Archive for July, 2009


*** Check out the first post of our trip to Italy and read them in order! ***

We woke up this morning at just before 9:00 am and got ready for our final full day in Roma. We set out towards the Metro stop, but when we arrived there, we learned that we could not purchase our tickets with the money we had (unless we wanted to way overpay because the machine would not give enough change). We decided to go to a panini shop to get some breakfast and make change. After a few minutes of searching, we found a café that looked promising and went inside to get our food, water, and smaller bills. When we went to pay, the total was 50 cents less than it should have been and Philip asked the lady if the total was correct. She basically replied that she liked us and had given us a discount since we ordered water and food. It was a random little act of kindness, but one that makes us remember the lady and reminded us of all the nice people we’ve met in this country.

Philip and Rose in Piazza del Popolo in Rome

Here we are in Piazza del Popolo on our last day in Rome.

We ate as we returned to the Metro, and then bought our tickets for the day. We hopped onboard the very crowded train and got off just two stops later at Piazza della Repubblica. Our first stop for the day was the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria, which contains a statue that is highlighted in Angels and Demons. We went into the fairly ornate church and spent a few minutes walking around inside. The statue, St. Teresa in Ecstasy, was a bit disappointing after all the hype. It is smaller than we anticipated, and the niche where it is located was not illuminated very well. Nevertheless, it was worth the time to find all of that out. A beggar lady opened the door for us both when we entered and exited, but never made any gestures for money. We gave her some change when we left to thank her and to help her out. We’re not against helping out people in need, but we refuse to give to those who deceive and it is preferable when they are at least doing something to try and earn it (even if it just opening a door). Afterwards, we proceeded from the church back to the Metro to continue on with our day.

Mosaics inside the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, Italy

Mosaics inside the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria.

We got off the Metro at the Flaminio station and walked to the nearby Piazza del Popolo. We wanted to return to Santa Maria del Popolo to see if the Chigi Chapel, also of Angels and Demons fame, was open and not covered by scaffolding (when we came two months ago, the chapel was undergoing restoration). Unfortunately, we found the chapel in identical condition to when we had last visited, and we’re not sure if anything has happened there in the last two months. The trip was still worth our time, though, because as we stood in the church, we could see beautiful rays of sunshine streaming in from the windows in the cupola. Philip took pictures from every angle (he really likes sunbeams…though not as much as clouds), and a few of them even came out well.

Sunbeams inside Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, Italy

Sunbeams shining in the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo.

We walked around the Piazza for a bit, and attempted to go visit the other three churches that surround the space. However, all of them were closed, and at least two looked as if they are never open for visitation. Since we were so close to the Spanish Steps, we decided to walk down a few blocks to see the steps one last time, and to visit the church at the top. We spent only a minute inside the church, which contains a few magnificent sculptures, and then we returned outside to find the Metro stop. We noticed a Metro sign at the top of the Spanish Steps, and were a bit confused since the stop is supposed to be located at the bottom. How surprised we were when we learned that there is an elevator in the Metro station that traverses the significant elevation gain of the Spanish Steps (if we ever return to Rome, you better believe we will be taking the elevator to get to the top).

The famous Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy

The famous Spanish Steps in Rome.

We hopped on the Metro again and rode it over to the Ottaviana station, which is the departure point for going to Vatican City and Basilica San Pietro. Our first destination, however, was a trip down memory lane to the very first kebab place at which we ever ate (thank you Matthew and his friend from Happy Days Hostel two months ago). We took our kebabs and after asking for directions twice, finally found an internet café so that we could post the blog, check email, and get our seat reservations for our flights home. When we walked into the internet café, we were more or less completely ignored by the owner/worker, but after about five minutes on the phone, he finally addressed us (we thought about leaving and going elsewhere, but we didn’t know where elsewhere was and it just wasn’t worth the trouble).

The kebabs were fantastic, and among the best we’ve had all around Italy. It’s interesting that the first gelato and the first kebab of our trip were top notch and may have spoiled us a bit for the rest of our journey. When we finished with internet time, we walked over to Piazza San Pietro with the intent of visiting the Basilica one more time. However, when we saw the ridiculously long line to get in (probably not more than an hour wait, but it was in the hot sun of midday without any shade), we decided to try our luck later in the evening. As it was approaching 2:00 pm, we decided that it was time for Rose’s last siesta in Italy, and we went back to the Metro to get a ride to our hostel. On the way, we stopped at a few shops and souvenir stands to try and finish our shopping.

Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy

We are very sad to leave Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Before going to our hostel, we stopped at the best gelateria in the world (no joke, they won the contest) and we each got an amazing cone of gelato. Nap time was short (five minutes), but we spent a while just relaxing, journaling a bit, doing pictures, and talking. At around 4:30 pm, we figured we had spent enough time resting and went back out to finish our tour of Italy.

We went back to the Metro (we made those day passes pay themselves off at least two times over) and rode it all the way to Ottaviano. When we arrived at Piazza San Pietro, we both laughed when we saw the line of 10 people waiting to get into the Basilica. It is amazing how predictable tourism can be and we do say that we have become quite good at knowing when to visit certain places to avoid waiting in long lines. Within five minutes, we had gone through the security checkpoint and entered into the church.

sunbeams and marble in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy

Sunbeams and marble in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

We spent over half an hour walking several laps around the interior of San Pietro and admiring the beauty and magnificence of the largest church in the world. As we walked, we realized that all of the enormous paintings on the side altars are not paintings at all, but rather the most carefully crafted mosaics we’ve ever seen. Even from only a few feet away, it is very difficult to tell that the art is made up of small colored stones and not paint. We are both very torn on which church is our favorite in all of Italy, but San Pietro is definitely near the top (as it should be since it is the seat of the Catholic Church and supposed to be the most magnificent in existence).

Incredible mosaic in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy

The detail and quality of the mosaics in Saint Peter’s Basilica are unbelievable.

By the time we exited the church, we were both quite hungry, so we started walking across Rome and looking for food. We went by Castel Sant’Angelo and crossed over the river on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. We did a bit more shopping as we went and eventually ended up at Piazza Navona where we found dinner at one of the many restaurants lining the piazza. After Philip’s meal yesterday, Rose was craving her own dish of pasta and smoked salmon, and we chose the restaurant based on that preference. Philip decided to try a truffle sauce with mushrooms and pasta, which was quite fantastic. Our dinner was lovely and was a very nice way to have our last sit down meal in Italy.

Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, Italy

Castel Sant’Angelo and the Bridge of Angels.

We proceeded from Piazza Navona over to the Trevi Fountain, and we finished up all of our shopping along the way. After hanging out there for a few minutes, we decided that it was time to return to our hostel and get our things ready for our early departure. We walked to Piazza Barberini and caught the Metro there to take us back to our room. Naturally, when we got off the Metro, we made a stop at our gelateria to have the final cone of the trip (Philip is crying softly as we write this). In celebratory fashion, he ordered the large waffle cone with four flavors of gelato, including one made of rice (quite tasty actually).

gelato in Rome, Italy

The final cone of gelato…so bittersweet.

We spent the remainder of the evening (and a bit of the morning as we saw midnight come and go) packing our belongings, journaling, and spending one last evening staying up too late and talking. We finally fell asleep at around 2:30 am, and thus were not looking forward to our 6:30 am wakeup.

This will be our last post, assuming no spectacular events occurred during the trip home. Our two months in Italy have been an absolutely amazing experience, but we both really love this country and are quite sad to leave it. We realize that it is time to return home and get back to being somewhat productive members of society, but that doesn’t really make us want to leave. Because the trip was so long, we really feel that travelling around Italy is what we do. It has become less of a vacation to us and more of a lifestyle. It will be hard to return to the routines (boring) of school, work, and normal life in America.

All that said, we are excited to return home and see our friends and families. While we love Italy very much, there are a few things about the country that we definitely will not miss. We both have longed greatly for the day when we can walk down the street and not feel like our lives are shortening due to the inhalation of second hand smoke. We’re ready to return to the efficiency and familiarity of our home country, but we both hope that we can return again to Italy and see it once more. Even with two months of exploring, we feel like we have barely scratched the surface of what Italy has to offer.

Thank you for following along with us on our trip, and for all of the support that everyone has given. Once we’ve caught up a bit on our sleep and readjusted to American time zones, we would love to talk with anyone who wants to know more about what we’ve seen. We plan on putting together an album of our pictures that will hopefully give a representative look of the entire country, and we would love to share that with everyone. Having finished our journey, we hope that all of you have the chance to do something similar and we will support you in whatever way we can.

Philip and Rose in Saint Peter's Square in Rome, Italy

Farewell from Saint Peter’s Square!

Our blog document is a grand total of 176 pages long, and we have 6,536 photographs recording our time in Italy. Between the two of us, we ate a total of 128 gelati while in Italy. This averages to over two per day, which doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that Philip ate at least ¾ of the total (this may explain why his stomach has hurt now for about five days. We wish you all the best of luck in your future travels, and we hope you have enjoyed reading our story. If nothing else, maybe you’ve learned something that will help you out on your own adventures. Buon viaggio!

Daily # of gelati: 3

Flavors:
Fragola (strawberry)
Ananas (pineapple)
Pesca (peach)

Fragola (strawberry)
Ananas (pineapple)
Mango (mango)

Fragola (strawberry)
Ananas (pineapple)
Pesca (peach)
Riso (rice)

Our plan for the morning was to walk around Napoli one last time, so we set the alarm for 8:00 am in order to have time to visit several places before we left for Rome around noon. However, we quickly learned that our plans were not to be and our morning progressed much differently than we anticipated. For starters, we both woke up before the alarm sounded, which is something that we never both do. Rose immediately knew that the day would be interesting, as she woke up with cramps (yes the girl variety, and thanks for asking…awkward). We eventually both got up and started to get ready for the day. We finished packing our belongings and took our bags down to the lobby where we could leave them until our train departed at 12:30 pm.

Philip and Rose in front of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy

Standing in front of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

We decided to stop first at the train station so that we could purchase our tickets for the trip to Rome. We did so at one of the many FastTicket machines, thus avoiding the long line at the ticket counter. Afterwards, we headed to the food court area so that Rose could sit down for a bit because she wasn’t feeling well. A “little bit” turned into a “long while” as her pain became worse rather than better. Philip got her a cold bottle of water from the McDonald’s in the food court (yes, he actually went to McDonald’s…again), and she drained that in a matter of minutes. Leaving her sitting where she was, Philip then headed across the street to try and find some food for her (and him) to eat.

After a bit of fruitless searching, he finally ended up back at our favorite pasticceria. The shop has two counters along the side walls, with the cash register along the back wall. One of the counters is where pastries are located, and the other contains panini and pizza and is next to the bar. Philip wanted one thing from each side but didn’t inform the cashier of this; instead, he just gave her the total price and she handed him the receipt. Naturally, when he went to get the panini, the man was very confused about the price on the receipt and it took several minutes to work it out. He finally explained that next time Philip should explain better to the cashier and she would give two receipts. That way each counter could have a receipt of the proper value and everybody would be happier. Amused and frustrated, Philip finally made it back to the food court after about 10 minutes.

While Philip was dealing with pasticceria mayhem, Rose’s pain got worse, reminding her of her trip home from the airport in December (if you are unfamiliar with the incident, just assume a lot of pain and nearly passing out). As her pain had worsened, she began to feel as if she were approaching passing out. Following her instinct, she essentially rolled up into the fetal position on the floor of the food court (not the cleanest tile in the world, but when you need to fetal position, you need to fetal position). Around this time, before Philip returned, a police officer came over and asked her if she was doing ok. He asked if she wanted a medic called, but she knew if she waited it out that she would be fine, and she declined. Then, two ladies came up and one offered her a candy, but she again declined as it didn’t sound good at the time. The process was very frustrating for Rose she was unable to speak Italian with these people and they kept interrupting her when all she wanted was to be in her ball (she was thankful, however, that people cared enough to try and help). A minute later, a third girl came by and told Rose in English that if she needed anything to just ask.

When Philip returned, he found Rose kneeling on the floor next to the table, picked her up, and escorted her upstairs to the bathroom. While she was inside, he conversed with the bathroom attendant and they also expressed concern at Rose’s condition. Also, the police officer had followed us up the stairs and was adamant that we go to the medic clinic in the train station when Rose was finished in the bathroom. He waited for us at the bottom of the stairs and gave us directions to the medic clinic a few tens of meters away.

The door to the medic station was closed and we rang the bell next to the door. After a few minutes of ringing and not getting a response, we walked around the corner to the Farmacia (drug store/ Walgreens) and asked about finding the medic since we had rang with no response. One of the workers brought her a chair to sit on, and a female customer gave her some water and a few fruit chew candies. Philip went back to the food court area to get her some more cold water (she was sweating like crazy and overheating), but he was only gone for about two minutes. When he returned to the Farmacia, Rose had vanished! All he saw was the empty chair where she had been. At this point, he began to get a bit concerned, but one of the workers quickly explained that the medic had come and had taken her around the corner to the clinic.

Philip walked through the slightly ajar door and found Rose sitting on a doctor’s table in what looked like a standard doctor’s office, though atypically equipped with a crucifix near the door (this is Italy, after all). He fed her a bit of bread and some cold water, and then a medic came in and started talking in Italian. Philip explained that we don’t speak much Italian, but with a mixture of Italian and English, the conversation went fairly well. He did a quick check up, took her pulse and blood pressure, and asked about the pain. When we explained that it was her “girl time” (after using the word “menstrual” way too many times for Philip’s comfort), he essentially said to lay there in the air conditioned room for a while and rest. Philip rubbed her feet while she was there (awwww) and the medic and the clinic worker person came into check on her a few times.

Enough time had passed by now, that Rose’s pain medications had finally kicked in and she was feeling much better. We stayed in the clinic until about 11:30 am, and then were finally ready to head out. We thanked everybody profusely for their help, and were amazed that the experience cost us nothing monetarily. We walked back around to the Farmacia to thank everyone there, and even tried to find the police officer who had been concerned but to no avail (in the process though, we did see an officer on a souped up Segway vehicle cruising through the station at high velocity).

Since our train left in an hour, we decided to go check out the Duomo as it was the closest attraction to the station and we had not seen the inside yet due to the worker’s strike/rebellion/gathering. We walked to the Duomo and spent only a few minutes walking around the inside and looking at the beautiful church. We wish we could have spent more time there, but we had more walking to do so we soon set off for the return journey to our hotel to pick up our bags. We took a “shortcut”, which ended up not being shorter, though we did get to see different streets. We made it to our hotel with nine minutes to go before our train, grabbed our bags, and bought two waters from the host. He joked that we had only paid for Philip’s stay and that Rose still needed to pay, but we finally understood it was a joke when he gave Philip a large, obvious wink. We laughed, and then ran out of the hotel and across the street to the train station. We made it to our train with two minutes to spare, and finally found a cabin where we could get two seats together and facing in the right direction. We hopped onboard and settled in for the almost three hour ride to Roma. The ride was uneventful, and we spent the majority of our time reading. Rose fell asleep towards the end of the ride, and Philip woke her up as we pulled into the Roma Termini station. The scenery was beautiful along the way, but the highlight was the remains of an ancient Roman aqueduct that ran along the train tracks for several minutes.

When we arrived at Roma Termini, we got off the train and walked the length of the station to the exit nearest our hostel (we stayed in this same place when we first arrived in Rome two months ago). We stopped at the supermarket attached to the station and picked up some juice, water, and a package of tasty cookies to help satisfy our hunger (mostly Philip’s). We found our hostel without any issue (it does help when one has been there before), and checked in. Last time we were here, our room was right next to the office, so we were a bit confused when the hostess led us two floors above to our current room. The room is far nicer than what we had last time, and even has an attached bathroom at no extra charge.

After resting for a little while, we set off from our hostel towards the most important location in Rome (if you are thinking of the Vatican or the Coliseum, you are completely wrong). Our destination was the gelateria that we had first stopped at when we arrived in the city two months ago. We had a rough idea of its location, but had some issue finding it. After walking around for about 15 minutes, we finally found the gelateria (less than a minute walk from our hostel) but immediately remembered that it is closed on Mondays. We decided that we would return at least twice tomorrow to get our final gelati of the trip, and then set off to explore Rome (again).

The facade of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy

The facade of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

We stopped first at the Giardini Piazza Vittorio, a garden area with some form of ancient ruined building at its center. We then proceeded along to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, a beautiful cathedral that we didn’t see the last time we were here. Of course, we also stopped along the way to get Philip some gelato. Outside, we purchased a souvenir or two from a street side vendor, and took pictures of the church’s beautiful façade. We then went inside and spent several minutes sitting and looking at the ornate and magnificent interior. We walked around it a bit and took more pictures, as is our custom. One of the highlights of the church is the beautifully crafted marble floors, a feature that we both really like.

Inside the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy

Inside the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore.

By the time we left the church, Rose was beginning to feel some pain again, so we returned to our hostel to get her pain medication. On the way, we stopped again at the gelateria from earlier, though only to take a few pictures of Rose with the cute baby polar bear statue that was holding a gelato cone. Those two things accomplished, we set off once again in the same direction to see Rome. We decided to stop at the nearby Metro station to investigate our options for a 24 hour or 36 hour pass on the system. When we walked down the long tunnel to the ticket machines, we were quite excited that we could get a pass for four euro each that would allow us to ride all day until midnight. We decided that we would purchase that tomorrow for use then, and set off back out the tunnel.

gelato and polar bear in Rome, Italy

Rose with a gelato-carrying polar bear...how sweet is that!

This is where our day got interesting yet again (remember how our day began). As we walked out down the tunnel towards the street, we saw a commotion up ahead and a police officer was telling a teenage boy to get out. A woman with two young children was standing in the middle of the tunnel and looking frazzled. We soon figured out that the boy was a pickpocket and the police officer had prevented him from robbing the woman. We followed him out of the tunnel, as it was the direction we were planning on going, and turned down a street to see a small church that we had passed earlier.

As it turns out, the boy was going the same direction and we saw him up ahead of us as we walked. Just as we neared the entrance to the church, we saw the boy start jogging to the sidewalk, though he stopped and started walking again after only a few seconds. His behavior, coupled with the woman carrying far too many bags and paying too little attention, made us think that he had found his next target. We stopped near the entrance of the church and watched as the boy started to stalk the woman and got within a few feet of her. As the boy got within a foot of the woman and started to reach out his hand towards her handbag, Philip took off at a fast jog towards the scene and hurdled a three foot car barricade on the way. Just as the boy was about to get his hand into her handbag, Philip called out “Signora” loudly and the boy backed off just as the lady turned. The boy seemed upset that Philip had ruined his opportunity and started walking towards him in a somewhat menacing way (that said, we would have been more scared if he was taller and less scrawny). Philip stared him down for a moment and then turned and walked back towards the church where Rose was standing. The boy turned at a side street and we never saw him again, though we did look carefully when we left the church. We don’t know if the woman figured out what had almost happened to her, but several other people looked at the scene when Philip called out.

The church was small and relatively unadorned, so we only sat for a few minutes so Philip could catch his breath and let the adrenaline subside. Our next stop was Piazza della Repubblica, a large piazza with a nice fountain in the center and a very old church on one side. We dodged traffic to check out the fountain, and then dodged traffic again to get across the roundabout to the church. A beggar in very nice clothes was standing outside next to the door with a small basket containing a few coins, and he tried to convince us that we should pay him to enter the church. We did not fall for his ploy, and this sparked a brief conversation about our lack of desire to give at all to those who use deceit.

The fountain at the center of Piazza della Repubblica in Rome, Italy

The fountain at the center of Piazza della Repubblica.

The church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, is absolutely magnificent inside, and the highlight is naturally the beautiful stone floors. At this point, we also had a conversation about how one never sees seamless stone or tile floors outside of Italian churches. We still can’t figure out what everyone likes so much about grout lines and we both agree that we would one day like to have floors with seamless stone or tile. The church also has an interesting gold line across the floor, presumably marking some meridian line. Along the edges of it are marked dates, constellations, and even beautiful marble inlays of the signs of the zodiac.

Santa Maria degli Angeli marble Zodica inlay

A marble inlay depicting the Zodiac sign of Taurus inside the Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome.

When we left Santa Maria degli Angeli, our next stop was to find the supposedly nearby church of Santa Maria della Vittoria of Angels and Demons fame. After walking all the way around the very massive church we had just exited, as well as asking two police officers who had apparently never even heard of Santa Maria della Vittoria, we gave up hope at finding it for the evening and figured we would look it up back in our hotel room. As we then set off for the Trevi Fountain, we stumbled upon the very church we had been looking for (funny how that works out). However, it was already closed for the evening and we would have to go back tomorrow.

We made it to the Trevi Fountain and marveled at the amount of people crammed into the piazza (the piazza is quite large, actually, but one must remember that over half of the area is occupied by fountain…plus more area for all of the people selling overpriced roses). We stood by the fountain for a little while, but our tummies soon informed us that it was time for dinner. We found a street side restaurant not far away that had reasonable prices, and sat down to enjoy a lovely dinner in Rome. Philip went with amazing combination of penne pasta in a smoked salmon cream sauce, and Rose went with her gnocchi alla Romana (a thick tomato sauce). Dinner was fantastic, and when it was over we decided to go see the Pantheon one last time as it was only a few blocks away. On the way, we stumbled upon an orchestra concert of what looked like the Carabinieri orchestra set up in front of a beautiful church. We listened for a minute, but when they started playing the graduation song, we decided it was time to move on.

The piazza in front of the Pantheon was quite crowded, and a large group of people were being entertained by a mime. We stood for a moment and watched the act, but not wanting to become part of the show, we quickly moved on (we of course took time to say farewell to Rome’s oldest surviving building, which also happens to be Rose’s second favorite). At this moment, Rose also had a revelation that the gelateria Grom (of Torino and Venezia fame) may be located near the Pantheon. We searched every nearby street, but were unsuccessful in locating it. However, we did find another gelateria with at least 100 flavors that the family from L.A. that we met on the trip to Vesuvius had recommended.

Pantheon in Rome, Italy

A final view of the Pantheon.

We walked inside the gelateria and were instantly overwhelmed by the number of people and the amount of gelato. After battling the crowd, we finally walked out with a pretty amazing cone of gelato for Philip (Rose just wasn’t feeling gelato at the moment). We walked as he (we) ate the gelato, and soon arrived at the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II, which is a huge white building with two enormous bronze chariots on top. We climbed a very long staircase thinking that we could go down the back side, but when we got to the top, we realized that we needed the staircase five feet to our right instead. Hence, we descended all the way down and repeated the process (the second staircase was at least shorter than the first).

The Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II in Rome, Italy

The Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II in Rome at night.

We took some pictures of the Roman Forum, but since it was so dark none of them really turned out. We proceeded along to the Coliseum, which was the first sight we saw upon arriving in Rome two months ago, and spent a while walking around it and reminiscing. We were shocked at the number of people we saw there at such a late hour (well, not even 10 pm yet), because two months ago, there were only a handful there at night (and most were salesman, not tourists). After saying goodbye to the Coliseum, we walked back to our hostel to get some sleep.

We were both quite exhausted and we fell asleep almost as soon as we got to the room. Tomorrow, we will spend one final day in Rome, seeing a few sights, eating our last kebab, saying farewell to Italian gelato, and finishing off our souvenir purchases for people. It’s almost painful to think that we have only one day left in our trip, but we manage to cope when we think of the amazing times we’ve had and all the places we’ve seen. Tomorrow should be very fun, though a bit sad, as we say goodbye to the city both of us love very much.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Frutti di Bosca (mixed berries)
Ananas (pineapple)
Pesca (peach)

Guava (guava)
Mandarino (mandarin)
Uva e Fragola (grape and strawberry)

Like early birds, we decided to get an earlier start this morning and we heard the joyous sound of the alarm ringing at 8:00 am. After snoozing for about 20 minutes, we finally got up and got ready for our day. Our plan was to make good use of our CampaniaArte cards by travelling down to the famed Amalfi Coast to see if it really is as beautiful as people say. We left the hotel and headed to the supermarket to get water, not remembering soon enough that today is Sunday and that the supermarket is closed. A few meters from the entrance to the supermarket, we realized our mistake (the barricaded door helped with the realization) and headed to the train station to catch our train to Sorrento. In the station, we bought two warm, chocolate-filled pastries, which we ate on the platform while waiting for the train.

Due to Rose’s quick feet and keen eyes, we found two seats together and settled in for the hour long ride to Sorrento. The train was pretty full from the start, and we were surprised that not many people got off the train at Pompeii. However, a few stops further on, the majority of the train emptied as people were apparently heading to the beach for the day. We arrived in Sorrento a few minutes before 10:30 am, and inquired at the Giornali store about the bus to Amalfi and the location of the bus stop. The lady explained that the stop was just down some steps from where we were, so we thanked her and headed that way.

The beautiful Amalfi Coast in Italy

The beautiful Amalfi Coast.

We stood at the bus stop for only a minute or two before a lady with a nametag came up to us and explained that the main road was closed and the buses would not be coming to the stop in front of the station. She gave us directions to the nearest operating bus stop (just a hundred meters or so up the hill), and we set off to find it. When we got in the right area, we asked in a Tabacchi shop for more detailed directions, and he pointed us to the right location. The bus was already there when we arrived, so we hopped onboard and sat down in the front row behind the driver. By the time the bus was ready to go, all the seats were full and numerous people were standing in the aisles.

The bus departed on time, and we began to traverse a rather winding route up a mountain and along the coast. More people got on the bus, and after a few stops into the route, the bus was absolutely full. We had originally thought about stopping Positano before continuing on to Amalfi, but after realizing our good fortune in having seats, we decided to stick it out all the way. The ride was decent at first, but towards the end we ran into tight roads and heavier traffic that made for a lot of stop and go driving. Needless to say, by the time we arrived in Amalfi, Rose was ready to be off the bus and we quickly found a café with outdoor tables so she could sit down.

The Duomo in Amalfi, Italy

The Amalfi Duomo at the top of a long staircase.

Philip went in to the shop and came out with a lunch of panini, focaccia, and an arancino. The food was quite delicious, and by the time we finished eating, Rose was feeling much better. Our first stop was to go explore the Duomo of Amalfi, a beautiful church that sits above the main plaza in the city. As we were walking up the stairs to the entrance, we saw a man in front of us wearing a striped polo shirt…and a black speedo. It was an interesting combination, though less interesting and more horrifying when viewed from below. We followed him and his female companion into the ticket area and we were shocked that the ticket agent said nothing about the man’s attire. We bought our tickets and entered into a beautiful cloister area known as the Cloister of Paradise. We did see the man a little bit later and were glad to notice that he had put on a pair of shorts before entering the church sanctuary.

The Cloister of Paradise in Amalfi, Italy

The Cloister of Paradise in Amalfi.

As a somewhat random aside, we are writing this at about 8:00 pm in our hotel room. We explained in a previous post that the toilet lacked a toilet seat, as we’ve learned is a somewhat common occurrence in southern Italy. We failed to mention that about a minute or so after flushing the toilet, a loud noise that sounds like a jackhammer emanates from the pipes and nearby instant water heater unit, lasting for thirty seconds or so. It is the most absurdly loud sound that we have ever heard upon flushing a toilet. We have a rule that forbids flushing the toilet at night (assuming it was just #1) for the sake of avoiding that noise. Combine that noise with the sound of a passing train on the tracks below our window and we may be approaching hearing damage levels at times. Now, we return to our tale of Amalfi.

pipe organ inside the Duomo in Amalfi, Italy

The pipe organ inside the Duomo in Amalfi.

After the cloister, we entered into the treasury of the church, which contains many of the expensive artifacts in the church’s possession. We spent a few minutes walking around and looking at the jewel encrusted chalices, cardinal hats, and other such things, and then descended down into the crypt. The crypt area is beautifully adorned with marble and a large altar, though the highlight of the space is the series of paintings on the ceiling. We took a few minutes to look at the paintings and were even able to recognize several scenes.

Amalfi, Italy Duomo bell tower

The bell tower of the Amalfi Duomo.

A staircase leads from the crypt up into the sanctuary of the church, and we climbed these stairs anxious to see the vast interior of the Duomo. We sat down in a pew about half way back and looked around at the space. The ceiling was ornately gilded, though the look was a bit too dark for our tastes. The altar area at the front was quite beautiful, and we were fascinated by the numerous chandeliers in the arches of the side naves that Philip described as “wonky”. After walking around the interior, we exited out onto the front porch area at the top of the steps, and then descended down to the level of the plaza to continue our day.

The front altar area inside the Duomo in Amalfi, Italy

The front altar area inside the Duomo in Amalfi.

We proceeded out towards the beach so that we could get some pictures of the coastline and the water. We were amazed by how densely packed the beach was with umbrellas, and it was difficult to see any sand (well, not sand actually, the beach was covered mostly with pebbles and looked somewhat painful to sunbathe on). We walked out onto the water break and stood for a while watching people having fun at the beach. Since we were so close to the bus stop, we went to a nearby bar and checked the posted bus schedule to figure out when we wanted to leave Amalfi to go to Positano.

the beach in Amalfi, Italy with umbrellas

The crowded beach in Amalfi.

We had 45 minutes before the next bus would leave, so we decided to walk back into the piazza near the Duomo and explore that area further. We found a street lined with shops leading away from that square up the hill, so we spent the majority of our time walking that street and looking in all the shops for souvenirs and such (we didn’t actually end up purchasing anything but we did enjoy the experience). When we reached the end of the road, we returned back to the coast and walked around the road above the beach for a few minutes. We had a good time with some people watching, and then walked over to the bus stop about 10 minutes early to try and get good seats on the bus.

In an effort to avoid reliving the frustrations that followed, we shall say only that the bus was about 20 minutes late in arriving and that the crowd of people waiting to get on the bus was immense. Fortunately, we were one of the first to get on the bus and Philip persuaded the man who had taken the front most seat in the bus to move back one row so that Rose wouldn’t get motion sick (we’re not sure how much translated well, but he was willing to move…we thanked him profusely, of course). The bus was absolutely packed from the start, and it only got worse (not sure how it was possible to put more people onto the bus, but they managed) as we stopped at other places on the way. We gave up any plans of stopping at Positano as we were both tired, frustrated, and had no desire to sacrifice our awesome seats.

We arrived back in Sorrento at around 5:20 pm and stopped at the attached café to get some Sprite and Powerade for rejuvenation purposes. The train was a few minutes late, but when it arrived, Rose only had to cut off one person on her way to getting us two seats facing the proper direction (don’t think she is a mean person because of this…the mad rush to get on a crowded Italian train can be worse than the Running of the Bulls). The train was crowded, like every other public transportation vehicle we took today, but was mostly uneventful. The one important exception to this last statement is the large fight that seemingly broke out on the Ercolano platform (we’re not sure what happened, but we almost suffocated from the crowd of people leaning over us as they tried to see through our window.

We arrived in Napoli around 7:00 pm and went back to our hotel to rest for a few minutes (or an hour). At 8:30 pm, we headed out to check the train schedule for our train to Roma tomorrow, and to get Philip some food as he was hungry and consequently, cranky. We caught a quick glimpse of a beautiful sunset, though the orange color quickly disappeared as the sun dropped beneath the horizon. Philip got a slice of French fry and zucchini pizza from a shop in our piazza, and then followed it with a lemon granita from a café (we’ve given up on late night gelato in Napoli). We spent the rest of the evening journaling and packing our belongings, which have become quite disheveled over the last several days.

Standing on the steps in front of the Amalfi Duomo in southern Italy

Standing on the steps in front of the Amalfi Duomo.

Tomorrow, we will spend the morning exploring some more of Napoli, in particular, going inside a castle or two, visiting the Duomo without disgruntled workers, and returning to the church of Gesu Nuovo to see its magnificence one last time. In the afternoon, we will take the three hour train ride to Roma, where we began our vacation almost two months ago. We’re excited to go back to Rome, and in a strange way it feels like returning home, though still in Italy.

Daily # of gelati: 1

Flavors:
Fragoline di Bosca (tiny strawberries)
Cocco (coconut)

For the second day in a row, we woke up just after 9:00 am and got ready for the day. When we went down to the lobby to drop our key on the way out, we were somewhat accosted by the manager and the cleaning lady. Last night, we told the manager that our towels had been removed that morning by the cleaning staff, but new towels were not put in their place. Apparently, he had spoken to the cleaning lady and she was indignant that we had requested towels. They told us that the laptop had been sitting on top of the towels and she didn’t know why we hadn’t seen them. The cleaning lady then began heading up to our room, presumably to show us the towels that we had missed seeing. We quickly explained to the manager that we had only had one small hand towel in the room, regardless of where the laptop was sitting. He called her back and we went on our way out of the hotel after quite an awkward experience.

Philip and Rose on Mount Vesuvius in Italy

Two happy travelers standing high atop the famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius!

Our first stop was the supermarket, where we got four liters of cold water and some of Rose’s pretzel/cracker snacks that she enjoyed a few days ago. We then went to the train station and stopped at the information office to buy our CampaniaArte cards, a discount card that would give us cheaper admission to various sites. We also learned that the card would give us free transportation around most of the area, something we wish we had known before buying train tickets to Sorrento yesterday. The man in the office gave us a very thorough explanation about the card and its usage (as we saw yesterday in Sorrento as well, the tourist office people in this area of Italy really love giving all the information they can), and we paid for the cards and headed out of the station to get pastries for breakfast. The pastry purchasing experience was less frustrating and hectic this morning than yesterday, though not without hiccup (Philip made an addition mistake and came up 40 eurocent short, necessitating a second trip to the cash register to make up the difference).

We took our pastries with us back to the train station and started to go down to the platform for the train. As we reached the top of the stairs, a lady asked Philip if he could help her carry her stroller WITH sleeping child in it down the stairs. He helped her navigate two long staircases, all without even waking the baby. Our train was more or less on time, and we were smart enough to move to the head of the train where we were able to easily find seats.

road in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

A narrow road in the ruins of Ercolano.

Our first stop for the day was Ercolano (Herculaneum), and we got off the train at the station there after only a short ride. We knew that we wanted to go to Mount Vesuvius later in the day, so we first inquired about the bus rides up to the mountain. Afterwards, we walked down the main street of Ercolano and soon arrived at the entrance to the excavations site. For those who don’t know, Ercolano was buried in mud following the cataclysmic eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 (the same eruption that buried Pompeii in ash). We were disappointed to learn that the office had run out of free English informational booklets (why you wouldn’t order plenty of English booklets, we’re not sure), but we did get a really sweet map that shows the entire site.

ruins of foundations in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

While the original roofs are long gone, the volcanic mud preserved foundations and walls very well in Ercolano.

vases and urns in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

2000 year old vases and urns in Ercolano.

We descended into the site and spent a full two hours exploring all around the amazing area. The weather was hot, but there were probably only 50 or so other people in the excavations area while were there. There were many times when we saw nobody around and were able to explore the Roman ruins like we were all alone and had just discovered them. The coolest part of Ercolano is that visitors can go almost anywhere and touch almost anything (if they so choose…it’s up to personal conscious whether touching ancient frescoes is really the right decision). A few areas were roped off for restoration work, but for the most part, we had free reign of the entire site.

frescos in in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

The frescos are right there for visitors to see and touch...we chose to limit ourselves to the former so as not to further the degradation of the art.

urns in a countertop in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

We believe these are the remains of a bakery or other food shop. The items for sale would be kept warm inside the urns in the countertop.

stone tablet art in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

These stone tablets are still hanging on the wall, though one has lost its bottom half.

We spent two full hours exploring Ercolano, during which Rose took an incredible 365 photographs (we kept 353 of them). Compare this to the 285 pictures that Philip took during the hour and a half long Otranto air show and it seems like we are perfectly matched for each other. In total, Rose (with limited help from Philip) took 594 photographs in one day. One of the best highlights of the visit was seeing the ancient bath houses, complete with beautifully tiled mosaic floors and cubby holes for storing towels and clothing. The walls of many buildings contain frescoes and one has absolutely stunning mosaics in perfect condition. It is impossible to describe everything that we saw in Ercolano, so if anybody wants more information, we have 353 pictures that we would love to share with you.

mosaic in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

A beautiful mosaic, preserved since Roman times by the volcanic mud in Ercolano.

sunken bath house floor in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

The mosaic tile bath house floor in Ercolano, a bit worse for wear after two millenia.

mosiac tile floor in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

The intricacy of some of the floors in Ercolano is incredible.

After leaving the site, we started walking up the hill back towards the train station, our eyes keenly watching for a place to get lunch. We stepped into a cafeteria and asked about getting panini. The man said he could make us something with salami, lettuce, and tomato for three euro. We said we might be back and as we walked out the door, we heard him lower the price down to two euro and fifty eurocent. We repeated our previous statement and continued walking up the hill. We would have felt more inclined to get a sandwich there if the guy hadn’t been so pushy, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen that so far in Italy.

walls in Ercolano (Herculaneum), Italy

Ercolano is enormous, though still smaller than Pompeii. We had an amazing time walking around and through all of the ruins.

We pressed on up the hill and found a pizzeria where we could get fresh made panini for four euro each (yes this is more than the last place but they were definitely worth it). We each ordered one with prosciutto crudo, mozzarella, and roasted peppers, and we sat down to wait for them to be made. After five minutes or so, we were handed a very heavy pizza box with our sandwiches inside it, and we set off to the train station where we could take the bus to Mount Vesuvius.

We bought our tickets for 16.50 euro each (not as bad as it sounds because it includes transportation and crater entrance ticket), and then sat down outside to eat our lunch. The sandwiches were phenomenal, wonderfully toasted and with lots of roasted peppers. We were quite satisfied by the end of the meal, though perhaps a little too full from all the food. A few minutes later, a man came out and told us and the crowd that had gathered to get into the large van for the trip up the mountain.

Rose rode in the front passenger seat (perfect for her motion sickness) and Philip sat behind her next to a mom and two children from Orange County, California. He talked with them on both rides to and from the mountain, in fact, and learned that they were in Italy because the sons play in a youth orchestra that did several shows in Roman churches (how cool is that!). The van ride was about 20 minutes long, and we exited at the parking area, which is over half way up the mountain. The driver told us that the van would leave at 4:00 pm (it was 2:45 pm now), and we all set off to go see more.

meadow on slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Italy

A colorful meadow on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

The climb up to the crater took about 20 minutes or so, but was over some fairly steep switchbacks covered in loose gravel (two steps forward, one step back type of deal). We finally made it to the top and were able to look over the edge and see the caldera of Mount Vesuvius for the first time. The views were magnificent and the caldera walls are quite steep, even sheer cliffs in many places. At some point throughout the day, we learned that Spartacus had apparently camped in the crater at one point (ancient Greek guy who started a revolution…if you watch the movie, note the sunshine reflecting off the wrists of the Roman soldiers when they are marching in rank…in what is one of the best movie errors ever, the director forgot to tell the soldiers to remove their wristwatches before shooting the scene).

crater of Mount Vesuvius in Italy

The crater of Mount Vesuvius...supposedly, Spartacus camped inside the crater at one point in history.

We walked around about half of the circumference of the caldera, and we could even smell sulfur at the point nearest where we saw steam escaping from the ground half way up the caldera wall. It is a somewhat intimidating experience to start the day by going to a city that had been buried in mud, and then to go to the rim of the volcano that had caused it. After checking out some of the souvenirs at a shop at the very top, we decided to forego purchasing touristy junk and started to head back around the rim and down to the parking area. We passed three different tour groups on the way down, and we were quite glad that we had such relative peace and quiet when we were at the top.

volcanic rock and walkway at Mount Vesuvius in Italy

A walkway to an alien-looking world on the rim of Mount Vesuvius.

The van was late in departing because not everyone had returned on time. Fortunately, we set off only a few minutes late with the same general seating arrangement (hooray for Rose). When we got back to the train station, we went out onto the platform to catch the train to Pompeii to see the excavations there (yes, it was a very big day). The Orange County family was heading to Sorrento, which is the same line as Pompeii, and we sat near them on the train when it arrived.

During the train ride, the two boys were playing the card game “Go Fish” and we had a plain view of one of the kid’s cards. Philip held up four fingers, signifying to the other child that he should ask if his brother had any fours. Sure enough, the next turn he asked for fours and we had to try hard to keep from laughing. As Philip was feeling bad for helping the kid cheat, he looked to his right and saw Rose with five fingers in the air, followed by our cohort asking his brother for fives. We decided that we had affected the game enough, and at that point elected to cease our involvement in this clandestine affair.

forum at Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in Italy

The ruins of Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius rising in the backround.

columns in Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii has an abundance of columns still standing.

We got off at the station for Pompeii and stopped at a vendor cart to get Gatorade and gelato to quench our thirst and gelato craving. The kid who served us couldn’t have been any older than 14, but we were impressed with his English language skills. As we walked closer to the entrance to the excavation site, a man called out offering us water. We initially declined, but after thinking for a moment, decided that it would be wise to get some more water. The bottles were the coldest we’ve gotten yet, and about half of the water inside was actually in ice form (it was still hot enough outside that it melted within an hour or so).

column bases in Pompeii, Italy

These columns have been reduced to just their foundations.

After some difficulty with acquiring an English information booklet, we entered the site and began to explore the famed ruins of Pompeii. We had initially feared being disappointed by Pompeii after such an amazing morning in Ercolano, but we soon realized that our fears would not be realized. Since it was already 5:30 pm, we found Pompeii almost as deserted as Ercolano had been. The sun had retired to behind the clouds, and we had a lovely time walking all over the incredibly large site. Pompeii differs from Ercolano in that it is a much larger city, and therefore contains remains of theaters, an arena, and even a forum (the closest Ercolano had to any of this was a gymnasium). However, the majority of the ruins of Pompeii are small homes and it is not possible to actually walk inside, but only to look from the street.

mosaic tile floor in Pompeii, Italy

Sunlight and shadows across a mosaic tile floor in Pompeii.

arena exterior in Pompeii, Italy

The exterior of the arena near the edge of Pompeii.

In our two hours before the site closed, we were able to see almost all of the ruins, though at a somewhat fast pace. We could have easily spent more time there, though by this point we were exhausted and quite overwhelmed with all we had seen today. Philip’s favorite part of the city was the cobblestone streets and the raised crosswalks. The streets have no storm drain system, and the raised crosswalks allow people to traverse from sidewalk to sidewalk without getting wet. It really is an ingenious, yet simple design, which appealed greatly to the engineer inside him. It was also neat to see the ruts etched into the rock, caused by the repeated impact of carriage wheels.

crosswalk on street in Pompeii

Philip thought this crosswalk in Pompeii was an amazingly elegant solution for allowing carriages to pass as well as keeping pedestrians above the water run-off in the street.

fresco in Pompeii, Italy

A lovely fresco preserved by ash in Pompeii.

Rose’s digital camera has been with us all around Italy, and we are pretty sure that it is plotting to kill us because we have abused it so greatly during the trip. While we were in the former market of Pompeii, Rose accidentally dropped the camera in the open position (lens extended) and we both watched in horror as it bounced in the dirt. Rose felt bad for what she had done and walked over to the step and sat down in a self-induced time out. Philip went over and sat next to her, and was able to get the camera operating again after a little encouragement. We have had quite the love/hate relationship with the camera during this entire trip, and we are honestly a bit surprised that it has made it the entire way. While it is sad that we are going home soon, it is nice to know that we only have to spend a few more days fighting the camera’s tendencies to refuse to turn on or off, freeze randomly, give the striped screen of death (yes, similar to the famed “blue screen”), or randomly decide to dump all of the settings and return to default configuration (yes, this includes resetting the time and date, as well as turning the “anti-shake” feature on…several times we realized that it turned off only after going through pictures later in the day and seeing nothing but the blurry interiors of churches).

person preserved in ash in Pompeii, Italy

The somewhat horrific remains of one of the unfortunate residents of Pompeii.

The Pompeii experience might have been much different had we done our day in a different order. From what we understand, the site is packed with tourists during the day and we can imagine how miserable it would be to see the site surrounded by other people and with the heat of the noonday sun. Visiting in the late afternoon, however, was the perfect time and we highly recommend it for anybody visiting Pompeii in the future. We also highly recommend seeing both Pompeii and Ercolano, as the two sites have very different feels and offer different things to see. Mount Vesuvius was worth the trip and extra cost just for the coolness factor of being there on the famous volcano. The views from the volcano out were pretty poor, but only because the air was so hot and humid. In clearer weather, perhaps in winter, the views from Vesuvius over Campania must be spectacular.

columns at sunset in Pompeii, Italy

The sun setting behind some columns at the end of our long day seeing the aftermath of Vesuvius.

After leaving the Pompeii site, we walked back to the train station, only stopping to get Philip another gelato. The train ride was uneventful and we made it back to Napoli around 8:30 pm. We stopped to get Philip a ham and cheese panino for his late dinner (Rose wasn’t very hungry), and we spent the remainder of our evening journaling, reading, talking, showering, and getting ready for bed. Tomorrow, we plan on making the most of the free transportation provided by our CampaniaArte cards by heading south to visit the Amalfi Coast. This region, supposedly the Cinque Terre of the south, is supposed to be among the most beautiful in Italy and even the world. We look forward to seeing it, and hopefully tomorrow will be a relaxing day of beautiful towns and magnificent views.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Fragola (strawberry)
Limone (lemon)

Fragola (strawberry)
Stracciatella (chocolate chip)

Everyone should be proud that we woke up significantly earlier than yesterday, arising just after 9:00 am, rather than 1:00 pm. We got ready for the day and then headed out to the train station to figure out when our train to Sorrento would depart. The line to Pompeii and Sorrento is not operated by the main train company, Ferrovie del Stato, but rather by the CircumVesuviano. We bought our tickets to go and return, and learned that we had about twenty minutes before the train would depart. We spent this time by going to a nearby café and getting two pastries for breakfast which we ate on the platform.

Philip and Rose in Sorrento, Italy

Proof yet again that we are still alive and well.

The train arrived a few minutes late and was already pretty full. The platform at our station was crowded as well, so we joined the mass rush to get onto the train. We found ourselves with standing room only, but we hoped that the majority of the crowds would depart at Pompeii, about half way through the hour long ride. Sure enough, when the station for Pompeii came, the train emptied and we suddenly had our choice of several seats. About 20 minutes later, we arrived at the station in Sorrento and got off the train.

We had no real plan for Sorrento, other than to walk around the city and perhaps visit the Isle of Capri, which is just off the coast. We walked from the train station towards the center of town and stopped in a supermarket to get some water. We were shocked when we walked into the supermarket because the first thing we saw behind the cash registers was racks of clothes. This supermarket is the closest thing to a Super Target that we have seen anywhere in Italy, and it seemed strange that we found it in such a small town.

The main piazza in Sorrento, Italy

The main piazza in Sorrento.

We made it to the center piazza in the town and found an information tent. A lady there gave us all the information that we could ever want about how to get to different places (she drew out the routes for various things on the map she gave us…the routes lose meaning when, by the end of her explanation, every street on the map has lines on it). We decided to first go down to the Marina Piccola, which is where we could take a boat to Capri (pronounced KAH-pree, not kah-PREE) if we wanted. We walked down a fairly substantial hill and arrived at the ticket area where the different boat companies sold tickets. After checking out the prices, we decided that Capri was not worth the amount of money that was being asked. A round trip ticket for the cheapest company cost around 20 euro, and the only sight we knew about on the island is the Blue Grotto. We will research some more tonight and perhaps take a boat from Napoli to Capri if we decide it really is worth seeing.

We walked along the Marina Piccola and saw the very small beach of Sorrento. Because the weather was quite nice, the beach was pretty crowded, and we were happy to see that we hadn’t brought any rain to spoil their fun (of course, if our intention was to go to the beach AND we had put on sunscreen, the storm clouds would have rolled in and the sound of thunder would have filled the sky). There are several wave breaks of piled rocks not far from shore that are used to help calm the water in the harbor, and these are covered with decking and topped with beach chairs with walkways connecting to the shore. This was the first time we’ve ever seen wave breaks used as decks and we both thought it was a cool idea and a great use of space.

Marina Piccola (Little Marina) in Sorrento, Italy

Marina Piccola (Little Marina) in Sorrento.

We got to the end of the beach area at Marina Piccola and were sad to learn that we had to climb back up to the city in order to get to another beach area known as Marina Grande. We climbed up switchbacks of ramps that are along the cliff, and we even walked through a large manmade cavern that is supported with brick arches. After much effort, we finally arrived back at the level of the city and began to walk towards the other Marina. We stopped at the simple, yet beautiful Chiesa di San Francesco, the only church we found open in Sorrento during the siesta hours that we were there.

Naturally, since the marina would not be of much use if it weren’t along the water, we had to descend a long ways to get back down to the Marina Grande and the level of the Golfo di Napoli (Bay of Naples). We spent a while walking along the water and enjoying the distinctly less touristy feel of the area. As we’ve almost become accustomed to seeing, a crew was in the process of setting up an outdoor stage with an incredible number of robotic controlled lights. When we reached the edge and could go no further, we turned around and started back up the large hill towards Sorrento.

Marina Piccola in Sorrento, Italy

Another view of Marina Piccola.

When we made it back into the town, we continued walking back to the main piazza and tried to figure out what to do next. We saw some other streets that we had not yet walked, and set off down a lovely maze of touristy shops and restaurants. We’ve spent so much of our trip in Italy doing our best to avoid touristy areas, but as we approach the end, we realize that it is time to start making our purchases for ourselves and our friends and family back at home. We spent a while checking out the different shops and managed to find gifts for several people (hooray!).

We also found a small deli and Philip got a fresh made (right in front of us) panino with prosciutto crudo and fresh mozzarella cheese. We took the sandwich and a Sprite back towards the train station and ate our meal while sitting in the shade of a small park. While sitting in the shade with a light breeze, we marveled at how beautiful Sorrento is and are very glad that we decided to make the trip there. Once we left Napoli this morning, the first thing we noticed along the way was the dominating presence of Mount Vesuvius. This enormous volcano rises from the ground and is visible from anywhere around the Golfo di Napoli. The feel is almost foreboding, mostly because we know the history of what Vesuvius has done in ancient times. It is an interesting experience to be seeing a mountain that you know has killed many people and completely buried civilizations. At one point, Rose commented about how beautiful the volcano looked. Philip responded somewhat solemnly, “I bet the people of Pompeii thought so as well.”

Looking across the Bay of Naples towards Mount Vesuvius in Italy

Looking across the Bay of Naples towards Mount Vesuvius.

After sitting for a while, we returned to the train station to catch our ride back to Napoli. When we tried to go through the turnstiles to enter into the train area (this train company operates like the subway), both of our tickets were rejected. We went over to the ticket office and showed them to the agent there, and he told us just to walk through the handicapped entry door. While we did this, a random lady slid through the door with us, despite our best attempts to make it as awkward as possible for her (the door had no lock and it wasn’t like the ticket agent had pressed a button to just let us through…she probably would have slipped through like that whether we were there or not).

We found the train pleasantly empty (once we went up to the first carriage) and settled in for the ride back to Napoli. We spent the train ride reading and talking, and we were surprised that the train remained fairly empty even after stopping at Pompeii. We got into Napoli at just after 4:00 pm and returned to our hotel to journal and for Rose to take her afternoon nap.

At a few minutes after 6:00 pm, we set off to find dinner and to see the area of the town along the enormous port of Napoli. The 30 minute walk to get there was somewhat disappointing, mostly because traffic was heavy and we had no views of the water as we went. We arrived at the very large Castello Nuovo and took several pictures, and then continued the search for a restaurant for dinner. We plan on returning to explore Castello Nuovo before we leave Napoli because we like castles and this is the biggest one we’ve seen yet.

Castello Nuovo in Naples, Italy

Castello Nuovo in Napoli.

After searching and waiting for places to fully open, we finally settled on a lovely Trattoria and Pizzeria for our dinner. We sat at an upstairs table in the mostly empty restaurant, and we had an amazing meal of pasta and bread. Rose went with her favorite of gnocchi, this time in a cheesy and very thick marinara sauce. Philip supped on fettuccine with zucchini and some form of sea creature that looked like a mix between a lobster and a prawn. He actually had to ask the waiter how one is supposed to eat this creature (just the tail meat, in fact), and the waiter was very willing to help him out. When we finished eating, we paid our bill (only 25 euro) and set off back across town towards our hotel.

We made the walk in about 25 minutes and decided to go straight to an internet café so we could check emails and post the blog before it closed at 10:00 pm. During the entire walk back from the restaurant, we kept our eyes peeled for an open gelateria, all with no avail. Finally, Philip had to settle for a pre-packaged cone (like a Drumstick) for his only gelato of the day. His sadness was only lifted when Rose told him that he could stop at every open gelateria we see for the rest of the trip.

Standing in front of Marina Piccola in Sorrento, Italy

Standing in front of Marina Piccola in Sorrento.

After using internet, we returned to our hotel for showers, journaling, and other such tasks. Tomorrow, we will go be super tourists, starting with a visit to the ruins of Herculaneum, continuing with an ascent to the top of Mount Vesuvius, and perhaps concluding with an afternoon at the world famous city of Pompeii. Depending on how we feel after Vesuvius, we may save Pompeii for the next day since we don’t have too many plans for our last day in Napoli. As an aside, we also used our internet time to try and figure out what had happened at the Duomo when we went to visit it. Apparently, the building was taken over by disgruntled unemployed workers who were demanding better wages (or something similar…the Google translation was pretty bad). We are quite relieved that Italy has not in fact declared war on anybody and we foresee no issues getting home when the time comes.

Daily # of gelati: 1*

Flavors:
Triple Chocolate Cornetto cone (*a pre-packaged treat since we could not find an open gelateria after dinner…sadness abounded).

We woke up at 1:00 pm today, though be sure to read yesterday’s post before calling us lazy bums. We both felt very well rested considering only getting 7 hours of sleep, and we were excited to get going to explore Napoli. Philip spent a few minutes journaling while Rose ate her last arancino, and we got our first good look at our living arrangements for the next few days. The first thing we noticed is that the room is very dingy, not necessarily filthy but not exactly clean either. The second thing we noticed is that the toilet has no toilet seat (this will be important later). We got cleaned up a bit, though decided that showering could wait until later, and then set off to see Napoli, find food, and get more information about the city.

We stopped at the front desk and the manager gave us a tourist map of Italy (it’s the size of a car windshield when unfolded and is very unwieldy in the wind). When we asked, he also showed us the sights to see and what areas of the city we should explore. We thanked him for his hospitality and for letting us check in so early, and then went out into the city. The first thing we noticed about Napoli is that it is very dirty with trash more or less thrown everywhere. This is a problem all over Italy, but it seems to be even more significant in Napoli. We also noticed that there are too many cars in the piazza in front of the train station.

Rose found a panino at a vendor cart in the piazza, but Philip had seen a sign for a kebab place during our walk to the hotel and he was holding out for a kebab. However, when we finally found the kebab place (in a sketchy corridor off the piazza), we saw that it was closed. Philip then found a piece of pizza with peppers on it and we took our food into the train station to find a place to sit and eat. The only place that had any seating area at all was the food court (there is not a single bench in the Napoli train station, not even on the platforms as far as we can tell). Rose was quite disappointed in the quality of her sandwich, really for the first time since we’ve been in Italy. Philip’s pizza was tasty, but greasy, and we both finished lunch wanting something better to help our taste buds.

A small cupola in the Chiesa de Santa Caterina in Napoli, Italy

A small cupola in the Chiesa de Santa Caterina in Napoli.

Our first stop was the tourist information office in the train station, but we found it closed for another 12 minutes, so we decided to go find some pastries at a pasticceria we had seen. After a very frustrating experience involving a large crowd of people and the stupidest ordering system known to mankind, we finally had two excellent pastries and we ate them at the counter along the window of the store. After we finished, we returned into the train station and found the tourist information office open. We interrupted the man inside from his game of computer hearts, but he was nonetheless happy to tell us everything we wanted to know. He gave us information about getting to Pompeii and Sorrento, as well as expanded upon the different sights to see in the city.

Porta Capuana in Napoli

Porta Capuana, an impressive ancient entrance to the city of Napoli.

Feeling much better informed, we set off towards the historic center of town to see the Duomo and the other churches of Napoli. During our travels around Napoli, we were accosted by three different people trying to sell us iPhones (probably fake ones from China), and we saw a few others with iPhones that just weren’t quite as bold. Rather than describe all of the individual churches, we will just say that Napoli has the largest collection of beautiful, ornate, magnificent, and enormous churches that we’ve ever seen in such a small area. Nowhere else in Italy have we walked into five different churches in an area smaller than a square mile and been overwhelmed by every one of them. Several of the churches we saw today are larger than the Duomos in most cities and some are probably among the largest 20 churches in the entire world.

The facade of the Duomo in Napoli

The facade of the Duomo in Napoli.

After stopping at the Chiesa di Santa Caterina a Formiello, we made our way to the piazza in front of the Duomo. However, when we arrived there, the piazza was filled with traffic, several police cars, and about twenty five police officers with riot shields and riot gear that seemed to be guarding the side front door of the building. We were very confused as to what was going on and attempted to ask a tourist family wearing shirts that said, “Toronto, Canada”. They were just as confused as us and they seemed rather freaked out that we had talked to them. The moment was far more awkward than we had anticipated and we’re still not sure why. At one point, the main front doors of the Duomo opened and a large crowd of people came out. After a few minutes, another crowd came out, and this cycle repeated several times. We never saw anybody go into the building and we’re not sure why all these people were inside with so many police outside.

protestors and riot police in Napoli, Italy

Protestors and riot police...what city would be complete without them?

We walked up to the front doors and stepped inside the church, but a man there told us it was closed and seemed incredulous that we had gone that far. We asked him when it would be open and got a confusing response in return. The only word Philip is sure of hearing is “Guerra” which means war. We’re quite curious as to what is going on and we will definitely be checking online for news when we get internet access (along the lines of not having internet access, the man from Nigeria in our compartment on the train informed us that Michael Jackson died about a month ago…we had no idea, though we vaguely remember seeing or hearing the name in a newspaper or TV a while ago…what will happen to the world with both Michael Jackson and Billy Mays gone?).

An obelisk-like statue in Napoli, Italy

An obelisk-like statue in Napoli.

After gawking for a few more minutes, the police officers finally stood down but the Duomo remained closed. We decided to move on and return to see it another day since the action in the piazza was dying down. We moved on to the Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore, a magnificent and beautiful church. When we left, Philip stopped and got some gelato to help with the heat (like medicinal gelato, these are strictly intended to prevent heat stroke and are in no way connected to gluttony or an addiction to Italian ice cream). We moved on first to the Chiesa di S.S. Filippo e Giacomo, followed by the Chiesa di Sant’Angelo a Nilo, whose highlight was the large organ above the entry door with several bent organ pipes. Pressing on, we arrived at the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, a very simple yet unbelievably large church. We think that a wedding was happening later in the day and the church was full of people in nice clothes.

The altar inside the Chiesa di San Paolo Maggiore in Napoli, Italy

The altar inside the Chiesa di San Paolo Maggiore.A cupola inside the Chiesa di San Paolo Maggiore.The Chiesa di Santa Chiara in Napoli, a church dedicated to Saint Claire, the female counterpart to Saint Francis.

The church highlight of the day, however, was the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo. The façade of the building is interesting, though we can’t decide if it is modernly beautiful or just ugly. The interior, however, is one of the most spectacular that we’ve seen. The church is wider than most others, and the intricate details on such a large scale are magnificent. The pictures will explain better than we can, and eventually became so overwhelmed that we couldn’t absorb any more of what we were seeing. We left with the intent of returning at least once more before we leave Napoli, and we began to walk from the historic center back to our hotel.

The main altar of the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo in Napoli, Italy

The main altar of the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo.Extensive and beautiful marble inside the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo.

At one point during all of our church visits, we happened to walk past a hardware store and decided to step in for a minute to check and see if they had a specific item. Five minutes later, we left the store with a bag in hand carrying our very own brand new seven euro toilet seat. We figured that since we are staying at the hotel for four nights, it really is only costing us less than one euro each per night to have a toilet seat for our toilet. We carried it around much of the historic center and even into several churches with us, which was slightly awkward but we knew it would be well worth it when we returned to our hotel.

We stopped by the supermarket on our way back to the hotel so that Rose could get some more juice and some pretzels. When we got back, we had a fun time installing the toilet seat and were very proud of our work when we had finished. We thought about bringing the toilet seat home and giving it as a souvenir to one of our faithful readers, but after seeing how gross the underside of the toilet was (we washed our hands very well afterwards), we decided that it would be best to just leave the toilet seat here when we go (our plan was to check and see who was keeping up with the blog by handing them a toilet seat and seeing their reaction…maybe next time).

We spent the evening journaling, reading, and going through pictures. Around 8:30 pm, we went back out for a few minutes to finally get Philip his kebab (from a different place, though…wasn’t a standard kebab, though still quite tasty…seemed like something one would get at Chiba Hut or Half Fast Subs) and we took our picture in front of a large map of the city. While the area near our hotel is dirty and heavily trafficked by cars, we actually really liked the feel of the historic center with its cleaner streets, numerous shops and vendors, and incredible churches.

Philip and Rose standing in front of a map of Napoli

Standing in front of a map of the Napoli region.

Tomorrow, we plan on going to the city of Sorrento on the other side of the Bay of Naples. We may take a boat over to the Isle of Capri to check out the Blue Grotto there, but we haven’t worked out all the details. We now have less than a week left in our trip around Italy and we have almost completed the circuit back to Rome. We had a moment today where we thought about just how far we’ve gone and how close we are back to our starting point. Italy is an interesting place, but one that we have both come to love, and one that will be missed dearly when we have to say goodbye.

Daily # of gelati: 1

Flavors:
Fragola (strawberry)
Kinder (candy bar)

The morning began with an incorrect assumption on both of our parts. We assumed, that since breakfast did not end until 11 am, that check out would also occur at that time. We woke up (well, got up as we had woken up a few minutes earlier) to the sound of knocking on our door at 10:10 am, and the voice of our hostess telling us that check out was at 10 am. We apologized and said we would be out in a few minutes. We scrambled about packing up our belongings and getting ready for the day, and we are proud to say that we went from full dishevelment to packed and ready in less than 20 minutes (at the beginning of the trip it was taking us around 45 minutes to get packed up and ready).

We went down for breakfast and spent some time deciding how we would spend the day. We came up with three main goals: visit the Duomo in the nearby city of Monreale, visit the catacombs in Palermo, and visit the church of San Giovani degli Ermiti. We left our bags in the lobby of the hotel, and set off to explore Palermo…well, after stopping at the supermarket for juice, of course. We got Rose her morning juice and then spent a moment in the nearby gardens to get another good look at the magnificent banyan trees. Afterwards, we saw an open church during our walk, and couldn’t resist checking out the interior.

The church is called S.S. Salvatore, and looks as if it was originally built as a theater, rather than a church (admittedly, they did a much more beautiful job in converting it from theater to church than did Foothills in Arvada, Colorado). The interior is in the shape of an oval, and the walls are beautifully adorned with plaster cherubim and draperies. As we were in the church, a small tour group entered with the in-ear speakers that allow the tour guide to communicate quietly. However, the two people sitting in front of us had their speakers so loud that we could almost distinguish the words that were being said. After a few minutes, we decided to move on to our next stop, San Giovani degli Ermiti.

domes of San Giovanni degli Eremeti in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The smooth, red domes of the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremeti in Palermo.Looking up at the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti.

We arrived at the church at 12:02 pm, just in time to see a man closing the front gate of the building. We were disappointed that we couldn’t go in the church, but our spirits brightened quickly after when we realized that the church had a bell tower and it was still open. We purchased our tickets (one euro and fifty cents each) and began the short climb up into the bell tower. Because of the very low metal spiral staircase that is used for the last bit of the climb, we had to wear bright yellow hard hats as we went. When we got to the top, we were stunned by the beautiful view over the city. The church is topped by five red terracotta domes and we had an interesting perspective from above. In the distance, we could see the beautiful façade of the Duomo rising above the rest of the city. We took several pictures of the scenery, ourselves, and our hard hats. We even had another person take a picture of us holding the Travel section of the Denver Post so that we can hopefully make it into the newspaper when we get back (we’ve carried this stupid newspaper section all over Italy and have forgotten to take pictures with it every time).

Philip and Rose with travel section of Denver Post newspaper at San Giovanni degli Eremiti in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

After carrying this stupid newspaper for 6 weeks, we finally remembered to pull it out for a picture...now we just need to remember to send it in to the Denver Post when we get home.

We then made our way to a large bus stop in Piazza Independenza where we hoped to catch a bus either to Monreale or to the catacombs, whichever arrived first. We purchased our tickets (four total so we could return as well) and went to wait at the bus stop for either of those to arrive. The sign at the bus stop listed the applicable bus lines, the stops, and the frequency of buses for each line. However, unlike every other bus stop we’ve seen in Italy, it did not say when in time each bus would arrive. For example, the bus to Monreale would only arrive once an hour. We had no idea if it would be coming in 5 minutes or in 55 minutes. We stayed at the bus stop for nearly half an hour before we saw the bus that would take us to the catacombs arrive.

We got onboard the bus and learned that the validation machine was not working. A second driver that was standing on the bus validated with a pen the ticket of the lady in front of us, but got off the bus before he validated ours. Three stops and less than five minutes into the ride, we were told by the driver that we had arrived at the stop for the catacombs. It turns out that the catacombs are located about a 10 minute walk down one single road from the bus stop (yes, we did wait 30 minutes for this bus to arrive to take us here). The driver told us where to go and we walked around the corner and found the entrance to the catacombs. Unfortunately, it was 1:15 pm and the catacombs are closed from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm. Somewhat amused by this point, we decided that we would spend the time by getting lunch and then return to the catacombs when they reopened.

We made the walk back towards the center of town, and along the way, saw one of the highlights of our trip so far. Propped up on a simple wooden chair was what we like to call a tricycle truck. It was very strange to see a motor vehicle like this laying half on its side with nothing but a small wooden chair supporting the weight (when we walked back later in the afternoon, we saw two guys working underneath it…neither of us are brave enough to put our heads under a vehicle supported by a wooden chair).

tricycle truck on wooden chair in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

It's not everyday you see a motor vehicle propped up on a small wooden chair.

Both of us were craving pasta for lunch, so we stopped by a pizzeria to ask where we could get pasta at this time of day. The man replied, “Here”, and we proceeded to tell him what we would like (there was no menu for pasta). At one point, the chef, a hairy Italian man, came out and informed us that there was no meat sauce for Rose’s pasta, but that he could make something with eggplant instead. She decided to go with just a simple marinara sauce instead, but it was cool to have that interaction. After about 20 minutes, the chef brought two heaping plates of penne pasta out to us, Rose’s with marinara and Philip’s with grilled peppers (pepperoni in Italian). The pasta was delicious and we both had trouble finishing our plates (but we’re Americans so we did our best). When the bill came, we were shocked that our pasta, plus a large two liter bottle of cold water, plus the cover charge amounted to a grand total of 15 euro. We spoke with the shopkeeper about this for a bit and he commented that the other restaurants would have charged significantly more for all of this. We agreed wholeheartedly and decided to leave him a five euro tip since he was so nice.

Our tummies much happier, we walked back to the catacombs as it was now almost 3:00 pm and they had reopened. Tickets were only two euro and fifty cents each, and we soon descended into one of the creepiest places either of us has ever been. The catacombs are a series of passages filled with a large collection of skeletons. These skeletons are all dressed in clothes, and most are standing upright in niches, supported by wire. We have no clue why anybody would want to be buried like this, but it does make the perfect setting for a creepy horror movie. We walked around the passageways and saw the different sections (one for professionals, one for priests, an area of children, etc.) It was an interesting experience to see the catacombs, but we were both quite happy to be back above ground and away from 140 year old skeletons when we left. If anyone is going to Palermo, it is definitely worth the visit to the Catacombe di Cappucini, even if just for the shock factor.

After the catacombs, we were both starting to get tired and had pretty much lost any desire to ride a bus for over half an hour to see the Duomo in Monreale. Instead, we walked from the catacombs down to the area with the theaters and stopped to rest on a park bench at the side of Teatro Massimo. Stopping to rest quickly turned into siesta for Rose, and we spent about an hour on the bench with Rose sleeping and Philip doing puzzles in his puzzle book. Right after we arrived at the bench, we saw a mom and child on a walk, and the little boy was pulling a toy that worked like a music box when the wheels spun. On the top, two plastic dogs in seated positions spun in circles as he walked. Occasionally, he would hit a cobblestone the wrong way and one or both of the dogs would fall off of the toy onto the ground. His mother was quite patient and would just smile and wait as the boy figured out what had happened and reassembled his toy. It was a really cool moment to see and we won’t be surprised if this little boy becomes an engineer or mechanic someday.

Duomo as seen from the top of the bell tower at San Giovanni degli Eremiti in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The view of the Duomo from the top of the bell tower of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.

When Rose woke up, we sat for a moment so she could become less groggy, and then started to return to our hotel. When we got back, we pulled out the laptop and sat in the lobby to spend some time journaling. However, we discovered that there was an unsecured wireless network present there and we used the time to check emails and post to the blog instead (oh how we miss our internet at home). At around 7:30, we grabbed our bags and set off for the train station to catch our 8:30 pm train from Palermo to Messina. At the train station, we got sandwiches to eat then, as well as three arancini to take with us on the train in case we got hungry during the night.

The train arrived on time and was one of the nicest regional trains we’ve seen yet. We spent the three hour trip reading and talking and eating an arancino, and for a while freaking out because the train was almost 15 minutes late. We recovered some of that time during the trip and arrived into Messina less than 10 minutes late at 11:30 pm. Our InterCitta Notte train arrived a few minutes later, and we climbed onboard and found our compartment. Two guys were in the compartment already, but as we started to enter, three Asian ladies (an aunt and her two nieces) arrived and we became quite confused (how do you put seven people in a six person compartment). However, it turns out that the two men didn’t actually belong there and they grabbed their belongings and moved on somewhere else in the train. Just before we departed, we were joined by a man from Nigeria who was heading to Rome.

The train moved at a crawling pace from Messina Centrale to Messina Marittima and after much jostling and loud noises, our train was on the ferry to take us across to the mainland. Our compartment was ungodly hot and we all exited on the ferry so that we could get fresh air (Rose tried to stick it out so that she could fall asleep, but she was unsuccessful). Philip wandered all over the ferry, in particular, checking out the trains since he could see them from wheel level rather than platform level. He then showed the two Asian girls how they could go upstairs into the rest of the ferry (they had pointed to him excitedly so that they could show him the view out of a little porthole on the train deck). While Philip was out on the front deck (front part of the top deck), Rose wandered up and found him. Up on the top deck we shared a chocolate ice cream bar to help cool down after the hot train. The ferry was mostly uneventful, though Philip did almost get splashed in the eye when flushing the toilet (yes, you heard right, the eye).

When the ferry had almost reached the dock, we climbed back aboard the train, though nobody was sitting in their compartments because the heat was too much. We were towed out of the ferry and arrived at the station of Villa San Giovanni. It was about 1:15 am and we were shocked to learn that the train wouldn’t depart that station until 1:45 am. Rather than roast, we got out and sat on a cement bench on the platform. Philip asked a conductor to open the window in our cabin (it was locked) but the man explained that the air conditioning would turn on as soon as we connected to the engine and got current from the electrical lines above (only the carriages went on the ferry, not the engines).

In due time, the air conditioning came on and we all made our way back into the compartment. We learned that the aunt was a missionary in the Czech Republic, and she had brought her two nieces with her for a two week vacation in Italy (she also told us that everything in Italy costs too much). We settled in for the night and we had the fortunate advantage of having the window seats in the compartment. We were able to lay across our two seats and Philip was able to fall asleep within a few minutes. Rose had a much harder time and only slept at the very end of the ride.

We had set an alarm for 6:00 am (the train was to arrive at 6:19 am in Napoli), but we both fell back asleep after the alarm went off. Fortunately, we woke up when the train stopped and quickly gathered our belongings and got off the train. The stops for an overnight train are thankfully longer than those of the daytime trains, giving people enough time to get their things and get off the train, even if they just woke up. We set off to find our hotel, which was supposed to be just 30 meters from the train station. After walking a few meters in the wrong direction, we asked for directions at an open café and were set on our way.

Philip and Rose wearing hard hats at the top of the bell tower at San Giovanni degli Eremiti in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

We look good in our bright yellow hard hats at the top of the bell tower of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.

Philip had called ahead to the hotel during our train ride from Palermo to Messina, and the hotel manager said that arriving at 7:00 am would not be a problem. We arrived at the door of the hotel at 6:30 am and found it locked, so we sat down to wait in the airlock area just outside the inner doors. Philip was hungry so he ate an arancino, and in less than five minutes, the manager came to the door and let us in. We checked in to the hotel and he even gave us a room with an attached bathroom (we had reserved a room with shared bathroom) for no extra charge. We went upstairs, dropped our belongings on the floor, and each fell asleep in a matter of minutes, exhausted from the night of travelling, but very glad to have made it successfully to Napoli.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Fragola (strawberry)
Ananas (pineapple)
Smarties (crunchy M&Ms)

Chocolate Magnum bar (technically, this gelato treat was eaten at about 12:30 am as we rode the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovanni. We hadn’t slept yet, though, so it is included in this day’s total).

We woke up much earlier than we’ve been used to this morning and the 9:00 am alarm was quite unwelcome when it sounded. After 10 minutes of snoozing the alarm, we could not put it off any longer, so we got up and got ready for the day. We went down for breakfast, and then set off to the bus station to catch our bus to Trapani. We may have taken a handful of cookies with us to help our hunger later in the morning, but if this were the case, we assure you we would have taken less than when we may have pilfered sweets in Rodi Garganico (props to those who followed all that).

Philip and Rose in Erice, Sicily, Italy

Here we are at the western-most point of our Italian travels!

We bought our bus tickets for both going and returning, and settled in to wait for the bus to arrive at 10 am (a few minutes late, of course, just like the trains). We were the first ones on the bus and were able to get the front row seat with the best view out the front window. Rose likes this seat best because it helps prevent her from getting motion sickness… Philip likes this seat because he can pretend he is really driving the bus. We spent about 45 minutes stuck in slow moving traffic in Palermo before we were finally able to get on the Autostrada and head towards Trapani at the bus’s top limit speed of 100 km/hr.

The ride was smooth and took us through the most beautiful countryside that we have seen yet. We stayed along the north coast of Sicily for most of the trip, and we could see the water to our right side and sharp hills and mountains to our left. We passed numerous beautiful bridges that spanned from hill to hill, and we even caught just a brief glimpse of an unfinished Greek temple that is near the town of Segesta (we thought about going to visit this temple at one point during our trip planning, but figured it wasn’t worth the trip there just to see the one thing…we didn’t realize that the bus we were on to Trapani would drive so close).

coastline of Trapani, Sicily, Italy

The west coast of Sicily on a hazy day in July.

We arrived in Trapani at noon and got off the bus at the small bus station in town. Trapani is a city of just over 100,000 people, but we were surprised at how deserted the streets seemed to be. Sicily, in general, has surprised us with the lack of night life and the very strange hours of business operations; even after a week, we still haven’t been able to figure it out. We stopped at the ticket window to get information about a bus to Erice for later in the day, and the man there informed us that it was a forty minute ride. He gave us a timetable and we saw that the only feasible bus to take us to Erice would leave at 2:00 pm. We were pretty hungry by this point, so we then stepped into the bar attached to the station to get some food before setting out to explore Trapani.

We got two arancini for our meal, one with meat sauce, and the other with prosciutto cotto (ham) and mozzarella. As we ate, we looked through the window and saw two Aussies whom we had met on the complete other side of Sicily during our night in Taormina (they stayed at the same hostel). They walked into the bar and were equally surprised to see us as we were to see them. We told them what we were doing in Trapani and they explained that they were catching a flight from the airport there to take them to Barcelona. It was one of those random occurrences that just make one smile.

narrow beach in Trapani, Sicily, Italy

A narrow beach in Trapani on the west coast of Sicily.

We knew that the tourist information office was located in Piazzetta Saturno, so Philip asked the bar tender how to get there. He gave us a general bearing, and after finishing our food, we set off into the city to find the information office and to explore the historic center of town. We walked for over ten minutes and were starting to worry that we had missed the information office somehow. Philip asked a man sitting on the steps of a closed church where the piazza was, and he pointed about 20 meters in front of him. The tourist information office was just around the corner and we felt a bit silly for asking directions so close to the final destination.

boats near beach in Trapani, Sicily, Italy

Boats along the beach in Trapani.

The lady inside the tourist information office was helpful, and she told us about all of the churches we could go see in the city (unfortunately, she didn’t know the hours…we soon after learned by example that the churches were mostly closed for siesta). She also gave us a handy piece of information that we could take a cable car (think ski resort gondola) up to Erice, which is a medieval town way up on the top of a large hill. We thought this option was far more delightful than taking a 40 minute bus ride, so she gave us information on what urban bus to take to the cable car base station. We set off with our newly acquired tourist map of Trapani, and began to walk around the city.

The first thing we noticed was an open door to a building containing an exhibition of model ships. We spent a minute looking at the beautifully detailed boats, some nearly two feet in length and with amazingly detailed rigging and decks. Afterwards, we walked towards the water and found ourselves on top of a road that runs about ten meters above the sea. The historic center of Trapani is on a peninsula, so we walked all the way around the outer edge, ducking into the streets only once to avoid an area blocked by construction.

The water and beaches are quite beautiful, and we saw numerous beach goers laying out to tan and playing in the water (yet again, the surf was nonexistent…we’re very glad that we went to the beach in the Cinque Terre where the waves were amazing). At one point, we had to descent to beach level and then climb along some large rocks to continue on our path. Sicily has several islands just off its western coast, and we could see the large and rocky outlines of these islands off in the distance. Unfortunately, the weather is so humid here that visibility is pitiful. We were hoping to be able to see the coast of Tunisia in Africa from the castle in Erice, but the visibility is far too poor to even make out any details on the nearby islands.

rocks and tidepools in Trapani, Sicily, Italy

Rocks and tidepools along the beach in Trapani.

When we had completed the perimeter of the historic center, we walked towards the more modern section of town where we would catch the bus to the base of the cable car. Trapani is larger than we realized, and the walk took us over 20 minutes before we finally saw the piazza where the bus stop is located. After purchasing our tickets at a Tabacchi nearby, we went into the piazza and found a bus stop. However, there was nobody at said bus stop and it felt quite unused. Rose saw a crowd of people standing on the other side of the piazza, so we walked over there and found the real bus stop to get us to the cable car.

The ride was mostly uneventful, and Philip was like an excited little child as he compared the street signs of the roads we were passing with the streets marked on the open map in his lap. We knew we were getting close to our destination, but we were not sure when to get off the bus. Fortunately, a nice lady across the aisle somehow figured out that we were tourists (how she would know that, we have no idea) and asked if we were going to the cable car, and then told us when to get off. It was really cool to know that random people, even here in Sicily, are still willing to help out someone who looks confused or needs help.

cable car from Trapani to Erice in Sicily, Italy

The view of Trapani during the cable car ride up the mountain to Erice.

We walked about 50 meters from the bus stop and arrived at the base station of the cable car. For a moment, we felt like we were back home at Breckenridge Ski Resort, though the distinct lack of snow and the very high humidity quickly snapped us back into reality. We bought our round trip tickets, hopped in to an empty gondola, and enjoyed the amazing views during our 15 minute ride up the hill to Erice. Rose, content to remain seated the entire time, laughed a little when she saw Philip’s behavior in the cable car. He took numerous pictures during the entire ride, moving around the small interior so that he could get pictures out of every window.

cable car in Trapani, Sicily, Italy

Riding the cable car up the mountain to Erice.

We arrived at the top station and tried to figure out what to do next. After walking through the gate in the medieval city walls, we found ourselves at the base of a large bell tower and could not resist going to the top of it. For five euro each, we gained access to not just the bell tower, but to five other churches around the town. They usually cost two euro each to enter, so we felt nice and frugal with our purchase. We were also very impressed with the city of Erice because they were intelligent enough to put a city map on the ticket. This map showed not only the location of all the attractions that the ticket covered (plus others, as well), but it also gave suggested itineraries for how to see the city best.

We made it to the top of the tower with little issue and were amazed by the view from the top. On one side, we could see the bell tower’s associated church. On another, we looked out over the dark stone buildings of the city. On still another side, we could see grassy fields and farmland extending off into the distance. On the final side, we saw the city of Trapani running from the base of Erice’s hill all the way to the coast of Sicily.

Erice from bell tower in Sicily, Italy

View of Erice from the top of the Campanile (bell tower).

medieval town of Erice in Sicily, Italy

Erice and the ocean far below as seen from the top of the Campanile.

While we were in the tower, the 2:45 pm bells began to ring and everyone up there jumped unexpectedly. We jumped as well, but also thought that it was such a fun experience that we would wait the 15 minutes until the 3:00 pm bells would ring. Even though we were expecting them, we still jumped when the bells tolled. Satisfied with our bells for the day, we descended from the bell tower and entered the nearby Duomo.

Duomo in Erice, Sicily, Italy

The Duomo and adjacent Campanile in Erice.

The Duomo in Erice is unlike any other large cathedral that we’ve seen. While others are best described as magnificent or powerful, the best descriptor for Erice’s Duomo is elegant. The highlight is definitely the incredibly detailed ceiling, which is difficult to explain with words. Therefore, look at the attached pictures of the church to get an idea of what the building is like.

Interior of Duomo in Erice, Sicily, Italy

The interior of the Duomo in Erice.

intricate ceiling of Duomo in Erice, Sicily, Italy

The ornate ceiling of the Duomo in Erice is simply stunning!

After visiting the Duomo, we set off on what we thought was the suggested path to the next site we wanted to visit. However, we soon became confused of our whereabouts and the lack of street signs in the city did not help matters. At one point, a tourist couple approached from the opposite direction and we stopped and asked them if they knew where they were. It turns out, they were just as lost as us, but we did share a moment of laughter because both groups thought the other would be able to help (we did help them, actually, because we knew how to get back to the Duomo, just not our current location).

After some exploring, we found a main road and got a rough estimate of our location. We spotted a gelateria and decided to step inside for some respite from the hot sun. Philip got an amazing gelato, and Rose went with the more healthy option of a large wedge of cold watermelon. After eating, we set out again and soon arrived at the ruins of the former monastery of San Salvatore. We walked through the crumbling remains and did our best to associate what we were seeing with the informational pamphlet that we were given. The coolest part was the room of ovens where the nuns used to bake bread and sweets.

ovens at convent of San Salvatore in Erice, Sicily, Italy

The ovens at the ruined convent of San Salvatore have withstood the test of time better than the rest of the building.

We continued on down the road and arrived soon at the Chiesa di Sant’Alberto. This was a very simple church, though our best guess is that it is still unfinished. On the ceilings, plaster work looks half done and it is possible to see the pencil lines that show where more plaster will be placed. The floor, however, appears quite old and we are unsure of how old this church actually is.

Chiesa di San Giovanni in Erice, Sicily, Italy

The Chiesa di San Giovanni clinging to the side of the mountain in Erice.

On our way across the town, we encountered three more churches: San Martino, San Giuliano, and San Giovanni. All three were beautiful, though in need of restoration. On that note, Erice is the first place we’ve seen where we’ve noticed churches that haven’t already been restored. The city is working on earning the money, through people like us, to restore the churches but hasn’t finished the work yet. In San Martino, we saw numerous beautiful wood sculptures, and in San Giuliano, there was a nice collection of ceramic art. San Giovanni is on the edge of town and offers amazing views of the shore line, the countryside, and the nearby castles.

castles in Erice, Sicily, Italy

What's better than one castle?...Three!

We walked over to these castles, three of them to be exact, and spent a while taking pictures of them and the beautiful views. The castle closest to town is now the home of a fancy hotel and restaurant, but the other two appear to be mostly abandoned. The pictures will do a better job of explaining the arrangement than we can.

castles in Erice, Sicily, Italy

Castles on the side of a hill in Erice.

We were walking around that area and the nearby garden when Rose came upon a little merry-go-round (the park style, not the carnival style). She got on and Philip began to spin her around and around. Eight seconds into this adventure, she realized how bad of an idea this was (remember, Rose has a tendency to get motion sick) and we quickly brought her to a stop. No major damage was done, though, and we then set off back towards the cable car to return to Trapani and eventually, Palermo.

view of Erice, Sicily, Italy

Erice feels like a stereotypical medieval town: stone walls, narrow roads, and a position at the top of a tall hill.

There was a small crowd of people gathered at the entrance to the cable cars, so we decided that we would wait until they all got in gondolas and then we would get into our own so we wouldn’t have to share. However, people took so long getting their acts together that we decided just to hop in one and hope nobody joined. As we did this, a man in his mid-30s hopped into the gondola with us and we all settled in for the trip down the mountain. As we passed the half way point, we started talking with him (in Italian) and told him all about our trip. He was really nice and was quite patient with Philip’s poor Italian language skills. The man works in Erice, we think doing restoration work, but lives in Trapani. As we got to the base station, he showed us his family (wife and two kids) who had come to pick him up from work. We said farewell and started walking out of the station to go and look for a place to buy bus tickets to take us to the bus station.

cable car in Trapani, Sicily, Italy

Returning back down the mountain to Trapani by cable car.

As we made it to the main road that leads back into the heart of town (a few minutes after leaving the cable car), we heard a voice calling to us and we saw the man and his family on the side of the road in their car. They offered us a ride to the station, so we hopped in the backseat. The man has two daughters, ages five and one and a half, and they are two of the most adorable children we’ve ever seen. During the ride, he handed us a few pictures of some of the ceiling work he had done for a job (we think he specializes in ceiling plastering). The ride was very nice and it was amazing to see one more time just how great people in southern Italy are.

They dropped us at the bus station and we thanked them profusely before going to look for food. We checked the bar attached to the bus station, but weren’t impressed by what we saw. We had plenty of time before our bus would depart for Palermo, so we walked around the area for a little bit until we found a café that had some good food. We paid for our meal and sat down to eat at a little table there. Within a minute, the cashier came up to us and explained that we hadn’t paid enough since he had forgotten to ring up one of our panini. We understood and it now made more sense why our meal was so inexpensive. We paid the rest as we left the café, and Philip got some gelato as well. We returned to the bus station and played some cards until the bus came to take us to Palermo.

The bus was already pretty crowded when we got on, so we got seats about half way back on the driver side. We both managed to fall asleep along the way and we only woke up a few minutes outside of the city of Palermo. This is where the ride began to get frustrating. As we hit the city, we became stuck in a traffic jam that was following a parade of school children carrying balloons. However, the way the road is designed, there is a bus lane that is separated from the rest of traffic, and was completely clear of obstruction…that is, except for the police cars that would not let the bus pass. They drove at the pace of the parade blocking us in and we spent over a half an hour stuck in this organizational disaster.

We finally made it to the bus station and walked next door to get our train tickets for our overnight trip to Napoli tomorrow. We were appalled by the price of a sleeper cabin, so we figured we would be fine with normal seats since we thought it would be unlikely that such a late train could be full (haha, more on this one later). After stopping to grab some food, we returned to our hotel after the long day. We spent the remainder of the evening reading and relaxing a bit, and then Philip stayed up after Rose fell asleep to do pictures and start journaling. Tomorrow, we will explore more of Palermo and we head to Napoli in the evening. Palermo was an interesting city to visit, but we are ready to move on; that said, it is very sad to say goodbye to Sicily and we hope to return someday.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Ciocco e Arancia (chocolate orange…just like at Christmas!)
Nocciola (hazelnut amazingness)

Fragola (strawberry)

Our morning began at around 10:30 am (yes we know we sound like lazy bums) and we went downstairs to get breakfast before it ended at 11:00 am. Breakfast was a small assortment of toast, cookies, jam, juice, and tea; it wasn’t fancy, but it tasted good and made our tummies full. Afterwards, we finished getting ready for the day and set out to explore the sights of Palermo.

Our first stop was the supermarket in Piazza Marina so that Rose could finally get her juice, a luxury she has gone without for a few days. We found the supermarket tucked around a corner in the piazza, and when we walked inside, we were welcomed by a store that felt very much like what one would find in America. Most of the other supermarkets we have seen in Italy have been convoluted and closed in, but this one had nice tall ceilings and wide aisles that make shopping for groceries a pleasant experience.

With ACE in hand and a smile on Rose’s face, we went over into a small garden area (Giardini Garibaldi) near the supermarket that has two large banyan trees at its center. As we were walking along the fence towards the gate to enter, we passed a homeless man on the street with all of his belongings. We stopped a little ways past him to look at our map and figure out exactly where we were and where to go next. Suddenly, we heard a voice asking us in English if we spoke that language. The homeless man had come up to us and began engaging us in conversation about various things. In short, we learned that he was from Toronto, Canada, and was only in Sicily on vacation; he had apparently had his bags stolen along with his money and passport, presumably because he had left them unattended along the road; and his embassy was in Rome and he was panhandling to get money to go there. We talked for several minutes with the very nice man, and he even made sure to warn us to keep a tight grip on our money and belongings as he was an example of what happened when one did not. We’re still not sure why he was having so much trouble getting to Rome as a train ticket only cost about 40 euro total and he told us that he had been in Sicily already for six months. Nevertheless, we did not offer him any money, nor did he ask.

banyan tree in Giardino Garbialdi in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

A large banyan tree in the Giardino Garbialdi.

After checking out the cool trees in the garden area, we set off for Palermo’s most famous street market, called Vucciria. We walked the length of the market where vendors sold fruits, vegetables, home supplies, and many other random things. We didn’t stop to purchase anything, but rather continued along to check out another street market, called Ballaro, and to investigate numerous churches in the area.

Vucciria market in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

A vendor stall in the Vucciria Market on the streets of Palermo.

When we found the street market, we were pretty disappointed by what we saw. The area where the market is located is quite rundown and trash was littering the streets. Nearly every person we saw in the area was of African descent and it was interesting and somewhat saddening to see the state of that part of the city. Every church we wanted to visit was already closed, perhaps for siesta or perhaps because it was Monday, and we decided to just press on to the Duomo because we knew it was open all day. We got lost a few times trying to get back to the main road, but we eventually found our way out of the neighborhood and set off up Via Vittorio Emanuele towards the Duomo. While we were finding our way out to the main road, a man called from his first floor balcony and asked if we had a cigarette. Philip responded, “No, non fumare,” which translates to, “No, don’t smoke”. He had intended to reply with, “No, non fumo”, which translates as, “No, I don’t smoke”. Fortunately, the man didn’t take offense and we made it out of the neighborhood without further incident.

Facade of Duomo in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

A park in front of the magnificent Duomo in Palermo.

The façade of the Duomo looked just as beautiful as we remembered from yesterday, and we took a few pictures before entering the church to see the interior. As expected, the interior of the church is very beautiful and is adorned with numerous intricate side chapels. The ceiling is quite simple for the most part, but the area above the altar is covered in beautiful paintings. Two large side chapels flank the main altar and they are topped by small cupolas. The highlight of the interior is the beautiful inlay work of marble, something that Sicilian craftsman are known for and that we have seen in several churches thus far. Along the front of the church between the pews and the altar, a strange gold line runs across the floor at an angle from the rest of the architecture. We speculated what it might be for and our best guess is that Robert Langdon will be coming to discover some hidden church mystery in Palermo within the next few years (for all you who don’t know who Robert Langdon is, we highly recommend reading “Angels and Demons” or “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown…As a very random aside, when we were looking in bookstores many weeks back, we noticed that they were selling “Angeli e Demone”, the Italian translation of “Angels and Demons”. We also found a spoof novel, written in Italian, titled “Angeli e Salame” with cover art depicting salami sausages with angel’s wings…Philip almost bought it).

zodiac floor tile inside the Duomo in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

A floor tile showing signs of the Zodiac inside the Duomo.

The Duomo also contains a treasury, a crypt, and a few royal tombs that we decided to investigate. We bought our inexpensive ticket for all three and began with the treasury. After looking at a few items, Rose suggested that we investigate the crypt first, as we cared much more about that than about seeing display cases of jewelry and church artifacts and the area was going to close within half an hour. The crypt was very cool to see and had numerous sarcophagi in an underground room with beautiful stone arches. We’re not sure about this, but we think it is likely that the crypt is a former church that upon which the Duomo was later built. The carvings on the sarcophagi were intricate and beautiful, though our favorite was a fairly simple carving showing a slightly ajar door on the side of the sarcophagus.

After leaving the crypt, we spent a few minutes investigating the treasury to see what fancy things lived there. Of most importance, the treasury houses the crown of Catherine of Aragon, a rather ugly headpiece that is covered with far too many large precious stones. We also saw other pieces of jewelry that were covered with too many diamonds and rubies to count, and this sparked a fun conversation about the best uses of money and the lavishness of the Catholic Church. Our final stop in the Duomo was the small section containing four large royal tombs. We never managed to figure out who was buried in them, but some of the mosaic and inlay work on the sarcophagi and surrounding pillars and canopies were quite beautiful.

crown of Catherine of Aragon inside the Duomo Treasury in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The crown of Catherine of Aragon, housed inside the Duomo Treasury.

After leaving the Duomo, we walked around the building so that we could see it from its other side, and then returned to our hotel room so Rose could have her afternoon nap. We spent a few hours there napping, catching up once again on journaling, and avoiding the incredible heat of Sicily. At around 5:30 pm, we finally set off again to explore more of the city now that the temperature had cooled and business had reopened from siesta.

Arches on back side of Duomo in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Arches across the road on the back side of the Duomo.

Our first stop was the Chiesa di San Giuseppe and our jaws dropped to the floor when we saw the overwhelmingly beautiful interior (well, they didn’t actually drop to the floor; it’s just a figure of speech). Never before have either of us seen a church so completely covered with inlaid marble, beautiful carvings, painted ceilings embossed with gold trim, large expanses of beautiful marble, and so much more. We spent a long time in the church and still never managed to take it all in. The attention to detail in the building is exquisite, and the quality and intricacy of the craftsmanship is unmatched even at the Basilica di San Pietro in Roma. One of the most incredible aspects of the church was the use of inlaid marble, not just on the floor, but on the walls and even on rounded pillars and beveled edges.

Beautiful marble inlay inside the Chiesa di San Giuseppe in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Beautiful marble inlay inside the Chiesa di San Giuseppe.We found the making of a beautiful wedding inside the Chiesa di San Giuseppe.

 Afterwards, we walked by a few other churches but found them still closed. Frustrated with the lack of posted hours for most of the churches in Palermo, we decided to give up on churches for the evening and headed down a main road in the direction of two large theaters that are hostess had recommended. We arrived at the first theater, Teatro Massimo, and took numerous pictures of the beautiful exterior. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter to see the inside, so we continued along the road towards the other theater.

Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The Teatro Massimo, Palermo's premier theater.

As we passed a small church on the right hand side of the road, we noticed that the door was open so we decided to step inside for our customary quick look. We sat down in the back pew of the Chiesa di Santa Lucia, and looked around at the simple interior. The front pews had about 20 or so people sitting in them, and we assumed that a mass or something would be beginning soon because prelude music was being played on the organ. While we continued sitting there, the male organist began to sing and the congregation would join in on certain lines. We sat in awe of the beautiful voices for nearly 10 minutes just listening to the music. The acoustics of the church are amazing and the contrast between the organist singing by himself and the myriad of voices was actually quite powerful. When another man stepped up to the podium and began talking in Italian, we realized that mass (actually, there was no priest present so it was probably some other form of liturgical event) was beginning. Just before he went up, while the music was still going, three very loud bangs resounded through the church that sounded like somebody had been thrown into the large wooden doors at the back. Rose saw the doors shake but we never did learn what had happened. As soon as music began again, we made our exit and continued on our way.

We reached the other theater, known as the Politeama, and were delighted with the beauty of its façade. The building boasts a round theater with a rectangular entrance, which is somewhat similar to the look of the Pantheon in Roma. However, unlike the stark white stone on the exterior of the Pantheon, the Politeama is a beautiful mix of colors and materials, and is crowned on top with large bronze sculptures of horses and warriors. We took several pictures there (though managed to lose most of them due to bad error management with Kodak’s “helpful” software…hopefully, we can get more pictures of it tomorrow since it isn’t that far from our hotel) and then began the trek back to our hotel.

Politeama in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The Politeama theater in Palermo.

It was after eight pm when we returned to our hotel, and we spent some time talking and editing journal entries. At around 9 pm, we realized that we had forgotten to go by the train station to figure out our transportation for tomorrow. Rose stayed to work on the journaling, and Philip went for his first bout of exercise in nearly two months by jogging to the train station. He checked the arrivals and departures schedules, and soon realized that the trip to Trapani would be inefficient by train (the 100 km trip would take anywhere from two and a half to over four hours by train, depending on how many stations it was stopping at). Before he had left the hotel, he spoke with the hostess and she suggested that bus would be a better and faster option. Philip asked an urban bus driver near the train station about buses to Trapani and he was directed around the corner to the intercity bus “terminal” (a glorified bus stop, really). He was pleased to learn that the bus to Trapani would depart every hour, on the hour, and that it was a viable option. He set back off on the return leg of his exercise routine and soon arrived back at the hotel sweaty and exhausted (the former was fixed by a shower soon after arrival).

Tomorrow, we will go to Trapani and Erice, two cities located on the west coast of Sicilia. We’re very excited to see these areas, as well as to get outside of Palermo for a day. Palermo has been interesting, but it definitely has the big city feel and reminds us most of Florence (crowded and dirty streets, bad traffic, but amazingly beautiful monuments and churches). We have just nine days left of our 59 day trip and we are still not really ready to go home. Italy is such an amazing place to visit and we’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to see so much of the country.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Fragola (strawberry)
Pesca (peach)

Vaniglia (vanilla)
Cassata (fruit cake)

We both had a tough time sleeping last night, and it should be no surprise that our 7 am wake-up time arrived way too soon. Nevertheless, we had no choice but to get up and get packed as our train left at 8 am for Messina. We made amazing time getting ready and were out the door and on our way to the train station by 7:30. We bought our train tickets all the way through to Palermo, and Rose sat with the bags while Philip ran outside to a nearby café to get some breakfast. He came back with two filled croissants, an arancino, and a bottle of water, and we ate one of those croissants while waiting for the train to depart. Since it was a Sunday, we had to take an Express train to Messina, a pricier but faster option than the regional trains we normally try and take. This also meant that we had seat assignments, but we were pleased to learn that nobody was in our six-seat compartment when we got onboard.

Porta Nuova in Palermo

Standing in front of Porta Nuova during our first walk around Palermo.

The train set off and Philip soon fell asleep while laying down on one of the benches. Unfortunately, we gained two compartment mates when the train reached Catania and Philip could no longer take up the entire seat. We both napped a little during the remainder of the ride to Messina, and were amazed when we arrived exactly on time at 10:30 am (the train also departed at exactly 8:00 am, an on-time combination we have never seen during any of our train rides around Italy).

We were schedule to take the 12:00 pm train from Messina to Palermo, but we hoped that we could get on the earlier one that departed at 11:05 am (we’re not sure why the ticket agent would not sell us tickets to that train…our assumption is that it was already fully booked). Philip walked around the piazza near the station to try and find some food and beverage, but as it was Sunday morning, absolutely everything was closed. Fortunately, we still had a croissant and an arancino from breakfast earlier, so we were able to sate our hunger enough to continue traveling. The 11:05 am train was 20 minutes late in departure (according to the information monitors), so we headed out to the platform at about 11:15 am. To our surprise, the train was already there and the departure delay must have been related to another late train blocking the same track. We asked if this was the proper train to Palermo, and the conductor told us to get into the first carriage. However, this carriage was full to the point of people standing in the entrance. We had no desire to ride for three hours in these cramped quarters so we decided to wait the 40 minutes for our original train to depart.

As we walked down the length of the train to find some shade where we could wait, we noticed that most of the compartments we were seeing only had one or two people in them, rather than the six that they could hold. On a whim, we asked a different conductor near the back of the train if we could get on there to go to Palermo. He told us yes and we hopped on board and soon found a completely empty compartment. We didn’t have a seat reservation for the train, but we figured we would ask the conductor about it when he or she came by to check our ticket.

Just before the train was to depart, we were joined in our compartment by an older Australian couple who was on day number three of two months or so in Europe. The lady is also of Italian descent and, among other things, they were visiting her family members that lived in Italy. We talked with them for about a half an hour before they got off the train to go to their small island destination. We touched on numerous subjects during our half hour ranging from family histories to Mormonism to the prevalence of the English language in Greece. Once they got off the train, we pulled out the laptop and spent about an hour organizing pictures, planning out our time in Palermo, and other logistical tasks.

During that time, a young girl from the compartment next to us kept awkwardly staring into our compartment, running up and down the corridor, and talking loudly about nonsensical things. About half way through the ride, we were joined in the compartment by a man who appeared to be in his thirties. We liked him almost instantly because he closed the compartment door when he entered, thus blocking the sounds of our young neighbor. Rose fell asleep during the last bit of the trip, and Philip spent the very end of the ride talking some with this man. He is from Rome, but has many friends near Palermo and was coming down to visit some of them for a few days. He is a telecommunications engineer for WIND (our Italian cell phone company) and it was really cool to talk with an engineer from another country and get a feel for what the industry is like there. Philip told him about our trip and that we would be finishing in Rome before heading home to America. Rose woke up as the train slowed down, and just before stopping at the station in Palermo, the man gave us his cell phone number and said to call him if we had any issues in Rome. We don’t anticipate having any reason to call him, but it is cool to know that people are willing to be that friendly.

We got off the train in Palermo and walked to the food court area in the station to get food. We got three arancini (two with meat sauce and a third with ham and fresh mozzarella) and some water, and sat down there to eat our meal before finding our hotel. When we had finished, we left the station and walked out along the main road as our directions indicated. We were able to find the hotel with no issues and without walking extra distance, both things we have become quite proud of given our past experiences in Italy. When we got to the building, we rang the intercom bell but nobody answered. We were getting concerned with what to do next when a young man showed up from outside and let us into the building (he is also staying at the hotel). We walked up to the lobby and a sign on the desk said that she would be back at 5:30 pm. As it was only 3 pm, we knew that we had some time before we could check in to our room. We dropped our bags and left a note on the desk (in Italian, of course) that said who we were and why our bags were laying in the corner of the room. After using the bathroom and resting for a little while in the sitting area, we decided to go back out and explore a bit of Palermo.

fountain in Palermo

A fountain near our hotel in Palermo.

We had no plan and no map, so we thought it would be best to only stick to the main roads and not stray too far from the hotel. We saw an interesting architectural feature several blocks down the main road we were on, Via Vittorio Emmanuele, and decided to walk down the road towards it to see what it was. Along the way, we saw several beautiful churches, fountains, and other buildings that were just waiting to be explored. As we got further down the road, we saw the Duomo of Palermo on our right and stopped in our tracks when we saw how magnificent it was. Ever since Bari (with the exception of Matera), almost every church we have seen has been built out of the white local stone. The Duomo in Palermo is much darker, and the façade is incredibly ornate and detailed with features. More impressively, the building is absolutely enormous and feels larger than anything we’ve seen since at least Assisi but more likely, Milan.

exterior of Palermo Duomo

The magnificent exterior of the Palermo Duomo.

We stepped inside the church, but soon realized that some form of mass was taking place. We decided that we would return tomorrow and set off again down the road. The feature we had seen from in front of our hotel is Porta Nuova, a large and beautiful gate to the city. The interior is adorned with a few statues and a beautiful marble or plaster decoration above the entrance. On the outside of the gate is a series of people carved into the rock, and the gate is crowned by a small steeple covered with mosaic tiles. Next to Porta Nuova is a large government palace known as Palazzo Reale. The building is impressively large and beautiful, though simply adorned. In front of the Palazzo is a large garden area with trees and shade. We spent a few minutes sitting in that garden area on a park bench, and enjoying the shade and views around the large piazza.

Porta Nuova in Palermo

Porta Nuova in Palermo.

At this point, we returned to our hotel because it was after 5:30 pm and we could now check in to our room. There was a bit of confusion when we attempted to buzz into the building, but we soon made it up the stairs and to the lobby on the second floor (third floor for those using the American system). Our hostess is very nice and gave us a map of Palermo as well as advice on what to see while we are here. She showed us to our room on the third floor and we spent a few hours there talking and organizing our belongings.

At around 8:30 pm, we were both getting somewhat hungry (Philip more than Rose, as the case tends to be) so we decided to go out in search of food. When we reached the main road, we were shocked at how empty and unpopulated it seemed to be for so early at night. So far in the south, we’ve noticed that night life seems to be very popular and the streets are often more crowded at night than during the day. Palermo does not seem to fit that model at all, and it is a bit unnerving when that is what one is used to seeing.

We walked around for a little bit and scoped out some restaurants.Our hostess had told us of a piazza that had numerous places to eat, but when we got there, we saw a grand total of three restaurants (and one was a bar and another was an upscale street-side vendor cart). We had a lovely meal of pasta at a restaurant that was closer to our hotel than those in the piazza and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Rose got a large helping of bowtie pasta with a cream sauce and pieces of smoked salmon, and Philip ate an equally large helping of basil pesto linguine with shrimp. We were very happy with our meal and the restaurant in general, and we will possibly return there one more time before we leave Palermo.

After dinner, we spent a few minutes searching vainly for an open gelateria, but soon gave up and returned to our hotel to call it a night. We decided to postpone journaling yet one more night (we’ve started to develop this bad habit), but told ourselves that we had to get caught up on the journaling tomorrow. Tonight, we intended to catch up on the sleep that we’ve been missing because of not sleeping well for several days. Tomorrow, we will spend more time exploring Palermo and seeing all of the amazing sights that are in the town.

Daily # of gelati: 1

Flavors:
Fragola (strawberry)
Pesca (peach)
Anguria (watermelon)