Italy….Thoughts of sun, pizza, sand, art, and beautiful words come to mind at the very word…Italy. Our time in Italy was divided between Venice, Verona, Florence, Rome, Terracina, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre.
Venice is an absolute marvel! We arrived from Slovenia and went out to wander the canals and streets around the city. Before we arrived in Venice, we had several people tell us that Venice was filthy, smelly, falling apart, and packed to the brim with tourists. “You’ll hate it”, they said. Well, Im here to tell you that they are nuts! In fact, let me go ahead an air a bit of frustration right here and now: TRAVEL SNOBS!!! Listen to me! You know who you are! You people who sit about, nose in the air, Rick Steves books in hand, minds jumbled with questions like: “Which city has the best escargot? Paris or Lyon?”, yes you. Listen up! Next time you decide to tell someone how badly they will hate a place, how there are much better places, how the BEST thing to do in a place is such and such, remember that everyone is different! We heard this crap so many times before arriving in Venice, that we were a bit worried about it before we even arrived. But guess what? We LOVED Venice! Next time, give your opinion, but be sure to preface it with one little line: “This is how I felt about ___, but you may love it”. Venice was to us what a fine wine must be to an old french man; a reminiscence of a time long past. A time when a town could sit on water and have a majority of its streets impassible to automobiles and bridges that sat in interesting locations that made walking about the maze even more of an adventure. We spent the day wandering the streets along green canals, listening to street musicians, watching gondoleers push around in long gondolas, and looking for a man wearing what we consider the quintessential Venice outfit: white or tan trousers, striped button-up shirt, white or tan sport coat, and white hat. Guess what? We found him and got a picture! We spent the next two days wandering in Venice, never tiring of its beauty.
Verona is one beautiful city! The architecture is magnificent. The old town area is encircled by a winding river which is crossed by nice bridges. We camped high above the city and had amazing views from our camping area out over the city and surrounding countryside. There were flowers all around. Yes, the town that Skakespeare used as a base for his most famous writing is truly pristine. Romeo and Juliet could not have found a better home.
Florence is the nicest city that we have ever visited. Every corner is graced with some statue or fountain created by this or that famous sculptor. Each building has an impressive facade. Each Piazza (square) has a beautiful church that has been standing around since Michelangelo and Da Vinci wandered past hundreds of years ago. The sun sets perfectly each night over the most lovely bridge (Ponte Vecchio) that God ever inspired man to build. There are free public sculpture areas that would rival (and generally top) the galleries at any of the world’s top museums. There is Piazza Michelangelo, which, when climbed, provides views over the city which would inspire poetry from Ebenezer Scrooge. So romantic, such magic abounds in ths city! We will be here again!
Rome was one of the places along our trip about which we were most excited. Rome did not disappoint. We took the train in and had a full…very full…day exploring Rome. We visited the world’s smallest independent state: Vatican City and gazed upon Michelangelo’s works in the Sistene Chapel. To tell the truth, there were much more impressive paintings in the museums there. We wandered over to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain (which was absolutely amazing!!!). We visited the old Roman forum and the Colisseum, and gazed upon Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. Rome was a feast fr the senses! The smeels drifting from the various pasta and pizza restaurants, the sights that are absolutely unparalleled, the buzz of the cars passing as the (crazy) Italian drivers whip in and out of traffic…It’s all so wonderful. Majestic even.
Naples. Napoli. Whatever you call it, you’ll never go wrong with calling it Filthy. The originators of the pizza. The home of much Italian mafia activity, Naples could easily be placed in a third-world country somewhere and no one would bat an eye. We parked outside of the city where we planned to camp for a couple nights and took the metro into the city center. We should have known that this was going to be an interesting experience when the man across from us began to sing to himself in a tone that was more than slightly reminiscent of the sort of singing that one might hear in a psychiatric treatment facility (and I have 1st hand knowledge of this, mind you). A further clue as to the state of this city came when we realized that all of the windows of our train and the ones we passed along the way were covered in the wretched paintings of the local “graffiti idiots”. Still, we continued. When we noticed another meth-addict looking guy sit down beside the singing wonder across the way, we thought that someone was playing an evil joke on us. Maybe we had found ourselves on a hidden-camera show or something. But alas, that was not the case. Within a minute, the two (who had not spoken a word to one another, nor taken their beady eyes from us to look at one another) began having a bit of a ‘dueling banjos’ ‘hey, I’m a lunatic’ sing-along together. Before we could reach the little red glass-breaking hammer hanging from the wall in order to break the glass and jump from the moving train or bash the two over the heads (which would probably have been the greater benefit to society), we made it to Naples. Perseverance, my dear friends, perseverance. Stepping from the metro terminal, we expected to find an Italian city. Instead, we found a city that looked more than slightly like the more run-down areas of Kathmandu, Nepal. “Great”, Jen said, as our eyes focused on the piles of trash laying about. We almost, almost stepped back into the terminal and headed back to the car. Happily, we did not. We instead began to walk in a weaving pattern around the piles of crap that lay around covering the streets. When we stopped in a cleaner spot of concrete sidewalk, we peered up at buidings that that had seen their better days…Maybe a hundred or more years ago. About the same time that they were last cleaned. There were sheets and underwear and bras, and every other sort of tattered garment hanging frm each window we passed, drying in the filth that was the air in Naples. I couldn’t help but wonder if, when taken off the line, the clothes were any better smelling or more clean than before they were washed. We walked on, making our way towards the pizza restaurant that we had received recommendations to visit. Making it to Sorbillo’s, we noted the trash across the street and the tattered building, then gingerly walked inside. A whole new world greeted us. People were sitting about obviously experiencing various degrees of pure ecstasy depending upon whether their massive, greasy, thin-crust pizza’s were just arriving and gracing their smell receptors with their wonderful scent or, if they had had a bite or two, their taste buds were being ravaged by the wonders of the sweet sauce, or, if they were just finishing, their stomachs were sending up various ‘thank you’s’ and ‘I love you’s’ to their brains. We found a seat in an empty room upstairs and began to pour over the menu. Within minutes, the entire room was full of about 100 people, each looking like a hyena at a pig roast. We ordered one margherita pizza, but on the advice of our waitress (who had a bit of twinkle in her eye when she suggested it), we ordered one for each of us. The pizza’s came out only a few moments later and we began to fight the urge to hug the waitress and tip her massively as soon as our smell receptors got a whiff of the stuff she placed in front of us. The pizza’s were each the size of a Pizza Hut large pizza, only adding 3-4 inches all the way around, and were dripping with olive oil. Hungrily, we each took our first bite, and, if the pizza were a man, the look in Jen’s eyes showed that I would have been cast aside without hesitation. We began to eat, much like I would imagine the hyenas that I mentioned a moment ago would have eaten. With abandon. Lapping up the last of the oil in my plate only a few minutes later, I looked to Jen and realized she was about to finish off her pizza as well. We sat for a few minutes afterwards and reminisced on our experience. When I die, I hope to be buried with a Sorbillo’s pizza. That’s all I’m saying. We walked away from the restaurant, after debating on whether we should just stay there until dinner time and start the process over again. Back through the filth we walked, though our ’high’ from the wonderful pizza practically lifted us over it all, and onto the metro again. That was the end of our Naples experience. We left to go to Amalfi that afternoon.
Our next stop was the Amalfi Coast. It is dubbed as one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in all of Europe, maybe the world. It was truly a gem. The rocky coastline juts up to tiny villages clinging to, and sometimes cascading down, the cliffs that rose above the crashing blue waters. The villages were all in pastel, all the cutest little village you’ve ever seen. One after another…For miles and miles. We stayed in a little hostel at the top of the cliffs where we could look down over the coastline and just try to soak in the beauty of the place. We spent a couple days relaxing and trying to get a grasp on such beauty.
Pisa was another gem of a place. All we knew about Pisa before we arrived was that they had some kind of tower there that some idiot (or possibly brilliant?) architect had built that was leaning. Well, boy were we surprised when we walked around the corner, through the almost completely intact city walls, and found the loveliest square that I have seen in all the world. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, as it has been dubbed, was only a backdrop to this wonderful square. In the foreground sits a colorful domed church with one of the larget domes that we have seen. The entire square, less the walking paths around it, was covered in a brilliat green grass that was picture perfect. Especially after seeing so many concrete and cobbled squares in every other European city. Finally, a bit of grass in what seems in Italy to be a stone world. Beside the majestic domed church was a long building that is now a museum. It is the most beautiful mustard yellow color, though mustard yellow is not generally my ‘cup o tea’. Sitting at the rear right corner of another building is the towering tower that is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is to Pisa what La Tour Eiffel is to Paris. A symbol. The symbol. It lives upto its reputation, as so few symbolic building ever do. Each level is intricately designed and colored in various whites, greens, and reds. And yes…It is leaning a great deal to the right. Actually, it’s leaning as if it will topple over at any moment and crush the buildings and people that surround it, flinging those who pay a king’s ransom to climb it as far as, say, Rome perhaps? Warily, we walked all around it, always keepig an eye on the top for any signs of further tilt or breakage. Then we noticed something: the top couple levels actually lean the opposite way from the rest of the tower! Turns out, they were built at a much later date (over a hundred years later) and were built leaning against the rest of the tower in order to keep the tower from toppling. A bit of a rigging I think, but I guess it worked, since the tower is still standing and still raking in the millions ($$$) for Italy!
The Cinque Terre was another gem of Italian blessed-ness. The Romans gained and lost a lot of ground in their time, but it seems they held on to some of the best parts of their empire, at least. The Cinque Terre was a bit Amalfi-esque in it’s geographical blessings, but the villages along its coast had a more beachy feel to them. More relaxed. We did a bit of hiking along the Lover’s Trail (which was grueling!!!) and enjoyed the beach and blue water views from the mountainside.
Italy was another amazing adventure! It completely restored our hope that Europe is not just a seemingly endless repertoire of green men on green horses, big cathedrals in stone squares, and old towns with cobbled streets and rude people. Before Italy, admittedly, we were getting burnt out on Europe because of the similarities of the cities that we visited. After Italy, we are refreshed, renewed, and excited about tomorrow!