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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Italy, Six Months After: Part I

Before the spring semester gets too crazy, I wanted to write about my Italy journey after all this time. It's the trip I took after I finished my three weeks in London. It's long, so I've made this into a two-parter.


Italy, Part I



After my three weeks were up in London, I wished all of my new friends a reluctant farewell and took a taxi with Aubrey to the Heathrow airport on a rainy Thursday morning. By nightfall, I was alone in Rome, waiting at the Fiuminci airport, anxiously hoping that the driver I booked online to the hostel would show up. For dinner, I bought a salty prosciutto sandwich at the airport and bought a copy of Water for Elephants, a nod to my favorite boss, Bebe, who had told me she loved it several years ago.

The taxi driver showed up at about 10:30 pm, and we made our dark journey to the Plus Roma hostel, quickly driving through a humid, city-lit Italian night. After a minor scare at the check-in desk with missing paperwork, later found, I hauled all my London luggage up a windy hill, found my little cabin that was mercifully empty, and sat down on the bed.  At that point, I realized that I was all alone in a new country, my new friends gone back home, and felt so miserable I couldn’t move.  It was an inevitable and crushing bit of depression and homesickness.  Finally, I took a hot shower in the shed-sized hostel and felt a hundred times saner. The cabin had three beds, a bunk bed and a single, so I took the single and fell asleep.

The next morning, I left my suitcase behind the luggage desk and wandered down the hill to the bus stop. The tour I signed up for was the Italian Adventure tour through Busabout, a three-day journey through southern Italy, starting in Rome and going through Pompeii, Sorrento, Ravello, the Amalfi Coast, and the Isle of Capri. 

What I remember best about Italy are the Australians! Busabout is an Australian tour company, and the majority of my fellow tourmates were Australian women in their 20s, a couple of Australian guys, a few Britons, and two of us from the states. My seatmate, Jessica, and I introduced ourselves, and after we arrived at the Pompeii entrance, I just started talking to a slender, friendly looking girl with long brown hair, who quickly turned into my favorite companion on the trip. Her name was Emily Brown, twenty years old from Sydney, who had just left her job to travel around Europe from August until Christmas time. Her friend Caroline was from Manchester, England, who I really liked as well. I’ve said it before, but one of the things I love best about traveling is the quick affinity you get with fellow travelers that often turns into friendships. They need you as much as you need them.

Pompeii


Pompeii itself was very hot under the Italian August sun. Our tour guide was a short, friendly Italian guy, dressed in lightweight white clothing, who every few minutes would call out “Busabout! Helllllllllo!” and I kid you not, “Mama-mia!” I always thought “Mama-mia!” was a stereotypical phrase…but he loved using it. We ventured through the ruins, lots of crumbling foundations, archways, bits of a ghost town. Pompeii was founded by the Oscan people in 8 B.C. and was buried in volcanic ash when Mt. Vesivus erupted in 79 AD, suffocating many of its inhabitants. You can see several people, including a dog, who look like curled-up plaster casts, mouths gasping, limbs tightened. They broke my heart. Pompeii had a large bakery with bread in its ovens. Also, a brothel, which you’re free to explore, stone beds and illustrated signs of two figures performing various services. It’s small and dark; a client there would have been little privacy.

After the two-hour tour, I ate my first margherita pizza from the Restaurant Suisse, near the entrance to Pompeii, and then we headed off for the town of Sorrento.


Sorrento


Southern Italy is, hands down, the most beautiful part of the world that I have ever seen. Lush Mediterranean flowers and green twisting trees, and breathtaking, heart-pounding winding roads around cliffs that make the La Crosse bluffs I know seem infantile. Looking out the huge tour bus window and seeing hundred foot drops to a sparkling blue ocean was phenomenally scary, like a roller coaster. I loved it.
We checked into our hostel, the Plus Sorrento. My sleeping space was basically a locking shed, with two cots, a wooden shelf, and a concrete floor. We were warned against ants, which would later appear in my bed. My shed-mate’s name was Brooke from Hawaii, who turned out to be a model and a master of body painting.

After settling in, our group wandered into the small streets of Sorrento, with little shops selling sundresses, books, limoncello, lace, and items covered in lemon illustrations, lemons being a very important crop in southern Italy. A limoncello tasting was lovely. Limoncello is made from steeping fresh lemon rinds in alcohol, and a shot of it is very powerful, but finishes with a great lemon flavor. Worth trying once, unless you despise lemons.

Dinner at the Red Lion was my favorite meal of the trip. The gnocchi with tomato sauce was savory, the fresh fish melted in my mouth, the bread was plentiful, and the tiramisu was perfection. I sat with more Australian girls, and we compared our driver’s licenses and currency. They were interested that my license had to state my height, weight, and eye color. Their currency was reds and purples. After a delicious mojito, I went back to my shed and fell asleep.

Isle of Capri


The next morning, we took a ferry to the Isle of Capri, which is basically a gorgeous island for the rich and famous. Our ferry included a stop at the Blue Grotto, which is a tiny sea cave just big enough for a few rowboats to go into. It was overpriced at 15 euros and you’re expected to tip if the rower lets you swim, which technically isn’t allowed. Our rower was an old flirtatious man, making my friend sit on his lap so I’d take a photo (deleted immediately). Creepy. I did not swim, and I did not tip. But the water was a heavenly blue.


On the Isle of Capri, I had another pizza, and a few friends and I took a bus up to Capri Town, which was full of luxury clothing and jewelry shops and gelato stands. We wandered up in the steep hills, taking pictures and marveling in the view. We stopped to pet a woman’s Chihuahua and eventually made our way down to a rocky public beach. My friends chatted up some guys while I took a dip in the ocean, which was really pretty (except for the soggy hotel slipper that kept circling back to me). I can’t describe how much I love swimming in the ocean, extra buoyant from the saltwater and impossible blues and greens of the water. After meeting a young Canadian teacher reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants, I took the ferry back to Sorrento and relaxed, ants and all.


Look for Part II: the Amalfi Coast and Rome!

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