Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Vacation From My Vacation

Almost misssing my train, falling on my butt on the platform and pretending I just wanted to sit on the ground, late trains, not being able to understand questions Italians were asking me, getting train-sick, sitting in the wrong class and getting told to move...all of the joys of traveling (alone this time). Oh, but I really do love long train rides!

I got into Naples and wished I could explore a bit (I've never actually had the chance to see the city, we've just always gone straight to Ischia), but I took a taxi to the Port (Molo Beverello). This Neopolitan taxi driver asked em about Obama (supposedly all of the Italians are paranoid that he's going to be assassinated) and talked about how people come to Napoli and ruin their diets because the food is so good. He also asked how many boyfriends I had (and when I awkwardly laughed he said it's because people on TV seem to have so many) and lectured me for not remembering that tomorrow was Valentine's Day but said that I'm going to be engaged tomorrow...I'm sure something got lost in translation.

I took a hydrofoil over to Forio, the second largest city on the island (which happens to be where my aunt lives). My "cool" Aunt Dani was there to greet me and it was so, so nice to see family again, plus to be back in a place I had been so many years ago. A lot of memories started coming back to me b ut it was so strange to be here during the off-season, where so many stores were closed down and so any people had left for their other homes.

My aunt went to Ishcia several times when she was a teenager/young adult (she talks about falling for a drummer when she was 16) and I know my grandparents rented a house here (which we saw again mom!) where my mom stayed when she was a little girl. My aunt came to Italy several times when she was younger but said tha she always found herself coming back here. It's her escape from the hustle and bustle of the stressful "real world" but ironically, with these crazy southern Italians, she laments that things are even more backwards here. From my perspective I am just very impressed with the life she has made for herself here. She has a faculty for language and siad she learned form popular music and films.

My aunt and I caught up a bit and then went out to an internet cafe, where she introduced me to the store owners she's friends with. I went for a bit of a walk while she was in there and then we reunited and looked for this pottery store that one of my other aunts loves (my mom's the youngest of 8!)! While I'm saving my money for Venetian glass (next weekend!!!!!!!) I was very tempted to buy some pottery here but the place was closed for the season (Aunt Felicia, she wasn't lying). Che peccato! We then went to a wine bar, where Aunt Dani is friends with the owner, Salvator, and we enjoyed some local white wine. The place was beautiful (the owner designed it with real volcanic rocks!) but we left early because this American "cowboy" and his "6 ft wife" [as Aunt D liked to call the pair] came into the bar and were being really embarrasing. Salvator couldn't understand their english so my aunt had to translate. We have no idea how they even found this wine bar, let alone Ischia (maybe they should have gone to Capri).

I was really tired after my day so was glad we had dinner early, by Italian standards. Mom, Dad, and Julie, we went to La Tinai! We each got delicious pizzas and ate them in front of a roaring fire (remember, I'm near Naples so the food is amazing [and they put salt in their bread!]).

The next morning Aunt D was going to take me around the island in a rented car (more like a car someone wasn't using and just rents out) but got a call that morning that they found out the car wasn't working (an example of how crazy they are here, she said). Instead, we took a bus around and saw Porto, the biggest city in Ischia. We then changed buses and then went to Ischia Ponte, where there was a big citadel build into the rocks (a lot of Pirates used to be in these waters) . I didn't realize that this is one of the areas we had hung out so many summers ago, and Aunt D treated me by takign me to an area where there's a good amount of sea glass and pieces of ceramics (I could have stayed there looking all day!).

That evening, Valentine's Day, we went out with Aunt Dani's friend, Maria. I thought so highly of her rasing three boys while her husband was in the states working . She said that it's hard to make girlfriends here (this is still a mostly patriarichal society where women tend to stay in). It's also hard with young boys during riposo (1-4/5pm) when they wan to be outside and play [supposedly there's a law here that you have to be quiet between 3-5pm]. It's much safer here to raise children with the lower crime rate than in the States, but I think they miss things from America, and it frustrates her that nothing gets done here (with half of the day spent resting).

We were going to go to a restaurant up in the hills (the contrast between this and the beach down below is stunning) but we didn't realize how many Valentine's would be be out when everything's usually dead. Maria and my aunt thought the owner was joking about needing a reservation, and I got confused with my poor Italian, but only in Italy would they put us in the kitchen and hand us pieces of salami, that were a bit too fresh for my liking, and a little glass of Prosecco. I felt so in the way but got a great look at how they prepared everything back there. It took us a little bit to realize that we'd have to wait at least an hour to be served so we went to look elsewhere. We drove up in the hills (I had absolutely no sense of direction) in the next town over, Panza, for over 1/2 hour trying to find thise other restaurant, with Maria and Aunt D cursing the poor signage here. We finally found it (closed) so we went to this other restaurant at about 11 o'clock (and could you believe people were still coming in? they eat so late here!). My aunt was a sweet Valentine, though,and gave me a little heart-shaped candle, and a kiss :).

Sunday is a day for family and they usually have big Sunday lunches. Aunt d's friend, Ilauria, took us over to her house (it was right across the street from the house grandma and grandpa rented, mom! and right near that little cove we swam around when we rented that boat that one time in San Francesco Forio!). They lived in a beautiful villa. It was truly a girl's day (all of their husbands were in Naples and they came to their house here for the weekend). They made us bucatini, which I think is fair to call my favorite pasta, and rabbit (like the last time we were here, dad!...don't tell mom) with something similar to broccoli rob and potatoes, which are much better here. Then we had a little cake for dessert (it was one of the woman's son's 2nd birthday yesterday and I have to say that Italian kids are so much cuter than American ones [especially when they speak], but wow, they are so loud and I'm told they all turn into little brats :-)).

We stayed there for over 4 hours and then had a nice walk back, where Aunt D found me some more ceramic pieces, and we saw the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (I jokingly told Aunt D that this was more romantic than last night).

On the way back, two Neopolitan taxi drivers got into a fight over who was goin to give me a ride and I'm so afraid of their firely southern Italian temperaments here. Then, when I was buying a ticket to get back to Perugia, I had to repeat myself several times for the guy to understand what city I wanted to go to, and then he said "merci" to me as I was leaving. Really? Then I really must be awful with pronunciation. The dogs know italian better than I do!...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ciao Roma!

I regret taking so long to update and I hope I can briefly capture my Rome experience for you guys. This is a huge cop-out, though, but really, just look at the pictures.

So another girl in the immersion program, Emily, put up with my last-minute antics and together we booked a very, very cheap hostel the night (you could argue early morning) before we were planning to go. Then we just jumped on a 3ish hour train to Rome and that's that (buy a map, bring your guide book, and it's really that easy).

Our hostel was right near the Rome train station, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, which we immediately started gawking at. We had lunch and checked-in to our hostel and then, around 5pm, started our walking tour.

I have to say that I really can't believe how much we accomplished (and walked!) that evening. Maybe because I'm so type A and we were quickly going from point to point, but we did most of the major sites our side of the Tiber. Rick Steve's scoffed at how impossible it is to do Rome in a day - well just think about how hard it is to really only have 2 full days, if you're really being generous, with so many things closed on Sundays (and being stuck with your backs after check-out)!

We started off in Santa Maria, which was gorgeous! I don't know what to say about churches anymore! After, we found our way over the the Trevi Fountain. It was just the best feeling to see it again and it really is so stunning. There we were, just walking along some small side street, and then you quietly start hearing the sounds of water. Then you just turn the corner and it jumps out at you, right in the middle of the square!
-People have been complaining that I don't take enough pictures of myself, so here we go:



Err, Three....?

This one is obviously fake, but there's my shot.

So if you don't know what this is about, legend has it that if you throw a coin in the fountain over your shoulder, you will oneday return to Rome (it's worked so far). I was definitely stubborn about getting that "perfect shot" though...

We then walked over to the Spanish Steps. It was strange to approach it from the top and at first, I didn't know where we were. But then we looked down and we could see down the steps onto the whole square. I was amazed with how walkable Rome is. Everything was covered in a golden light and everyone was out on the steps that Friday evening. I have to say, there was a bit too much rome-ance going on for my liking....
(We briefly walked down Via Condotti but, like Florence, window shopping doesn't hold my attention for that long. I wish I had asked where the Monster Door was again Mom!)

Next stop was the Pantheon. Just like everything else we saw so far, it literally just jumped out at us, without warning, as we turned the corner. All of these monuments are right in the center of Romans' daily lives and it's hard to believe they can become so desensitized. I felt bad the Emily didn't have the opportunity to see inside of it, but it really did look much more stunning in the dark. (It was really, really fun being inside the Pantheon, though, when it was raining and it all came through the hole at the top :)).

Continuing behind the Pantheon, we saw the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II. I had never seen it before! Then, in the distance, Emily thought she spotted the Colosseum but it was too far away and I wasn't sure. As we started approaching it (yes, she was right), we saw some ruins to our right and realized it was the Roman Forum! I was really losing any credibilty as a tour guide.

Rome may be better at night. The monuments were all lit-up, everyone was out, and I felt so safe on the streets. It was a much more intimate look then roaming around with tourists during the day.

I felt like such a shy girl in my hostel. Everyone was in the common room drinking and socializing and were from all over the world. The owner sadly ruffled my hair up as I walked past because I was probably being so square. I forgot that hostels are a place that people come to meet other travelers, and not just a really cheap place to stay. I climbed up to my top bunk, in a closet of the room with two sets of bunk beds and barely space to walk in between the middle, and was in bed before 12, as a party was going on two rooms down the hall. I'll never be a troubadour!
We woke up early the next morning and went straight to the Vatican Museum (Finally! Let's get out of this country!). It's very strange, though wonderful, to be here in the off season. What was even more strange is how little I remembered the area the Vatican Museum was in or all of the exhibits that led up to the Sistine Chapel. You really have to earn the right to see the Chapel because you go through a maze of other exhibits. Not that their Greek sculptures and Egyptian artifacts aren't worthy in their own right, but it's all just too much...and you haven't even gotten to the big show yet. I was really starting to get stimulus-overload when all of the sudden I turned the corner, and there I was! (Why must it happen like this every time!?). My roomate said that when she's gone in the past, she thinks it feels like one big gynasium full of people. It is kind of like that. I was lucky to get a seat on the wall and rest (I hadn't sat for several hours in while touring the Museum) and be able to slowly take in all in.
Mom, Dad, and Julie - they still yelled at us to be quiet! But this time, a little announcement was played over loadspeakers. Unfortunately there wasn't any obnoxious clapping. I still couldn't believe how many people were taking pictures when they weren't allowed to there, but that just shows how much of a zoo it is.
Oh! By the way, I also saw the School of Athens and am embarrased to admit that I didn't know it was in the Vatican (some HPS major I am).
What a build up for such a finale. It's worth it, but it's draining.

After that, we got lost trying to find our way from the Vatican to St. Peter's, which seems pretty silly because you can see one from the other. We started walking around the Vatican and got pulled over by some weird French guy who was trying to give us his designer clothes and then asked us for gas money....

And then there we were in front of St. Peter's! I walked inside and just really gave up at that point. In my head I thought "Look Rome...Rick Steves already hailed you [St. Peter's] as the richest and most impressive church on the earth. Give it a break! Stop trying to overdo yourself. You've already won!" I really, really have, just given up. But then I forgot that you could finally take pictures in this church so I quickly turned into this sacrreligious tourist who went around like a camera-happy maniac just to prove a point that I can show people back home what I can't do any justice in trying to describe. It's all a bit ridiculous, and makes me feel like I shouldn't be in the church to begin with, but it is such a museum. We saw Pieta but unforutnately I wasn't able to rub (kiss?) St. Peter's foot (they had him fenced off for some reason).
Next we got to climb to the top of the church. Elevators are for whimps (and I'm scared of them) so we climbed ... oh, I don't know how many there are, 500+ stairs? It really isn't that bad, just terrifying in those extremely narrow spiral staircases with no railings, but I truthfully couldn't have been happier getting a panorama of the entire city.

Finally, we went to a much smaller church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and between one T(h)eresa to another, I learned the true meaning of her ecstasy.

***What I can't emphasize enough is how nostalgic Rome made me for my family. That was the first place I ever saw in Italy and our memories of sneaking in pizza behind the nuns' backs is still just as funny. Rome just felt like a completely different place when I was traveling with you three and I fear that, because of the nature of my program, I really am forced to zip through as much as I can. I am very grateful for all of the care you put into planning our vacations and I can't wait to see you three when you come to visit in a few months!