I basically stopped writing about Europe after that one long email after my wondrous trip to Vienna/Prague. I was going through my handmade Florentine notebook that I managed to write down notes on (expenses, hostel names and addresses, journal entries) up until my final week in Spain so I could tell my friend Christine about Europe--the can't miss spots, the costs of food, etc. She's taking a bus tour with a couple of friends first and then they're going to be traveling by themselves for a bit. Funny, but all their parents are freaking about their safety in hostels and insisting they stay in a hotel. In London, out of all places! They even speak English and it's going to be so expensive! And most of us did all this traveling with friends, in hostels, safely, and sometimes, even alone. But I digress. Since my notebook is out already, I should probably write some words about the rest of my travels.
My friend Katia and I *really* wanted to go to Capri and see the Blue Grotto so we made a 2-day trip out to the southern part of Italy. Southern Italy is really the Mediterranean part, the part associated with the Italian mafia but also horrible, Third World-like living conditions. But the good food associated with Italy is also from the South, I suppose it's much like the southern part of the US, the part we try not to be connected to despite all the fried goodness that comes from the region. In any case, my Italian Cinema class taught me that the South was ripe with much political corruption and destitute poverty. A lot of Southerners came to the North to work in the Milan and Torino (Turin) factories where the Miraculous Economic boom was happening, leaving their families behind and sending money.
While Shannon and I were going to keep running through Europe, for most of our friends, it was the second to last weekend, depending on what day their flight was leaving. Katia had two more spots left on her rail pass and I had none--so we did a little sneaky thing and got a train reservation to Naples. The train ended up leaving from Campo di Marte, NOT our main train station (Santa Maria Novella) so we had to take a cab there. There are at least 3-4 different train stations in Florence and all of them but SMN are on the main line. We took a seat in our train and it was a beautiful, peaceful ride to the southern area of Italy, taking 5 hours. Of course, it wouldn't be Italy without creepos looking in and bothering us, they actually kind of scared us on this train ride because they looked threatening and weren't just leering/flirting with us this time around.
We got off at the train station and had no clue what to do but we ended up following some people to take the tram to the Naples port. Everyone before us had told us bad things about Naples, how dirty and gross it was and everything was true. We didn't stick around long enough to prove anything wrong. When we got to the harbor, we still didn't know what to do until some Italian high school kids asked us if we needed help. Turns out that their weekend project was to help out tourists or something, perfect! They pointed us to the REAL harbor, the one that had ferries and water and told us that there were more people there to help us. We met with them (bright T-shirt wearing, pimply kids) and they told us to take a ferry to Capri. It ended up costing around 13 euros and while we waited for the ferry, Katia and I ate our lunch that she had prepared--pasta with a tomato cream sauce with eggplant. Yum. We took our ferry, which was super huge but boring and landed at Capri just to see some other kids from our program. We bought tickets for a boat tour around the island while they ended up getting a little chartered boat, as there were enough of them. Our boat tour had a pretty hunky Italian sailor guy, with lips saltily chapped by the sea winds.
The point of these boat tours is to get to the Blue Grotto, a cave with luminescent blue water that seems so magical that the Romans thought there were healing powers to them (or something). You take the boat tour to the area around the Blue Grotto, just to get on another smaller boat with men who paddle you into the caves. Everyone apparently grabs a rope that goes into the grotto and pulls themselves in to see inside the caves. Unfortunately, the tide was too high or too rough for us to go inside but our guide made sure to point out other patches with such luminescent water.
After our boat tour, we walked around the Capri main area and then took a furnicular up to Ana Capri, which is this small village-like area with high end stores, brand names and jewelry. I think there are some comparisons made to Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. I imagine that the houses are extremely expensive, at least according to the restaurant food prices that we saw on the menus. Katia and I both became enchanted with the coral jewelry and ended up buying a few things--she bought her sister a necklace and I got myself a small, beaded coral bracelet, just as a memento. And of course, what day in Italy wouldn't be complete without a small bowl of gelato?
We had nothing to do in Sorrento afterwards so we bought our hydrofoil ticket to Sorrento. Yes, hydrofoil. I didn't know all these words were actual English words until I got to foreign European countries. It was just a small, flat boat. We got to Sorrento and was again, confused as to where the hell we were supposed to go. We kept following people who were taking up a very windy road up to the hills and ended up in the main town, where there was a celebration going on. I believe it was their patron saint's day (perhaps Sant'Angelo?). There were red and black streamers and everyone was in the streets. It didn't seem like a very far walk to our hostel for the night so we kept walking, as we hardly saw a bus in sight. Along the way, we ran into the religious parade and afterwards, celebrations with car-fulls of people filled with joy at their winning soccer team. It was nightfall by the time we got to the alleyway that our hostel was located on and it creeped us out because even the houses weren't lit and there were bats flying overhead. I was sure someone would rush out and mug us on a moped or something.
Our hostel was kind of ghetto--we saw no one else staying and our room that fit 15 people or so had no one in it besides us. The sheets looked clean but hospital-creepy clean. We had no choice though, there were really no other cheap lodgings in Sorrento and it was on our way to our next destination, Pompeii. We were starving and our hostel manager guy asked us if we wanted pizza, so we said yes. He ordered it for us and in no time, a little girl came to deliver our pizza! She was probably not even 10 and our whole pizza cost us 4 euros! Incredible.
We woke up super early to walk to the train station where the Circumvesuviana took us to Pompeii. The train was a special train that takes you to the cities near Mount Vesuvius, I guess, strange thing. Anyway, We took it to Pompeii and got there early enough in the morning that it wasn't as chock full of tourists as it was later on that day. The Roman city's inhabitants were, as you are probably aware, basically buried in volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The city was dug up and provides extraordinary details about Roman life because the gases and ash brought life to a standstill and everything is incredibly well-preserved. Basically an archaeologists' dream. Most artifacts have been moved to museums and a lot of them are in Naples, after the King of Naples demanded them to be moved to his collection.
We walked around without a tour guide because we didn't have a lot of time there (only about 2 hours) and we tried to eavesdrop on other tours' guides. We learned that Pompeii had the 'bars' that Italy still has today--where people basically go in and out for a quick cup of their drink of choice and he loved to call it "McDonalds". An elderly man who either worked or volunteered on the site told us that there were metal rings on the sidewalks (the 'road' part were very deep in relation to the side walkaways) to hitch horses onto--and then he asked us to give him a kiss in exchange for that bit of information!! We followed some more legitimate tours afterwards and Katia bravely asked a British guide to point us in the direction of a brothel. We found one, as was apparent by the fresco of the man with the gigantic penis. And our day was done, we made our way back to the Circumvesuviana train back to Naples and then promptly got on our train back to our beloved Florence.
Hopefully, more travel stories to come soon, and hopefully not after an entire year. I can't believe we squeezed in 3-4 cities in a span of 2 days, with a 5-hour train trip both ways.