Florence to Amsterdam and Back

So here I am again, on the road to somewhere new. I arrived in Florence on 30th December after a ten hour flight to Paris, a cold and foggy terminal transfer and an hour delay. I was very nervous about going through customs, since I smartly chose to come to Italy with the “3 month tourist no visa” visa. I didn’t even go through customs… interestingly, I’m technically still in Paris? Anyway, I was also nervous about finding Lorenzo in the airport. The Pisa airport is not nearly the size of any of the other airports in my mind, needless to say I walked out of baggage and into his arms. He was patiently waiting (remember that hour delay?) front-and-center of the crowd. It was slightly shocking when he instantly went in to kiss me, but a short 30 minutes later everything was back to normal.

Pisa is about an hour drive from Florence so on the drive home we started to sit in silence. Normally, this would make me uneasy since we had been apart for just under six months but it was calming. I looked at him and said “I don’t want you to think I am not excited, it’s just that it feels like we have been together the whole time”. It’s funny how that happens after all the hardships that come from a long distance relationship.
The first two days in Florence were spent meeting friends, family and co-workers; taking short naps and eating. I think the most important thing that I learned in Italy straight out was surprisingly, nothing about how to speak or order food, but instead how to appreciate people for their animation and different means of communication. I sat through two dinners (dinners in Italy are long) understanding no spoken word but still smiling and enjoying myself. I didn’t find a dull moment in simply watching everyone else interact.
Without a moment to breath we packed our bags and headed to Amsterdam for the much anticipated surprise Australia reunion. Being the bargain hunters we are, Lorenzo and I, yet again booked a 6am flight. The difference between doing this in Sydney and doing this in Florence is that the airport in Florence is an hour away. Lorenzo’s dad kindly picked us up at 4am to get us to the airport on time.
The second problem with bargain flying is that the airport you choose as a destination, is never close to where you really want to be. We landed in Eindhoven, which we discovered is a half hour bus ride and just over an hour train ride from Amsterdam’s central station. Being the seasoned travelers we are (this is probably a drastic overstatement) we somehow made it. Waiting for our friends Nell and Ivo to pick us up was nerve-racking for me. I didn’t know how they would react to seeing me. After walking through the station to find exactly which tourist center they were standing in front of we spotted them across the platform. I smiled and Ivo stared back squinting. They had no idea who I was. As Nell rounded the corner he broke a huge smile realizing it was me! They both picked me up and hugged me, and Lorenzo was left sliding across the pavement with his luggage. A little later our friend Maud arrived from France and all of the surprises were over and bigger than expected.
It is a few degrees colder in Amsterdam than it is in Italy and quite a different atmosphere. There is a lot of junk food in Holland. McDonalds, Febo (and we Americans thought WE were convenient!!), Burger King, Frites on every corner (french fries usually served with Mayo). Anyway, despite the feeling that I was instantly gaining 5 pounds, I had quite a good time!
Ivo and Nell had met a Dutch girl, Manna, on their trip in the outback in Australia so they got in touch with her and we went to her cousins house where our chef Matt (NZ) cooked us a lovely dinner! We bought way more beer than we could handle and took a lot of pictures of us being us again. Then after Manna’s husband arrived we headed out to their friends for a house party.
Houses in Amsterdam are a bit different than anywhere else I have been. They are built all connected and straight up, very narrow. Therefore, the stairways are extremely steep and narrow (going downstairs to the bathroom after a few beers is quite the feat). In order to get furniture and belongings inside the houses they are built with hooks on the top to use as a pulley system and in order to allow there to be enough leverage to keep items from hitting the house the fronts of the houses are built leaning toward to street. After this long explanation what I as going to say is that walking down the streets of Amsterdam is quite a sight and joining a party of 200 in a house that appears to be “propped up” in front of the canal is quite an adventure. In the end the house didn’t collapse (phew) and we counted down the New Year outside along the canal and in front of one of the squares nearby. We watched fireworks going off everywhere and played with sparklers like five-year olds. It was just as amazing as I could have imagined.
After the New Year, the friends slowly ventured home and Lorenzo, Matt and I were left with a few open days to explore the city. Matt had some bad luck on the trip but I think that Lorenzo and my planning helped him enjoy his last few days wallet-less, camera-less and penny-less. We visited the Heineken factory, where we were surprised by the set up of the modern factory, we were able to enjoy free beer and found out how many Italians actually were visiting Amsterdam at the same time as we were. The next day we went on a “free” guided tour. We were graced with a very knowledgeable NZ native who had been living in Amsterdam for 10 months. Mason donated his time to give us a much detailed tour of the entire city through the snow. I tipped him 10 Euro for his efforts. It was a great way to feel like we were getting more than a party and the freedom to smoke legally.
Again, bargain travelers were up at 3am to get to the airport for our 9am flight. Such smart travelers we are turning out to be.