Florence Some More…

Among all the hurdles we had faced until Sunday, May 29th, weather hadn’t been one of them. That was set to change soon, though. Dark clouds loomed large over the city. Before the day ended, we were going to be grateful for being told to pack our jackets against the rains.

We had just stepped out of our room when the rain first made its appearance. The initial light drizzle quickly turned into a steady downpour, forcing both of us to not just wear the jackets but also those ridiculous-looking hoods attached to it. By the time we crossed Ponte A.Vespucci and ducked into a breakfast place, we were feeling miserable.

After croissant and hot chocolate there, which perked up our mood considerably, we headed towards the Basilica of Santa Croce. We braved the rain and managed to reach the basilica only to realise that it would open to general public only at about 2 p.m. By then, the rain had gotten considerably heavier which meant we had to huddle under a roadside shelter with few of the other tourists.

The rains provided a new business opportunity to the street vendors who took to selling ponchos and umbrellas. We were among the minority who didn’t purchase either on from them. What we did purchase, in the meantime, was fridge magnets for our friends as well as ourselves as mementos. We waited out the rest of the rain at the Loggia dei Lanzi.

With the rain easing, we went and had our lunch before proceeding to queue up in front of the basilica gates. It was another 15 minutes before the gates were open and we were ushered in. While the service had gotten over, the choir practice was going on in full swing. We walked around in hushed silence, feeling overwhelmed to be inside a place which famously houses the graves of Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli among other prominent Florentines as well as the funerary monuments of others like Da Vinci and Dante. We experienced something akin to Stendhal syndrome.

We decided to take it easy in the evening as we walked back to our place of stay. Ranji had decided that we’d cook our dinner, and we checked with our hostess if she too wanted to have a taste of Maggi noodles, Indian style. We had a fun time discussing about Bollywood movies, its different actors and the various song-dance sequences. Our hostess was proof that Bollywood continues to be one of India’s biggest export item, if not the first. Soon, we finished our dinner and retired for the night.

Getting up early the next day morning, we quickly packed our suitcases. More of Maggi noodles was made as breakfast before we decided to check out. We said our goodbye to Seda and decided to walk to our pickup point at Santa Maria Novella for the airport transfer to Pisa. It wasn’t easy walking 2 kms to the point, but the tabacchi store was not open for us to procure bus tickets. Reaching at Santa Maria Novella, it took us a while to finally figure out where the pickup point for the bus was. When it came, the bus turned out to be worse than the inter-state buses seen here in India. It didn’t matter, though, as we both slept off as soon as the bus was out of Florence town. In hindsight, the bus was probably not as bad as I thought it was, or I was more tired than I was ready to accept, because we were just about 5 kms away from Pisa when I woke up. We were excited about traveling to Amsterdam, but there was just another twist in the tale waiting for us.

Within minutes of reaching the Pisa airport, we realised there was something wrong as we saw that our flight had been rescheduled by an hour or so. The boarding time quickly started getting pushed by half an hour every 20 minutes or so. The take-off time finally was told to be around 5:30 p.m., about 4–1/2 hours from the scheduled time. Meanwhile, we were expected to check-in our luggage on time. We found that a bit funny but were happy to not be lugging around luggage in an airport that was quickly running out of space to with the people coming in. Multiple times we’ve seen on TV about the flight delays in Europe, this time we were in the middle of one.

By the time we boarded our Transavia flight, we were quite frustrated with the wait. The crew on board, though, made us feel very better. They were warm and friendly, something I’ve found sorely missing in the Indian low-cost carriers. Then again, the crew we had were an exception. Either way, they made it a point to talk to each and every passenger on board, customising their conversations accordingly.

Another very noticeable thing was how huge the Dutch looked. Italians were bigger, but not by much and we didn’t feel so out of place while in Rome or Florence. Here, in this confined space up in the sky, we felt all the punier compared to our fellow passengers. It doesn’t help much when Ranji is just 5 feet and I’m 5 feet 6. Though they looked intimidating in size, they seemed quite friendly.

We landed at Schipol in Amsterdam around 8:30 p.m. or so, but the drama wasn’t about to end. They were expecting a storm, which had delayed our flight from Pisa, and it was a health and safety issue trying to connect the skywalk to the aircraft. It wasn’t until another 15 minutes before we could disembark and another 30 minutes before we could collect our luggage and head towards the exit.

My cousin’s husband, Shashank, had come to the airport to receive us. After exchanging the initial pleasantries, we immediately went to a store in the airport to pick up some beer. We had a short bus ride before we could reach their house in Hoofddorp. Moments after we got inside the bus, the storm decided to act rather than just threaten. It was so heavy that Shashank confirmed it was the heaviest rain he had witnessed since coming to Netherlands. Within seconds of getting off the bus, we were drenched and so was our luggage. The short walk from the bus stop to their house seemed to take forever, but we finally reached their apartment all wet and miserable.

My cousin’s 2-year-old son, Angad, was fighting sleep to just see us, but he was a bit shy when he finally did see us. Soon, he went off to sleep while we got dry and had our first Indian meal in almost a week. By then, the strain of the journey caught up with us and we went off to sleep.

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