Staying Alive in the 505 & Going Solo in Florence

(I forgot to mention that I was planning on changing the title of two entries ago. I was so tired that I thought I was referencing Italy when in reality I typed ‘France’. But everyone knows the limerick, “I see london I see france, I see ladies underpants”. So, for future reference ‘France’ = ‘Italy.)

It’s hard catching up on this Italy journal since I’m beginning to end the near of my trip (there’s another tired typing phrase I just decided to leave, ‘near the end’ rather). I’ve just finished my third excursion to Cinque Terre (June 25th) and I’m still trying to catch up on what happened on June 9th… Whatevs, back to the adventure…

After Cinque, we returned to the base late at night and crashed in the army barracks I’d be living in for the next month. Let me quickly say something about these barracks. For the remainder of June, I’d be dwelling in the infamous 505 Building at Camp Darby. An innocent enough sounding name that conjures up thoughts of Levi Jeans or rush hour but this dwelling was a far reach from either of those normalities of life. The first thought upon seeing the 505 that ran through my head was when I visited a concentration camp seven years ago in Dachau, Germany. A straight longhouse that runs a couple hundred feet long with bathrooms and showers extending like a smelly foot off the main ‘leg’. I call the 505 infamous because the 505 had been a feature on YouTube as one of the worst barracks in the military, as filmed by one of the soldiers stationed here. The lieutenant colonel of Camp Darby received some bad press over this issue and thus decided to paint & clean the building upon our arrival — which was pretty much the equivalent of shellacking a turd and letting it roast in the hot noonday sun. That’s also a pretty good description of how the bathrooms smelled — although it was more representative of flattening out a couple turds from different people into a pie tin and setting it on a slow roast so as not to burn the moisture out of them, in turn, letting the aroma seep out slowly (that was the first time I almost puked a little while writing). In actuality, it wasn’t that bad compared to sayyy… actually no, it was that bad. I ended up being able to choose my room and cots before any of the work group that was coming from houston, so I picked one of the smaller rooms that had trees in front of it for shade and set up camp. It was a good flavor of getting to see what a part of soldier life is like and how the surroundings influence the way they are. But, as I said, there was no work staff or campers there yet and I needed to feed my travel jones a little more.

And so, I was off to Florence.

I arrived in Florence sometime around 5 or 6 at night. This is not the best way to go about things when you have no plans for food or lodging in a city that you’ve only been to once before and seven years ago. But it was a good realization of what solo-traveling/backpacking is like. I realized that the only other time I had gone somewhere by myself with no plans was a year and a half ago in Berlin. And even then I had rick steve’s in book form guiding me along. This time I had no clue what to do from the moment my foot hit the floor of the train station.

1st idea – Find a map of the city. Luckily, the almost hidden tourist bureau across the street(s) from the train station was open for 2 more minutes after I had arrived. I was the last traveller to get a city map for the day and without that I would have been mucha screwza’d.

2nd Idea – Find a bed. I confess, i did look up 3 hostels before I had come just so I wouldn’t be aimlessly wandering around. I pinpointed them on the map with the help of a bureau worker and set off for the closest one. I wanted to try something more authentic than the highly marketed youth hostels but the first two were so sketchy looking (not to mention I had my laptop and camera with me) that I didn’t want to risk it. I totally recommend the youth hostels with the poppy graphics and integrated bar/club if you want to feel a little more secure. Which is what I ended up doing. EUROPE PLUS HOSTEL was the name of the humble dwelling I finally decided on. I picked a 5 person room for 26 EU a night. This was also the first time, believe it or not, that I had stayed in a multiple person room by myself. Any hostel fears that a traveler might have can be set aside in these sorts of places, I was easily the scariest person there.

3rd Idea – Eat. Nuff said. I usually eat at the hostel the first night in order to meet people and relax from a day of traveling. The food specials are normally pretty good and you’ll always end up meeting people from everywhere. 

I just realized this is really starting to sound like a rick steve’s book which is not really the purpose of this boredom aversion website. I don’t blame you (you four readers you 😉 ) if you skip this entry; if you haven’t already. 

So, Florence was cool and I walked my feet silly all over the town. I probably covered a good ten miles on foot the next day and had some excellent alone time. I also realized I need to bring a friend or two in future travels like this because, honestly, city-walking and taking in the sights isn’t as cool if you aren’t experiencing it with someone at least part of the time. The highlight of florence was trekking up to the top of the Piaza de San Michelangelo and watching the clouds pass as tourist groups occasionally sauntered around. From this viewpoint, you are able to see the entire red-roofed city in all of it’s glory. I’m getting tired of writing this so it’s time for bullet points:

• Took a cool picture of a homeless man on the Ponte Vecchio.
• Soaked in my favorite square in florence by the Uffizi for a good 2 hours or more.
• Met some americans at the hostel and played ping pong with them.
• Sat on the roof of the hostel and tried to steal internet to find about train times before drinking some red wine and watching the sun set.  

Then another quick flurry of cut scenes like in Snatch and I was back at the military post on the west coast of Italy. A half day of rest was all I had before meeting the people that I’d be working with for the next 3 weeks. Which is the whole reason I made this month-long trip. Which I’ll tell you about…NEXT TIME ON LIFESTYLES of the PENNILESS and SHAMELESS.



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