Don’t Take My Word For It: A Travel Series For The Constant Wanderer Mary Zakheim July 6, 2016 Don't Take My Word For It, International Travel, Travel Stories 3 Comments It is eight o’clock in the morning on September the twenty fourth. Florentine traffic pounds by outside of the open hostel window. The room is musty, the smell of mold so faint that I wonder if I’m only imagining it. It is silent in the sixteen-person dorm. The four girls lay face down on their bunks, legs peeking out of white sheets, escaping the heat while maintaining some sort of imagined privacy. The room is illuminated by the dusty sunlight that manages its way inside, tumbling over buildings and twisting around windowsills just to touch the dirty concrete floor. I begin to write: “Oof. What a night out in Florence…” Hoping that the gentle pattering of my fingers on the keyboard wouldn’t lull any of my roommates out of their hungover snoozing. I remember the first time that I went to Dante’s. My friends and I had heard about it from past study abroaders. “Stop right there,” We said collectively one Skype session, our friends relaying to us details of a place in Florence that served free wine to students, so long as they ordered an entrée. “You had us at ‘free wine’.”“Stop right there,” We said collectively one Skype session, our friends relaying to us details of a place in Florence that served free wine to students, so long as they ordered an entrée. “You had us at ‘free wine’.” And so we ventured out onto the darkened cobblestoned streets one night, dressed in what-we-thought-were Florentine essentials: black skinny jeans, Italian leather boots, a flouncy sheer tank, a leather jacket. We were a giggly clientele. We flirted with the wait staff, winked at the table of students next to us, stumbled on home, stopping in on a few discotecas and pubs on our way. We woke up the next morning with clear heads and bright eyes. We laced up our sneakers, went to classes and did it all over again. Every day, every week, every month passed like this until it was time to pack up my pink suitcase, board a plane and cross the Atlantic. Last night was my first visit to Florence since this time, two years, but so long ago. This time, I came a graduate, a wannabe writer, a slightly older young twentysomething. I turned to my travel partner, who had only ever been to Florence on a short weekend trip, and asked her an all-important question, “Have you been to Dante’s?” As she shook her head, my heart soared and I knew that our last night in Florence could only be spent in one place.“Have you been to Dante’s?” As she shook her head, my heart soared and I knew that our last night in Florence could only be spent in one place. That night, I led my friend through narrow alleys and over hilly streets, taking brief refuge from the intermittent rain under striped awnings, until, finally, we made it. The restaurant was packed and the two of us were squeezed into a table framed by the kitchen and the toilet. “Students?” The cute Italian waiter asked knowingly. We nodded expectantly, grinning and affirming, “Si, si!” The man clapped his hands and smiled back, turning around briefly and returning with a flagon full of sparkling white wine. We ordered the necessary entrées, though the wine would likely be enough for us. The loud table next to us caught my attention; it was the table that I used to sit at as a student. It can seat ten people comfortably – and fifteen people uncomfortably. Tonight was the uncomfortable fare. There were fourteen people stuffed hastily around the table. They were loud, unselfconscious, American. They signaled to the waiter and waved their student cards under his nose. They stared at us as the night went on and our full flagon of wine was joined by another – the waiter winking – while theirs sat empty on their table. The boys wore cargo shorts and the girls don that oddly familiar uniform of skinny jeans, flouncy sheer shirts and leather jackets. Suddenly, I was greeted by something I can only call déjà vu. I am back in Dante’s, it is 2013, I am in a leather jacket and skinny jeans. It is our last night in Florence and my eyes are bleary from the constantly refilled pitcher of wine. Wow, I think, I am twenty and I am traveling, I am cultured, I know so much, I can say thank you in another language! I sit contentedly among a bubble of Americans in a foreign city, thinking that I was perhaps at the tippy-top of the cultured ladder. But now, two years and countless plane rides later, I come to another conclusion. I am in Dante’s, it is 2015, I am in a short white dress. It is my last night in Florence and my eyes are bleary from the constantly refilled pitcher of wine. Wow, I think, I am twenty-three and I am traveling, I am lucky, I know so little, I can’t say so much that I want to. I sit contentedly across from my friend in a foreign city, thinking that I have a long journey of learning, seeing and doing ahead of me. The prospect of knowing so little has never delighted me so much. Inspired to visit the wine-laden streets of Florence for yourself? It’s so beautiful, romantic and wistful, I don’t blame you. But don’t take my word for it, go see this ancient city for yourself! Don’t Take My Word For It is a bi-monthly column for all you trekking troubadours out there looking for advice, solidarity or just a couple of paragraphs with pretty words from someone who’s seen it, done it, lived it, dreamt it.