JohnnySnelgrove's Travel Journals


What is your funniest travel experience?

Playing music with a group of Ghanian drummers. My strings kept breaking, and we would meticulously tie them back together in order to keep jamming.

  • 28 years old
  • From Washington, United States
  • Currently in Washington, United States

Firenze, Italy 2012

Living the life of an Italian journalist.

The Industrial North

Italy Venice, Italy  |  Nov 15, 2012
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 All around us, waterfalls gurgled and poured down the mountains into a steep gorge. The air smelled fresh, and green foliage consumed the landscape. If ever there were a place to find magic fairies or a unicorn or two, this would be it. 

     I wandered north to the industrial center of Italy this weekend, eventually turning around and heading home after reaching Venice. My path to the sinking city took a lot of odd twists and turns, starting with a train into the western hills of Tuscany to visit a tiny Italian village called San Mome. Temple the traveling troubadour took me there to stay at a communistic type house dubbed “The Pirate Cave”. Thursday afternoon, we slung our guitars across our backs and hopped aboard the slow regional train chugging towards the larger town of Pistoia. Here I introduced Temple to the beauty of all-you-can-eat aperitivo, an Italian tradition in which you buy a drink to gain access to the bar’s buffet. We found one at a quiet cafe for three euros per drink, and proceeded to chow down on peanuts and tiny sandwiches.

          Honestly, I still don’t know much about the culture surrounding aperitivo. At bigger aperitivi, the bar usually has pasta, rice, sandwiches and all sorts of other filling foods. I can go for awhile on a small amount of food, so the urge to gorge myself becomes hard to resist. My guess is that eating too much at aperitivo is frowned upon, though. But when you don’t need to eat much, a three dollar buffet with a drink is hard to pass up.

          We got sidetracked eating and talking to an old guitarist at the bar before realizing the last train left for San Mome sooner than expected. So we had to bolt across the town at full speed. We made it to the station just as the old train was about to take off. Luckily, the train was a junker and broke down five feet out of the station, so we climbed aboard as the conductor scurried down the isle to restart the engine. The motor whirred and chugged, and we began our climb into the hills. By this time, it had gotten dark, so I didn’t see much of the countryside.

          San Mome looked like Rivendell or something along those lines. A single road twisted up the mountain and underneath the arched train-bridge. All around us, waterfalls gurgled and poured down the mountains into a steep gorge. The air smelled fresh, and green foliage consumed the landscape. If ever there were a place to find magic fairies or a unicorn or two, this would be it (except for the Amazon Rainforest, which is the most biodiverse place on earth. Statistically, you have a better chance of finding a fairy or unicorn there, but San Mome still looks pretty).

          The Pirate cave was filling with interesting people from all over the place: Poland, Finland, England, Italy. And they had a great big fluffy dog named Sid Unvicious. He really was a friendly dog. We had a big Italian style dinner that night, then sat in the kitchen singing Bob Dylan songs. I think they’d make a miserable pirate crew; they’re all too friendly. They did have an awesome Jolly Roger waving outside the front door, though. That was the most piratey thing about them.

          The next day, I did a bunch of dishes, thanked my hosts, then took off on another slow northbound regional train to visit my friend in Padova. San Mome’s train station was so small, I didn’t know where to buy a ticket, so I just didn’t buy one. I don’t even think they sold them. On the train, I got talking to an old man in Italian. He pointed out mountains that he’d climbed. After awhile, the train rolled into a medium-sized station, and he told me we had to transfer to Bologna. He was heading for a town between Padova and Bologna, so I followed him onto another train about to push off. He didn’t buy a ticket, so neither did I. I figured he knew what he was doing. Halfway to Bologna, we said our goodbyes and I crossed my fingers and hoped a conductor didn’t show up. The train made it to Bologna conductor-free, and I bought a ticket to Padova for a couple euros (this one was checked). In total, I paid about 10 euros to take trains from Firenze to Venice—about 260 kilometers.

          In Padova, I met with my friend, Nikki, another exSASer from the fall ’11 voyage. She’d been in Padova for almost a year working as an au-pair. The contrast between Padova and San Mome shocked me. By no means would I equate Padova to Isengard, but given the context of the locale swap, Padova really did make me think of Isengard. Tall sturdy concrete and steel buildings surrounded an industrial train station filled with people going to and from work. The rain probably didn’t help Padova make a good first-impression, either. In the place of an hour, I had two groups of lowlifes try to sell me cocaine. Aside from the drug dealers, though, I found Padova filled with good people. Nikki’s friend invited a host of friends over for dinner and we all wound up improvising blues lyrics until the wee hours of the morn.

       The next day, I took off on my own for Venice. It started out rough. Italian trains are spotty and unpredictable, plus I was hungry. Hunger makes the world look so much bleaker. I stopped by a grocery store to grab some breakfast before leaving, but the lady in front of me decided it was a good day to get rid of all her spare change. Eventually, I had to forfeit my breakfast and run for the train that never came. After waiting ten minutes, a highspeed train pulled up and told everyone waiting for the regional train that they had to find another or pay a fee to use the highspeed one. I wanted to strangle someone at the time, but it all worked out in the end, and I found myself in Venice by 1:00.

          First thing I did was stop by a cafe to get something to eat. In the corner of the restaurant, a group of roisterous Serbs polished off what looked like their fourth bottle of wine. After they had emptied the bottle, a girl stood up on the chair and pulled a pair of socks out of the lighting fixture. I laughed and they heard me, started laughing, then invited me over for a bottle of wine. They’d been caught in the seasonal flooding of Piazza San Marco, the largest and most important plaza in Venice. After hearing about this, I wanted to see the flooding for myself, so I made my way through the narrow winding streets, over bridges, and around gondola-filled canals. An hour later and I emerged in the massive gothic-style square; it had dried up, though.

          Venice has experienced some of the worst flooding in history the past twenty years. At around the same time Hurricane Sandy swamped New York, 70% of Venice had already been flooded. This is more than a wakeup call, this is a kick in the teeth. Regardless of whether or not humans are contributing to global climate change, the global climate is changing—so we better do something about it. Firstly, we should probably get some dikes up in New England, Venice, New Orleans, and other flood-prone spots, because I don’t think the storms will be getting milder anytime soon. Then, after we’ve got some barricades up, we should at least try to curb our greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t understand why this issue is so contested in the first place; the way we power our lives makes use of finite resources (natural gas, petroleum, coal, oil, etc.), we’re going to run out sooner or later, might as well start the switch to renewable energies now and see if it helps the situation. I’d rather see tax dollars going towards that than a bunch of useless road maintenance.

        In addition, the further we get from polluting energy sources, the better we’ll feel.  I couldn’t walk outside in some parts of China without wearing a mask because the pollution was so bad. In comparison, every time I took a breath in San Mome, I felt good about it. It was more than a mental thing, too. The air legitimately tasted better. I have no other way to describe it.

          Monday morning, I took a highspeed train back to Firenze, which cost me about 25 euros, but eased my sense of being a burden on the state. In two days time, I’ll be heading to the Mezzogiorno, the economically stunted southern region of Italy. If I thought San Mome and Padova had a stark contrast, I’m in for a big eye opener. As an Italian student in Florence put it, “you’re going to Sardinia? To study music? Are you crazy?  No, no, no, go to Napoli. Don’t go to Sardinia. Sardinia’s a shithole.”

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