I arrived in Florence around 11PM yesterday (Thursday). Lufthansa only allowed a single carry-on per passenger due to the small airplane we traveled on from Frankfurt to Florence. I had to check my duffle at the gate which meant I had to go to baggage claim in Florence. We got off the plane, walked through a door and the baggage claim carousel was immediately to the right. There was no customs procedure and the airport was fairly vacant and every shop was closed.
I walked outside after gathering my belongings and was greeted by the humid Florence night air. It was 77 F at 11 PM! I had to find an ATM because the currency exchange was closed and my residual krons would do me no good in Italy. I needed some euros and I needed them fast. It is very embarrassing to take a taxi and not be able to pay because the driver won’t take credit cards and you don’t have the correct currency. This is doubly embarrassing in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language. I found an ATM just outside the airport exit. I selected the English option and inserted my card. I was prompted to scan a barcode to continue. I had no barcodes to scan so I canceled the transaction and went back inside.
After another minute of searching I found a Banco Tuscano ATM and was able to get some money from my checking account. There were no ATM fees but the current exchange rate is about 1.33:1 USD to EUR ($133 will net roughly €100). With cash in pocket, I proceeded to the taxi line up. I was 4th in line and it seemed taxis were arriving every 2-3 minutes by the time I was next.
My taxi arrived (a minivan) and the driver hopped out, tossed my bags in the back and asked me where to. I showed him the address of the Sheraton Firenze Hotel (Firenze is the Italian name for Florence) and he cautioned the hotel is on the other side of the city. I knew that of course since I specifically looked for a place that was economical which meant away from both the airport (which is northwest of the city) and the city center. The Sheraton is about 3 miles south of the city. I asked how long it would take to get there and he said about 20 minutes.
We got on our way and no sooner than getting outside the airport I saw a “working” woman standing in plain view at a busy intersection. Her, uh, uniform gave away her profession: White, black polka dots, tight, revealing, short, heels, small purse. “No, that can’t be!” I thought. “No way she’s just standing there out in the open like that. Where are the cops?” A block later, the same thing. A couple blocks after that, two more. Florence is wild. On the way into the city I saw at least a dozen working women unabashedly (wo)manning the streets, most on cell phones passing the time…on a Thursday night.
There were many more billboards than women vying for my attention most featuring Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. My taxi driver was living out his Formula 1 dreams as he literally whipped that minivan through the busy Florence streets. It seems Italians don’t care much for lanes, speed limits or slow drivers. I almost had a heart attack. We crossed the Arno river and the temperature got noticeably cooler. A few minutes later we pulled into the Sheraton lot. Total cost of the trip was €40 ($52) and he didn’t accept credit cards.
The Sheraton is a much better hotel than Quality Hotel Nacka in Stockholm. It has a nice, expansive lobby and is more modern (well everything except the olskool room keys as pictured on the left). The rooms are at least 2 1/2 times the size and there is room service. The minuses are the charges for an even slower Internet connection (€11/$14 for 24 hours) and there is no refrigerator in the room.
Tomorrow I will begin my Memorial Day weekend Florence sightseeing adventure which shall include finding a laundromat to wash some clothes. It is supposed to begin raining here any day now but hopefully I can steal another day or two of sunshine to see the piazzas, parks and architecture. The museums can wait for the rain.