Lost cell phone and mystery bag become memorable moments in Florence

Fontaine Family Foray in Europe – Installment #7

After our departure from Dubrovnyk, Croatia aboard the MCS Poesia, we made our way back to Venice in order to catch the Italo high speed train to Florence. While I thought disembarking and heading to the train station would be an easy undertaking, it was anything but.

Who would have thought getting off the cruise ship would take upwards of two hours, but that’s what happens when you are assigned one of the last slots of the morning to disembark. After sitting around in the lounge for three hours, we finally made our way on land…and that’s when the fun began.

Great service and a central location await you at the Hotel L’Orologio in Florence, Italy

Based on Google Maps I knew the train station was not far, but it did require we cross over the canals at least twice. There was little to no signage, and only a couple of people willing to provide us with the most basic of instructions. After a 30-minute walk in the hot sun with our bags, we finally made our way to what they call the “People Mover”.

The People Mover is their fancy name for a monorail system that costs us around $10CAD to board and had only one stop across the canal which took all of 60 seconds. Once there, yet again no signage, but thankfully a young woman in a tourist shop was able to point us in the right direction toward a very large bridge with a lot of steps. This is clearly not something you look forward to in 39C heat while you are hauling all your luggage.

As we started to make our way up the bridge, a very generous young Italian man grabbed two of our bags and offered to help us cart it over. I couldn’t help but think…boy, these folks in Venice sure are a generous bunch if folks. When we reached the other side of the bridge, I realized that generosity only goes so far.

The Duomo is an impressive catherdral found in the heart of the city

“That will be five Euros for each bag,” the young man demanded. I looked at him, laughed and emptied out whatever change I had in my pocket which didn’t add up anywhere near to that. They don’t even charge that per bag at some of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed at. After a brief exchange of words, I smiled, wished him all the best and we finally made our way to the ticket booth.

We easily boarded the train for the two-hour trip which we knew meant we were down to our second to last stop of this journey. It was all fairly uneventful until the steward entered the cabin.

“Who owns this large grey bag that has been chained to the luggage compartment near the door?” he asked politely in English. Nobody responded in the affirmative. Then he looked a tad concerned, tried to see if it had a tag…picked up his walkie talkie…spoke to someone, then abruptly left our coach.

We had an amazing meal on a patio the first night in the city

If this were my first trip to Europe 25 years ago, I would have thought nothing of this incident. Even though I don’t obsess about potential terrorist threats, in this day and age you need to be vigilant. Was there something in the bag we should all be concerned about? Was it just a very cautious traveler in another coach who wanted to lock up his stuff to protect it?

In the end, we arrived safely and without incident in Florence. Yet this was a stark reminder to us that while we’re really enjoying our holiday, we are living in a very different world where people take pleasure out of inflicting harm on others.

As for Florence, well it was simply as spectacular as I remember it from my last visit back in 1997. It is one of the most charming cities in Italy and I also believe one of the most walkable. We were very fortunate to secure a good price for an amazing place called Hotel Orlogio [translation…Hotel of Clocks] near the Ponte Vecchio. It was only minutes away by foot to every single attraction you would ever want to see in this historic city. There was no need for public transit or cab fare – regardless of where we wanted to visit.

A replica of the Statue of David is a popular spot for tourists

The hotel was located in the shadow of the El Duomo Cathedral and you even could hear the bells ringing twice an hour. While there were likely almost as many tourists in Florence as there was in Venice, it just never felt as crowded or unwelcoming. The locals were extremely generous and the streets and sidewalks were exceptionally clean and safe for a city this size.

Once again, we weren’t in Florence for long so we tried to walk around and explore as much as we could. One of the highlights was a visit to the Galileo Museum located near the Ponto Vecchio in the heart of the city.

Unfortunately, my phone died a few days ago, so I couldn’t download a special app that would have enhanced my experience while walking through the museum. Therefore, I simply enjoyed it the old-fashioned way by strolling through and reading the descriptions and viewing the exhibits.

While I had heard or read about Galileo and many of his Italian cohort’s contributions to our modern society, there is nothing like seeing their creations up close. The museum is a fantastic place to bring a teenager who has even a mild interest in mathematics or science. It took all the theory and concepts and helped to link it back to where they all came from.

Our visit also included a quaint dinner on the patio in a pleasantly decorated restaurant as well hours of walking from one site to the other. It was however the final hours of our stay in Florence that might have been the most memorable – for all the right reasons.

As my wife and I sat down to enjoy some gelato on a super warm evening, the type we normally crave for in New Westminster, she noticed someone had inadvertently left their iPhone on the pubic bench in a town square across from our hotel. We both looked at each other and commented that someone must be frantically looking for this as we speak.

When I picked up the phone, the home page appeared to have Japanese characters. When I asked a Japanese tourist if she could read the name, she indicated the characters were written in Korean. After about 30 minutes watching over the phone, I decided to bring it to the nearby gelato shop in the hope that the person who lost it would come back and ask if anyone had turned it in to them.

The Hotel L’Orologio is only a few minutes away from the train station but can be a bit tricky to find due to lack of signage

I made my way back to the bench, but rather than leave immediately, I said to Andrea we should hang around for just a few more minutes [it had been an hour by now] as the person who lost it may have just realized and would be heading back to track it down. It was just then I heard a breathless young man run up behind me and begin saying something under his breath.

I turned around to look at this young Korean fellow who looked like he was in a state of panic when he saw no phone on the bench. That’s when I said to him “are you looking for a cell phone?”

He almost burst into tears…and said “yes, yes, yes…the cell phone of my friend”. We both walked over to the gelato shop where I grabbed his cell and gave it back to him.

A “Granville Island” style market has a lot of food options for you in one spot

It was only a few months ago my cell fell out of my pocket in downtown Vancouver and some kind stranger turned it in to Bentall Towers security. Had they not done that, I would have never been able to track it down. It was then I vowed that if I ever found someone else’s phone, I’d try to go the extra mile to get it back to the rightful owner. I guess we call it even!

The young man walked away and met up with his two female friends and they all came back to meet us on the bench a few minutes later. It was in fact the young woman’s phone we discovered and she expressed profound appreciation for what transpired. With a huge smile on her face she said in broken English “Please let me buy you both a gelato.”

We respectfully declined, wished them all a wonderful stay in Florence, then headed back to our hotel to pack. It was a nice way to end a marvelous stay in this wonderful Italian city.

Off to Rome we go tomorrow for the final pitstop in our European adventure. There will surely be more to report in the coming days.

Read previous blog posts about our trip:

Olympia, Greece
Bari, Italy
Mykonos, Greece
Sarande, Albania
Dubrovnky, Croatia