Italy – A wonderful and unexpected stop (2008)

I have to begin with a brief recap of my departure from Croatia as that was after my last entry.  I decided to take a local bus from my hostel, to the main bus station to then take the airport bus to the airport.  What an adventure that was!  I think it was over 100 degrees out and when I got on the first bus, within a minute, I was dripping with sweat and all those around me were too.  Couldn`t believe how hot and with that many people on the bus made it worse (and they kept stopping to cram more on and there was no room), but I got to the bus station with about 1 minute to spare as the traffic was so bad (so much for planning to be there 20 minutes early just in case).  Then I met my airport driver….  I was the only person on the bus and I sat up front as I thought I would get a better view along the coastal drive.  He started talking to me and gave me some historical information about Dubrovnik which I liked.  Then when he realized I was listening and was interested, he started providing me all his opinions about everything about the states, politics, and economics.  The best part, when started to lecture me about financial policy and how this is the wrong time to buy anything and we should all wait 2 years as the markets will be better then as he said he knows based on history (yea right!)  I started laughing as “you can`t time the markets”.  No one can – if we could we would all be rich!  That`s one thing that was ingrained in my brain by Bernstein and is so true.  Then he starts to compare today`s markets to the Great Depression and this got into a heated debate as he really didn`t know what he was talking about (nor did he know this is my area of expertise).  Regardless – it brought for a lively hour bus ride to the airport, but I couldn`t wait to get off that bus!

But now I`m off to Rome to meet Giovanni and his wife Laura.  Giovanni is my Italian cousin now.  How could that be?  He studied in Canada for a year during his high school years; and lived with my Aunt Sharon, Uncle John and cousins Adam and Ashley and he became part of their family and now is part of mine.

It was so wonderful to get to stay at their apartment and visit with locals.  My first night, we were off to have pizza and walk around town.  We walked over to see the Colosseum, which was still as amazing as I remembered.  The fun was this time it was all lite up as it was night time so I got a new view from the last time I was here 10 years ago.  Giovanni and Laura were the perfect tour guides showing me around the arches and giving me lots of history and information and making for a wonderful night.

Wednesday morning I was off on the train to Naples.  Since I have seen a lot of Rome on a previous trip, I wanted to explore something new, so Naples and Capri were on my list.  Once I got to Naples, I was searching for Pizza, since that is where Pizza was created.  I thought it would only be fair to do a taste test.  While I was in Rome, I had 3 pizzas within 24 hours – is that a problem???

My Pizza Comparison:
1. Giovanni`s favorite place in Rome near his house (forgot name but will get later as it`s in my purse) – This was really good.  I would call it a little more of designer pizza with fancy toppings.  We decided to get three different ones to share and I left it to Giovanni and Laura to decide.  Funny part was the one pizza that was their favorite and the one I had to taste was the one the waiter screwed up the order on and brought up something else.  Whoops!  But all three were great and I`d be back.  Laura also said we had to start with some starters that are traditional.  So we had some sort of friend zucchini flowers, fried rice and cheese, fried mozzarella balls and friend olives.  Yum!  To finish off, Giovanni and I had some Lemon cello so a perfect dinner with friends!

2. Da Michele in Naples – This was where I went for lunch.  This place takes its pizza seriously and has been in business since 1870 and the menu only has 2 pizza, margarita and marinara.  If you want a drink, you get a choice of soda, beer, water.  No toppings and no substitutions.  Very thin crust and great flavor.  The man I met on the train said don`t go to this place as it`s so popular that I will wait 1-2 hours to get in.  But this tall blond didn`t have to wait.  When I got there, there was about 25 people waiting outside.  I went in and asked for a table and since I was 1 person (and batted my eyes a little), they took me right in and sat me at a table with 3 others.  So sometimes dining alone has its privileges.

3. De Matteo in Naples – I had my final pizza in Naples as a place a man on train said it was his favorite (and my guidebook and owner of my hostel said it was the best), so I had to try.  I didn`t know if I could eat more pizza, but glad I did as it was great!  This one had all my favorite, wonderful flavor and left me way too full.  Good thing I walked home afterwards.

So my time in Naples was short, but I managed to find a funicular and rode it to the top of Naples for a great view of the city and sea.  I walked around the castle up there and after enough walking around, I decided to explore the metro and take that down from the hill to find more to see down in town.

The only scary part about Naples was the driving.  Giovanni had driven Laura and I to the train station on that morning and that was scary – but I kept saying he drives in Rome all the time and is in complete control of his car.  After seeing how crazy they drive in Naples, Giovanni`s driving was like little old ladies driving (well sort of – but no scary like in Naples).  There were so many scooters that were whizzing past me on the streets and sidewalks.  I just held onto my bag tightly at all times so a scooter didn`t try to grab it and go (as I remembered the scary story of this happening to Jen Nathan`s sister in SE Asia), so I`m very cautious when there are motor bikes near by.

I finally got to speak to locals using my Spanish (as it`s similar to Italian).  I needed to ask directions and we were able to communicate so that was a small victory for me.

I also was able to take Laura`s advice and put it to use.  She said when you want to cross a street in Italy, you need to be brave and just start walking and avoid the cars.  Giovanni said you should make eye contact with the cars so they stop.  Little suspect if you ask me, but when I was in Naples, I did it a few times and get the guts to stare down drivers and start to walk with confidence like I owned the place.  It was rewarding on my last day in Naples as I was able to cross and left all these tourist waiting to cross when the light changed (but they never change).

I spent my last day by taking a hydrofoil to the island of Capri.  I was warned this is a very expensive yet beautiful island, but something I wanted to see.  Once there, I was rewarded with one of the most amazing views.  The entire city is built into the hills and I think every building has a spectacular view as well.  What I didn`t realize when I set out was how long it would take in transit.
-Ferry ride – 1 hour (plus 30 minutes to find ticket book, buy tickets, etc).
-Funicular to top of mountain 30 minutes (to get tickets, wait and ride)
-Bus to beach area 30 minutes  (to get tickets, wait and ride)
and then had to do that all on the way back.  There are lines everywhere and I guess everyone is used to just waiting for a while.

Once I got to the beach, I followed a nice woman I met on the bus as she said this was a nice place to enjoy the beach.  As I followed, I saw the entrance fee was 24 Euros ($36) for a sun chair, and I said no thanks as I knew I would be there for 3 hours and that was too much money.  So I walked up the hill to the other side to where the free beach was and made myself at home on the pebble beach.  I was told by a local the beaches are better with rocks as the water is clear and warmer (due to the sun warming the rocks in the water and on the beach).  After a while, I have gotten used to the rocky beaches as that was all we had in Croatia as well.  So a few hours at the beach was perfect.

On my way back to town, I walked around Capri town and realized why this is the land of the rich.  It was all the high end stores that I can`t afford even with a job.  All designers and expensive price tags, but it was fun to look.

So back to Rome, I took Giovanna, Laura and her cousin Fulvia (who`s apartment it was I stayed at and her room) out to dinner as a thank you for letting me stay and being so wonderful to me (THANK YOU AGAIN FOR A GREAT STAY!!!).  Giovanni choose the best place for dinner for us in the San Lorenzo`s area and the three of them described the menu to me as it was all in Italian and we had a wonderful traditional Italian dinner before heading out to a concert.

Giovanni, Laura and Fulvia and I all went to a local concert.  When I asked Giovanni what kind of music, he really couldn`t describe it and I know why.  It was a mixture of everything.  I would say it was a mix of jazz, funk, hip hop, rap, salsa and fun.  Giovanni said that lead singer was from Sicily and a lot of the songs were in Roman dialect.  I understood about a third of the words as some were in English and some Italian words sound like Spanish.  The concert was in an outdoor venue and they played tenor saxophones (I think), trombones, guitars, trumpets.  All in all, a really great night and something I would never have done on my own.

So my time in Italy was a wonderful extra stop as I never thought I would be there.  Trying to get from Croatia to Greece was tough, and flying through Rome was my best bet and I`m so glad I did.

Thanks again Giovanni, Laura and Fulvia for a great time!  Please come visit me in the US next time.

Off to Athens as Colin is flying in for 2 weeks in Greece and Turkey.

Logistics:

Rome dinner
Al Grottino – great pizza
Via Orvieto,4
06/7024440
www.algrottino.com

Trattoria da Marcello – traditional Italian
Via dei campani, 12
0644633

Naples
Hostel of the sun
Via Melisurgo 15

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