Nov 11 2007
Greetings from Roma! As I write this, I am about to enjoy the first sushi I’ve had in two months, compliments of Stefano, our personal Italian chef. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re behind on the blog (again), so this is my catch-up entry. Back to Naples…
Part of the reason we chose to visit Naples was because of its proximity to other choice destinations. The Amalfi Coast, a one-and-a-half hour metro/bus ride from Naples, is billed as the most beautiful stretch of coastline in Europe. You know those pictures of the Italian coast in which immaculate villas perch on cliffsides that tumble sheer into a bright, turquoise sea? That’s the Amalfi Coast. So despite our seriously aching feet, we decided to make the journey to Amalfi to take a ten-kilometer hike (known as the “Walk of the Gods”) along the coast.
We stepped off the bus in Positano, the first coastal town, only to be blown back in. The wind on top of the cliff that day was hurricane-force — the kind of wind that makes it difficult to walk forward and impossible to talk. Given that neither one of us had really wanted to take the hike, but neither one of us wanted to be the first to chicken out, the inclement weather gave us the perfect excuse to ditch the four-hour hike and take the bus tour instead (the unfortunate result being that you can never get good pictures through a bus window). I can’t say that I’ve seen all European coastlines, but I’d be surprised if Amalfi can be outdone. It’s surreal. Like you can’t believe there are places in the world as beautiful as what you’re seeing. The bus dropped us off in the town of Amalfi, where we wandered the narrow alleys, ate some great spaghetti and (as usual) got horribly lost.
Speaking of food, I’m going to take a moment to mention the pizza in Naples. My vote: OH MY GOD. Pizza will never be the same to me again. While some places offer a sparse variety of toppings, the two authentic Neapolitan pizzas are the marinara (tomato sauce, bit of garlic, and a few leaves of basil – no cheese!) and the margherita (the same, with sprinkled fresh mozzarella). It’s mouthwateringly good – so good, in fact, that you can eat it for six nights in a row and crave more. The most amazing part is the crust. It’s thin, but never crunchy, always doughy and chewy and with a slight taste of charcoal from the authentic wood-burning ovens. Now I’m really hungry.
On our way back from Amalfi, we stopped in Sorrento to pick up some limoncello, a specialty lemon liquor made in the area, which we drank on the metro ride back to Naples out of a brown bag, until we realized we looked like huge winos.
Having seen the devastation at Pompeii, the next morning we decided to face the beast himself: we were going to scale Mt. Vesuvius. The dark mountain sits low on the horizon, with a constant cloud of smoke hovering above. It may seem unintimidating from a distance, but as we approached the base of the volcano and the smoke became thicker, we could see wide trails of gray rock where the flowing lava had killed everything in its path. My bravado waned. The volcano hasn’t erupted since 1944, making this period the longest it’s been silent for centuries — they’re expecting the next one to be a doozy! I don’t know why we keep putting ourselves in these questionable situations.
As we began the sharp uphill climb to the crater, I forgot my fear thanks to my physical pain. Despite my whining, Ben would not stop in the middle of the trail on the side of a volcano to give me a foot massage. Sometimes I just don’t get him.
Steam oozes from the crevices of the vast crater at Vesuvius’ peak. A slight smell of sulfur lingers in the air. The vantage point offers unparalleled views of the Bay of Naples. You can also see the tiny village of Pompeii from atop the volcano, and you can’t help but imagine the devastation such an eruption would have on the massive sprawl of Naples below you. Ben wondered about Neapolitan insurance premiums.
We were taking the afternoon train to Rome, where we would face yet another villain. The ride would have been uneventful had we not made one crucial mistake. Whenever you purchase a public transportation ticket in Italy, they’re valid for a certain number of days. When you actually use your ticket, you are required to validate it, which stamps the date and time on the ticket, to prevent you from using the ticket more than once. In our hurry at the station, we forgot to validate. It didn’t occur to us that we’d forgotten that step until I handed our ticket to the controller en route to Rome and his response was “50 euros.” Say what? What followed was an argument in which he kept saying “machine!” and “50 euros!” and we kept insisting we did not understand. From what I could gather, he was being quite unreasonable. He walked away to continue checking tickets and find someone who spoke English. Luckily for us, he proceeded to get in a row with another passenger, which occupied him until we arrived at Termini in Rome, at which point we quickly slipped out and ran away.
We arrived at our hostel after our hasty escape to find a feast laid out for us. We choose Roma Inn because of its cheap prices, free breakfast, free wifi and, most importantly, free dinner! And this is no ordinary dinner. The chef they employ prepares yummies such as stuffed mushrooms, pesto gnocchi, bruschetta, quiche and pastas galore. The bad part about Roma Inn is that it attempts to fit eight beds in a room the size of a pick-up truck.
Wow, that was a whirlwind tour of our last days in Naples. I’ll leave our first days in Rome for the next entry, mostly because dinner is served. Rome is incredible — my favorite city we’ve visited so far. Arrivederci!