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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Glad to be "Home"

What a trip! I love these extended weekends, but unfortunately, with the amount of money I’ve spent this weekend, I’m only going to be planning one more trip. Venice! Let’s start with Thursday.

THURSDAY: We started the day in Rome at the Vatican Museum. When we got there, we ended up waiting in the sun along the walls of Vatican City for probably about an hour and half. Sadly, in the sun, this feels like 4-5 hours. We didn’t get tickets ahead of time because it would have cost about 10 euro per ticket each. I thought this was a decent price to pay instead of melting away in the sun. Of course, just like in Atlanta, there were street vendors selling parasols, scarves, and fans. I shelled out a euro for the fan. Anything to keep the heat from sticking!! The professors were kind enough to buy everyone a bottle of water. That helped too.

As we are slowly creeping our way up to the entrance, a little old lady dressed in the scummiest clothes she probably had made her way against traffic with a little tray begging for money. Part of me felt for the woman, but then the other part of me thought back to all the pan-handlers around Temple Square that make a serious living off of tourists. She decided to lie down on the ground while shaking her little tray. Everyone started taking pictures of her. I did because I noticed her awesome Power Rangers backpack. I wonder where that came from.

We eventually made our way into the museum. It was pretty fantastic! Much like the Uffizi, there were paintings everywhere! Starting from early Medieval and through the Renaissance and into the early Mannerist period. We were able to take pictures without flash and I took advantage as much as I could! There’s a couple that I particularly loved that I wish I had taken a picture of the name plate. I’ll need to figure out who they’re by so I can write my journal entries for class on them.

It took us about 2 hours or so to make it through the Vatican Museum. Up next – Sistine Chapel!! The rush to that was crazy. We had to go up stairs and then down stairs and then up some more. We breezed through more rooms of art. When we finally made it, luckily the a/c was kicked on pretty high. Despite the amount of people in there, you could definitely feel it! The Sistine has a “no pictures” policy, but with a little bit of creative handling, it can still be done. I kept my camera down and just pointed up. Twenty pictures later, I ended up with about six that you can actually see. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one of “The Creation”. Polizia were walking around yelling “NO FOTO” and “SILENCIO” to people that were too loud and way too obvious with their camera. But the place is AMAZING! You can literally spend hours just sitting there looking at all the amazing artwork! My favorite part of Rome, by far!!

From the Sistine, we made our way to St. Peter’s. At this point, we had about 20 minutes to peruse through the church and make our way back to the meeting point. I felt like I was in Angels & Demons as I was walking around the square! I stopped at the Vatican Post Office and sent a couple postcards. Their stamps have the Pope’s face which I find hysterical.

After we got everyone huddled together, the group of us that were heading to Pompeii made our way to the Metro station. It’s a lot like Marta. It was a MADHOUSE! And the craziness was only just beginning. I don’t know how, but all of us managed to make it onto the train that was going to take us to Termini, the Rome train station (big train). From there it was another mess. Most of us had our book bags on our fronts because stations are pretty skeezy. I think the professors have definitely made us paranoid to that! The train stations are pretty hectic. You know what train your on and when it’s supposed to arrive, but you don’t know which track until about 15 minutes before it leaves! Unless you know the final destination city of the train and what kind of train. Then you can look up on this MASSIVE list of all departing trains and figure it out. (This comes in handy later in the story).

We finally board our train and finding your seat with about 30 people in our group was another nightmare. The seats weren’t all clumped together. They were spread out. I managed to weasel my way into the professors’ area so all six seats were ours. It didn’t really matter much because by the time we got seated, I was out until about 30 minutes before Naples. The train ride wasn’t that bad. But going through the tunnels killed the pressure in my ears worse than a plane!

We made it down to Naples in about 2 ½ hours. From there we had to ride the Circumvesuvium (Marta, but on the south side of Atlanta) down to Sorrento. We were the last stop. It took us a little over an hour to get there. Riding through each station was getting me a little worried. The places in the city where they had the stations were a little scary, but once we got to Sorrento, it was like a totally different area! Everything was so pretty and the downtown area was amazing! All the stores were lit up, there were people everywhere, and you could feel the breeze coming off of the bay. By the time we got to this spot, our group had split up to just six of us. Bartlett, Scott, Kayla, Ellie, Prof. Bowers and me. We lost Bowers at her hotel which was just off of the main Piazza in downtown. The rest of us were all staying at the same hostel just past downtown.

We walked into the lobby and wow. Apparently this was a deluxe hostel, which makes all the difference! We checked in and made our way to our rooms. Us girls were in the room Scott had booked and the guys were in Bartlett’s. The rooms were incredible. I stayed in the main room with a huge bed and bathroom all to myself! Ellie and Kayla shared the room with two twin beds and the bathroom. The shower/bath was huge compared to the one in Monte and there was A/C!! HALLELUIAH!! We tried to freshen up a bit before meeting Scott and Bartlett for dinner, but it took us about 20 minutes just to figure out how to keep the lights on (have to keep the key in) we didn’t really have a lot of time to. I sponge-bathed it and washed my face. It wasn’t incredibly clean, but it worked.

We ate a restaurant that translated to “The Phoenix”. I don’t remember what it was called in Italian. Bartlett was excited about the fish, which I’m not a huge fan of. I did try gnocci for the first time which is a potato and sauce thingy. It’s really hard to explain what it is, but it doesn’t take like potato and I recommend everyone to try it! It really tastes like pasta. Scott, Ellie, and Bartlett tried the calamari. Much to my dad’s dismay, I didn’t. It looks icky. That’s my main reason! I did get a pretty awesome picture of Ellie eating it. For dinner I had pasta with chicken and shrimp. I didn’t imagine the plate to be that full, but when it came out, it was covered in pasta! I felt so bad leaving ½ of untouched, but another bite would have made me explode.

After dinner we headed on the street to find a bar the guys could get a drink at. Sorrento is apparently the birth place for Limoncello (probably didn’t spell that right), kind of a vodka with lemon. Scott also wanted to try Crème de limone, creamier vodka with lemon. We found a cute little place that was a restaurant/gelatoria/bar. The gelato is fantastic! It’s become a daily part of my appetite! It was really cool hanging out with Bartlett in a way more relaxed setting. But I’m afraid this means he may be a little harder on us so people don’t think he’s favoring us. Either way, it was a good time. We spent about an hour there and made our way back to the hostel for bed. Oh bed!! I talked to Holly and Juan before passing out, which I was so glad to do!!

FRIDAY: I woke up and forgot where I was. Sleeping on that bed, with the A/C on full blast, made me feel like I was back home in Georgia. The stiffness was like my own bed and I scrounged up as many pillows I could find. It was heavenly! And much needed!!

We woke up super early to catch the Circumvesuvium to Pompeii with Bartlett. After that amazing sleep, I thought I was ready for anything. We waited out in front of the gates for the rest of our crew to join us. While out there, we managed to befriend two dogs that were part of an adoption program that volunteers in Pompeii helped run. One of them looked like little Oscar. He followed us around everywhere and it just made me melt. I wanted to see the little animals at home so bad! We also tried fresh squeezed orange juice. Just a little explanation about the fruit here. A lemon in the States fits in the palm of your hand. A lemon here is larger than a softball. No lie. The oranges are the same. This orange juice was amazing. It was like drinking liquefied oranges, if that makes any sense. It was perfect! And I didn’t mind the pulp!!

8:30 rolled around and the gates opened up. We made our way into the excavation site and began our walk through history. WOW. What a sight! With Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background of the city, it was such an experience to walk through what was left of the once prosperous city. What was even more amazing was trying to imagine that at one point, everything we were standing in was completely covered with volcanic ash and ground. We walked into houses and shops and the stadium. There were still mosaics on the floors and frescoes on the walls. We even found the local brothel which had some pretty scandalous pictures drawn. A menu of services, so to speak.

Everything was absolutely incredible. But as the day wore on and the heat grew, my patience withered away. I was getting tired, hot and cranky. After about four hours of walking into house after house after house, I was so ready to go. Kayla and Ellie were feeling the same. We decided that we wouldn’t join the rest of the group at Herculaneum, another area with ruins. We were going back to the hostel for some much needed R&R. We spent about six hours at Pompeii and didn’t see nearly all of it. It’s definitely a more than one day sort of place. It is incredible, but we got burned out fast.

We headed back to the Circumvesuvium with the group, but we parted ways there. They went farther up the track (Pompeii is half way between Sorrento and Naples, Herculaneum is between Pompeii and Naples) while we headed back down to Sorrento. We made out hike back through the city to the hostel and relaxed for the next several hours. I took a warm bath and laid there for about an hour. It felt incredible. Then I showered for about another hour. I did not want to get out! But when I did, I was greeted with a wonderful surprise. As I was drying my shoulders and back, I noticed red. I was fried after spending 7 hours in the sun. No bene. Either way though, the bath/shower was so relaxing. I managed to get a little bit of a nap before meeting up with everyone for dinner.

We met everyone around 8:30 for dinner. We found out that they ended up spending about three hours at Herculaneum. I was pretty glad we didn’t go at that point! We ate at this restaurant overlooking the bay. We saw “American Bar” and “Foreigner’s Club” and thought it was perfect! It was actually pretty good. I had Ravioli de Caprese and LOVED it. The girls and I sat down at the end that Bartlett was at. He is so much more relaxed when not in class. But tonight he was also sun-drunk. He was laughing and joking around and we manage to come up with a book that I’m going to write about the scandalous affair of the Pope and his laundry nuns. Yes, pluralized nun. Hahaha! Dinner was a good time.

After dinner, we made our way back to the hostel but stopped at the bar again. This time two students were with us, Abby and Nathan. I again, got delicious gelato! Bartlett was sitting on a tall bar chair spinning around. I’m pretty sure that was pre-alcohol! It was just so fun hanging out. We didn’t stay too long and made our way to hostel. Sleep felt so good! I managed to get about six hours, but we still had a very early morning.

SATURDAY: We are coming to a close on the trip to Pompeii, but not without some more stressful traveling. Scott arranged for a car to pick us up to take us the hour or so drive to Paestum instead of going by train. He drove us along the bay, which made me car sick. Every road here is crazy curves and not good for someone who gets car sick. I slept most of the way, but woke up a couple times when he stopped for us to take pictures of the bay. It was breath-taking!! You could see cruise ships pulling into the harbor. I would have loved to be down there!

We finally made it to Paestum with a much smaller group of us. But it was still worth it. It’s a much older city than Pompeii, so there really aren’t a lot of ruins left, but of what we did see, it was still pretty incredible. And Bartlett was a little more relaxed. He bought a book and at the major parts would try to decipher what it was trying to say. Most of the book was based on speculation: lots of could be, possibly, may have been. It made our little history lessons a bit more interesting! It was very cool to see the underwater labyrinth that they had built. We got to walk along the top of it. The whole thing took us a couple hours.

Paestum was done and so was our trip. Our last stop before the train station was to a mozzarella shop. Our driver got us into the back where we could see how they made it. It was SOO cool! We had a little bit of lunch and then headed out. We got to the train station pretty early. About 4 hours before our train. Scott managed to get us onto a much earlier train at 4:50, but it changed about. Our original train was at 7:50 from Naples to Chiusi. From Chiusi, we would then have to take a cab (it would have been too late for a bus) back to Monte. We would get in around 1-2 am. Instead, we got on a 4:50 train to Rome which ended up being an updated EuroStar train. They are MUCH faster. It took about an hour and ten minutes. From Rome we had to figure out what track our train to Chiusi would be on. It was a much slower, regional train. It stopped at every freaking stop, taking about two hours. From Chiusi we had to wait about 40 minutes for the bus. The whole point of the earlier train was to make it in time to get a bus out and not have to take a cab. Unfortunately while waiting, we were attacked by mosquitoes. No bene. I was eaten alive! Luckily the sunburn already started to tan over, otherwise, burn and bites would SUCK!

So we made it back to Monte around 10:15. Our stop was at the station at the bottom of the city, so we still had to hike. We were so freaking hungry, we walked in, dropped off our stuff and managed to make it to a restaurant just before they closed. We kind of felt bad for being the last ones, but we were easily and tipped pretty well.

All in all, the trip was very fun, but not cheap! At the end of it, I managed to spend about 290 euro (with the car and hostel as well). That’s about $340. Not cheap! Venice will be my only other trip and the girls I’m going with are looking at pretty cheap places. I’m very excited about that one! Next weekend, my roomies and I are planning a weekend at home. We do plan on doing a day trip to the lake, possibly on Friday. Luckily, after the last week (since we’ve been here), we got back to Monte a day early so we have Sunday to relax!!

Until next time! ¡Ciao!

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