We head south of the famous Ninja Turtle statues of the Uffizi to the Arno river. Get to the banks and up ahead is the Ponte Vecchio. It’s just a knock out.
“Well damn. There’s that.” “Gorgeous, eh?” “So ya, this place blows Naples out of the water.” “Oh, big time.”
The arched stone bridge was built at the narrowest part of the river back in Roman times. Reconstructed after a flood or two and has basically stood like this since 1345.
Looking South from the bridge to the Ponte alle Grazie.
Along the bridge is prime real estate for fancy ass jewelry shops and artists.
“Around the corner from here somewhere is a leather shop where I bought a notebook and a cool bracelet last time.” “You wanna find it again?” “Nah, let’s just find a pint somewhere.” “Loving the garb on these coppers.” “Oh yeah, that’s sweet.”
Giannino in San Lorenzo
We make our way back across the bridge and through the amazing statue and Duomo plazas again to the area around Hostel Plus figuring we’ll grab some beers nearby and figure out what to do next.
The rain has been light but steady the whole time. A side street unveils a decent looking street side covered patio that looks about perfect for our needs. It’s a place called Giannino in San Lorenzo. Looks authentically Italian and there’s a full spread of open seats outside. “Well well.” “In.”
We get set up outside and a white shirted and aproned server comes out to greet us. We point at a seat and he nods while picking up some menus. He speaks perfect English and is firing off a couple jokes on the sly. We put in for beers and kick back to watch the wet world go by.
James is in the middle of telling a story and I get distracted by the server behind us motioning to the girls across the street at the Bata shoe place. He’s cupping his hands around his man boobs and yelling across the street at them trying to get them to show their tatas.
They just giggle and wave him down telling him to stop. Nope, he just continues with the distanced harassment, an unsexy sneer on his face. Not sure if he’s doing this for our benefit or his own but the look on his face and the girls reactions are hilarious. They’re just laughing at him, bashfully embarrassed that we’ve now noticed.
We’re caught in the middle, chuckling to ourselves. “They probably have a daily working banter with this dude.” “Ya, they don’t seem to mind.”
Bracelets from Senegal
The beers and stories continue as the rain comes down a little harder now. We watch umbella’d tourists scampering by and the daily routines of workers in their shops. It makes for a perfect little side street setting. The rounds and conversation are flowing and we’re caught up in our own banter, cracking each other up with outrageous story after story.
A lithe black fella with a million bracelets on each wrist sees us enjoying the afternoon and comes by the table. He says he’s from Senegal and ‘likes our energy’, “Happy, happy people. Good to see.” He puts a little carved elephant in my hand. “It’s a gift, happy people. Where are you from, America?”
I’m instantly not feeling this vibe. “No. Canada.” “Oh very good. He quickly takes each of our wrists and puts a bracelet on them.” MacKay isn’t liking the handsy-ness of this Senegalese dude either and immediately starts taking it off, “Nah man, we’re good.” “No, no it’s ok. Gift for you.” I offer a polite but firm, “No, no we don’t need it. Thank-you.”
Our brazen server guy, we’ll call him Brazo, sees this exchange from inside and quickly comes right out to tell him what’s what with some Italian ‘get the fuck out’ talk. We place the ‘gifts’ back in his hands with a polite smile and he shuffles off quickly.
Brazo is miffed, “I don’t like that. You guys here having a beer. Friends relaxing, laughing, talking. Someone like that comes over and ruins it. Fucking that.” “Ya, happens everywhere man.” “Yes. Nothing against their people or race. It’s ok, everyone needs money. But that’s not the way. Get out of here with that.” “Well cheers man, appreciate it.” “Of course, of course. Just relax.” “Thanks man.” “It’s nothing.”
Our champion heads back inside and we kick back into the beers and storytelling.
“Honestly, this is the best man. Look at this. Beautiful place. Amazing people watching. Good atmosphere. Good beer.” “Favorite thing to do really. Go to an incredible place. See nothing. Have beers instead.” “Ha, well I wouldn’t say we saw nothing.” “You know what I mean.” “Yeah. It really is the best though. I don’t really care what we do. Or where we go next.”
“Funny to think we’ve been doing this for weeks now. Get to a place just to become total goons haha.” “International goonery at it’s finest!” “Goonery del Mundo!” “Goonery del Mundo hahaha. That’s pretty good.” “Proud of myself on that one.” “Goonery del Mundo, fuck sakes. I think we have our own language of made up words at this point.” “Dude. It may be the language of the future!” And we’re roaring at our own witty stupidity.
This half-sensical banter continues for literally hours and we are again in that mode of no great ambitions or cares in the world. “Maybe some food.” It’s the first time we’ve cracked the menus since Brazo left them a couple hours ago. “Antipasto plate looks killer.” “Done.” We hail Brazo and make it happen.
It’s amazing and makes for a great side to pick over when it’s not your turn to tell a ridiculous story. From the quality of the dish and the finery inside I think this may actually be a more upscale joint. This makes it even more funny that a couple of vagabond hooligans have posted up outside to get sloshed and cackle into the street for hours. Good on Brazo for allowing this to continue for so long on just beer sales alone.
Bag Lady Maria
Our next story interruption comes in the form of an old lady who waddles over to beg for change. I reach in my pocket, got nothing. I put my hands up, elbow in, arms out, in the universal signal of apology. She’s unconvinced.
Brazo is right there again, “Hey, this is my friend. Maria, Maria no.” He’s trying to shoo her off but she’s not having it. She’s stroking my hair and pinching my cheeks. Showing James a picture of her kids. She points at her belly and starts poking it. It’s such a funny assault that we’re just pulling away and laughing. She keeps pulling us back in. In between Italian pleading with her Brazo is all, “Maria no, no. Go now.”
Maria is patting my back and Brazo points at a couple of security types coming towards us, “A la militaria.” Brazo waves them over and explains what’s up in Italian to these two handsome, buff military guys with machine guns in dashing raspberry berets.
One of them nods in understanding. He gets in an authoritative stance and leans on the railing in front of us. He quickly pulls off his glasses to fix Maria with a stern, half ironic, stone cold look. Maria stops patting my back and muttering and looks at him. He just holds firm, not blinking. Holding. Super serious. She’s looking right back at him. It’s quiet. (Is this a staring contest?) There’s a still in the air. The rain hovers as time halts.
MacKay and I can’t take it and bust up laughing. This just got super random. We’re pounding the table and almost falling out of our chairs. This dishelved old lady paired with the pristine military guard.. it’s too much. The military guard deftly flips his glasses back to his face and the two of them turn in unison and continue down the street in perfect step together. “Hahahah what. the. fuck. man!” Even Brazo has a belly laugh at this one, “Comedic timing, ya?”
But still Maria won’t let up. Another server comes out to help. Between him and Brazo they finally get Maria to continue on her way. She walks off and, strangely, is almost immediately replaced by a cloud of bubbles. A kid a few tables down is going to town on bubbles all the sudden. That was weird.
Brazo is shaking his head, “Ahhhh. Persistent. Persistent. More beer?” “Two please.” “Yes, prego. Of course.”
Brazo, who’s name we finally find out is actually Claudio, continues to make blow job gestures to the Bata shoe girls across the street. They’re rolling their eyes at him. The kid blowing bubbles is oblivious and MacKay and I are just in the middle losing it laughing at the sheer absurdity of everything.
“Fuck man, you can just sit here, have beers, and stupid shit just keeps happening.” “Nothing could be Bata than this.” “Har har. But seriously, I’m glad we chose this option over waiting in lines to see epic shit.” “I’m loving it. That’s for sure. Ha, look at Claudio now.” “Wow. Strong game.”
He’s gone across the street with a couple of espressos from the restaurant and is chatting them up. The girls are receptive to this maneuver. “There’s got to be some history here, eh?” “A hundred percent.”
He comes back all smiles and gives us a wink. His server buddy is on the restaurant patio smoking and drinking now. Must be off. They’re mock fighting each other and laughing.
“See, tickle fights. It’s universal. South America, Asia, Africa, Europe.” “Don’t get any fucking ideas. This rain won’t quit. What should we do?” “One more? Hope the rain dies down and then make our way to Bologna?” “Sure. You hit up your buddy?” “Yep. He’s around. Says any time is good. Could probably get there for a late dinner and see what the place is all about.” “Done deal.”
We wrap things up with Claudio/Brazo and thank him for a wonderfully random and carefree patio experience. He thanks us right back, gives us some respect shakes with a pat on the back and wishes us well.
Florence to Bologna
We start to make our way to the train station and realize we haven’t really eaten anything other than beer and an antipasto plate since the full English breakfast at the Duomo. Being conscious of time constraints yet also men of refined tastes we dip into the next MacDonald’s to see what’s on offer.
“Deep fried olives? At MacDonald’s?” “Well that’s super Italian.” “Fuck it. I’m doing it.” We get those and some coffees to get a perky, non-beer liquid in before train time. Might actually be some legit decisions that need to made.
“There’s meat in them!” “Ya. Good stuff actually.” “Dude. I could eat these on the regs for sure.”
Things are all decked out for Halloween.
We collect our gear from the Hostel Plus lockers and thank the staff for a great stay. Back to the beautiful Florence streets, we reverse our stroll from the previous day and backtrack the few blocks to the train station. We check in on high speed options. Leaves in 12 minutes. Amazing.
Having been on the high speed train once already in Italy we are now experts and don’t even bother with our seats this time round. Straight to the drinking car, we post up in our ‘regular’ seats. Bags down and energy up we inquire with the bartender about local beers since the Baladins we had on the way from Naples were mighty agreeable. She says, “There’s one called Rock and Roll.” “Instant win. Due per favore”
It’s a straight shot to Bologna and just under two hours. These 7.5 percent doozies should tie us over nicely.
I’ve made contact with a deep cover informant in Bologna who’s been there for a couple of years. Looking forward to catching up with him and his partner. I’ve actually known them both since high school. We have lots and lots of wawa/gaga memories together. Should make for an insightful investigation into what I’m expecting is an often untraveled city on most people’s Italy itinerary.