The Riviera was disappearing behind me as the train station in Pisa closed in. This time in Pisa it would just be to swap trains and continue to Florence.
I wrestled my 125L Jeep wheeled duffel onto the platform, at least it was light if unwieldy. I then helped the Siberian with her suitcase full of uranium bricks, a short burst of wheeling down the platform, then stairs to negotiate again and reverse the process!
In an upcoming article I will be discussing the design and pitfalls of wheeled duffels, my paranoia around suitcases and what I ultimately chose for my next several years of travel.
Somewhere between loading and unloading from one train to the other, I had sliced my finger. I’m not sure if it was on the luggage rack, my duffel or the Siberian’s roller wardrobe. I hadn’t noticed until I heard the Siberian hiss at me, nothing new by this stage so it took a second to register at what I did that prompted it.
“Your finger, you are hurt!”
“Oh? Yeah, shit, wow, that’s really bleeding.” I foraged in my sling day bag for a microfibre facecloth to mop up the bleeding a little. Blood on neon yellow is an awful contrast.
“Clumsy New Sealand, I know.” I interjected, thinking in horror about the sheer amount of bacteria traffic on the platforms and trains that must now be possessing my finger.
“Yes! Clumsy, like bear, Mishka.”
I had also stubbed my toe getting out of the shower in Carrara earlier in the week, bad enough for it to bleed and cause a black spot under the toenail. The Siberian, brought out her first aid kit and told me “This will hurt a lot, don’t scream.” she poured disinfectant on it and bandaged it, then looked confused when I was still waiting for the bad part to happen.
“I will let you in on secret,” the Siberian said conspiratorially “I am sometimes clumsy also.”
“Now, that’s not possible.” I said sarcastically while casually squirting Purell into the cut.
The Siberian after a moments solemn contemplation of this, spoke. “Make WiFi please.” I sighed and turned on my iPhone’s hotspot, at least there was still plenty of the 10 gig mobile data to go round.
Arriving in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Terminus station several hours later, we filed though and joined the orderly queue for taxis. I had called ahead to notify the AirBnb hosts of our imminent arrival.
We were met by Antonio and Yvonne an older Italian-Dutch couple, the parents of the AirBnb host. I warmed to Antonio’s gravelly but animated descriptions immediately and he told us of several good osteria’s in the city where we could get Bistecca al Florentine (A huge seasoned steak, which sadly I wasn’t motivated to order after weeks of eating light.) where Via Vincenzo Gioberti, the street of a thousand shops was located, (quite close to the apartment.) and information on the Biboli gardens (which I had planned on seeing before starting my trip). Antonio and Yvonne’s interactions with each other were just as endearing, quietly arguing between themselves the best place to see and do what. Antonio ended up taking me and one map while Yvonne took the Siberian to discuss best places to find outlet shopping. The Siberian had been pursuing somewhere to find a particular style of coat since Rome.
Antonio also told me about the small holding farm he ran, that produced olive oil, Chianti and honey, leaving us with a sample of the produce. They said their farewells and left us to it. As was now the strategy, once refreshed and unpacked, out the door and on to orienting ourselves.
The Siberian had the map and I was happy to be off navigation duty for a little, we strolled down Via Gioberti window shopping towards the city center. I was content traversing the narrow winding back streets not even sure where we were heading, I could see the Siberian looking more quizzically at the map. Time for a reading off my iPhone’s map to get a baring.
“So we are heading to that cathedral thing, yeah? According to the gps we are near the hospital, or should I say the Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova, so if we continue down Via dei Service lane, Bingo.”
The Siberian raised an eyebrow.
We continued down the narrow street until we turned a corner and a sliver of something massive broke through ahead. Our pace quickened as the building seemed to loom, growing even larger. Spilling into the plaza ahead I had another attack of architecturally induced mind bending vertigo. After having re-acclimatized in the small is beautiful Rivera, I was back to getting my sense of perspective wrenched wide open. Eu Duomo is massive, but not in the way a building is massive, I have never given a shit about how big a building is before, The existential terror and awe from something like Eu Duomo lies within its rich level of detail.
The afternoon sun, bright but not as hateful as in the southern hemisphere was eclipsed by Giotto’s Campinile, Thus Sprach Zarathustra echoed in the back of my head. Although the plaza was heavily touristed it was as if they had all shrunk into insignificance next to the greatness of Eu Duomo. The striking dark green marble inlaid within its structure against the warm hued, much of the marble probably mined from the mountains of Carrara where we had been only that morning. It was only after spending time marveling at Eu Duomo we doubled back towards the Arno river, which other than the Cathedral in Piazza Del Duomo was an orienting landmark during our time in Florence.
The dome was one of those places that as much as we tried to escape it or walk in the opposite direction somehow we wound up back at it. I felt like I was in a travel guide written by Stephen King. It was just the kind of raw subconscious magnetism that some places have. Even now I feel drawn back to the place and all the while, Eu Duomo waits.
Content and photographs of this post are Copyright Aryan DeSallis Gill
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