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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 5 Orvieto

After yesterday’s fiasco we tried to take it easy. Oriento had a gorgeous domo, that’s Church in English. We toured the church, did some shopping then checked out the caves of Oriento. Apparently people a long time ago dug caves underneath the town? I don’t really see the appeal in living below the ground when above the ground it’s so pretty but whatever floats your boat. After we finished with our little impromptu tour of the city we decided one day of driving was enough and we would return the car in Naples, get our passports and spend the night at my Godparent’s house. 
The city walls

Mom in a cave

Back in Naples

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 4 Driving June 27

O. My. God. The past three days have been going way too smoothly its only natural that today everything broke down. The day started off like any other before. A wonderful breakfast of freshly baked croissants and jams followed by the best cappuccino. Mom and I packed up and check out of our hotel early. Our driver Francisco was to take us to Pozzuli, a hill town outside of Naples about a two hour drive north of Sorrento. My parents rented a house in Pozzuli when my dad was stationed in Naples and that is where I was born. My parent’s landlords were an Italian couple who became my Godparents. The first 45 minutes or so I tried to count how many times Francisco said, “ya know”. I got to 135 before I fell asleep.

Mom has not been back to the house in twenty years. She didn’t have the actual address; we just had to go on look and feel. Gulp. O I should mention that my Godparents do not speak English. Thanks to the power of the internet and my mother’s surprisingly good stalking skills she some how managed to find a recent phone number called the house and got in touch with one of my Godparents children, I didn’t even know they had children.

Anyways the combination of a driver who does not listen and my mother’s bad memory going on twenty-year-old directions made for an interesting combination. Plus we are driving through the circus otherwise known as Naples. Interesting side note, currently in Naples the garbage workers have been on strike. It has been going on for a couple of weeks so well you can see the results, piles of trash for whole city blocks.
Garbage strike

By some miracle we made it to the house. It was great to see something my parents have always talk about. The parents are actually in France on vacation but will be back on Tuesday so we have to go back and see them. So after our little visit Francisco drove us to the Naples airport were we had to pick up a rental car which mom would drive to a little bed in breakfast in a small hill town north of Rome. Well we were in line for the rental car agency when I forgot about the passports. When you check into a hotel in Europe you have to give them your passport and when you check out you get them back. The guy at the hotel in Sorrento never gave us our passports back. Mental head slap, this is like breaking the Nazi study abroad orientation leaders cardinal rule…”always have your passport on you”.
We made it! The house I was born in
So after what seemed a giant production Francisco arranged to get us the passports and leave them at the car rental agency when we returned the car. I don’t think I have mentioned it but now seems like a good time so you can understand the craziness of this situation but Mom and I do not have a working cell phone over here, all of our phone conversation back and forth to the different hotels and my god parents we had to ask someone to borrow their phone.

We get our rental car and transfer our entire luggage in. It’s a little Fiat, think European version of a Smart Car and more importantly it’s a manual. I look over at Mom; “I didn’t even know they made manual cars anymore. When is the last time you drove a stick?” Her reply “its been about twenty years”. Shit and it showed too, she tried to put the car in reverse to back out of the spot. No such luck, our car leaps forward. She tries again, still no luck. Shit. Then finally after the fifth or sixth try she flags down a young guy “excuse senior, reverse?” Yes we actually had to ask a guy how to get the car in reverse. If this wasn’t a sign we didn’t have business driving a car in Italy I don’t know what is. At this point I was mentally kicking myself thinking I should have gone into the little church back into Sorrento and lit a candle and said a prayer. 
Watch out!
 We had a three-hour drive to a little down North of Rome were we would be staying at for the next two days. The travel agent recommend this place saying it was like an Italian bed and breakfast. Mom and I interpreted that to mean “rustic”. Miraculously we managed to get onto the highway.  At this point I figured it would be best for my mental health to adopt my policy of “ignorance is bliss” so I closed my eyes, said a prayer then preceded to go to sleep. 

Mom woke me up when it was time to get off the autostrada, which is a highway with basically no speed limit to help navigate (navaguess?) to the hotel. The directions called for us to get off at an exit that was simple put in the middle of nowhere. If you looked up into the mountains and weren’t blinded by the sun you could vaguely make out a small village way up in the clouds. That had to be it. We succeeded in our first test of actually making it up the mountain; I would like to credit it on my great navigating skills and ability to read Italian. When we arrived this little village was empty, seriously it was a ghost town. The streets were cobblestone, extremely old and extremely narrow. So narrow that only one car could pass at a time and you had to turn off the cars AC and pull in the side mirrors. We got to the hotel and nobody was there, as in door and windows closed and not answering the phone closed. Mom quickly made the executive decision we would not be staying here. We got back in the car and drove to the next big town over.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 3 Pompei June 26, 2011

Okay I have to admit; I was secretly supper excided about going to Pompei. I blame my nerdy obsession with Pompei on my high school Latin teacher Ms. Moshos. Whenever we had a substitute teacher in her class, which wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, we would watch videos on Pompei. Ms. Moshos showed some real gems. My favorite was the bootlegged recorded PBS-made-for-TV documentary on a VCR tape. You know the grainy 1980ish videos where the person in the front of the class was in charged of fast forwarding through all the commercials? By my second year in Latin I discovered if I ask Ms. Moshos any general question on Pompei, I could get her started on a tangent that would last the entire class thus delaying any quiz or test that was scheduled for the day. It was a tactic that served me well up until my last year in Latin and one that I proudly passed down to future Latin scholars. 

So after years of sitting through those movies I had to be somewhat excited to see the real thing. We took the ghetto subway to the Pompei runes sight and met our guide for a private tour. After over two hours of this tour I began to feel like this man would be total husband material for my former Latin teacher. He was really smart and knowledgeable about everything don’t get me wrong but boy did he talk a lot. I mean there are only some many ruins of accident houses a girl can take. He did take us to the “red light” district of Pompei that was pretty funny. We went into a house that had twenty different bedrooms and above each bedroom door there was a scene painted above that told the prospective customers what they would be umm for lack of better words, “getting”. The picture below shows a man dressed as a woman.
Is a caption even necessary?
View from the hotel

Hanging out in Pompei
 After a whole day of trekking around ruins we got back to the hotel and I had a sudden burst of energy. To my surprise our hotel had a “gym”, which is pretty rare in Italy. I say “gym” because it was a set of free weights with a treadmill in a room with a computer and a TV so nothing too fancy. I wish I had taken a picture of the room because it was so cool. It had marble floors with little intricate painted designs and glass walls so you could see the rock and the hillside the hotel was built in.

That night we went down into the town for dinner and my darling mother wanted to return a purse that she bought last year that broke. I don’t mean like return a purse to a department store; this was a little hole in the wall local shop. At night in Sorrento they close the main street off and people can just walk around like a giant town square. Continuing our post dinner gelato routine Mom and I found a little nook off the main drag to get our nightly fix. Coming out of the shop with Gelato in hand I started shouting “Mom, this is delici…” but the entire street was quiet. An old Italian lady gave me a nasty look as she was rubbing her crucifix between her thumb and index finger. In the street there were a two rows of nuns. They were covered in grey and singing (or was it chanting?) just walking down the street. People were lined up on the sidewalks as priests, monks, followed the nuns and finally a middle age man wearing a sash the colors of the Italian flag who I assumed was the mayor of Sorrento. The different groups of monks and nuns with their unique dress reminded me of the different branches of the military and how they two have their own distinguishing uniforms. The entire parade was a spectacle to say the least. As I was about to get my camera out the scary old Itlitan lady next to me started making murmuring sounds underneath her breath so I nixed that idea.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 2: Amalfi Coast Tour

So jet lagged. Today we woke up at 7 am, so really its 1 am back in the States. I know I should stop thinking like that if I ever want to get on Italian time! On today’s itinerary we had a private car tour of the Amalfi coast. Our driver was pretty much your stereotypical Italian middle age man named Francisco. Think slicked back salt and pepper hair starting to bald, form fitting black Italian suit, white dress shirt with the top three buttons undone and some chest hair poking out… I think you get the picture. Anyways lucky for us Francisco’s English was decent, but after five minutes in the car I started to realize he said the phrase “Ya know” a lot. Then I started to listen closer and keep track of how many times he dropped the phrase. I was up to 13 in the first minute then I lost track. I mean after everything… “How was your lunch? Ya know?” “And to the left is a first class hotel. Ya know...”  “Great position… Ya know?”  So needless to say the phrase “ya know” has been our little joke.
Houses built into the hill

Cute little beach town I can't remember the name


We left Sorrento and stopped at a couple of little beach towns. In a strange way it reminded me of a less trashy version of Jersey Shore. There were lots of young Italians walking around on the beach. Mom asked Francisco if we could go to a little town outside of the tour area called Vetri. For those who aren’t familiar there is a pottery company whose name sake is this little town and apparently they are big in the US. Mom went a little crazy with the pottery getting some ridiculous number of plates. Personally I don’t know why, the design just look like some kindergarten painted a chicken but that’s just me. However in her defense she got this pattern when she lived in Italy 20 years ago and some of her plates have chipped so she wanted to replace them. Below are some pictures, eventually I will upload all my pictures to flicker but until then…
We are gonna be here for awhile

In her element...

Ready to go

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 1: Flying into Rome and Getting to Sorrento

Well we made it. It’s so strange to think I started the day in Virginia and now I am half way across the globe in Italy! Mom and I had a 6pm flight out of Dulles so we had to leave home at 3pm. Flying out in the afternoon is awesome I could sleep in, run errands and get a good workout in before having to leave. The flight itself was around 8 hours, easily the longest plane ride I have ever been on. Of course there was a crying baby sitting in front of me, but I was as Sandra puts it “Good night Irene.” Lights out.  Pretty sweet, next thing I know I wake up and we are in Rome. I was a little disappointed though. I was so prepared for the flight and totally accounted for my short attention span… DVD. check. Books. Check. Magazine. Check. I don’t even think I opened my backpack once.

After we landed, exchanged money (don’t ever do it right when you get off the plane the exchange fees were insanely high) we had to clear customs. Just fyi, customs in Italy consist of showing your passport smiling to the agent and getting a stamp. Stark contrast to experience I had crossing over the boarder from Mexico to California, with a US military ID I might add. After we got out luggage without incident we then had to take a taxi to the train station in Rome so we could catch a train to Naples. Driving in Rome Italy is an adventure to say the least. To simply sum it up, there are no traffic rules. No speed limits and most importantly, or most frightening, there are no lanes. If you can see empty space, wither in front, side or behind you there will soon be a car or motorcycle there.

Mom looking out the room's window
The train ride was uneventful. I fell asleep and my mother who did not sleep on the plane and was going on like her 29 hour without sleep was miraculously still a functioning human being. We got to Naples then had to take a smaller local train like the metro in Washington DC or the Boston “T” to our hotel in Sorreinto. That train ride I stayed awake for. I had to it, I was pretty sure if I fell asleep I would get robbed. Outside of the train graffiti was sprayed everywhere, inside it was hot crowded with a stench that was a mixture of sweat, body odor, cigarettes and strong perfume. Finally after a 45 minute train ride, and a 10 minute bus ride we made it to our hotel. 

View from our room...Note to self Don't Ever Look Down.
 Literally the hotel was built into the mountain side, lots of stairs but all worth it for a just jaw dropping view of Mt. Vesuvus, the harbor and the little beach area below the cliffs.

Mom took this picture apparently I was to busy (see above). Bambinos playing/ killing birds.
 I tried to take a nap but the energizer bunny… I mean mom was still going. We went out into the town of Sorrento and walked around all around the shops. Sorrento is famous for its giant lemons, which they put to good use and make lemmoncheoo. Anything that could be made with lemons… candy, chocolate, candles you name it you can find in Sorrento.

Shoes anyone? They actually made custom sandals for you in 5mins!

The restaurant was called Buffalo Inn so naturally had to do the "Buffalo"
 We found a great little restaurant that specialized cooking with Buffalo meat and cheese. Yes, like actual water buffalo. I thought they were dead but silly American minded me apparently they are alive and kick in Italy, and the taste delicious. That is all for no. Day One is in the books! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guess Whose Back? (Back Again)

Hello, I have decided to start blogging again. Believe it or not I am actually in Italy right now getting ready to study abroad for a month in Perguia. Mom and I came over six days before I am supposed to meet up with my study abroad group. I have been keeping a word doc journal since I have arrived so that a) I can keep track of everything that happened and b) so my friends and family, well mostly just Hotty Toddy Sister can stop bugging to write again. Finally in Rome our last stop I have had time and a decent Internet connection in that I can actually update the blog so these posts are going to be back dated.

First let me just explain that before I came to Italy the University back home made all students who were studying abroad attend an orientation session. Coming into the orientation session I was pretty excited about spending a month in a foreign country. I had this romantic moviesque picture painted in my head. My expectations consisted of driving a Vespa scooter through the old cobblestone Perguian (?) streets, tooting a bottle of red wine with my scarf flapping in the wind and underneath my helmet my hair would fall perfectly not a strand out of place …  ahhh a girl can dream. The lady leading the orientation session completely erased all those dreams. Instead she painted a colorful picture of angry spiteful custom agents who searched through every nook and cranny in your suitcase looking for contraband, locals who despised Americans and would have you arrested, thrown in jail just for looking at them cross eyed. If of course you survived and you were not incarcerated, brutally tortured or killed (which would leave your parents with a bill of over $200,000 to ship your remains back to the states, just one of the many interesting tidbits we learned) you were destined to have an “amazing experience”. 

Not the best way to experience Italy
 O and I don't know if anybody is keeping up with the whole Amanda Knox story (American girl who was in Italy studying abroad and was convicted of murdering another study abroad girl), well that all went down in Perguia. Yes the same city that I am headed to study abroad at. Freaky huh? So know everybody is really cracking jokes about getting arrested.