I sure was in a sticky situation when I woke up on my first morning in Florence. Events from the night before having impeded me from booking a hostel for the next night, and my morning scouring of the internet having been unsuccessful, I hauled my tired and panic-y self and implausibly heavy little suitcase off to the tourist information office.
Florence was not forgiving on that first morning. I hadn’t been prepared for the narrow streets, and it was with some dismay that I noted the sheer amount other people dragging around suitcases on that Saturday morning. It seemed as if hostelworld.com hadn’t been lying to me after all, and the city really was full to capacity. Not wanting to stay too far out of the city, or in another criminally bad hostel I was even psyching myself up that this may in fact be the time for a hotel room. Ouch!
On arriving at the tourist information office the man behind the reservation desk eyed my luggage sadly, apologised, and confirmed that the city was indeed booked out due to an international conference. When I asked about hotels he regrettably informed me that the cheapest he had was €130 a night, and that, even in his personal opinion, was too much. For me it wasn’t just too much but just totally out of the question. I was swimming in panic and cold sweat at this point as I crossed the road to the train station to think. It was at this time that I started musing on how nice it be to not have to solve this problem ALONE. Travelling alone might have a plethora benefits, but two heads are always better than one in a crisis.
I considered getting a train to another town close by (Pisa is not too far) but realised of course I would be in the same situation there – nothing booked. Or, I could give in to my fears and book one of those forgotten-or-undesireable-even-on-the-busiest-weekend-EVER hostels I had been avoiding. I ducked into a cafe with wifi (luggage in tow) and made my peace with this decision. The clock was ticking and it was mid afternoon by this point, the ONLY priority for the day was to have somewhere to sleep. It was with tearful reluctance that I got a taxi to hostel 5km out of town.
I was dismayed beyond belief when the taxi turned off onto a endless potholed drive that led up to the hostel, past campsite and vineyards. I felt liked I had been deposited in the middle of nowhere, and all my defences had well and truly been worn down to the point where I couldn’t even appreciate the beautiful entrance hall (shown above). I feel quite sheepish admitting to this now, especially considering my warm and tender feelings towards this place by the end, but after I’d checked in and gone to my room I cried for the first and only time during my independent travels. Aw. I briefly convinced myself that I would leave Florence on the first train I could get the next day, and draw a line under the whole nightmare. But luckily, food, a shower, a nap, some new friends and quite a lot of wine are great revivers of weary travellers spirit and in just a few short hours I decided that I would stick around after all and absorb all Florence had to offer.
After initial scepticism about its distance from the city centre I fell completely in love with Villa Camerata and ended up staying almost a week before finally switching another hostel in the centre so I could enjoy some city nightlife. For a girl who likes her architecture this was an absolute delight to come home to every night:
I couldn’t help myself from doing some research on the building (it’s prime dissertation material, if you want my opinion – I’ll be waiting – History of Architecture students) , but I wasn’t able to turn up that much. Apparently the villa was a meeting place for the Accademia degli Svogliati, a 17th century association of writers in Florence. I couldn’t have thought of a better base for my stay in the city. Aside from the stunning marble in the entrance hall, the peaceful veranda with occasional sketching artist, the nearby vineyards, the manicured gardens, what I will remember most about this hostel will probably be the people. I met some wonderful people here, and I really was very sad leave in the end. I think this is a tribute to an unconventional choice gone right (as opposed to wrong, which has also happened a multitude of times). Villa Camerata would not have been my first choice, but it will be next time.
Would you like to stay at Villa Camerata? Summer months are highly recommended so you can drink wine and draw on the veranda. Bring insect repellent. I can assure you 100% that I am not being paid for such shameless advertising (more’s the pity) but you can book here.
So, a lot of LIFE has happened since my last post. I left Berlin one mockingly beautiful and serene evening on an overnight train to Vienna. In the following weeks I travelled through Austria and then Italy, sometimes thinking about what I wanted to do in my life, mostly thinking about the wonderful places I was seeing, and enjoying the hilarious, cathartic, entertaining, and sometimes stressful-but-will-make-good-stories-later situations I was getting into. I met some truly lovely people, and I also met my fair share of creepy ones and lonely ones and everything else on the spectrum. My emotions were pretty wide ranging as well; from being smug and delightedly content when a wrong bus landed me in the heavy vined vinyards outside Vienna on a burnished autumnal afternoon, to sobbing in a hostel in Florence after 24 hours of travel delays and mosquito bites. I like the immediacy of problems when you travel, chances are they will be fixed one way or another in short space of time – the wheel of fortune spins faster than usual, bedbugs and calamity in one city aren’t far from sunsets and good wine in the next. Things change fast.
I called things a day in Venice and decided to go back to the UK to regroup and attempt to make a more solid plan for the future while my account still had enough money for this to be a reasonable possibility ie. enough to be able to move somewhere if I got an enticing job, or at least a good starting fund if I decided on further travels. I also wanted to absorb all the activity from the past few months, write up my adventures, send emails, edit my photos, make drawings and think it out while hopefully topping up the funds.
Then. My dad picked me up from the airport.
My mum has cancer.
I’m still processing this so I don’t have a lot to say about it right now, but I suspect that I will and I know that writing about it will help me (especially since in terms of actual talking I can barely open my mouth at the moment).
So. In the next few weeks I will be writing about: travel, being a struggling young person – specifically some more thoughts on this post: https://beautifullittlefool89.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/10-things-i-have-learnt-since-finishing-university-in-2011/ as it got a lot of responses (keep them coming guys, I like to hear from you!) hopefully some drawings, although I might post these on my portfolio page and . . . cancer. Maybe.
There is always a danger when revisiting books you read a long time ago that they might not be as good as you remember. This realisation can be such a terrible let down, you feel cheated that you carried around a certain idea of something for such a long time and then you wonder at your own lack of taste the first time around. This feeling is exacerbated by the amount of time that has elapsed since you first read the book, one should exercise a certain caution then in re-reading something from childhood. Of course sometimes that book is everything you remembered it to be, and it’s an absolute pleasure –
I read One Hot Summer in St.Petersburg by Duncan Fallowell a very long time ago. It wasn’t quite a childhood read, if I had to estimate I would say I was about 12 – and undoubtably there was plenty in there that was not age appropriate. Literature wise I got away with absolute murder when I was younger, the consequence of being surrounded by adults who don’t read is they they never check what you’re greedily getting stuck into. Something about this book stuck with me though, the heady atmosphere of a foreign city in summer, a city undergoing massive upheaval, a city in all its moods, daydream, reality, insanity.
Years later I’m glad to say I found this book to be a marvellous rediscovery, whatever caught me the first time is still there in the same way that I remember. I think now I’m a (sort of) adult what strikes me is that there is a lot in this book that is similar to the way I travel and experience places, or surrender to places, I can see myself reflected here which is why I like it so much. When I was younger I couldn’t have known that, but must have picked up on the mood anyway. I’m busy making my own plans to spend the summer in Berlin so I think re-reading One Hot Summer has been somewhat tantilising. I can feel the essence of my old european summers in the pages; running through Prague in a thunder storm one night in July, forks of lightening illuminating the skyline. Sunburn in Paris after a day at Versailles. Endless nights in Berlin, drinking wine in the park, walking home at 9am. And all the really awful stuff as well, when you want to cry for no reason, when you feel like a city is alluding you, when it all seems too intense, when you struggle to make a connection to it as a ‘real’ place. I’ve found that almost inevitably wherever you are the best and worst part is always the people. It’s almost time for summer on the continent again, but not quite, so reading this book was both satisfying and frustrating at the same time. I just wanted to be in it, now.
‘Many times in life one may encounter someone who touches us with an adorable and perplexing charm, who cuts the ordinary day with a moment of magic, and almost at once the person has gone, been swept away, sucked back into the crowd. When rarely, through force of circumstance or ingenuity or imagination or daring, one manages to arrest this transience, to jam the conveyor belt of passing events and say no, stop, yes, hullo, and retrieve that person from their fall into the pit of what might have been, and bring him or her forward into the real, the now, the light, your life, this is . . . important. And it means still more in a place where one has little, nothing. And this happened. And as suddenly, it came to naught. I thought this contact meant something. Does anything mean anything here, or is it all fucking quicksand? Is every gesture hollow? How can a person be so full of it one day, and the next – nothing? Is it possible to know someone in this town?’
– One Hot Summer in St.Petersburg
If you’re interested then here’s an interview with Duncan Fallowell: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/duncanfallowellinterviewed/