David Paparelli's Blog

Matthew 19:26

Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Naples

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I apologize if this blog seems a bit inconsistent in the writing. I wrote this long entry over the course of a few days.

Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Naples. Sounds like a lot to do in ten days and it is. Nick and I have been running around Italy for a week now. I can’t believe that it is almost time for him to go home, which means it is almost time for me to go home. I’ll try and recap our week as best as I can. I have not been able to write until now because we have either been busy experiencing places or moving places. So, to say the least, I have a lot to say. I just hope I can remember it all.

Nick flew into rome early on the thirteenth. I took the train out of Roma Termini to the airport to meet him. Meeting up was uneventful. We took the train back to Termini and settled into our hostel. I knew it was going to be a tough day for Nick, but that was probably an understatement.

He told me that he watched four or five movies on the plane and did not sleep at all. I penciled a nap into our schedule after hearing this. Now there were two things on our schedule. Nap and meet up with Monique and Jason for dinner. Monique and Jason are a couple of my friends from college. They are doing their own backpacking trip (http://moniquegiguere.wordpress.com/) and we happened to be in Rome at the same time. Somehow, we got in contact with each other and were able to plan a dinner. With our day free, me and Nick left the hostel and tried to find some more things to put on the schedule.

Our day turned into aimless walking through Rome. I can’t quite call it completely aimless because we seemed to pick large monuments in the distance and walked towards them. First was one of the many obelisks (each mark the center of their own square in Rome), next was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and finally Il Coliseo. This walk from the main train station to the Coliseum took us past almost everything in the city. We did not stop for much, but once we got to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the top of the huge staircase seemed to call to us.

The Tomb is a giant white monument. A flame burns at the bottom of two stair cases and is guarded throughout the day. The two staircases wrap up the building and pass a statue of a soldier on a horse. They end in a large building that acts as the top. The whole thing is white, which makes the small flame at the bottom and the colorful Italian flag on the outside stand out quite a bit. We walked up a few stairs and lost a lot of water weight to get to the top. The view was not anything spectacular, but the monument itself was pretty cool especially for an ‘unknown’ soldier. Thankfully, we found a route down the monument that kept us out of the sun. Reaching the bottom and looking down the main street, we saw the coliseum and started on our way towards it.

On the way to the Coliseum we stumbled upon the forum and a lot of gladiators trying to take their picture with us. We walked around the coliseum and then walked back to our hostel to check ‘nap’ off our list. One thing we knew after this walk was that we needed a tour of the city. Walking through thousands of years of history and knowing almost none of it is a good indication that it is time to get a tour guide.

It was hard work and took some time but we were able to turn our penciled in nap time into a reality. After some struggle, I woke Nick up and we went to meet Monique and Jason at the central train station. It was great to see some familiar faces and hear about their trip. Their stories made me realize how different it is traveling alone. We had been to the same places and seen a lot of the same things and yet our trips were completely different. Not to say that one is better than the other, just that it is amazing how different traveling alone is. I found this out pretty quickly traveling with my brother and hearing about Monique and Jason’s trip was a good introduction. Dinner went well, as most dinners in Rome do, and the two groups parted ways planning on meeting again for dinner the next day.

As I expected, I woke up before my brother the next day. I went to a tour company, booked a tour, got some money out of an ATM, did my laundry, answered a few emails, and then went back to the room. Nick was still sleeping. I think he was rounding the thirteenth hour of sleep so I figured it was ok to wake him up. He did a stretch, a groan, and settled back into his bed. The same routine I would see for the next ten days. I woke him up again and gave him a little incentive by describing our plan for the day. Surprisingly, telling him we were going on a three hour tour got him out of bed. Well, it was either that or lunch. Either way we were up and out of the hostel.

The tour met at the Piazza Novona in front of the obelisk. Our tour guide was a doctorate of archeology. I don’t think business in the field archeology is booming right now in Rome, which was good because she was an excellent guide. Our first stop on the tour was the Pantheon. This is an incredibly large domed building that was built to worship all of the gods of the Roman Empire at the time. It has since been turned into a church. The dome has a whole in the middle of it that allowed the sun to stream into the building. This created an awesome effect on whatever the light was touching in the building. The problem, I guess, is that when it is raining outside it is raining inside the Pantheon. The tour continued passed the balcony where Muselini made his speeches and then along the same walk me and my brother had taken the day before.

We passed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, went into the Forum, and then into the Coliseum. The Forum was great to be standing in and interesting to look at but it is not much to see. This was the case for me, I know other people could study it for years. I will say that the senate house was impressive and it was surreal walking where Julius Caesar walked and seeing where he was buried. The tour finished in the Coliseum.

The Coliseum was everything I expected it to be. The tour guide gave us an introduction to the stadium, most of which me and my brother already knew, and then ended the tour to let us explore it ourselves. Nick and I walked up to the second floor and looked out on the underground tunnels and the few seats left. We left after soaking in what we wanted to see of The Coliseum and started our walk to the pizza place where we were meeting Monique and Jason.

This Pizza place was supposed to be the best pizza in Rome. In my opinion the name is not even worth mentioning. The waiters were rude and pushy and the pizza was not good enough to compensate. Having now had pizza from Naples, I can say don’t waste your time in Rome on Pizza. Eat other things and then take the hour train ride to Naples for pizza. I promise you it will be worth it. The dinner went much the same way as the night before. Similar enjoyable conversation with a smattering of complaints about the waiting staff. Dinner ended and we said goodbye to Monique and Jason. This long day lead to some good sleep.

I had to get Nick up a little earlier the next day because we had to check out and get on our train to Florence. We got to Florence around dinner time and ate before exploring the town. Both me and my brother loved Florence. It is a beautiful city with a great feel. We took a bike tour of the city to give us an introduction and a few recommendations on what to visit.

The tour went well. The guide was not nearly as professional as the doctor we had in Rome, but how much can you complain about a bike ride through Florence. He did tell us not to bother climbing the Duomo. Instead, we should go to the Baptista just outside. The guide told us the lines are shorter and it is infinitely more beautiful. After looking at the Duomo’s line, we took his advice, walked right into the Baptiste and admired it for the better part of an hour.

Looking up at the dome you can see stories from the bible that read like comic strips. Giant, gold encrusted, comic strips. I describe the dome as a comic strip in the most respectful and adoring way possible. It just happens to be the only thing I can relate it to. In all honesty, this dome and this chapel were full of character and gave a better indication of who the people of Florence were than most things in the city. Sitting in the chapel for so long apparently got us in the mood for a walk because we decided to go to the Piazzale Michelangiolo afterwards.

I’m not sure if Nick thought it was worth the walk, but I certainly did. This Piazzale is up an enormous hill across the Fiume Arno (the river running through Flornece). A few hundred stairs later we reached the top and looked across the river at all of Florence. We could see as far as the villa covered hills surrounding Florence, down to the Duomo and to the walled gardens at the base of the hill. We gave our legs a rest at the top of the hill before heading down and exhausting them again.

From the Piazzale Michelangiolo we went to the Galleria dell Academia where the statue of David is found. The entrance to this building was so unassuming that we had to ask people standing in line if this was the right place. They told us it was and we waited for forty-five minutes to get into the galleria. Once inside there is not too much to see, but when you round the corner and see the David your jaw drops. The statue itself is impressive and when it is lit by natural light streaming in from a dome over head, as it is, you become taken back even more.

Nick loved the statue and I enjoyed watching him observe every single detail from the vanes running down the arms and feet to the curls on its head. I think we both kept asking ourselves how this seventeen foot statue could be carved from one piece of marble that was almost considered junk? We had taken in all we could of the statue and then we quickly walked through the rest of the Museum before leaving to catch a train to Venice.

Venice was the first city I had been to that had turned wandering into a way of life. Nick and I did some research on the city to see what we should do while we were there and it turns out just being there is the the thing to do while you are there. If that does not make sense I can explain a little further. While in venice our guide book recommended that we eat gelato, go for a walk, sit in an outdoor cafe, and go for a gondola ride. As good as a romantic gondola ride with my brother sounded we both agreed it was not necessary. This left us with eating and walking of which we did plenty.

We ate Gelato all day, sat in Piazza San Marco and listened to live music while we had an expensive snack, and ended up at Harry’s Bar on our last night in the city. All this eating must have sweetened our blood because the two nights we slept in venice, with the windows open and no air conditioning, had us covered in bug bites. The tourists and the bugs put a damper on Nick’s time in the city and I walked a way ambivalent to what is a lot of peoples’ favorite city. I gave Nick the option to stay in Venice for the day and leave for Cinque Tere at night or leave in the morning. He did not hesitate before firmly saying that he wanted to leave in the morning.

In the morning we took a train from Venice to Milan, Milan to Genova, Genova to La Spezia, and La Spezia to Monarola. We passed Monarola once or twice on the local train and ended up walking there from a nearby town. This got us to our destination, Monarola (one of the five towns of Cinque Terre (five lands)), at around ten at night. The hostel we planned to stay in was booked up but we managed to find room in a hotel in Monterosso, which is the farthest north of the five towns.

The hotel was great. It had air conditioning, no bugs, and I was able to shower without sandals on for the first time in months. I let Nick sleep in the next morning and I had a long breakfast, drank tea, and mentally prepared for the long hike ahead of us. The Cinque Tere hike we were about to embark on is through all five fishing villages along the coast. You hike from Monterosso to Vernazza then down to Corniglia around to Manarola and finally to Riomaggiore. The hike is around eight miles in all and if you do it with out stopping it takes about three hours, but most people recommend allotting five to seven hours.

The views from the cliffside are absolutely spectacular. We had a taste of the view the night before when we walked from Riomaggiore to Monarola. The sun was setting as we walked and it left an unforgettable image in my mind. Seeing the sun set behind all five villages and into the cliffs was remarkable. It is something that I will never forget and will hopefully get to witness again. I woke Nick up so we could see some more of these spectacular views. I gave him a croissant I stole from down stairs, he through on a pair of pants, and we were out the door.

Right after walking out of the hotel we saw where all the tourists were. The only tourist beach in any of the five villages is in Monterosso and it is crowded. We escaped the crowds by starting our clime through the Cinque Terre National Park. Each hill we climbed gave a stunning view. You could see the village you were headed to, the village you had just left, and they were both surrounded by an endless ocean and beautiful cliffs. Besides the villages, we walked past the amazing farming efforts of the villagers, how you can farm on a cliffside is still beyond me even after seeing it, and looked down into the various lagoons at anchored boats.

We reached the last two towns of our hike and decided to take a swim. The rest of the hike was said to be the easiest and having done one leg of it the night before we knew it was not going to be very difficult. So knowing a swim couldn’t hurt we went down into a lagoon.

I had not swam my whole trip and I had been looking forward to this swim a similar length of time. The water felt great after our three to four hours of hiking on a hot day. We spent plenty of time swimming, lounging on rocks, and relaxing before we moved onto the last part of our hike.

On our way into Riomaggiore (the last village) Nick spotted a cliff we could jump off of “safely”. It was a twenty to thirty foot jump into the water. As we descended to the jump I asked a local if it was safe to jump. They did not speak english but I think they said yes just jump out as far as you can to avoid the rocks. There was only one thing left to do. I took the plunge and survived to write about it. Otherwise, my brother would probably be writing this blog right now.

Nick did the jump just as tentatively as I did and afterwards we both did it several more times. We even started to get an audience higher up on the cliffs. This was the last straw of the day. My legs were spent and I was starving. We stopped in the last town and got some fresh fish and wine before heading home to Monterosso.

We slept well that night and we were ready to travel to Naples the next day. To get to Naples we took a train to La Spezia and then got on a train to Naples. The train to Naples lasted eight hours. Once we were in the city, we made it to our hostel.

The hostel I had booked told us that I had accidentally reserved for the next day and they were fully booked for the night. This was terrible news to get so late in the day. We managed to find room in another hostel and take a life threatening cab ride over to it. They gave us a room that we reached just before midnight. Now the challenge was going to be to find food.

Walking down a main street near our hostel we came across a pizza place that told us if we took the pizzas to go we could order. For ten euros we got two pizzas and two waters. Naples is not venice. I don’t want to bore anyone with describing this pizza but it was the best meal of my trip so it has earned a more extensive description in my blog.

The pizza had a thin crust that managed to maintain its doughy nature. On the crust was placed the perfect amount of a sweet marinara sauce. The crust also supported a layer of mozzarella cheese and cured ham that was left somewhere in between bacon and deli sliced ham. What made the pizza were the mounds of ricotta cheese. The ricotta cheese made every bite melt in your mouth. It was arranged in clumps, which not only was aesthetically pleasing but also managed to distribute the perfect amount of cheese with every bite. I was making some pretty unusual noises while eating this pizza and Nick kept giving me odd looks. It would be impossible for me to do this pizza justice with a description. Unfortunately, I will be craving the pizza for a long time and probably fail at recreating it several times before giving up and buying a plane ticket. This hard day of travel was ended on a positive note with a full stomach and air conditioning.

I woke up the next day and asked the girl working at the hostel what we should do for our only day in Naples. She said that we should leave Naples and go to Pompeii or Capri. She had to repeat her self because I was astonished that she recommended that we leave Naples for our only day in Naples. So, after no debate, Pompeii it was.

Before going out to the ruins, me and my brother went to where the guide book told us the best pizza in Naples was. Even though we were pretty sure we had already found it, we thought we would give this other place a shot. There was a line outside before the restaurant opened which seemed like a good sign. The pizza was not nearly as good. It was still filling and tasty yet it could not quite measure up. We burned off the calories of the pizza on the walk to the train station.

The train to Pompeii was easy enough to find and Pompeii was easy enough to get to. When we walked up to the ruins of Pompeii I knew that we were going to be in a similar situation that we were in in Rome and we better get a guide. A relatively cheap tour was offered and we took it. The tour was great and it was incredible how well preserved the city actually was. Some of it is reconstructed, but the majority of it is original. As we walked through the city I could clearly see what life was like two thousand years earlier.

The restaurants showed how people ate, the perfectly preserved paintings depicted life in various parts of the city, entire houses showed the lifestyle and standard at which people lived, ingenuity of the baths and fountains showed the creative side of the native Italians, and the brothels showed the dirtier side. I liked these ruins better than the forum because you could imagine people populating the city so much more vividly. This was a well worth while stop on our trip.

We had to leave the ruins a little earlier than I wanted to to try and catch a bus up to Mount Vesuvius. When we got to the ticket office the attendant made it clear that the volcano was closed for the day and would not open until tomorrow morning. So we missed out on seeing where it all originated. We headed back to the city earlier than planned and went to our favorite pizza place to end the trip.

Nick and I were on the train to Rome at 7:50 am the next day. This got us to Rome at 9:00 and we were on the train to the airport by 10:00. This is how my whole day went. Nick was lucky enough to escape the trains, get on a flight, and go home. I was trying to get to Barcelona in a day by train and so in the 24 hour period that I was traveling I took five trains not including the metro. I successfully landed at my last stop of the trip (Barcelona).

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Written by davidpaparelli

July 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Europe

2 Responses

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  1. Dave, thanks for taking the time to writemthis. Fantastic and it flowed very well. We look forward tonseeingmyou at home in acouple of days. Love dad

    Ps bring home some of that Naples pizza!

    Charlie Paparelli

    July 25, 2010 at 10:17 pm

  2. Bravo! Bravissimo! to you and to Nick. I would have loved to taste that pizza, too. I am so jealous of that great swim you both took and the adrenaline rush when you took the leap. Pompeii was the absolute best choice for the one day you had in Napoli. I am so happy you saw the Pantheon (there is one in Paris, too, but I think it is mostly closed). There is one place (maybe two) in Venezia where one can take a gondola ride at native prices, where the Venezianos cross from Dorsoduro to the big main island of Venice.
    You pay (probably a dollar, these days) and the gondola takes you across the canal. You did very well in Venice, considering this is the most crowded time of year. I’m so happy you had a meal at Harry’s Bar and the experience of enjoying a coffee at an outdoor cafe in the Piazza San Marco, while listening to music, will be a sweet memory, for sure. You will see these cafes in Hollywood films (View “Summertime” with Kathryn Hepburn). Of course, lunch is the best time for Harry’s. It was at lunch there that I became an acquaintance of Vera Stravinsky, who traveled to Venice each year to visit the tomb of her husband, Igor, on the burial island of San Michele. Speaking of Stravinsky, the next time you are in Venice you should get tickets for a performance at the Baroque theater where Stravinsky often conducted, the Teatro Fenice. You are doing some really fine navigating and I am really happy you are sharing your travel experiences with the family. You are really good at this.
    I saw a travel show on the Cinque Terre, so I know just what you saw. It was a fabulous choice for an Italian experience. This was exactly the right time in your life for such a trip. I am so happy for you. Love.

    Aunt Janet

    July 26, 2010 at 1:14 am


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