12.07.2010 70 °F
Side Note: We are constantly trying to keep an up to date blog and so far have not been successful. We catch up one week and fall behind the next. We are going to try some new stuff with our blog because we really want to have this for later in our lives and want to share our experiences with anyone out there…is anyone there? We obviously aren’t writers and try to stay motivated but want everyone to know that we are trying and absolutely love all your comments. We also have tried to compress our blogs into each country that we visit but from now on will probably post more based on internet connections instead of waiting till we leave the country.
The sinking city…
Arriving in Italy it began to rain as we left the train station. We were excited to be in Italy because I had remembered such wonderful things about last time I was there. We came to Venice to see the city before it was totally flooded. It was like being in a new world, with no streets, everything connected by waterways. We saw gondolas and boats for taxis, trash barges, and even Guinness delivery boats.
City in the water.
We caught our expensive ferry, 13 euro, to our stop and went to drop off our bags at our hotel. We immediately headed to Piazza San Marco and to our surprise, it had about 5-6 inches of water in the square.
We thought it was due to the rain but later realized that it was actually high tide and this happened every day. When the city is like this it transforms with everyone wearing galashes, not to be confused with goulash, with some opting for the cheaper option of plastic bags sold at high prices, nice rip off.
Duck boots as we liked to call them.
We didn’t realize the city had gotten to such a bad level, nature’s way of saying watch out. We were glad we were at least getting to see the city before it disappeared but weren’t happy about the price of everything, we had heard that Venice was expensive, but we couldn’t understand how anyone could live here at those prices.
Pretty but wet, pretty wet.
We ate some lunch at a nice sandwich shop and had a pair of cappuccinos before we braved the cold, wet weather. Getting lost a little we ended up on the very north of the island before finally finding the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal for some exchanging of cameras with some Asians for a nice pic.
They sure know how to make a nice pic.
Wandering the market for a little, trying to avoid the encroaching water, we then headed back for a quick nap, of course stopping for a bottle of vino on the way back. The sun was starting to peek out which was really nice so we walked to the water’s edge, which was everywhere so it wasn’t a long walk.
After our nap we walked to pizzeria for some good pizza at a great price. We decided to only stay one day in Venice, mainly because we saw the whole city already and it was just too expensive to enjoy.
Night walk along the water's edge.
Maybe it was a short trip but we still had so much to see and didn’t feel like wasting money. With a slow start the next morning we started for the train station. Planning on walking there to avoid the expensive ferry, we headed out the door and were immediately cornered by the water. It was high tide and we tried a few streets to no avail. We cut our losses and headed to the ferry, but to our surprise the ticket booth was closed so we just boarded and were able to ride for free, glad they weren’t checking but we had no other options. We got to the train station and hopped on the next high speed to Florence.
A few hours later we were there and quickly checked into our hotel. After trying for days to find a host we unfortunately settled for a hotel while there. We headed out to see the Duomo and a couple of the sites that night to take advantage of a quick arrival.
We happened to run into the couple we had ridden the train from Salzburg to Venice and exchanged stories and contact info, excited to have seen a somewhat friendly face.
It's a small world after all.
We ate at a great buffet that night around the corner from our hotel, all Italian and all home made. The next morning we decided to fight the crowds a little at the Museo de Accademia to see the famous statue of David by Michaelangelo. We were pleasantly surprised by no crowds or lines and walked right in. After seeing a few hundred paintings and statues we headed out for a walk on the town. We really enjoyed the city, it was like walking back in time to the Renaissance, witnessing the wonderful masterpieces that were acquired by the Medici family.
Duomo in the daytime.
We ate lunch in a hip neighborhood in what seemed to be the college neighborhood of town and headed up for a nice panorama of the city, after walking by the parliament building. This building by the way was an eye soar within the city. With a massive paved surface in front of it sloping to the street and a hideously ugly facade…it doesn’t even deserve a photo. The panorama was amazing, stopping for a quick nap on its steps, we saw our second replica David statue in Florence, this one made of bronze. The city worships the statue, creating a number throughout the city, most of varying materials from the original.
Now you can see it from afar.
We headed back to the hotel and grabbed a quick bite at Il Pirata, the buffet we had eaten at the night before, and went to bed. We were heading to Naples in the morning and were excited about seeing Pompeii.
With the smell of leather in the air, we hit the streets of Florence on a mission. We hadn’t bought many souvenirs on the trip so far and had decided that anything else we bought would have to be useable. With that in mind we decided to check out the bazaar of leather dealers that lined all the streets of the old town. After talking with a few and haggling with the prices I settled on a nice leather bag, just the right size and color. On the way back to check out we bought one for Jen too just so she wouldn’t feel left out. Leather has a unique characteristic to its quality. It always seems to be timeless, fading in and out of current styles but always keeping that kind of nostalgia to it. What drew us to it was not its texture or color, but its smell. We sat on the train to Naples just simply sniffing our newly acquired items and grinning, excited for our purchase of these lifelong items.
The city under siege…
Arriving in Naples at sunset we had heard of the sketchy neighborhoods and wanted to quickly find our hostel. After walking for what seemed to be an hour up and down hills we finally made it, hotel Meridien, also known as the Pizza Hostel. Naples is an interesting city with its old streets, like most Italian cities, and its newer areas. Nestled on the coast of Italy, it had a large port that gave access to many of the nearby islands. The unfortunate part would be its general dirtiness on the streets. Constantly avoiding lovely gifts from its canine residents and just staring in amazement at the mountains of garbage piled on the streets. That night we ate at one of the most famous pizza places in the world…Naples boasts as the inventor of pizza and the city isn’t short of a few hundred places that serve it.
The pizza was great; large, simple, and hot out the oven, what more could you ask for? Oh, and it was only $5. We were excited to finally be in a city in Italy that was at least a little bit cheaper. We were excited to watch the overtime USF win over Louisville that night and rested nicely.
With the smell of garbage in the air, we caught a short train to Pompeii the next morning, the real reason we had come to Naples. We spent the entire day at the ruins. Words can’t describe all the fun we had that day walking the streets. I will try to do something new here instead of just listing one by one what we saw. Here is our top pick of places to see in Pompeii along with tips on planning the day.
Top Pompeii Picks:
1. The Brothel: A must see of the city. Lined with its lovely artwork on the walls, so descriptive.
2. Mansion Life: You thought you had it good, how about having your own hot bath in your house, among your multitude of rooms.
3. Mosaics: make sure to check out the painting-like mosaics find on the floors of many of the homes.
4. Amphitheatre: my highlight of the trip…would have been awesome to see one of the live concerts they host there.
5. Road Rocks: Our top pick of Pompeii…seeing the wagon tracks that carved the streets thousands of years ago…simply amazing.
Abbey Rd...Pompeii style!
As we travel to all these wonderful areas we of course do some researching but there is never enough time or desire to know everything that you should expect so from now on we will try to post our helpful tips and recommendations that we have learned by chance along the way. We would love to get your insight of what to call these tips. We have played around with a few ideas like, “Red Head Tips for…”, “Surfers’ Tips for…”, “Freckled Facts for…”, “Nomad Tips for…” or simply “Jen and Alec’s Tips for…”, but would love your opinion so please write back as a comment with any recommendations or even your vote for one above. Later on we are also planning on posting a blog on what to and not to bring on a 3 month trip to Europe. So as our first tips provided we will call these simply
Tips for Pompeii:
1. Remember to grab a map and guide book (free) before you enter the gates, they aren’t found anywhere inside as we found out.
2. Plan a general route of the area, it’s so large and 4 hours isn’t enough time to see everything.
3. Bring your own lunch, Naples has really cheap food and the site doesn’t. What’s better than a kilo of clementines for 1 euro?
4. Avoid the Asian tour groups, they will find you and try and chase you out of an area with their rapidly snapping cameras and extended umbrella tour guides.
5. Stand close to English speaking tour groups, they provide great info, and it’s free.
We headed back again at sunset and ate pizza again, this time trying the famous pizzeria where Julia Roberts ate at in Eat, Pray, Love. All by chance we happened upon this restaurant, what a great pizza again.
Movie poster photo op number 2.
Naples as a city isn’t much to come by, under siege from the garbage on the streets and the large influx of immigrants that have invaded the streets. It’s an interesting site to watch the immigrants sell the fake Gucci bags and purses and at one sight of police down the street, everyone quickly grabs their goods and heads to the nearest alleyway.
Quick...the gestapo are coming.
The city does have its upside though: a multitude of wonderful pizza shops and some great nearby excursions including Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, and the Amalfi Coast. We spent most of the second day walking around the city and were kind of upset at what little there was to do. We were excited to be leaving for Rome the next day.
On a whim the next day we headed early to catch the train to Mt. Vesuvius. The weather had cleared a little from the day before and we couldn’t see any clouds at the top. After a quick van ride on the Vesuvius Express Bus, which seemed like it went straight up the mountain, we arrived near the top with a bit of a walk to the edge. The walk was by no means light and we began to regret all the pizza we had been eating the past few days. We just figured we were working it all off. Glad to make it to the caldera, number two for the trip, we took some pics and videos of the crater.
We looked for a little while down the mountain for Pompeii but were unsuccessful in finding it. We didn’t have long at the top, only around 15 minutes, because the van was leaving. We headed down, much easier than up obviously, and hopped on the train to Sorrento. We wanted to catch a glimpse of the Amalfi Coast and this was our best chance.
What a beautiful coast line.
The town was quite nice, perched atop the cliffs, with some really nice hotels. We walked around a bit and realized this area was where lemoncello was from. There were also lots of ceramic pieces that reminded me of my grandparents sale’ and pepe’ shakers that sat on their breakfast room table. I’m sure this is where they had gotten them. We headed back and caught the afternoon train to Rome.
The colossal city
That night we arrived in Rome and checked into our hostel, conveniently located right near the train station, the Alessandro Downtown. We were pleasantly greeted by the front desk and informed that every night there was a free pasta dinner, what a treat. We were also super excited to see that they had working washers and dryers. It’s the little things that make us excited on our trip. We hadn’t been able to wash our clothes for a while and had to begin washing things every night in the sink of our previous hostel. Wearing of our dirty clothes began while in Naples, which probably added to our idea of the city as well. It had begun to rain that night but we wanted to check out a few of the spots before dinner. We immediately headed to Trevi fountain to fight the tourist crowds. We made our customary tossing of the coin over the shoulder to promise a return one day; it had obviously worked for me since I was there again already.
WE'LL BE BACK
After people watching for a while we headed back to the hostel for the night after stopping by the Coliseum on the way back.
The next day with the weather clearing a little we spent the morning washing all our clothes, super excited to be a little cleaner. We have been extremely lucky on our trip so far; it has managed to rain almost every day that we are travelling and clear on the days that we are visiting cities. Being the wettest month in Italy we were surprised by how much good weather we had been experiencing. We decided to catch one of the many bus tours that circled the city since there was so much ground to cover. It provided us a quick abridged view of the city in the comforts of a rain covered seat in the open air, haha. After riding the entire stretch of the loop we tried to hop off two or three times later realizing that those stops were not in use during the winter season, thanks for telling us at the beginning Ms. Tourguide. Getting off around St. Peters Square we headed to Piazza Navona for a nice lunch.
We next headed to the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. The Pantheon is absolutely amazing. With its waffled ceiling and open oculus the interior of the roof section is just mind blowing. To think that the Roman’s had the technology of concrete and perfected it and then it was lost for hundreds of years.
Those waffles look good.
That night we headed out with a few people we had met at the hostel. We grabbed a bottle of lemoncello, some beers and headed to Trevi fountain. It was nice to hang out with some like minded people for the night. Not to say we don’t love spending every waking minute with just each other, but it was just a nice change of pace.
The next morning we regretted going out so late because we decided to see two major attractions in one day, the Colisseum and the Vatican. We headed out early to beat the crowds and did so.
Arriving at the Colisseum when it opened, there were only about 5 other people there. This gave us free reign over the entire stadium and me some free time to do a little sketching.
Are you not impressed? Are...you...not...impressed!
We headed to the Roman Forum for a few hours and ran into a couple that we had met while in Bucharest for a few nights, what a small world. We were beginning to wonder how many people were doing the same trip we were doing. They had headed to Istanbul and now were in Italy while we had headed to Austria and down. What are the chances that you literally run into someone at that moment, we were just amazed. Anyways, after a quick lunch we headed to the Vatican.
A quick stop for some of the best Gelato we had ever eaten and we were there.
We spent a few hours admiring all the collections in the museum and of course the Sistine Chapel. We could have spent all day based on its size but we were already wiped from the early start and to be honest there’s only so much artwork you can look at for so long. We had finished our blitz day of the two most visited sites in Rome, pleased with how much we had seen. We were really enjoying our time in the city and for the first time in Italy, not excited to leave the city we were in. We ate dinner, free pasta that is, with our new friends from the hostel and readied our bags for our trip to Cinque Terra the next day. After seeing so much wonderful architecture we were heading to an area with little buildings and mostly nature trails and coastline. With our customary travel day showers we boarded the train for an amazing ride along the west coastline of Italy. The tracks were literally on the shoreline and the views amazing. Arriving in our tiny town of Vernazza, one of the five cities of Cinque Terra, we quickly checked in that night and headed for bed. We had read about this city from Rick Steve’s website and weren’t disappointed. The majority of our stay included hiking the few trails that were open and hopping on the regional trains between the small towns.
It was a nice stay, much different than our last few weeks, reminding us of our time on the Greek island of Naxos, but much smaller. A nice relaxing few days and we were recharged after Rome.
After a few days we were ready to head on to the French Riviera, ooo how fancy.