People can really surprise you. In a good way.
If you met two young, female backpackers in a Switzerland bar for two hours, would you let them stay in your apartment for free, five weeks later? While you were away on vacation nonetheless?
Our Florence accommodations all started in Interlaken, Switzerland. Chelsea and I had spent the day hang gliding and canyoning and met up with our guides for a beer at a bar in town. The Germany versus Ghana World Cup game was on and the bar was filled with a mix of locals, semi-locals and tourists.
Dan arrived at our table to meet up with his friend Timon, our canyoning guide from the day. Dan is 27-years-old from Connecticut but currently lives in Florence, Italy as the regional manager for Bus2Alps. Bus2Alps is a tour company that caters mostly to American students studying abroad. They organize weekend and day trips from Florence, Rome and other cities around Europe for these students. They take them on a bus to the Alps (get it!), Croatia, Greece, Oktoberfest, etc. Dan has worked with the company for three years.
We started chatting as I’ve actually heard of Bus2Alps before. When most of my friends from Marist returned from study abroad in Florence, they all raved about their Bus2Alps trips. I remembered them all looking at the trip options before they even left. This company is definitely a highlight of many Marist students time abroad.
While Dan and I only had one mutual Facebook friend, we were instantly connected by Marist (side note: he didn’t go to Marist, just knows a lot of people from there from the trips through his company). Chelsea and I explained to him our crazy travel schedule and said we’d be arriving in Italy in mid-July. He gave us his card and told us to email him for recommendations.
About a week later, I sent Dan an email reminding him who we were so he wouldn’t forget. As I’ve mentioned before, most of the cool stuff Chelsea and I have done on this trip have been based off of recommendations for others so we were really interested in whatever ideas Dan had for us while we were in Italy. He’s lived here for three years so he’s definitely the expert on the best restaurants and activities.
After emailing him asking for some restaurant recommendations or possible Bus2Alps trips we could do, he offered to let us stay in one of his apartments for FREE. FREE! Do you know how beautiful that word is to two poor backpackers!? He mentioned that he had never been to Greece before so we promised to keep a running tab of what to see and do there that we could give him in return for his kindness.
Don’t forget that this guy met us for two hours over beers in Switzerland. And was offering up an apartment a month later.
When we arrived in Italy, Dan sent us the address for the apartment we would be staying at.
“Do the people staying at this apartment know we’re coming or are we going to scare them?” I asked.
“About that…,” he texted back.
Dan was going to give us one of his empty staff apartments that we could have completely to ourselves. Unfortunately, it got bed bugs before our arrival so he didn’t want to put us there, thank god! Can’t thank him enough for that decision. Bed bugs are my biggest fear on this trip.
But he could have just told us that. He could have said, “Sorry girls, the apartment got bed bugs. You’re shit out of luck.”
But instead, he let us basically Airbnb HIS OWN apartment, overlooking the Duomo in the heart of Florence. It’s a huge apartment with two beds in one room, a futon for two people in another and his own bedroom, as well as a large foyer.
I was completely speechless. Should we get a hotel? This poor guy probably feels obligated and we don’t want to make him uncomfortable. But he was persistent that it was OK, as he was leaving the next day for work so we would have the place to ourselves.
I thanked him about 1,800 times over text message and said we’d see him soon.
We ran into Dan and his friend Ricky on the street outside the apartment which was perfect timing. It was a fifth floor walk up and Chelsea and I are incredibly out of shape so we were breathing pretty hard when we got to the top with our backpacks on.
Not only did Dan let us stay at his place with Caitlin and Meghan, but he and Ricky also cooked us dinner! They put out two bottles of wine, cheese and crackers, and made shells with carbonara. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe someone I met for two hours was doing all of this for me.
Dan said someone did something similar for him when he first came to Florence. Someone took him in and gave him a place to stay for free so he felt the need to pay it forward. I will DEFINITELY be passing it along when I get my own place back in the States. I cannot explain how amazing it was to have a beautiful apartment to ourselves in the heart of Florence with a ton of space for the four of us to stretch out.
View of the Duomo at night:
Due to Dan’s work schedule, he was only able to hang out with us our first night in Florence. But boy, did he show us a good time! He took us to a really fun karaoke bar called Red Garter for some beers before heading to a nightclub called Twice. I love VIP and I REALLY love free VIP!
The next day Dan headed to Rome for work.
“Alright guys, don’t steal anything!” he said, in a joking way, as he walked out the door.
His friends Ricky and Luca got to play our tour guides for our remaining three nights in Florence. They were absolutely amazing giving us food recommendations and showing us around to other bars in the city. It really changes the experience when you’re with someone who really knows the place you’re in. I felt like we got a true, “I live in Florence,” experience walking around with those guys. They were also incredibly fun!
Ricky also introduced me to kebabs which were amazing:
We also returned the favor to tour guide Ricky (sort of). We really wanted to climb the Duomo to get the gorgeous views of Florence and even though he’s lived here for seven months, he’s never done it! He said he needed our push to finally do the one super touristy thing in Florence so we brought him up with us.
Side note, apparently before we got there Dan said to them, “I don’t think they’re going to steal anything…” We promise we didn’t steal a THING Dan!
One of the bars the guys took us two was a unique shot bar. It’s pretty much a strictly Italian bar, not many Americans go there. Luca told us we had to try a Snow Board shot so we took him up on the offer. It’s extremely cold vodka with a lime. You smother the lime in powdered sugar, take the shot and then bite on the lime. It was actually quite tasty. I haven’t really taken shots since college but I liked this one. The bar was also known for their sugar cubes. They soak sugar cubes in vodka and different flavors such as mint, berry, even coffee. You can put the cube in a shot or just buy a cube and chew it. I was not a fan of this one but I felt I had to try it anyway. It was NOT for me.
I am still in awe of the fact that we were so lucky to meet Dan. He told us we had to stop thanking him but I literally couldn’t stop. If we had Airbnb-ed a place like his, it would have cost probably 200 Euro a night! I absolutely loved Florence and Dan’s beautiful apartment and wonderful hospitality was definitely a contributing factor. He’s leaving his company and heading back to the States so hopefully our paths will cross again. I truly cannot thank this guy enough!
People really are amazing if you let them be! Always remember that.