On the third morning of my stay in Tuscany I woke up with a swollen face. My neck was swollen too, and swallowing felt like moving a shard of glass down my gullet. My glands were massive, and I felt a bit dizzy, and generally rubbish. Having been on a high for the past few days following graduating from university, I was brought back down to earth with a thump. My neck was so large, it might as well have been a literal thump. As the morning progressed it got worse, and between us we only had a couple of doses of ibuprofen, which gave only a temporary relief to my discomfort. On top of the blistering July heat, my happiness quickly dwindled.
It was a simple plan: spend a week in a villa in the middle of nowhere in the Tuscan countryside, and just chill by the pool. It had started off well, atleast it had when we made it to Italy. It hadn’t been the most relaxing trip to the airport after the taxi was late, and he proceeded to make up for the lost time by attempting to make the car fly, accelerating along the motorway like a bat out of hell. At the time, it was the scariest taxi ride I had ever been on (that title now belongs to a ride I had in Athens a couple of years ago!), and my friends and I gave each other ‘save me’ looks whilst gripping onto the upholstery.
Following our arrival in Pisa, a few train rides brought us to Pistoia, a lovely town still surrounded by a wall. Another taxi ride later, and we pulled up at our villa, none of us having change to give a tip. It didn’t go down very well. But the villa was stunning, and just what we wanted: seclusion, sunshine and a swimming pool, not to mention good company with everybody enjoying the relief of finishing university and most importantly: the end of exams.
Pistoia was a lovely old-fashioned town to walk around, quaint and picturesque, and it moved at a lovely sedate pace that was inspiring. Pisa on the other hand left a lot to be desired. I was the only one of our group that chose to climb the leaning tower, the others preferring to wander round the cathedral. It is a very bizarre feeling going uphill then downhill then uphill then downhill despite climbing staircases, but it was a lovely view from the top. Granted, we spent only a rushed day in Pisa, but something about the place meant I didn’t warm to it.
Florence on the other hand, was in a league of its own. For many people, the first destination for visitors to the city are the shops, cafes or galleries. Mine was ‘la farmacia’. As I had planned on spending the week by the pool, I hadn’t bothered to learn a word of the language. A few of my companions knew the basics, so as far as I was concerned a simple ‘buongiorno’ and ‘grazie’ was as much as I needed to worry about. My troubles getting Ibuprofen that day taught me a lesson in learning basic communication skills in the native language prior to visiting. Having said that, I felt the pharmacist was being deliberately difficult when it came to giving us what I so desperately needed. To me, ‘vorrei Ibuprofen per favore’ was a reasonable request, but it was met by a blank face and a ‘non capisco’. Vorr-ei I-bu-pro-fen per fa-vore. Perhaps saying it slower would help. The girl at the counter called her supervisor and we went through the whole rigmarole again. Having already spent the train ride to Florence convinced everyone was staring at my fat neck, I was confused that he couldn’t appreciate my current predicament. After a bit of pointing and gesticulating, the lightbulb turned on above his head, and his eyes lit up. ‘Ah! Ibuprofene!’ Now, written down, there is only an additional vowel. Phonetically, in English, we were saying Eye-bew-profe-en. The Italian equivalent is Ee-boo-pro-phen-ay. Frankly, I don’t think there is much difference between the two, but had it been me doing the talking I could have put it down to my pathetic-foreign-accent syndrome, but it had been my friend in her convincingly-native-to-my-ears accent that had done all the questioning. I guzzled the ee-boo-pro-phen-ay down with as much glee as my razor sharp throat would allow.
My favourite part of Florence was the Duomo. I loved wandering around inside and climbing higher and higher up the walls until eventually making it out onto the roof. The reams of red slate roofs disappearing in all directions is a warming sight, and a wander around the stalls at Ponte Vecchio was an eye-opener. We spent the afternoon wandering around the gardens at the back of the city until the sun began to set, and then the day was rounded off with pizza in a cafe near the Arno river, followed by a tiring bus trip back to Pistoia.
I slept brilliantly that night, apart from when my friend pushed me awake due to my snoring. After apologising, I quickly drifted off into the land of nod again. When I awoke the next morning, she was not impressed. Normally a quiet sleeper, my swollen neck and face had turned me into a bulldozer trying to mow down a herd of angry elephants. A second night of the same threatened to ruin our friendship forever, and she was forced to sleep on the couch downstairs. The third night was my turn to sleep on the couch. I woke up each morning with a parchment-dry mouth that ached, but the ibuprofen quickly eased it off for the daytime to let me enjoy some pool time in the sunshine.
By the end of the week I was feeling immensely better, although I continued to snore for several nights after the holiday was over. A trip to Viarreggio to laze at the beach and lap up some delicious gelato certainly helped soothe my aches and restore my status quo. As I spent this day by myself, I had no choice but to make some effort to speak the lingo, and thankfully I managed to negotiate not just the Italian rail system, but the immense choice of gelato flavours available in the parlour. For me, happiness is a belly full of good grub, so this followed by a cracking bbq back at the villa was just perfect to offset the graduation holiday. Buona vacanza!