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Caitie's Travels

A Sojourn into Southern Italy

ITALY | Sunday, 12 June 2011 | Views [676]

Day one was the battle of public transport! I flew into Rome Fiumicino Airport, and after a failed attempt at trying to find the bus that went to the city centre I headed for the train station instead. I managed to navigate my way through the confusing ticket selling machine and found the platform that said ‘Termini’ (the main station in the city centre that I was heading for). I got on the train and sat back to enjoy the journey into Rome. After a while I realized that I no longer recognized any of the station names on my map… and after a quick check on the GPS program on my phone, realized that I had bypassed the city centre and was now heading out of Rome! I got off at the next stop and caught the train back towards the city centre. Three trains later I was back where I was hoping to be! After this I had to catch a bus, which I did with no dramas. I found the campsite, settled in and went on a search for food, as I hadn’t eaten for around 5 hours. I unearthed a vending machine in the laundry and settled for that until later. After some munchies I settled in for a well deserved nap (I was running on around 3 hours sleep at this point). I had dinner at the campsite restaurant, which was an acceptable but unimpressive pizza, made much better by a couple of glasses of wine! One of my favourite things about Italy is that even the house wines are always pretty tasty! I spent the rest of the night planning the following days re-discovery of Rome. I was aiming for my favourite places from my last visit, as well as trying to discover some new ones.

 
The next day I was on a mission to rediscover Rome. And rediscover it I did! I started off the day at the Vatican Museum, I mainly wanted to see the Sistine Chapel again. It was definitely worth the entry fee, I love walking through the amazing opulent surrounds of the halls of the Vatican. It is chock full of artwork from history, including giant wall tapestries that are hundreds of years old. I was going to go into St Peter’s Basillica, but I decided it wasn’t worth the hour long cue to get in, as I had already been inside before and had also climbed to the top of the Cupola on a previous visit. I walked across the river and found the Piazza Navona, home of the Fontana dei Quottro (Fountain of Four Rivers). After that I continued across to the Pantheon, which was unfortunately closed by the time I got there as today was a public holiday. Much to my delight I managed to find my favourite restaurant from my previous visit, and enjoyed a scrumptious plate of four cheeses gnocchi and a nice cold crisp white wine. After resting my feet during lunch I continued my trek east to the Trevi Fountain, which was absolutely packed with people! I couldn’t get close enough to throw a coin in, but I’m sure I’ll return to Rome again anyway. I sat down for a little while in the shade and watched the people throng around the fountain. After this I headed to the closes metro station to try and find the San Callisto Catacombs, which are the largest in Rome. I got off at the appropriate metro station and realized my map didn’t cover this part of town, and neither did my offline GPS program on my phone… I was on my own! Ofcourse there was no one around to ask directions, so I started walking down what I thought was the right road. I saw a bus stop which fortunately had a map of the local area inside, which very considerately informed me that “you are here” and at lease confirmed I was walking down the correct street. It also marked the catacombs, which was very handy. So I took a photo of the map and kept walking, checking my progress at each bus stop I came to. I kept walking… and walking… and walking some more! Then it started raining, gently at first but soon rather heavily! Thankfully I’d had the foresight to pack my umbrella. Eventually after almost an hour of walking I found the catacombs, and it was definitely worth it! They were used until the 4th Century, and a huge amount of Catholics were buried here (I can’t remember the exact figure), including 6 popes. There are four levels of crisscrossing underground passages that cover around 20 km, although we were only allowed down to the second level with our guide. We had a guided tour by a volunteer Phillipino priest, and it was quite awe enspiring to see the engineering achievements of people 2 thousand years ago! After my visit I headed back to the metro station (I took the bus this time, now that I knew which ones to catch!) While I was waiting for the bus I watched a lady do the worst reverse park ever, in the tiniest car I have ever seen! It took a good 10 minutes and she hit both the car behind and infront of here. And it was a horrible park in the end! I got another pizza from the restaurant for dinner as I was too tired to find anywhere else.

Day three was the start of my tour down to Southern Italy. We met our tour guide John and boarded the busabout bus to begin our drive down to Pompeii. We drove past Naples, and had a great view of Mount Vesuvius overlooking the city. On arriving at Pompeii we were taken on a two hour walking tour of the ruins, which took us through the day to day life of the people who lived there, and what evidence we can see today.  We were shown the original ‘pedestrian crossing’, three stones which allowed people to walk across the street without walking through the sewage. We saw the town squares, the shops, the residences and some ancient tiles that have remained to today. One house had a tile mosaic of a dog bearing the inscription for ‘Beware of the Dog!”. There were plaster moulds on display of the people as they tried to flee the volcanic ash falling all around them. They made these by pumping plaster into the gaps they found in the volcanic rock, which were left after the people had decayed. It was very interesting but sad at the same time. It is amazing how well preserved the city is. One of the most interesting places was the brothel, it had pictures on the wall of the menu – the services which the patrons would choose from. Around the area were three dimensional phallis’ on the walls and ground that would point the way to the brothels! Apparently it was quite a trade back in the day. After our tour we enjoyed pizza from the home of pizza – Naples. It was everything I was hoping for from a Naples pizza – fresh, saucy and cheesy! We then headed further south to Sorrento, which was to be our home for the next two days. After checking into the campsite we caught the bus down to the town and enjoyed a tasty dinner of pasta and more pizza, followed by tiramisu for dessert and ofcourse, some local wine. We were then taken to a local cocktail bar for some tasty cocktails before heading back to camp to sleep.

 

Saturday was quite possibly my favourite day in Italy. We caught a boat over to the Island of Capri for the day. On the ride over we enjoyed the amazing views on the bright sunny day that we were blessed with, and stopped at the Blue Grotto once we got to the Island. The Blue Grotto has a tiny entrance that only just fits a boat the size of a large canoe, and all the passengers have to lie down to fit through! The smaller boats row out to the large tourist boats to collect four passengers at a time to take in. Technically you are not allowed to swim in the Blue Grotto, but we were given the tip by our tour guide that if you tip the boatman inside the cave, he will let you swim for a little bit. We took this advice on board and were able to swim for a couple of minutes inside, it was a pretty cool experience! The Blue Grotto is a fairly sizable cave that has a small entrance, but the amazingly beautiful blue light filters through under the water from outside, and the water is so very clear. It was just beautiful! After we had all been inside we landed in Capri, and caught a convertible taxi with a group to the top town of Ana Capri.  From Ana Capri we went up the chairlift to the top of Monte Solaro, the highest point on the Island. We were rewarded with absolutely stunning views of the Island and the harbor full of boats. After finding a nice shady spot we enjoyed a picnic of panini’s overlooking the island. We had a bit of fun taking photos (including some silly one’s) before heading back down the chairlift, and caught a bus down to Capri. Our tour guide had given us some suggestions for good gelato shops, so we walked down to the coast via one of those, and I enjoyed some very tasty melon gelato. The path down the beach had some pretty stunning views of the blue water and surrounding area. Once we got to the bottom we chilled on the beach for a little while and went swimming. I couldn’t get over how clear the water was!! Unfortunately the time came for us to board our boat once more, and we relaxed as we headed back towards the mainland. Most of the tour decided to have dinner at the campsite restaurant, and I had some tasty gnocchi with tomato and parmesan, followed by pannacotta. Yum! I also enjoyed some more wine, and we all partook in Lemoncello shots, the drink of the region. After our Lemoncello, Tour Guide John suggested a side adventure to those who were game… this involved a short walk to a moon pool that he had been told about by a local. By the light of our mobile phones we found the moon pool but intelligently decided against swimming in it at night! Instead we headed back to the campsite for a late night swim.

 

The following day was a little dreary as it was overcast and there were some rain showers predicted. We departed the campsite early as we were driving the Amalfi coast road, and wanted to beat the other tourist buses! We started at a local fruit stand for breakfast, and I had some tasty strawberries and possible the best pistachio nuts of my life! We continued along the road, enjoying the views as we twisted and turned our way along the coast. At Amalfi we had a long stop to do a bit of sightseeing, and wandered through the shops trying to avoid the rain. I had a very tasty pastry for morning tea and enjoyed the views in this little coastal town. Back on the bus, we continued on our trek, blasting Pavarotti as we drove the twisting road to Ravello. At Ravello we stopped for lunch, and on John’s recommendation we headed to a small Panini shop where they make your sandwhich as you wait, cutting the cheese and meat fresh in front of you. I was pretty impressed with the result, it was the best Panini I had in Italy! We ate in the town square overlooking the terraced wineries on the neighbouring hills, and were even treated to a wedding party coming out of the town church! There were also fireworks going off on one of the hills, but we weren’t sure what they were for. After our brief stop in Ravello we boarded the bus once more to begin the trip back to Rome. I had dinner once again at the campsite restaurant with some of the friends I had made on the tour. I had the pasta this time, which was better than the pizzas!

I had one more day left before departing Italy, and I headed into Rome again with two friends from my tour. We went to the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks first, in which they have made artworks out of the many bones that were in their previous crypt before they moved location. It is a mixture of creepy and cool, and was somewhere I had remembered from my last trip to Europe (I thought it was in Spain though… my mistake!). We had been given another suggestion for a good gelato shop by our tour guide, and we made a beeline for this… and it definitely lived up to its reputation! I can without a doubt say that it was the best gelato I have EVER tasted. I had a mixture of Honey and Pear, and it was a delectable delight. It was called San Cristo, and was near the Barberini Metro Stop. Definitely worth a trip! It didn’t open until 11 though, so we sat by the Trevi Fountain to pass the time. After gelato we found somewhere for lunch and I enjoyed another margarita pizza. At this point we parted ways, as the girls had to go back and pack for their flight. I continued on to the pantheon as I wanted to go inside again, I love the effect of the daylight streaming in through the hole in the roof! I walked south past the roman forum and colosseum, and round to the church with the Mouth of Truth (Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin). Legend has it that if you put your right hand into its mouth and tell a lie then it will cut off your hand! I still have all my limbs, so obviously no lies! After checking out the church I headed back to the metro for the trip across town for one last trip to the Vatican. I went into St Peters Basilica and walked around in awe of its sheer size. It’s the largest church in the world, and it makes you feel like an ant as you walk its length. Photos really don’t do its size justice. At this point my feet felt like they were about to fall off, so I headed back to the campsite to get my things together for my flight. I had booked an airport transfer through the campsite this time – no wrong trains for me! Traffic got a little heavy on the highway, so the driver took us on a back road through the countryside, we passed green fields and rolled hay which was very scenic! Once I was at the airport I enjoyed my last Italian Panini for dinner before waiting for my flight back to London town. My flight was delayed an hour (although no one actually told us what was happening in this time, very annoying and the crowds were getting a little frustrated!). By the time I got back to my house it was 3am… I very gratefully fell into bed!

Italy is definitely one of my favourite countries in the world. And the food count? 4 pizzas, 3 pastas, 3 paninis and 3 flavours of gelato in 5 days. I will definitely be returning to this amazing country in the future! It has great food, stunning sights and interesting ruins… who wouldn’t want to come back??!!

Tags: capri, italy, pompeii, rome, sorrento, vatican

 

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