Monday, June 25, 2007

Italy Part 2: Napoli and Cinque Terre

On Saturday I took the train (just making it at 8:15) to Napoli. The walk from the station to the hostel was a little off-putting. Everything was pretty grimy. But the hostel was pretty nice and - map in hand and padlock securely attached to my day pack - I headed out into the heat to see what Napoli had to offer. I had a little trouble, but eventually made it round to St Lucia and then Chiaia, with their "beaches" of giant rocks! How people were actually lying on them, I don't know... Aussies are so spoiled.

I was starving, and found a not-too-dodgy restaurant for the best pizza I've had in a while. Margherita with Mozerella di Bufala - oh my God, so good.
I polished off the whole thing, and feeling sufficiently stuffed, went to look at the Castel Dell'Ovo, a castle dating back to the twelfth century, just off the coast. The view from the top - of the town, the ocean and Mount Vesuvius - was pretty special.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the tourist-riddled streets, full of shops, many of which were closed as it was Saturday (and everyone seemed to be getting married, if the glamour shots being taken at the Dell'Ovo were anything to go by!).

I had some of the tastiest gelato while walking up towards Naples' Duomo, which ended up being closed, along with another church I tried to visit (where were the couples getting married??).

I quite enjoyed the adventure, though, through lots of smaller streets which were less touristy and had lots of little grocery stores and bakeries. When I got back to the hostel, I (ab)used the free internet, and then had an early night - I was exhausted!

Sunday morning i Had a leisurely breakfast - also free - amongst the biggest Nutella jars I've seen to date. 5kg. That's a lot of hazelnuts.I checked out, but left my bag (very impressed by that hostel!), and went to meet Mirella at the train station. We were meant to meet up at 10, but by 10:45 I decided to line up for a train ticket, keeping an eye out for her while I waited. The curse of the mobile-less strikes again!

When I finally got my train ticket - despite being so busy remembering how to order a ticket in Italian I forgot the name of where I was going - but then realised I'd left my camera battery charging at the hostel. Aah! A hurried walk, and almost an hour later, and I was back at the train station, ready to finally board the train to Pompeii. The ruins were pretty impressive - if for nothing else, for how huge they were! I was there for a few hours and only probably saw half of it. I'd just finished looking at one of the theatres (looking oh-so ancient with its spotlights and PA system), when I ran into Mirella. In such a huge place, what're the chances? We went to a more authentic-looking theatre before asking a guide for... as Mirella tried to put it "la casa di... di..." "Erotica?" The guide knew exactly what we were looking for. It was the busiest area of all of Pompeii. Too funny.

[an ancient Pompeiian dog]

[the World's Biggest Bathroom has some competition]

[La Casa di Erotica... ancient porn]

[the line outside]

Mirella and I rushed for the train, and then parted ways at the train station, promising to catch up in London. I also had my first European, two-cheek kiss goodbye. I've seen so many people - even young men - do it, and I love it!

I went back and got my backpack from the hostel, took a bus to the train station (NOT walking the1/2 hour with my pack!), and got to Rome just after 9pm. The metro had closed for the night, so I took a bus back to Camping Roma, where I stayed in a very comfy house tent. My only complaint was the tents' proximity to the highway. Thank God for earplugs!

The next morning I had a cold shower - thoroughly unimpressed, as I had to wash my hair - and was ready for the bus at 8am. Good old Busabout. And who was there to be our guide? None other than Stewie! Bless.

Rather than have a stop at a dodgy petrol station, we stopped at Orvieto, a town perched at the top of a steep old hill, which we had to take a cable car up! There was a pretty, big, stripey church at the top, which I wandered around for a little while, then went off to find some good Italian coffee. I have come to be very fond of Italian espressos, but still find the whole "drink at the bar or we'll charge you twice as much" thing very weird.

[Orvieto's stripey church]

We got into the Camping Internazionale in Florence at about 2:30, and I straight away headed into town with my pack, looking for the Locanda Latina - the dodgy little guest house I stayed at. After asking a number of people (in dodgy Italian) where it was, I finally found #5 Via del Sole... conveniently located between #9 and #17.

Once I'd checked in, I went off to see as much as I could before nightfall. I accidentally found myself at the Duomo - perhaps not so accidental as it's huge and stripey and can be seen from pretty much everywhere. The painting on the inside of the dome is just gorgeous. I then got lost, ate gelato, and found myself back at the Palazzo Vecchio with its Fake David and fantastic Renaissance and ancient sculptures. There was a sculpture of a lion from the Renaissance, right next to the ancient one it was based upon. They didn't look as if they'd been made 1500 years apart!

[Florence's Duomo. Amazing.]

[Fake David]

[the lion on the left is 1500 years younger than the one on the right. Crazy.]

From there, I walked down to the Ponte Vecchio, admiring all the jewellery stores (bringing back memories of Dubai), and then across, and up (and up, and up) to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The view from up there was pretty special. I couldn't help myself and had a woman take a gratuitous "I'm in Florence" photo. I did a bit of research on the internet about accommodation in San Sebastian (damn running of the bulls!) before returning to the hostel.

[row, row, row your boat...]

[Tourist with a capital T]

I went for a lovely jog on Tuesday morning, across a bridge to the east of the Ponte Vecchio, and back through the Piazza Vecchio. I was at the Galleria degli Uffizi by 8:15, and at 8:35 realised I was in the wrong line. An hour and a half later, and I was finally inside (and able to get a discount with my British passport - at last!). And to think, I thought I'd had my fill of religious paintings at the Vatican! Seeing the Birth of Venus was quite exciting. I also really liked Botticelli's Primavera - with Chloe standing beside Flora, and the Three Graces dancing nearby.

After an early lunch - and a much needed sit down - I headed to the Galeria dell'Academia to stand in line yet again. Three and a half very hot, sweaty, dehydrated hours later, and I was finally viewing David. Not only was the statue striking, the room in which it stood was gorgeous. There was not much else to see in the gallery, but I think David was worth the wait. For some reason, I especially liked his left ribcage, viewed from behind his left elbow. It sounds odd, but I found it to look just as realistic and detailed as his right - and much-photographed - hand.

I walked through the markets after my very culturally-full day, and looked at all the pretty (and often also ugly) jewellery and leather-goods for sale. I'd never really noticed before just how smelly leather is!

After a spot of grocery shopping and a quick dash home, I returned to the area surrounding the markets to use the cheap internet, and then went back to the hostel for more study of the Lonely Planet and my rough timetable.

Wednesday started with yet another nice run - this time across two other Florentine bridges (and across the Ponte Vecchio twice), before heading home via the Duomo.

I had a lovely picnic breakfast in a park, being all class by eating my cereal from an old bocconcini container, and then went to the internet place I'd visited the night before in order to use my remaining credit. No such luck - the internet wasn't working, and I was unable to get my money back. Highly unimpressed. What happened to the customer always being right?

I went back to the hostel, packed my things, and then - backpack in tow - went back to a different internet cafe. An hour or two later, and I'd sorted out my accommodation and travel woes. Phew!

I then took the bus to the Camping Internazionale, hiked quite the hill, and was finally able to get rid of my backpack. A cold shower and a change of clothes, and I was ready to spend a lazy afternoon at the campground - reading my book by the edge of the pool was pretty nice. Unfortunately the €2 swimming cap they insisted you buy, and the bites on my legs from whatever attacked me in my sleep at Loconda Lattina kept me from going in the pool. I figure there will be plenty of swimming opportunities at Cinque Terre, Nice and San Sebastian.

I spent the evening talking with my roommates (Busabouters again - it's been a while), and then had a reasonably early night.

I woke before my alarm, so was showered and ready to go by 7:30. By 8am, we were on our way to La Spezia, but first we stopped at Pisa to see the leaning tower (and watch all the other tourists stand with their hands in the air, pretending to hold it up). It's a very pretty building. I especially like the way, from a distance, it looks as if it's peering out from the building next to it, like a small child behind its parents' legs.


When we got to La Spezia, I got on the first train to the Deiva Marina, as per the instructions from the campground I was staying at. I must've been on an express train, though, and missed my stop, so after backtracking one stop, I was there, waiting for the shuttle bus at 1:45. The next bus wasn't til 3:10, but I filled my time looking around the little town. There wasn't a whole lot to see - I guess it is out-classed by its five more glamorous neighbours. It was also siesta, so not a lot was open.

When I arrived at the campground the woman at the desk was lovely, even showing me to the 2-bed house tent I was staying in. Until she showed me the tent, I honestly didn't know what sort of accommodation I'd paid for.

After a few minutes spent staring at bus/train timetables, I left most of my stuff in the tent (chained to the bed - bless Tad and the lock he gave me for Christmas), and took the shuttle back to the Marina.

The beach was packed yet fairly unexceptional. The one plus of pebbly beaches, I suppose, is you don't get sand in your undies! It was amazing to see that even on the beach, there were people selling clothes and dodgy jewellery.

I've got to admit that I was feeling pretty lonely that afternoon. Since leaving Rome, I've been travelling pretty much solo, and am really looking forward to staying at the Busabout accommodation in Avignon. I tried to make the most of my afternoon, though, and tried to look on the bright side. The following day I was going to walk the trail of the Cinque Terre, which would be fun, even if I was doing it alone.

With my new-found optimism, I returned to the shuttle pick-up, only to see a sign announcing that there was to be a strike, and no trains would be running the following day. Trying to be calm and cling onto that optimism of only a few minutes prior, I asked a woman at the local tourist office if there was an alternative mode of transport. There wasn't, but she said certain peak-hour trains would still be running (strike or no strike, people still had to get to work). So, sunshine and rainbows once again, I returned to the campground, and inquired whether there were local buses I could take, as the shuttle didn't start running until after the precious few trains had already departed. There were no local buses. Fine. I'd walk. Only 2 1/2 km, a brisk stroll.

The following morning, after a fairly good nights' sleep, I hoofed it to the train station, bought my ticket for entry into the Cinque Terre National Park and got on my train. Arriving at Riomaggiore (the first of the five towns), I was a little disheartened by the thick, grey clouds which hung over the ocean and engulfed the nearby mountains. Never mind, I thought. A bit of cloud cover could be a good thing. As I entered the park, it began to spit. No worries, a nice bit of climate control - I was feeling a little hot. Then the heavens opened, and not five minutes into my walk, it was pouring with rain. Bloody hell.

After a few minutes spent huddling under a tree, the rain eased off, and for the rest of the walk, though oftentimes looking quite threatening, the weather behaved itself, and by the time I reached Monterosso (the last town - 5 hours later), the sun was actually shining.

It was a gorgeous walk. At times it was a bit of a struggle (so many stairs!), but it was definitely worth it.

[Cinque Terre:]

I spoiled myself and had lunch at a seaside bar, enjoying a glass of local white wine with my pesto pasta (pesto was apparently invented in the area). I wussed out of swimming - even if the water wasn't THAT cold, the "toes in" test made me a little hesitant.

I read my book in the shade for a little while, and was approached by TWO Italian men. One didn't speak English, and I'm not really sure what he said, and the second said "I am Italian, and I think you're very beautiful." I love the way he prefaced it - as if I would fall into a puddle of jelly just because he was Italian.

I had my last Italian gelato, and boy was it good.

At 6pm, I headed for the train, and though it was delayed, I eventually got on a train and back to the campground. I showered (so gross and sweaty), did some hand-washing, sorted out my pack, and got ready for another early night. When the sun sets at 9:30 and you're staying in a tent, you're left with few other choices!

I was back in La Spezia almost two hours early, but was a little wary of the local trains, so was erring on the side of caution.

I called Mum and Dad from a local phone centre (and had my last dodgy Italian conversation with the man at the desk), and then returned to the train station to wait for the 12:15pm bus.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Hi Tami,

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Mangosteens are really special, aren't they? They are my favourite fruit here for sure.

I really enjoyed reading about your adventures in Italy. I saw many of the same places back in 2001, so your blog brought back memories. Pompeii was wonderful and I also loved Rome.

Are you still learning Italian? How is it going? I have started learning German at the Goethe Institut here. Quite an unusual choice for Bangkok I know, but I really enjoy it.

I look forward to more news of your adventures.