TRAVeLMAN TUSCANY: Where the Bad Things Are Pulled Out
I stayed in the Tuscan countryside for three days.
I didn’t realize I’d be in the countryside until after I booked the hostel. The Ostello Bigallo was highly rated and sounded good in their self-description (which I read carefully to ensure there was no age limit!). I glanced at the map and it looked a bit further from city center than the other hostels, but not by much... It was, kinda. It was nearly six miles outside of Florence.
I chalked the location up as an unexpected bonus. I figured that I could simply take the bus into the city if I felt like it. Otherwise, I’d enjoy my getaway in the countryside of Tuscany.
After exiting the train station in Florence, I found the first of the two busses easily enough. However, getting on the bus wasn’t as easy. I hadn’t bought a bus ticket. Italy has this weird thing where you have to buy single ride tickets at tobacco shops before your ride (tobacco shops sell more than tobacco. They’re mini mini-marts).
You can pay for your ride on the bus, but you have to have exact change of two euros (more than you pay at a tobacco shop btw). I boarded the bus, discovered I didn’t have correct change, the driver wanted nothing to do with me, and I got off at the next stop.
I walked along the route until I found a tobacco shop. it happened to be at a major bus stop hub in a roundabout.
Another 23a came around and I boarded with my ticket. Getting off at the right stop for my transfer promised to be easy enough because the stops were displayed digitally and announced on a speaker at the front of the bus. ...Yet, I still missed my stop. It was only by a few seconds so the driver was nice enough to let me out a few feet down the road.
My transfer bus showed up a few minutes later, I boarded, the bus sat at the stop for ten minutes before moving on, no air conditioning. This bus had no digital screen displaying the next stops. A computerized voice announced the stops but it was at a volume I could barely hear and the pronunciation was, well, foriegn to me.
My stop was Roma 21. We seemed to be stopping every few hundred feet, Roma 7, Roma 9, Roma 13, etc.
Roma 21 snuck up on me and the driver blew past it. I hoped he would stop soon, being that we’d been stopping so often. No such luck, the bus kept going, and going ...and going up the hill and into the countryside. Finally after nearly another mile, we stopped.
I hopped out and began hiking back down the hill we’d climbed for the past mile. Stone walls lined each side of the road. I had neither a view upon which to gaze nor off road space upon which to walk. At least I was going down hill.
I reached my stop at the intersection. It was the last spot with any buildings lining the road. I turned and headed up the road toward the hostel. Once again, stone walls lined the steep incline. It seemed to be getting hotter. Sweat poured down my face ...This place better be worth it.
Finally I reached a large old building that was the Bigallo. Check-in wasn’t until four o’clock and it wasn’t yet two p.m. I figured I could at least drop my bag then go get something to eat. I rang the bell. No one answered.
I feared it was like the hostel in Snowden, where they don’t even show up until four and leave you locked out and out of luck. I unhooked the waist buckle of my pack and let my bag drop like a sack of rocks. I sat on the stone ledge feeling the coolness of the air on my sweat soaked back. The front door opened.
A skinny, bespectacled, black man in his early thirties poked his head out and stared at me. I said I had a reservation. He let me in. The walls were stone, the place appeared empty.
The guy said he was a volunteer, that check-in wasn’t until four, and nobody was else was there. He sounded American. His social aptitude was lacking. I wondered what his deal was. He didn’t offer out any information unless I specifically asked, otherwise he stared at me.
I asked if there was anywhere I could go. Was there a town right up the road?
“Why?” He asked.
I was taken aback. “Uh, like somewhere to go before check-in.”
I didn’t expect to have to further elaborate. Had he not caught onto the obvious signs that I’d been traveling all morning? That I’d just hiked up the road with my bags and now there’s no one around, nothing here and nothing to do? I said, “So I could maybe get some food, hang out there.”
“Like pizza?” He said.
“...I guess, whatever.”
“There’s two places down the hill.”
“All the way back down the hill I just walked up?” I said disappointed.
“Not all the way. About ten minutes.” He said. He began describing a gravel path and directions of which I had no chance of comprehending.
“Is there a wifi password so I can put it in maps?” I handed him my iPad with the wifi prompted. He put in the password and entered the place on maps.
I asked to leave my bag. He said, “Yeah, I guess you could leave it right here.” As though this was a new concept to him. -Dude was weird, and I was hot and tired.
ONce I left the wifi connection, the little blue dot on the map stopped moving, or skipped around wildly. I was on my own. The road branched to the left and to the right. Apparently, I chose the road less traveled because it was a dead end. I backtracked and made it down the hill to the main road. It seemed like forever but it was only about ten minutes.
The views of the countryside were beautiful. Butterflies, yellow ones, white ones, and brown ones, fluttered around the bushes lining the road. Only two cars passed me the entire time.
The main road wasn’t much of a town. I found one restaurant that was closed for the afternoon, then walked further and found a mini-mart, deli type place. An overweight, old Italian woman in a stained white apron manned the counter. Her hair was dyed red and her glasses were large round frames. She spoke only Italian. We communicated with pointing and smiles. I ordered cold risotto.
I sat, eating at the small, single table in the charming little shop while the woman read the paper. Every few minutes a car passed. A customer wandered in here and there, each seemed to know the woman wearing the stained apron.
Eventually, I headed back up the hill. As is often the case, due to familiarity, the return trip seemed shorter.
After checking in, I wandered around, took pictures, and discovered the wifi worked only in particular areas of the building. Dinner time rolled around. It was pasta and wine served family style. We ate on the Veranda. If I stood from the table I could gaze down at the city of Florence a scant six miles in the distance. It felt unreal to be drinking wine from the Veranda of a hostel built in the Middle Ages and chatting with other travelers as we snapped pics of the sun setting over Florence.
At this first dinner, an older couple sat on one side of the other end of the table and a younger couple sat on the other side. I didn’t talk to them much. I was at the head of the table. A kiwi (New Zealander) young man sat to my left and a twenty-one year old dude from Hawaii sat to my right. They were pleasant but I found them a bit lacking in maturity.
Toward the beginning of the conversation, the twenty-one year old and I discovered we’d stayed at the same hostel simultaneously in Venice. I mentioned that I didn’t get to go into Venice on the second night, but I still had fun because I met a girl. That’s all I said, no details, and it was all that was needed for the conversation to devolve.
The young man proceeded to share that he had also met a girl, then proceeded to kiss and tell, in detail, and then tell of another recent encounter in Greece. I said, “Well, congratulations.’ Then I kept silent and added nothing to the conversation, hoping he’d take the hint.
Not to be left out, the young kiwi said he had met a girl as well, in Budapest! He had pictures of her which he promptly shared. He also shared the fact (every five minutes) that he’d recently been through a break up.
By the next morning, I came to find that the kiwi found it necessary to pre-empt every one of his stories with “And I’ve just been through a break-up, so...” or “...Cuz I just went through a break-up.” And don’t dare acknowledge this point, because like so many people who’ve “just been through a break-up” he was ready to share all the details repeatedly, in depth ...ad nauseum. She cheated on him.
So the two men traded stories of conquest as I sat drinking my wine and finishing my pasta. I felt like I was watching them sword fight with their man organs as they pretended to bond.
I went upstairs to my ten bed dorm room. I was the only occupant that evening. The owners entertained their friends downstairs on the Veranda. Their celebration grew louder as the evening wore on. I didn’t mind it, I enjoyed listening to the joyous Italian conversations I could not understand and the explosions of Italian laughter everyone should be fortunate enough to know.
It began to storm. The party went inside. All I could hear was the storm. Lightening flashed and thunder rolled, I fell asleep.
I had strange dreams, the dreams of deep sleep that take you to lifetimes lived and yet to live, metaphors and archetypes, stories that only make sense before they’re told, I remembered none of them. I woke early, just after seven.
I went for breakfast, it was included in the stay. Toward the end of my morning meal, the kiwi came down. He had his backpack, he was ready to go. He smiled and asked if the hostel was haunted.
I said I didn’t know and waited for him to add that he was asking because he’d just been through a break-up.
The kiwi said he’d been visited by a ghost in the night. He saw nothing, but he felt it. He too had strange dreams, but he woke shivering as well, feeling strange, as though something was in the room with him. He said that at one point, he felt as though something reached inside of him and pulled “something bad” from his chest.
“Well, at least it was a helpful ghost.” I said. I didn’t think much of the kiwi and chalked his experience up to him having drank beer and wine, and having eaten two helpings of pasta.
An employee entered the kitchen area to tend to the breakfast spread. The kiwi asked him if the hostel was haunted. The employee said, “Yes. Some guests have seen things. ...It freaked me out.” The employee walked off into the kitchen before the kiwi could fully tell of his experience. I think the emloyee wanted to avoid hearing more stories of the break-up.
A few minutes later, the kiwi donned his backpack and went on his way. I don’t remember his name, that’s why I call him the kiwi.
A few minutes later, the young couple came down for breakfast. I told them about the haunting. They weren’t surprised. The previous day, the woman had gone into the bathroom and the door locked on her from the outside. Someone had to let her out. The man woke during the night due to cracks of thunder. He heard animals screaming. He stepped outside to see what it was. The hostel cat, a black cat, had killed a rabbit. The man saw the dead rabbit and heard the cat cowered in the darkness growling at him.
The haunting seemed to add up.
Later that day, a young woman from Chicago arrived. I invited her to walk to the mini-mart with me, there was nothing else to do. I told her of the haunting, it scared her.
That evening her friend arrived, two other women, a new couple, and a guy from Arizona. I felt as though we were characters in a horror movie. The American hostel volunteer with the poor social aptitude continued to make mention of the uncouthness of some Americans. He thought he was being witty, but he persisted to such a degree that I felt like yelling at him, “Dude! YOU’RE American. WE’RE American. Shut up already. You’re not so “couth” yourself.
There were many bottles of wine to be drank and we did our duty. A party was going on next door. We’d been told it was a wedding. I encouraged my fellow diners to join me on a wedding crashing mission when the time was right.
When the time was right, only one brave diner joined me. The adjoining door to the hall was closed so we walked around the front. The woman and I planned to ingratiate ourselves into the party by asking for a light for her cigarette. We befriended two of the guests and discovered it was not a wedding. It was a fourth grade graduation party for a small local school. That explained the excess of children we’d heard running around. One of the dads gave her a light.
We returned to our side of the hostel.
A disagreement between the “cultured” American hostel volunteer and the American from Phoenix broke out. The argument was over whether Target was better than Walmart. I added my opinion, expecting the conversation to move on, there wasn’t much to debate. However, the debate raged on. The two Americans both argued their points to the couple from Manchester, as though the dismayed Brits were the judges. The Brits only wanted more wine.
I wanted to tell them that not all Americans, most Americans, don’t argue over Target and Walmart but I wasn’t completely confident I’d be telling the truth. So instead, I went to bed.
There was no storm that evening and no one had anything pulled out of them.
The guests left the next day and new ones arrived. The hostel hosted another party, it was a wedding. I was excited to crash it- that is, until the guests arrived. It was a small reception and most everyone was over sixty or a married couple. I didn’t bother attempting to live out a Wedding Crashers fantasy
It was a relaxing and enjoyable three days and three nights. My only disappointment is that nothing bad was pulled out of me by a ghost ...that I know of.
A good time was had by all, even the ghosts, I suspect.
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