A Travellerspoint blog

28 July 2015

Amsterdam

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I was really looking forward to Amsterdam; several friends that have been there absolutely love it, and a book I'd just read had some scenes in an Amsterdam art museum that I'd like to see. On this particular day trip I was joined by one of my fellow students. (I don't have permission to use his name, and he's not in any photos, so I am not naming him. I will say, however, that we both had very sore feet on this day, but really wanted to see Amsterdam, so we were being kind of stubborn. :D) Remember, it's a day trip, so if you want to see wild photos of the Red Light District, this isn't the blog post you're looking for.

As usual, it was an early departure. We dozed our way out of Germany and into Netherlands, stepping out of the Amsterdam train station into a cold, drippy day. Already tired and in some pain with these shoes, my "I'm here!" selfie kinda says it all:

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It is a beautiful train station, though. The face on the left tower is a weather vane, and the face on the right tower is a clock.
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Dam Square is the founding spot of the city, where the original dam of the Amstel River was constructed around 1250. Amstel-dam, get it? Along Dam Square, we find:

...at one end, the Royal Palace, with its classic architecture and appropriately sea-faring motif (not used as a residence, but the King occasionally receives guests here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willem-Alexander_of_the_Netherlands)...
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...at the other end, the National Monument, remembering 100,000 deported Jewish Amsterdam residents and thousands of others who died during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, 1940-45 (look closely; the reliefs are pretty graphic)...
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...and in the middle of the square, some Dam Good Coffee. Between the weather and the coffee, I was really beginning to feel like I'd been transported back home to Seattle!
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We wandered all over town!

The canals were beautiful, even in the gloom...
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...and even when a stone man is staring at you through the bridge's side. I thought of him as a protective troll, but I honestly don't know the story.
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Anne Frank's house had WAY too long of a line, so we just took a photo near a statue of her.
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We stopped for a quiet moment at the Homomonument, a large triangle of pink granite, made up of three smaller triangles. Each of the three are a different height, and point to a specific, symbolic location. This photo is of one of the triangles, with steps leading to a canal. Note the flowers.
http://www.european-architecture.info/HOLLAND/AMS-S07.htm
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We didn't stop at the Tulip Museum...
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...but we did stop next door, at the Cheese Museum, where I just had to snap a photo of this jeweled cheese slicer, mounted on a rotating velvet pedestal behind thick glass.
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I felt a little weird taking a photo of someone's front door, but I really wanted to get a shot of the mail slot. See the sticker with the word "NEE" on the left and right ends? That means that the residents of both homes behind this door refuse junk mail. If one resident accepted junk mail, the word would be "JA." America, take note!
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We found a "hidden" Catholic church, dating from the 16th century, when Catholicism was outlawed in Amsterdam. It's behind this low-key door on a pedestrian street.
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A little further down that pedestrian street, and down this "alley" is the Amsterdam Museum, explaining the history of the city. It's located in a former orphanage, and is quite a maze. We spent a fair amount of time here; by the time we left, I was in such pain that I had removed my shoes and was limping around bare-footed. Anyway... this is the entrance, sporting the XXX symbol that is seen all over the city. No, it's not naughty, it's part of the city's coat of arms. They're called St. Andrew's Crosses; St. Andrew was a fisherman, Amsterdam is a fishing city, makes sense. Exactly why there are three is debated.
(More info here: http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/about-amsterdam/history-and-society/city-symbols)
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Rembrandt lived and died in Amsterdam... he's buried in the big church near the Anne Frank house (which also had REALLY long lines we weren't about to wait in). His statue stands proudly in Rembrandtplein, where children play, musicians perform, and people are generally happy.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandtplein
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We did see a few "coffeehouses," but we didn't go inside. If you're asking, "Why the quotation marks?" all I can advise is to Google it.
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As we trudged on sore feet back to the train station, this building caught my eye. I learned later that it is the oldest secular building in Amsterdam, and has quite a history: http://waag.org/en/de-waag-building
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The clouds were just starting to break up as we made our way back to the train station, visible on the right side of this panoramic shot.
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It was a short, painful, wet day. I would love to come back for a more comfortable experience!

Posted by OhMissLia 14:38 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam netherlands summer_2015 28_july Comments (0)

18 July 2015

Cologne (Köln)

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!!!

This Saturday was our first outing as a group, with all of the students of the Fort Hays State University English Department's 2015 Summer Study Abroad program. After lunch...

Again, I tried the local brew. Verdict? I didn't care for it... too much like American beer.
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...we headed to an archaeological site that includes a huge Roman praetorium and a tour through Roman sewers.
http://www.museenkoeln.de/archaeologische-zone/default.asp?lang=2&schrift=

I snapped a few photos like this for my oldest son to play with--he's had three years of Latin. :)
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The Praetorium, residence of the Imperial Governor of lower Germania. It's hard to perceive the actual scope of this building from this perspective. The "room" we stand in houses only the very bottom portion; the original building was constructed around the first century, with the "step" in the front wall indicating where the ground level was at that time. The columns in the back are from later, fourth-century construction, and are only the very bottom of the columns. (Visit the website for aerial shots that give a better idea of perspective.) This building met its end from a huge earthquake in the eighth century, and suffered further damage in World War II. As you walk around this giant "room," you can see cracks and damage from both events.
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Moss/mold/mildew/gunk from the old Roman sewer. I didn't get any better photos because I was busy staying focused on repeating my mantra of "You're not trapped down here, you're not trapped down here, you're not trapped..."
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Most of the day--as, indeed, the city itself--centered around the incredible Cathedral. It took over 600 years to build and is so massive, with so many Gothic architectural elements that it is constantly being "cleaned." The scaffolding on it just revolves around and around, doing its thing... by the time the building has been completely cleaned and maintained, it's time to start all over.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral

At one point, Kay and Traci and I decided to visit the belfry. It was only a few euros, and the views should be great, so why not? What we didn't fully realize was that it was a 328' climb to the top--most of it a nonstop trek up a thin, winding, medieval stairway that was originally intended for no more than a couple of monks going about their business but now has to accommodate hundreds of stinky people going up AND down.

Kay needed a faster pace, so she went ahead. I plodded on while Traci kept pace with me. We eventually made it to the belfry and paused for this photo in front of St. Petersglocke, the largest free-standing bell in the world.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Petersglocke

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Little did we know that we weren't done yet. We went back into the graffiti-covered stairwell for more climbing, occasionally blindly taking a shot out of one of the open windows.

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When we reached this room--blissfully furnished with benches along the wall--we hoped we were done. Then we realized that the metal monstrosity in the middle of the rotunda was actually... more stairs!

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Calves and quads screaming (mine were, anyway), we finally made it to the top--100 meters up. That's 328 feet of very vertical climbing to be rewarded with these views of Cologne's Colonius Tower, the Rhine river, and the cityscape:

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My legs were shaking for the rest of the day! Did I mention my sandals had heels?
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This is a shot straight up, through the mesh "ceiling"... my attempt to show how close we were to the top, but I don't think I succeeded. I was too weak in the knees to stand firm against the riptide of tourists long enough to frame a decent shot.
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Here's a better perspective. We climbed to the equivalent of the top of the scaffolding box.
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Cologne was heavily bombed during World War II; the Cathedral took fourteen hits, but its spires remained standing. This article has some incredible photos: http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/cologne-cathedral-stands-tall-amidst-ruins-city-allied-bombings-1944/

At its base are city squares; on this beautiful summer Saturday, they were full of people. We saw several bachelor/bachelorette groups--in Germany, this means seeing a group of people dressed in bizarre costumes and doing strange things.

Blog post with good explanation of this tradition: http://blog.young-germany.de/2010/02/something-borrowed-something-blue/
Funny photos of this tradition: https://www.google.com/search?q=german+bachelor+or+bachelorette+party+traditions&biw=1366&bih=681&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0CAgQ_AUoA2oVChMIxLTvhN_RxwIVhzqICh1J8wfi

And, of course (you knew this was coming) there were musicians in the squares. This guy remains one of my favorites from the entire trip; in my mind, I've named him The Happy Piper. (I really want to write this book!)

The climb in the cathedral took much longer than we thought, and by the time we came back down, it was well past time to go; we went straight back to the hauptbahnhof, and headed back to Essen. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 13:03 Archived in Germany Tagged germany köln cologne summer_2015 18_july Comments (0)

Post Mortem

Summing it all up


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I'm not sure how to wrap up this series of posts, or how to describe the entire 23 days in a simple "elevator speech." I can say for sure that, as much as I adore travelling, three weeks is always the point at which I need a break. I've noticed this before--whether I am away for school, away for work, away with my kids or without them, three weeks is when I always seem to reach that point of, "I think I could be done now." And right on cue, I reached that point the day before I left Europe. I was tired and footsore, and tired of being tired and footsore. I still had stars in my eyes ("Seriously? That's really Mount Vesuvius outside my window??") but I needed to rest. I wrote this on my last evening, even while Vesuvius quietly looked over my shoulder:

I am tired of sweat-stung eyes, sweat-slicked skin, and frizzy hair. My toes are hamburger. I am tired of being panhandled and hawked at. I am tired of washing my underwear in the sink. I am tired of having to work hard to make myself understood--although very tickled that my ability to learn a new language doesn't appear to be as dead as I had thought. I am tired of big cities--the grime that I always feel coated with, the unmistakable city-stench wafting up from underground, and the oppressive feeling of having nowhere to hide from all this humanity.

I need a break. I need consistent access to my computer or my journal, to get all of this sensory input into something coherent and meaningful; or at least someone to talk with about it. It’s been the trip of a lifetime, a life-changing experience, a dream come true, etc... all of the clichés apply here. But I am ready to be home now, at least for a little while.

I had intended to go on to note that everything I was "tired of" had nothing to do with where I was but everything to do with being in any city and with travelling in general; but I was exhausted. I just went to bed, and the next day was full of packing and leaving.

A "post mortem" should sum everything up and point out highlights, but how to choose? This entire series of post is an attempt to convey only highlights, because there is no way to express details. So much was left out, so many people I met and re-met that I didn't really mention here (because I don't like to talk about people publicly in personal venues), but they were all a part of this experience, all made an impact. But if I must pick and choose, here is today's list of highlights, which tends to focus on locations. Tomorrow's would be different, and next week's would be different still.

  • Discovering Bavaria: Its beirgärten, its immortalized "sky," its palaces, its lovely people. Old friends and new ones. <3

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  • Salzburg: Mozart balls! And an amazing fortress.

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  • The Middle Rhine: Castles and vineyards everywhere you look. Ignored reminders of too many wars. Ancient pathways, over land and river.

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  • Berlin: Coming to understand how a city of such turmoil--things that happened within my own lifetime--comes to grip with things and carries on, turning turmoil to beauty and even laughter--and how this has to be done over and over again, because such is the meaning of being human.

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  • Rome: Perceiving, for just a moment, the meaning and impact of the Eternal City, almost physically, and knowing it is but a mere glimpse of her significance.

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  • Herculaneum and Pompei: Tasting the life of an "everyday Roman" and being awed that this is even possible, two thousand years later.

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I have always been one to travel, whenever possible. This trip fulfilled many lifelong desires, and fueled many more. I want more! More of what I've seen--to take a deeper look, to show my sons--and more of what I haven't seen. More understanding of humanity and history and more of the feeling of awe and incredulity and belonging that comes with it. But first, I need to rest.

Posted by OhMissLia 11:37 Archived in USA Tagged usa summer_2015 Comments (0)

3 August 2015

Ercolano, Pompei, Sorrento

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Woohoo and boohoo, my final full day in Europe! Today's agenda: visit Herculaneum and Pompeii, then spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening in Sorrento, enjoying a good dinner before catching a hydrofoil "water taxi" through the Bay of Naples--hopefully getting some shots of the Isle of Capri along the way. (As always, more photos from this day are available at Flickr.com, username OhMissLia.)

First stop: Herculaneum, or, in Italian, Ercolano. Named for, yes, Hercules, this prosperous little coastal town suffered horribly from the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius, roughly five miles to its east-northeast. Rather than its ash cloud, which traveled toward Pompeii, Ercolano was struck primarily by the volcano's pyroclastic flow, resulting in well-preserved remains that include organics like wood and skeletal material.

Standing where water used to be, looking over Herculaneum toward Vesuvius. The row of arches at the lowest level were boat loading areas; the only place where bodies were found, except for the priest at the Temple of Hercules. The theory is that the residents were evacuating when the pyroclastic flow came in at about 100mph. The "bones" here now are fakes; the priest's body is real, but behind a closed gate.
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The best-preserved part of the Temple of Hercules. Some of the floor's tiles remain, and the frescoes are clearly seen. It must have been magnificent in its prime, with gleaming marble and statues everywhere!
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The temple's priest was found in his bed, the only body found within the city--he must have chosen not to evacuate. This is behind a closed gate; our tour guide is one of the excavators, and showed us how to stick our arm through an opening to blindly take a shot.
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Outside a wine shop. The painting is a description of what was being offered that day, with prices, kind of like today's blackboards with the colorful chalky stuff.
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Gutters which took away gray water. Our guide very much wanted us to understand that Roman cities did not have sewage in the streets--solid waste was used for fertilizer and liquid waste was used in laundry for its ammonia.
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The ladies' spa! First, the room where you'd store your stuff, then the bath itself, with marble bench. There's a massage room, too!
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Roman fast food joint. Your food would be served in a lidded pot in these holes, which kept the food hot or cold.
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A panorama of someone's home. The detailed mosaics are just incredible, and there is quite a bit of it visible throughout the site.
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Naturally pink marble. Can you imagine seeing this all over town?
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Okay, that's enough. There are lots more photos, but I can't post them all. They're on Flickr (OhMissLia) but don't have descriptions yet--so if you're wondering "Why did she take a shot of a splash of water on the floor?" just look more closely... you'll probably see the reason. :)

Next stop: Pompeii, or, in its modern spelling, Pompei. Far larger than Ercolano, Pompei was a busy city of 11-16,000, about five miles to the southeast of Vesuvius. The eruption filled in much of the bay; the site of this port city is now 1.25 miles inland. I confess that I hurried through Pompeii--the terrain of both Herculaneum and Pompeii required my wearing the closed-toe shoes that were hurting me so much; plus I was really starting to bake after spending all day in the Italian sun. Pompeii is huge; you could spend all day here and not see it all.

Pompeii's Forum, with Vesuvius in the background. I had to keep reminding myself that it was ONE volcano, not two; I'd mentally make a triangle from the two peaks to get an idea of what it must have looked like prior to 79 A.D.... and then I'd picture all the tourists in togas. :)
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The remains of the Temple of Jupiter.
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Just a cool shot looking down the main drag, with Vesuvius framed by the aqueduct arch.
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The brothel. This fresco, above one of the rooms, is sort of a menu of services available.
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Roman plumbing--a metal pipe! (This is a photo of the ground. That's my left toe on the left side of the shot.) The city had three pipe systems; one for public baths, one for private homes, and one for public fountains. If there was a water shortage, the systems were turned off in that order, ensuring folks had drinking and cooking water as long as possible. Unfortunately, the pipes are made of lead.
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A statue in the courtyard of the House of the Faun, clearly the home of a very wealthy family. The house takes up an entire block, had heated floors, and was decorated with an eye to history; very sophisticated. (The statue is a replica; the original is in the museum in Naples.) My question is... aren't fauns supposed to have goat's legs?
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Roman crosswalk. The streets were regularly flooded (either by Nature or by the public utility guys) so these stones are there to keep you from getting your sandals wet! Note the chariot marks; sizes of chariot axles and crosswalk stone spacing were all standardized. (But contrary to popular belief, are NOT the reason our railroad tracks are the width they are.)
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Roman streetlights. The sidewalks are inlaid with white stones that gleam under a handheld lamp, guiding your way like a row of white cat's eyes.
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Like Herculaneum, Pompeii is still being excavated. The exit from the site brings you right past a work area where more fabulous things are being discovered, dusted off, and appreciated by human eyes for the first time in 2,000 years.
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Final stop: Sorrento. Smaller and less hectic than Naples, it's often the "base" for people visiting the Amalfi Coast, just to the south. I'd heard a lot about this resort town, but I was just as excited about changing out of my uncomfortable shoes!

It was about 4pm when I got off the train. Based on the information I had, the last water taxi to Naples should be leaving sometime around 7-8pm. I wanted to confirm the time frame, then head to the shore to find a seafood place and relax with some good Italian wine. I felt like a freshly-baked calzone; hot and steamy. Visions of cold wine and a breeze off the bay are all that kept me upright.

I wandered around a bit, taking photos and buying souvenirs...

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...until I found the place with the water taxi schedules. And discovered that the last one had just left. I'd walked through the entire town to get here, so in theory, I'd seen everything there was to see without being on the shore. And if I wasn't going to get on a boat, I didn't want to hike all the way down to the shore, because, duh, I'd have to hike all the way back up. So... I was done. I'd reached my limit, I could go no further. I decided to spend my water taxi money at the fancy restaurant next door and an expensive--but air-conditioned--train back to Naples.

It was only 5pm at this point, early for dinner, so when the host (whose attention I had to spend considerable effort to get) told me to sit anywhere I wanted, I did. I chose one of several lovely tables with a water view. After I'd settled in, a waiter came over and asked me to move. He insisted that this table was reserved, and made me move down to a table with no tablecloth. I wondered if "tablecloth" signifies "reserved." There was no other difference between the tables, other than a very slightly obstructed view. Something about this exchange bothered me, but the view was still basically fantastic, so I blew it off. My mistake.

I decided to order linguine with prawns and shrimp freshly caught from the bay below me. I wanted a white wine, so I perused the beverage menu and found something called "grappa" that had both a "bianca" and "rosse" version. Thinking that would be a wine, I ordered a "grappa bianca" with the food, then settled in to write out my postcards while enjoying the view.

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When the food and drink arrived my first thought was, "Jeez, what a tiny wine glass!" I'd expected one of those half-carafe things I'd been getting everywhere else. Then I tasted it... UGH! NOT WINE! Turns out "grappa" is some kind of brandy. It was really strong and not to my taste at all, but I sipped at it until it was gone. (I'm shuddering as I type this weeks later, just remembering.)

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I paid for my food, still getting a strange vibe from the waiter and cashier. Even now, weeks later, I still don't know why. Maybe it was a cultural thing--restaurants in Europe, particularly Italy, don't rush you out the door like they do in the US; leaving you alone as much as possible so you can eat in peace is good service--but I didn't feel like that was the case. I wasn't left alone, and the attention I got had a questioning feeling to it. It felt more personal, but I was so exhausted that I didn't trust my judgment on that. Maybe they just thought it was weird for an American woman to eat alone and sip brandy. :)

After dinner, I had plenty of time before my train left. I took my time walking back through town; mailing my postcards and buying gelato. Sorrento really is a pretty town, but I wasn't getting the friendly vibe that it's famous for--but again, I didn't trust my own judgment, because it was entirely possible that my tired self wasn't being nearly as friendly as I thought I was! I ended up hanging around the train station until my train came... annoying various employees by not knowing which platform to go to (it wasn't on the ticket, nor was there an info board anywhere!) and by daring to sit in a seat not-clearly reserved for patrons of a nearby cafe. It was the first time in three weeks that I felt even faintly frustrated at not being able to read the language around me.

Eventually, my train arrived. It wasn't nearly the "luxury" ride that was promised, but the faint air-conditioning alone was worth the fifteen euros. I dragged myself up to my hotel room, showered, did a little journalling, then said goodnight to Mount Vesuvius and went to bed. The final day of my big adventure had completely worn me out. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 16:10 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sorrento pompeii herculaneum pompei ercolano summer_2015 3_august Comments (0)

2 August 2015

Naples

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The day began with an early morning train out of Roma Termini. I settled into my section alone and pulled out my computer, thrilled to have two hours to work on blog entries and peaceful writing time while the Italian countryside slid past my window. That blissful thought lasted until I’d written one paragraph; then three young ladies slid into the remaining three seats in my section, each with a coffee and wrapped sandwich in hand, and began to chat over their breakfasts. I sighed, put my computer away, and plugged into my audiobook. An hour later, it was quiet. The two girls across from me were lost in their own headphones and the young woman next to me had gone to the restroom when a little girl came down the aisle. Just as she reached my section, she leaned over and vomited all over the aisle, splashing my shoes and lower legs—had my neighbor not chosen that moment to go to the restroom, I probably would have been spared. I sighed, cleaned myself up with the wipes that I carry when I travel, and hoped that I had used up all of my bad luck for the day.

For a while, I thought that I had.

I made it to Naples and dragged my stuff to the hotel I’d booked, thankful that I’d had the foresight to choose one right across from the Centrale train station. I’d anticipated being tired, and I was. I’m sure I made quite a picture, in my lacy white dress, with my purple day bag slung crosswise over my body in one direction and laptop slung crosswise in the other direction, dragging my somewhat uncooperative not-quite-carry-on-sized roller luggage behind me while trying not to limp on sorely abused and vomited-on feet.

As expected, it was too early to check in, so I had “second breakfast” at a sidewalk café then headed to the Archeological Museum of Napoli. I decided to take a taxi to the museum. I thought the taxi ride in Rome had been video game-esque, but that was 8-bit compared to this. In Naples, it’s the pedestrians who are the problem. No one—whether driving or scooting or walking or rolling—pays any attention to crosswalks, crossing lights, lane demarcations, or speed limits. Cars, scooters, motorcycles and walkers whiz around at crazy speeds, paying attention to other people only enough to not hit them. It’s like a live version of Mario Kart. (Later, across from the Centrale train station, I saw someone wheel a person in a wheelchair into the street against the light, right into oncoming traffic—and this is one of the few intersections that actually has a crossing light for pedestrians!)

Anyway, my good-looking cab driver with the bald head didn’t speak English, but after I started chatting with him, managed to communicate some information to me. He pointed out the main thoroughfares, where the shopping district was (laughing when I made a face, surprised to find an American tourist that doesn’t like to shop), and the three castles in Naples. All while managing not to hit anyone before depositing me to the door of the famous museum.

All Italian museums offer free entrance on the first Sunday of each month, so I was waved right in. This museum’s claim to fame is its housing of the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which I intend to visit tomorrow. While I did enjoy myself, there was no air conditioning to provide respite from the 90+ degrees and high humidity, so right now, at the end of the day, that’s mostly what I think of. They tried to provide better ventilation, but when even the locals are wiped out, you know it’s bad. (I can’t imagine what damage the humidity does to the artifacts!!) Here are a few highlights of the Archeological Museum of Napoli:

"Hercules at Rest." This is a Roman 4th-century copy of a Greek 2nd-century B.C. original.
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A tile mosaic from Pompeii.
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Home decor from Pompeii. Yes, these are what you're thinking they are... intended as symbols of fertility and prosperity.
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After the museum, I continued with my original plan: to walk around the city until I didn’t feel like walking anymore. The intention was for today to be a built-in half-day, to rest a bit before my final hectic day and the trek home. So, I walked. Some discoveries:

Piazza Bellini. A small, non-touristy piazza, surrounded by old buildings. I found it haunting: the lonely piazza and the graffiti'd statue, surrounded by humans going about their lives, much as they have here for 2,500 years.
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In the piazza, the city wall built when “Neapolis” was a Greek city, about the 4th century BC.
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A few other sights:

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Statue of Dante.
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After a while, I needed a break. Even in a lacy dress, I was simply too hot to continue. It took a while because most things are closed on Sundays, but I finally found a place to go for something to eat. I ordered a pizza and Gatorade and gulped it down. They even turned on the air conditioning for me. :) When I felt better, I headed back out to discover that I didn’t care to go on. I was tired, and nothing else in my guidebook interested me enough to continue, so I found a cab and went back to the hotel.

I felt so decadent… two cab rides in one day! This cabbie spoke a few more words of English than the other (and had more hair, but was equally good-looking). He talked and conducted business—even filling out paperwork—while managing to avoid the other cars, scooters, and pedestrians that kept popping up like whack-a-moles in front of us. I swear, Italian cab rides are worth the fare just for the thrill.

I checked in, indulging in more decadence—a bellhop! When I got to the room, I was thrilled. There’s a balcony with a view of Mount Vesuvius!

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My back was killing me and my feet have been screaming for a soak for weeks, but alas, there is no bathtub. (I’d asked—not available.) Interestingly, though, there is a bidet. Hmmm.

After a rest, I decided to head out for a pizza and some postcards. Naples is, after all, the birthplace of pizza. I wanted to go to the very famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, but they are closed on Sunday, so I went to the little place I could see from my window: Ristorante Franco. The manager (Franco?) was about my age; I smiled when he walked by and winked with a “Ciao, bella,” while I waited for my pizza cooking in the woodfire stove:

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After I collected my pizza, I wandered off in search of a place to purchase some postcards and stamps, maybe a magnet (I get magnets everywhere I go) and something to drink. Limoncello, I was thinking, if it was available--something I'd been looking forward to sampling. I went off in search of a tabacchi shop (yes, they sell tobacco, but also touristy things like postcards, stamps, and magnets). Just as I was about to give up and go back to the hotel empty-handed, I saw a good prospect and headed inside.

I was greeted by a slightly built, average-looking man in his early to mid-fifties. As I stood there looking around, he gestured at me to put down my pizza box. He did it with such a genial smile that I thought he was suggesting that I set it down and eat it right there; so I smiled, and wandered further into the store, because I wasn’t seeing postcards anywhere. The man came out from behind the counter looking a little frustrated, and gently took the pizza box from my hands and set it onto the counter and smiled. I was confused… was he afraid that I might shoplift something by stashing it in my pizza box? Whatever. I smiled and tried to make conversation—and apologize for whatever transgression I’d committed—by asking him what kind of limoncello he recommended. A lively, smiley, very gesticulated conversation ensued; then the man took a bottle off of the shelf, picked up my pizza box and gestured me to follow as he headed toward the back of the store.

I immediately began looking around—was there a separate room, where are the exits, is there a door to an upstairs apartment? Is this safe? I saw that it was only an open partition separating a small office from the rest of the store, and asked myself, “Well, isn’t this just the kind of ‘cultural experience’ you’ve been hoping for?” Besides, I could totally take this guy if I really had to. So I allowed him—Pasquale was his name—to lay out a picnic for me atop the somewhat messy desk. He brought me utensils to cut the pizza, napkins, and cups for the limoncello, which he poured. All very gentlemanly. He was interrupted once by a customer’s entrance, and when he came back, he sat down next to me… then put his arm around me and kissed my cheek. Repeatedly.

This went beyond my comfort zone, and thankfully, another customer arrived just at the point where I was sure this was way more than the usual number of kisses for any Italian greeting. I hastily packed everything up and went to the front of the store before that customer left. I thanked Pasquale, told him I had to go, accepted the “free” candies he gave me but paid for the limoncello (he overcharged me, but I wasn’t about to squabble), declined his request to return at 8pm, and got the hell outta there.

Maybe I was being overly cautious by Italian standards, but by American standards… well, there’s no way in the world I would have left sight of the front of the store, had we been in the States. So much for my “cultural experience.”

I happily spent the evening in air-conditioning, with my pizza and my limoncello—alone.

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I did sit out on the balcony for a bit, observing the less-chaotic-than-earlier traffic below me, with the moon over Vesuvius in the distance.

Posted by OhMissLia 17:02 Archived in Italy Tagged italy naples summer_2015 2_august Comments (0)

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