Travel Log: Days 1 and 2
This is just for me and my parents and anyone else who might be interested and who for some reason would know to check this version of the site these days. Absolutely no spell checking has been done. You can find pics here.
It's 8:45 PM here in Naples and I just woke up Steve to force him to wash his face and brush his teeth so we could get ready for bed. Our first day is done, and we're exhausted, predictably.
The trip here was fine. Our flight left Chicago on time at 5:10 PM and after dinner Steve and I both passed out thanks to some mother's little helpers. I think I got about 4-5 hours of sleep (I kind of wanted to watch True Grit for the second time after it followed Water for Elephants but I slept through it,) but Steve didn't sleep as well.) One thing that's different this time about going to Italy than last time is that I am old and my knees get uncomfortable if I sit in one place for too long. The flight was fine, a little bumpy at times but nothing too crazy. We breezed through customs in Rome and found the Da Vinci Express train to Roma Termini with no problem. At the Rome train station we were a little hectic when it came to figuring out which train to take to Naples, but once we did, Steve enjoyed his first "caffe" which I ordered en Italiano. I was worried that I'd forgotten all my Italian but so far it's come back in touristey ways which I am fine with: "May I have a pizza" or "May we have another glass for our beer?" No problem.
We made it onto the train and for the first time in 10 years I enjoyed watching the Italian countryside go by, seeing this side of the ocean in some time, while Steve read the Tribune/dozed. We got out at Napoli Centrale and fought our way across the crazy Piazza Garibaldi to our hotel. I don't know if Italian traffic was always like this, or it was just Naples and I haven't spent that much time here, but it's pretty stressful. Like, the cars will just almost hit you but come within a few inches of you just to be nice. My strategy was to start following behind other people so that at least if I got hit, they did too.
Our hotel is nice and modern, and we got a room with a view of the Piazza which is cool but very noisy. Steve and I set off for lunch--simple, I had pizza and he had penne with a cheesy tomato sauce, which was delicious and al-dente (I forgot how you eat pizza here, so I kind of cut it into little bites and ate the little bites with my fingers.) We ran back to the train station so Steve could by a converter set, and then we went sightseeing.
Today was going to be the day we were maybe going to go to Positano, but we learned it's an hour and a half each way via train, which is probably too far regardless for a day trip, not to mention no good for people who are jetlagged. Steve really wanted to see Pompeii so Positano will just have to wait until next time. There wasn't anything in particular I wanted us to see in Naples so we just set off for the most churchy part of town. We stopped in the Duomo (what do those crazy European Catholics do with all those chapels?) and then Steve started lagging. I don't know if he is just a big baby or I have some weird Zulkey fight-through-it gene but he was much worse off than I was. It was only 3 PM though and I didn't feel like dragging sorry dead weight around with me until it was time to go to bed, so we stopped for a biscotti and some espresso. That seemed to help a lot. We wandered about the streets, and I got MY second wind when we found Antica Pizzeria e Friggitoria. I had spent hours prior to this trip making a Google map of all the restaurants and whatnot I had read recommendations of, and I had read somewhere that this place had great deep-fried street food. I wasn't even that hungry but I was so excited to find a place on my list (which we couldn't import into our Garmin) that I made us stop anyway. Per the counter guy's recommendation I got some silly deep-fried ball of macaroni, cheese, beschamel sauce, meat and peas. The owner of the shop pointed to a picture of Bill Clinton on the wall and said that he had eaten two. I bet the new skinny Bill misses that stuff. It was great.
I think my favorite part of the day was wandering into Piazza San Gaetano, which is the home of San Paolo Maggiore, but moreover was just a great place to stop and take pictures of the sun setting between the narrow streets, the laundry drying on the lines, the kids playing soccer in the street, the old ladies stopping and chatting. That was what our day in Naples was really all about. I'm super-glad Steve got me photography lessons because I'm not sure I would have seen that moment with the same eyes.
It was fun meandering down the narrow streets, although you always had to keep an eye out for a motorino running into you. They're big on selling stuff for making crèches here, along with Pulcinella-related stuff. Red peppers also seem to be a theme in terms of jewelry and souvenirs but I haven't figured out why yet.
We wandered more, seeing San Lorenzo Maggiore, the outside of Pio Monte della Misericordia and Santa Chiara. We also stopped and had a drink at Piazza Bellini which was a cool little gardeny square most historic for the ancient Greek walls of Neapolis, although we also noticed a lot of pot smoke, litter and graffiti.
A few people asked us why we were bothering to go to Naples (the main reason: Pompeii) but I had a feeling that Steve, being the person he is, would reactively like the city more after hearing people dump on it for being dangerous and dirty and noisy. It is dirty and noisy and so far the main danger is the traffic, but you know what other town is like that? New York City (New York City?!) It's a tiring town but I think it gets a bad wrap.
Anyway we had dinner at a restaurant directly next to the place where we had lunch, which was a block away from our hotel so you can bet it was pretty touristey, but whatever. I had a salad for health (no dressing on it but whatever) and a "big" Moretti (the guy on the bottle looks thinner than I remember) and some pasta Bolognese which was delicious. I would buy pasta here if it probably wouldn't get pulverized on the way home. Steve had penne arrabiatta which I told him is a safe thing for him to get wherever we go.
Tomorrow we're going to get a little bit of Pompeii, and then to Florence. Hopefully no more dragging ass!
Today I asked Steve if he ever thought he'd ever take 5 trains in 2 days. So yesterday we trained from the Rome airport to the train station, then to the train station to Napoli, then today Napoli to Pompeii and back and then the train to Florence. We're tired but not as bad as yesterday. I slept until 6:30 this morning: I felt like I woke up every 2 hours or so and just said "Try to get back to sleep" time and I did. So I got like 10 hours of sleep.
Whoah according to my Fitbit we walked over 10 miles today.
Anyway, this AM we got up and had breakfast in the hotel. The percentage of whitey Americanos (us) to Asian tourists was about 1:10 this AM, if that means anything. It probably doesn't. Breakfast was that European dealie that I love, just a huge spread of everything. I had scrambled eggs, a bun, some mini weenies, fruit, a mini donut and lots and lots of coffee. Breakfast was on the 6th floor of UNA Hotel Napoli so we enjoyed our last cup of coffee on the roof, which was gorgeous. Steve got a good first look at Vesuvius. Speaking of which, we headed back to the train station and grabbed a train to Pompeii, or so, we thought. The ticket guy told us that the train would come at 8:43 but we got to the platform and a train rolled right up, so even though it was 13 minutes before the train was scheduled, we jumped on, because we're idiots. Thankfully right before it was too late I found out we were on the wrong train and we jumped off at the last station where you could transfer. I don't mean to sound like I'm so great but thankfully I had enough crappy Italian to figure out how to make it work. Anyway, we got to Pompeii. Believe it or not it's the 3rd time I've been there. If you haven't been, the main thing that will strike you is that it's not an exhibit--it's a city. Like, you can walk just a tiny portion of it and you will be worn. Out. Which is what we did. It was pretty warm too, and thanks to the cobblestones plus jetlag we were pretty tired after a few hours but ended the whole thing with petting a puppy and some kittens that were hanging out by the souvenir stand where we got a postcard for Steve's parents.
So we took the train back and still had time for lunch in Naples, after walking through a street fair there. I had another pizza, this time with fresh tomatoes and buffalo cheese and I ate the whole thing, so what. Steve had pasta al'matrciana, which was allegedly bacon/tomato pasta but he couldn't taste the bacon.
We killed a tiny bit of time buying him a toothbrush and a souvenir magnet for me, and then it was BACK to the train station, this time on the luxurious Eurostar line to Florence. I loved boarding the train early and watching the scenery go by and appreciating the sartorial style of the slightly more well-to-do Italian men who always look so effortless in their nice pressed shirts and perfect shoes that aren't too fussy but aren't too casual. They always look nice.
After about 3 hours we finally made it into Florence and took a 10 minute cab to our hotel, which is actually outside the city walls, near the Pitti Palace. I chose it for its combination of free parking/price/reviews on Tripadvisor. It's much quieter than our hotel in Naples and quainter, too. I wouldn't say we have a room with a view per se but we kind of do, if you crane your head. Like at our last hotel we're unsure whether the little towels are for your face or for your butt.
We walked right back into Florence, through the city walls, and found a café at Piazza della Repubblica where we enjoyed a bottle of prosecco and the cooler fall air. Steve thinks (and I agree) that Florence is much more charming than Naples, although the main difference between Florence and a lot of other "charming" towns in Tuscany is that people actually live and work here, and that it doesn't feel like a tourist trap. Still, it feels pretty surreal that I lived here for a year and got college credit for it. Everyone here looks so nice: I'm glad I brought work-type clothes. Steve says he feels a little behind, sartorially: untucked plaid shirts are not so much the thing here. All the men are wearing scarves. Like home though the women are in boots and tights and skirts and scarves.
After our prosecco (and the little snackies that came with it that I hold so dear) we wandered over to a tiny restaurant a few blocks away and ordered a Florentine steak. Steve is pretty squeamish about steak that isn't very well done so I gave him the more burn side but I have to say that even for me, who doesn't mind bloodier meat, it was pretty rare. Next time we will just be stupid Americans who ask for their meat medium/well. Then we got our first gelato of the trip and walked back to our hotel. Steve is snoring next to me right now so I guess we won't be watching any of the free movies they offer us tonight. (Note: he just woke up and says that he feels like he was laying out on a sunny beach all day and forced to eat strawberry shortcake and drink booze. Whatever that means.)