this time, the apartment agency had closed. We were forced to find alternative accommodation for the evening at Antonio House, a small “pensione” near the train station. It was clean with beds, and at that point, the fact that we were finally granted the opportunity to sleep was enough. For only 20 Euro each, we had our own room with a private bathroom. The pensione is a step up from an “ostello” or hostel, which consists of private or public dorm rooms. For 19 Euros each, one hostel offered us bunk beds in a co-ed eight-bed room with a shared bathroom. Normally the accommodations aren’t so close in price, but I guess “pensiones” were in our favor for the evening. In pure exhaustion, we ate dinner at the famous McDonald’s, one of three in Florence. My McChicken sandwich, an American dollar menu special, cost nearly 5 Euros, but was worth every cent.
The next morning, we walked for hours, chasing school check-ins and apartment keys. Finally, after reaching the agency on our newly acquired cell phones, we signed the contract, paid for the first month, and received the address of our new home. The first key that gave us entrance to the building worked perfectly. Our excitement mounted as we climbed the stairs to our “first floor” apartment. The second key was less friendly. We could feel the door unlock, but even with a shoulder to it, it would not budge. Disappointment increased ten-fold when we discovered, with heavy hearts and tired feet, that the agency was closed for “lunch” from 1 until 4 pm. It was 1:30 pm. Such was our luck. Instead of carrying our backpacks around the city, we left in pairs to find food (sandwiches for 2 Euro, our only meal so far) and restrooms (port-a-potty for 0,50 Euro, a public bathroom stop meant for tourists). Finally, four o’clock rolled around. With hopeful attitudes, we called the agency, ready to gain their sympathy with our pathetic story. Their response was that we must simply lack the ability to open Italian doors and advised us to find help. The apartment building, until that point, had been empty. At that moment, our downstairs neighbor, who spoke little to no English, arrived home from work. We galloped down the stairs, scaring the poor man, who watched us in panic as we made motions with the key and chattered away in English. He followed us upstairs and, on the second try, opened the door. I felt a mixture of embarrassment and relief. The apartment agency had no response for us, but I’m sure laughter followed our call.
For our first meal that night, we resorted to a simple meal, our first home-cooked concoction, penne with tomato sauce, served with a small side salad and fresh pears and followed with ice cream cones, our splurge at the grocery store.
What a whirlwind of a day.