Hello Rome….We Meet Again

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Hello,

Justin here. This is my first blog post and I’m going to apologize in advance for the cynical and overly-lengthy post. Thanks to those who make it through!

Rome, Pompeii and Naples – a step through time…and trash.

Oh Rome, you fantastic old city overflowing with historical ruins and tourists, I’ve missed you…sort of. Don’t get me wrong, you have a magical essence about you; from the winding streets full of café after café to the perennially breathtaking Colosseum, you never cease to amaze me with what might be around the next corner. Although, upon my second visit, I’m a little bit disappointed. I last visited you three years ago and thought you needed a bath – a cleansing of the grime that seemed to cover every inch of you. Apparently no one else noticed because you still had that layer of filth about you. Oh well, you still have a plethora of hidden and not-so-hidden gems that make you every bit of charming as when I first came to visit you.

Rome – August 27th

It’s good to be back.

We arrived by airplane in the morning to sweltering heat and large swaths of tourists in a frenzy to make their way to a taxi. I was immediately reminded of how fortunate I am back home with air-conditioning and my own personal vehicle that I can take comfortably anywhere I please. After pushing our way through the crowds we were approached by a very aggressive man offering to take the four of us to our AirBnB for 50 euro. Feeling a bit overwhelmed we said we needed a minute to get our bearings and investigate our options. Immediately, the man told us to go screw ourselves in so many words and ran along bothering other tourists for a ride. Welcome to Rome.

What we did:

-We found our AirBnB, which included two bedrooms and two bathrooms(score!) in a central location in Rome.

-I was eaten alive by mosquitos – at least 29 bites within the first 45 minutes of being at the apartment.

-We had our first meal in Rome at a restaurant called Pane & Vino and it was honestly one of the best dining experiences of my life…in a shop no larger than a walk-in closet. The owner, Fabio, was funny, personable, a great story-teller and offered up a great spin on a casual dining experience. We decided upon an option on his menu that was essentially “chef’s choice” and included unlimited wine for 12 euro; a steal for this part of Europe. He nailed each of our unique sandwiches perfectly and then regaled us with stories about his travels and places of interest away from the crowds.

-Helped push-start an old car that had died on the way to picking up couple after their wedding.

-We bought 10 liters of wine and some groceries and took the evening off to drink and catch up on some much-needed rest in preparation of Nichi’s sister Richelle’s (Rikki) visit.

Rome – August 28th

Enter Rikki.

Rikki showed up early in the morning and in order to battle her jet-lag she was subjected to a busy day of sight-seeing while Katie and I took the morning to rest. I know it sounds like we are on a year-long vacation but constant travel is truly tiring and we took advantage of a lazy morning.

What we did:

-Nichi, Rikki and Adam headed into the tourist frenzy to check out the Colosseum and the Roman Forum while Katie and I visited the enormous Roman Bath’s.

-We met up at the Campo Di Fiori and then we went to the Piazza Navona for lunch on a street curb where Rikki incited a pigeon riot with her leftover sandwich crust.

-We visited the large domed Pantheon converted into a giant church

-Next we saw the Trevi Fountain where everyone tossed in their coin over their shoulder.

-The last historical stop of the day was at the Spanish Steps, which turned out to be a major let-down due to them being under renovation that was begun at the start of the tourist season for some baffling reason.

-Finally we went home and cooked a family meal and drank wine until we all fell asleep.

Pompeii and Naples – August 29th

Redemption?

When Katie and I went on our European adventure three years ago we ran into tragedy in Italy when on our very first train ride we had our Eurorail passes stolen by the conductor! Due to this mishap, we had to cancel our day-trip to Pompeii and Naples and it went down as the biggest regret on an otherwise wonderful trip. With Rikki joining our group of four, we had a chance to make up for past mistakes and visited Pompeii and Naples…and the reviews are a bit mixed to say the least.

What we did:

-We woke up at the crack of dawn to make the long train ride from Rome to Naples and then Naples to Pompeii with the goal of beating the heat and the crowds by arriving early. The subway/metro rail from Naples to Pompeii was…interesting. The cart was covered in spray-paint inside and out and the loud-speaker meant for announcements was malfunctioning in the most annoying way I could think of. An irritating horn was blasting from the speaker and would increase and decrease in intensity depending upon the speed at which we traveled…and the ride took nearly an hour with many stops along the way. Oh well though, Pompeii was finally within reach and nothing could ruin that excitement.

-Upon arrival at Pompeii we were met with crowds that also had our early-arrival idea in mind, but nothing too unbearable. We initially entered the ancient city by going up a steep hill. It opened up into something I truly never imagined. In my mind, Pompeii and the ruins leftover from the volcanic tragedy were going to be a small one-block city full of empty building foundations. I was wrong. Pompeii is an absolutely enormous city with well-preserved building after building. They include original painted walls, mosaic tile floors that look in immaculate condition, a stadium and much more.

-We took the metro back to Naples for some dinner and sight-seeing and were met with trash. Did I say Rome was dirty? I take that back. Literally from the second we stepped off of the metro in Naples the stench of rotting garbage filled our nostrils and street after street was absolutely littered with garbage.

-We made our way to the top-rated pizza place in Naples, the birthplace of Pizza, and realized that we were not alone in our endeavors. A large crowd surrounded the entrance of the tiny pizza parlor called L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele. We decided to go to a pizza place right next door that didn’t have a line thinking “how much different could it be? It’s just pizza.” Wrong. I’m sorry for saying this Mom, but we had the biggest fucking douchebag asshole waiter on the planet. I won’t go into detail but he absolutely ruined our dining experience.

-After that we decided to go on an underground tour of Naples. It was a nice relief from the heat and turned out to be a great little adventure. I would recommend it to anyone unfortunate enough to be visiting Naples.

-Upon exiting the underground tour, dusk began to settle in and apparently it was also the time in which the worst of Naples decided to come out. From people driving full-speed down an overcrowded street blaring their horn and nearly hitting everyone along the way to a young man (I’m using the word “man” in the loosest terms possible here) getting on a moped and basically running down the girls in our group…I had reached my limit. We made our way through the ocean of trash back to the train station and made our way on to our train home, thankfully.

-Unfortunately, the drama didn’t end there. We had booked our train tickets home the night before and must have mixed up our months and ended up buying tickets home for the same day but for a month later…so we had to buy additional tickets to get home. Whatever. Money gladly paid to put as much distance between us and that wretched city as possible.

August 30th.

New appreciation.

Back in Rome for our last full day of exploring felt wonderful. There’s a line from one of my favorite movies, Vanilla Sky, that goes something like, “The sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour.” After Naples, nothing could be sweeter.

What we did:

-Katie and I slept in after an almost 24-hour adventure

-Nichi, Rikki and Adam took off early to visit the Vatican and St. Peter’s Cathedral.

-Katie and I made our way to the lesser-known Aventine Keyhole, which is owned by the Knights of Malta. It is a gorgeous garden that leads to a perfect view of the dome of St. Peter’s only visible through a keyhole in a large gate.

-Went out to dinner in a very crowded part of town where we sweat our butts off.

-Went home, packed and passed out for a few hours before our taxi took us to the Athen’s airport for yet another long day of travel.

What I learned:

  1. Skip Naples. I’ve talked to many other travelers and they agree that Naples just isn’t worth it.
  2. Make sure to visit Pompeii and bring plenty of sunscreen. There’s no shade.
  3. Seriously, skip Naples. I could eat pizza for every meal of the day (and have) but nothing can make up for how awful that city is.
  4. Rome is great, even on a second visit, but don’t spend too much time there. A few days is plenty to see everything.
  5. Bring mosquito repellant to Rome. I noticed a good number of other tourists covered in bites, not just me.
  6. Take time to relax and allow yourself to recharge. Sleeping in those few mornings was critical to making it through the long days of touring around town.

I promise I’m not as cynical as I sound, I’m just trying to be honest about my experiences in this particular instance. It would be easy to talk about how beautiful the Colosseum is and how much I enjoyed mentally visualizing what the ancient city used to look like back in it’s prime. That’s something I enjoyed thoroughly but to tell everyone that I strolled through Rome and Naples like they are some far-off paradise that everyone HAS to visit in their lives would be a lie. I wanted to offer a bit of perspective from someone that doesn’t wear rose-colored glasses.

-Justin Jones

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