- Fizzy Thoughts: September 2007

Italy Trip: Day Four

Sunday, September 30, 2007

9/1

Ah, the day I've been dreading. Schlepping the suitcase on the train from Sorrento to Naples to Rome. Luckily, Sue and Lance have already made the reverse trip. And bonus, Lance knows the big-ass suitcases (okay, they're not that big, but when you wheel them everywhere they become larger than life) slide under the train seats. Evviva! So now I'm sitting next to an Italian dude on the train who asked me something in Italian and got a blank look in return. I think he's pointing out the sights. Oh wait...he's telling Lance when is the best time to take a picture of Vesuvius from the train window.

Later...
We made it to Rome without any problems. The Naples train station turned out to be a breeze, and we timed it just right. We were able to board the train to Rome right after we bought our tickets. We had reserved seats in a compartment for 6 - we shared with a mama and her spoiled son. She had to get his sandwich out of the tote, and then pick off the cheese he didn't want. Did I mention he was about 20? On the way into Rome we saw parts of the ancient Roman aqueduct. Termini (Rome's main train station) was also a breeze. We didn't get hassled in either station. Even better, our taxi ride to the apartment was only 10 euros. The driver dropped us of right in front of a church and we walked down via dei Giubbonari to 97a to meet Cristina. She showed us the apartment and gave us an overview of the neighborhood and how far it is to walk to the major sites. She was very nice and helpful and the apartment is perfect for the four (me, mom, Sue and Lance) of us. It is actually bigger than it looked on the website and the street is great. Lots of shops. And Campo de' Fiore is just down the street. We found a bancomat around the church and then a grocery store to stock up on wine and cheese and crackers and breakfast stuff. After unpacking, we sat down and discovered the cheap wine was really good and we managed to pick out some yummy cheese, despite the fact we had no clue what we were buying. After relaxing and enjoying our snack, we headed out to the Campo de Fiore for dinner. Despite the fact that we were at a people watching place in a piazza, dinner was pretty good. Although the gelato we had later was even better. Melone is the best flavor so far.

Some pictures of the apartment and the view from the windows:

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Italy Trip: Day Three

8/31

After the hotel breakfast of juice, rolls, fruit and cornflakes, we (mom and I) headed for the train station to catch the Circumvesuviana. This is the train that runs between Naples and Sorrento, and stops at Pompeii, which was where we were headed. It was super-muggy, so I was sweating like a pig by the time we got to the station. It took me half of the train ride to stop dripping. Gross! We got off the train at Pompeii and had to dodge the accordion playing girl who had planted herself right in the middle of the doorway of the train station. Outside the station, the street leading to the entrance to Pompeii was lined with souvenir vendors selling postcards and snacks, water and trinkets. We payed our 11 euros to get into Pompeii and skipped the audio guide. The plan was to spend the majority of the day just exploring the site, so off we went.
Pompeii was a Roman city that was buried in 79AD when the nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted. It is a hugely popular tourist attraction, but the site is so large it is actually easy to ditch the crowds and have an enjoyable experience. I'd actually been to Pompeii on my first trip to Italy, 17 years ago. But it was definitely worth a return visit, and a place my mom really wanted to see. Most of the artifacts have been removed from Pompeii and are in a museum in Naples, but there is still plenty to see.
cast of body buried in the ash from the eruption
I seem to have 132 pictures of Pompeii. Don't worry, I won't post them all!
Here is our day, greatly condensed:
We walked all the way down the Via Marina/Via dell'Abbodanza, sweating all the way. We passed by the basilica, the baths, graffiti, lots of ancient snack bars,and beautiful villas with fountains and courtyards and remnants of painted walls and mosaic floors.
detail from a doorway
It took us about one and a half hours to explore our way down the street. A highlight was Terme Stabiane (the Stabian Baths), the oldest of the city baths, with a large central gym area, beautifully decorated walls (both painted and engraved), a pool, cold and warm baths, and furnaces to circulate air under the floor and through vents. Those Romans knew how to live!

detail from Terme Stabiane

a lonely statue in Terme Stabiane

Thanks to the abundance of group and private guides, every once in awhile it was possible to learn tidbits of info. A couple of things I learned by eavesdropping:

  • Pompeii is filled with snack bars, since it was common to go out for lunch. The snack bars front the street and look like sinks - counters with holes to hold the serving bowls:
  • Sliding doors were popular in the north end of town - you can still see the grooves in the stone.
After walking down the Via Marina/Via dell'Abbodanza, we were at the amphitheater. We went inside but didn't stay long, since it was hotter than hell inside.

amphitheater

We beat a quick retreat and were stopped by a worker who attempted to talk to us. He pointed to a "bella casa" and then said Pompeii was hot like Africa. That was about as far as our mutual lack of multilingualism got us, so we set off for the northern part of town. We stopped at the House of the Faun (a large villa that was also blazing hot inside)

mosaic floor from the House of the Faun

and the Baker's House, and then made a stop at a modern snack bar for fruit and water. Good timing on our part, since this is when the wind kicked up and a few raindrops fell.

After our snack we worked our way towards the exit, stopping to look at the Forum and the Temple of Apollo.

the Forum

the Forum

me at the Forum

Temple of Apollo

After taking the train back to Sorrento, we went back to the hotel to clean up and relax. We had made plans to meet Sue and Lance for dinner, but we decided to go wander around the centro storico before meeting them. As we were walking, I called Hamburger to say hello. I told him about how we ran into his mom and Lance the day before, and he got a huge kick out that fact. And then, not two minutes after hanging up, we ran into them again, in practically the same place as the day before. Sorrento isn't that small of a town, so this was kind of weird. We all went down to a bar overlooking the bay and had drinks and watched the sunset before dinner.

Sorrento sunset

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Italy Trip: Day Two

Saturday, September 29, 2007

8/30/07

We woke up in Naples (to barking dogs, I guess they didn't want me to feel homesick), and after a full day went to bed in Sorrento to the sound of barking dogs. After an oh-so-Italian breakfast of cappuccino and cornetto at the hotel, we slogged off to the airport - through a gate, through a rental car parking lot, down a street, then out onto the main street that leads to the airport. Thank god we didn't attempt to walk it in the dark last night!
After a brief panic at the bancomat (note to self: remember the $300 daily limit!) we got some euros and waited for the Curreri bus to Sorrento. The hour and half bus ride took us through Naples (to check out everyone's laundry drying on the balconies) and then around the bay to Sorrento. Windy roads and gorgeous views, including the backdrop of Vesuvius. While on the bus I discovered I forgot the directions (and the address) of Hotel Mignon. But Sorrento is small and friendly - I asked a couple of people and they kept pointing us in the right direction. Eventually, we found it, about a 10 minute walk from the train/bus station. We wheeled our suitcases the whole way, down narrow sidewalks...mom was a little embarrassed, but oh well, I told her it's a tourist town and sure enough, we kept passing other people doing the same thing. The owner, Anna, was out 'til three, but we dropped off our suitcases and were given a key, and then left in search of lunch.

Hotel Mignon

Our room at the Hotel Mignon

The centro storico is basically just down the street, so we walked over and picked one of the first places we saw, the Monnalisa. Despite being in tourist central, we had a great lunch of pizza and wine. The highlight was the band who stopped to play - bass, guitar, accordian and a maracas player with his striped shirt, flashy sunglasses and pouty expression. The accordian player liked to imitate the me-meer, me-meer sound of sirens...right in the middle of a song.

Mom at the Monnalisa (note the maracas player in the background)

After lunch and officially checking in at the hotel, we tried to get ahold of Sue and Lance, who we had planned to meet up with in Sorrento. Anna had never heard of the piazza or the b&b where they were staying. She tried to call, but there was no answer. Hmmm... Well, we decided to worry about it later and headed back to the train station to catch a bus for the Amalfi Coast. I swear the bus driver drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on his horn. The ride along the windy coast wasn't too bad, unless I happened to look down at the same time the driver accelerated into a corner. Whoa! Mom didn't think her stomach would make it, so we only went as far as Positano before we got off the bus to explore. The bus dropped us off at the top of town and we walked down, down, down the road, then the stairs, then the road, to the harbor. Since we were too lazy to walk back up to the bus stop, we decided to take the ferry back to Sorrento.

Positano

After a roller coaster ride through the choppy sea, we arrived back in Sorrento and climbed many, many steps back up to the town, where we promptly ran into Sue and Lance. We all strolled around looking for dinner and finally settled on a family-run restaurant where mom and son were quite the schmoozers. The food was good, but not great, but the owner offered his cheek for kisses when we left, so we can say we've (well, everyone but Lance) kissed an Italian man.

looking up at Sorrento from the harbor

After dinner we went back to Sue and Lance's bed and breakfast for a glass of limoncello on their balcony. They share a wall with the church next door. The bed and breakfast is part of an old villa with tons of character. You walk into a big entry through old, huge wooden doors and go around and around and around as you climb up the stairs. Their balcony overlooks a little piazza, which was hoppin' at 10pm. After people watching, we headed back to our own hotel for bed.

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Italy Trip: Day One

8/28-8/29

Woo-hoo! We made it all the way to the Hotel Charming in Naples without a hitch.

SLO-SFO - on time and a practically empty plane with only 12 passengers

SFO-Munich - Lufthansa rocks! A few empty seats, decent food and free drinks. Note to self: next time say yes to the free Baileys. The flight went by surprisingly fast despite the cat naps. They fed us dinner (pasta) then six hours later breakfast (some weird egg patty on a bed of spinach). It was a very international flight...lots of Germans, few Americans.

Munich to Naples - short and sweet on Air Dolomiti. Another snack, this time ham and cheese, some crunchy bread cracker-y things, and biscotti. The plane was full of Italians greeting each other in the aisles and drinking wine. Going out to the plane on the shuttle bus we saw our first oh-so Italian expression when the bus closed its doors on a woman and pulled away, leaving her standing there with a classic "hey!" expression.

Naples - We didn't even go through customs, which was weird. They stamped our passport in Germany, so we're legal. I guess. Oh well. Our bags made it safely to Italy and so did we. The security guard suggested we take a taxi to the hotel. I had been advised I might have to pay big bucks for a very short ride, but it was only 12 euros.

Hotel Charming - yes, that is really the name. I tried to practice "I have a reservation" in Italian, but the desk guy already knew who I was. Well, it was 10pm...we must've been the last reservation of the day. The room is small, but perfect, and the bathroom luxurious in comparison, with its heated floor and complimentary toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Tomorrow it's off to Sorrento and on with the trip.


me ready to hit the road (from Naples)

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Home again, home again, jiggidy jig

Friday, September 28, 2007

I'm back from Italy. And back at work.

*sigh*

Ah well...I've got to fund all those books and trips somehow.

Italy was fabulous. As usual, I was astounded at how smoothly everything went. I always expect something to happen, and we always seemed to be charmed on the overseas trips. We got there without any hitches, and we got home in one piece. The only mishaps were fuel issues with the rental car (hilarious story, details to follow) and a bumpy ride down a flight of stairs, resulting in a viciously bruised butt and tailbone. I always fall on vacation, so that didn't come as too much of a surprise.

I kept a daily travel journal and will be slowly typing in all the entries over the next month or so. I'd start now, but I seem to have left the journal at home. Which means I should get back to work. Darn.

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In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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