I'm currently sitting pool side in Greece as Conner is using the neighboring hotel's pool for a late night dip. Its a little chilly out so I decided to skip the swim to do some much needed blog writing. We are swimming here though, and that is something that we have been waiting to do for a very long time. Its not time to talk about Greece yet though, we're here to talk about Italy. There's a lot to talk about so I'm going to divide this one up a bit. Where to begin?...
So you know how I said that we had the worst travel day ever on the last post and that things were better? I spoke too soon. Should've known better. Things went quickly downhill after that post. It started when we arrived in Bern, Switzerland planning to go straight to Milan, only to find out that the large Asian group ahead of us took the last tickets....always the Asians. No, I take that back, it all started when we booked a hostel in one of the five towns of Cinque Terre and were told that we had to check in by five. That's where it all started.
Since the train was full we had to take a detour route and would be about an hour late to the hostel. We called to let the owner know and he was not very happy. Oh well, nothing we could do. We finally arrived at Milan and checked the boards for the next train to our destination for which we had already purchased tickets and nothing for our train showed. We talked to Information several times and they told us that the train was just delayed. Finally, we decided to check another board only to realize that the other board had the wrong train number listed and that our train was in fact boarding. We ran to the platform only to watch our train pull away. In that moment, all we could do was laugh, and curse a little....maybe a lot. Sorry, moms.
With our train having left we had no choice but to take the next train and wait in the longest queue ever to buy our reservation. We literally took a number, waited for twenty minutes, walked around for a while trying to figure out what else we could do, returned much later, took another number, then realized they still hadn't called the first number we took. Ridiculous.
We finally buy our next tickets and find out we'll be about 3 hours late to the hostel, and wearily gave the owner a call, knowing he would not be happy. Well, we were right. He was not happy. In fact, he yelled at us over the phone, with a very sweet Conner doing her best to let him know how sorry we were. He was not buying it and rudely hung up the phone. Refusing to stay with such a mean fellow, we immediately booked a hostel in the nearby town of Genoa and changed our train plans slightly. At this point we were very tired and very weary of the rude Italians we were meeting all day. Italy was not starting out good for us. The only thing that restored our hope in society in the slightest was the sweetest, southern couple from the US of A who were also having a bad day but were so positive, kind, and empathetic towards us. Despite all our travels here, we left them saying, "America is the best!," in our very whiniest of voices and as is true on most travel days, feeling a slight longing for home.
Eventually we made it after what seemed like the passing of several long and horrible years. We took a long bus ride out to our hostel and realized we had accidentally booked a room at the insane asylum. Our room was a white room, with white floors, white everything. There was one very high window at a height deterring us from any thoughts of escape. There was a closed in patio out front for smokers or those who wanted to walk laps to get their daily exercise. There was also one very curvy third grader who would run around during the day and knee other kids in the butt. Conner and I stood at the window on our tip-toes to watch this as our entertainment while Conner sang the songs of "Hips Don't Lie" and "Miss New Booty". Do they put people in asylums for making fun of annoying little kids??
Actually, the hostel was very clean so we couldn't complain TOO much. Genoa was not the most exciting city so we decided to spend the whole next day exploring Cinque Terre. We took the train to the furthest town of Riomaggiore and planned to hike our way back. When we got there we found out all the trails between towns were closed except the one connecting the first two. Since we had already traveled all that way we decided to stop at a cliff side restaurant and enjoy a cappuccino. We had the most amazing views of the sea!
In order to hike the trail, we took the train to the first village of Monterosso. We explored the town for a while, which is famous for its lemons and their locally made lemoncello. If we have the opportunity to return, that is where we would try to stay.
Conner and I eventually made it to the path and started the hike. I'm glad we had worn good shoes and clothing because it was more of a hike than I was expecting. Apparently it was more than others were expecting too, attempting to walk in their nice dresses and fancy shoes. The views were well worth the walk though. The path took us along cliffs and through vineyards and lemon groves. It was truly amazing.
Along the way we came upon a farmer who had a trail-side stand setup where he sold his homemade wines, lemoncello, and fresh squeezed lemonade. While we were talking about the alcoholic lemoncello, Conner jokingly turned to the guy next to her and asked, "So, uhh, you think this guys checking IDs?"In a strong Australian accent and with a "stupid american" look on his face he replied, "You'll probably be okay." After a few failed attempts to clarify that it was a joke, things were just awkward. I got a good laugh though and the lemonade was delicious!
We finished the hike in about two hours and arrived in the town of Vernazza. The town was beautiful, but we had little time to explore since our train passes had a time limit. We did manage to grab our first Italian gelato before our departure. This was our first fig and mascarpone experience and let me tell you, it was heavenly.
When we returned to Genoa we were starving and ready for a good Italian meal. We went to a restaurant called Trattoria di Maria. For 10 euro we got a large amount of wine, a first course of pasta, a second course of a meat and potato type dish, and all you can eat bread with oil. Having hardly eaten all day, we cleaned our plates. The meal was absolutely delicious.
During the meal I saw something scurry up the opposite wall out of the corner of my eye. I found that it was A GIANT cockroach just hanging out directly in my view. Not knowing if the sighting would ruin Conner's meal, I calmly asked her if I she wanted me to point something out to her. All she had to do was follow my stare to get a view of the monster. We freaked out a little bit together then couldn't stop laughing as the rest of the scene progressed. A waitress finally noticed and freaked out (we took this as a sign that it was not an everyday thing) and ran to the owner. The owner just came over, grabbed the sucker off the wall and walked away as if nothing happened. But something had happened, and although we were hungry enough to continue eating, we thought we should at least get a free dessert out of the sighting and the fact that we were paranoid and itching the rest of the night. No go. Conner's acting skills got us nothing this time.
The next morning we were off to Florence where stayed at the Santa Monaca Hostel. The first night we shared a large room with our soon-to-be best friend, Pan-Pam. Pan-Pam was a lovely Chinese girl studying French in Paris and she could do no wrong in our eyes. Pan-Pam knew everything. Everything.
The three of us shared a bottle of wine on the hostel terrace and we made more friends as others came to join. It was a great night as we all shared stories and insights to the places we were from and our experiences travelling. We also learned how depressing Sweden and Finland are from the stories shared from two guys from those countries. They made their homelands sound like very cold, very dark and very sad places. Who knew??
From Florence grew our fascination with gypsies. There was one particular gypsy clan that ran those streets. They had a special hang out spot where they would stake out their victims, meet in the evenings and yell at mystery people on the phone. One night while out eating, a gypsy entered the restaurant and despite protests from the staff, took food from off the counter and slowly ate one bite at a time, all the while staring straight at the staff telling her to leave. Eventually she turned to leave, with an, "Eh, this is okay," look on her face and a mouth full of food. She then motioned her daughter waiting outside as if to say, "There's free food inside." However, a restaurant staff member kept her from entering. That was the first of many times we would be slightly shocked and disgusted by the actions of the gypsies.
There were a lot of beautiful buildings in Florence and many museums that could be explored, we opted out of most of them due to high costs, but we did take two separate walking tours (free:)) to get some history of the city. Unfortunately, they were incredibly boring so it ended up being more of a people-watching walk. Oops.
Our guide did give great recommendations on things to do. For example, he pointed out the most amazing sandwich shop with fresh cut meats, fresh baked bread, and all the toppings you can imagine. It was soo cheap and delicious. Unfortunately, it was take-away and raining that day so we ended up enjoying our sammies on a curb under the awning of a building.
We were ready to leave Florence when the time came and were excited to spend some time in the great city of Rome.
Rome was an extravagant city like Paris, only older and less polished. Everywhere you turned there was some famous ruin or beautiful monument. We had to pick and choose what we wanted to visit and spend our money on during the three nights we had.
The first nights we stayed at Ciak Hostel. It was nice and we got a got a free meal, but it was mostly Americans staying there, which is slight annoying, because Americans are annoying and its always nice to meet people of different cultures in a different place. As Americans, we also seem to talk louder and talk more about ourselves than anyone else. When I say "we", I mean most the American backpackers we've met...and that's excluding Conner and myself. We're practically European at this point. Anyways, more about us....
We loved exploring Rome, walking through the Colosseum and Paletine Hill, following guided tours at a short distance and pretending to be just coincidentally walking the same path (see pic below of Conner hiding behind a tree), and running into Greyhouse friends. Yes, I did say running into Greyhouse friends. While walking to the Colosseum we passed a group of people and Conner and I looked at each other immediately asking, "Was that the one guy from Greyhouse?" And responding, "Double espresso, what's his name?" The thing with Greyhouse is that you remember a person's drink before remembering their actual name. We immediately turned to follow the group and after figuring out that his name was Antonio, yelled it to see of he would turn around. Sure enough he did, and it was our loyal Italian customer Antonio, with his wife and other Purdue (and Greyhouse loving) friends touring the area. Crazy!
Obviously, Italy is famous for its food. We were able to keep these costs pretty low with included breakfast at the hostel and one included dinner. However, one of the food highlights was the amazing and amazingly cheap, HUGE and freshly baked pizzas from Il Forno. You could watch the chef pulling out the pizzas from the brick oven. We enjoyed those sitting on a fountain in the middle of a square. We love us some people watching. The other highlight was cannolis. Thanks to a recommendation from a friend of Conner's who studied abroad in Rome we found the best in town. We each had three mini cannoli: pistachio, ricotta, and chocolate. Mmm
We were soon headed north again to stay in Padua for a night. We originally planned to stay in Venice since that's where our plane departed from, but we're cheap and Venice is expensive. We ended up extremely happy with this when we realized that Padua is the cutest little city. Everyone was out and about, riding bikes, having drinks outdoors. We were even able to listen to the Padua orchestra perform for free on the steps of a little courtyard.
Our hostel there was a little shady. I don't think many tourists come through Padua, so as a solution for filling empty rooms it seems they let all the homeless of the town stay there at a discounted price. It was creepy, but we were the only people in our room. So besides sprinting back and forth to the bathroom after making sure the hall was empty, everything was fine. Breakfast was also interesting as I'm pretty sure we were the only ones who did not treat it as an endless buffet or walk away with pockets stuffed with croissants.
We just made a quick stop through Venice, which turned out to be best. Venice is a definite tourist trap. Cool for a day, but not much longer. During our time there we came across many more gypsies. One elderly gypsy approached us, forcing her coin cup at us and aggressively asking for money in Italian. Conner ignored her as I told her no. For some reason she decided that she did not at all like Conner. After spitting out what I can only assume were gypsy curses, she took her sharp metal cane and jabbed it angrily at Conner's legs. Luckily Conner was wearing a long flowy skirt so she just missed. We didn't even know how to react. Once again, all we could do was laugh. Ohh gypsies...
I finish Venice and we have already left Greece and are preparing to leave Spain. We spent so much time in Italy that I have put off writing about it. The longer the post became, the less enthusiasm I had in writing it. Sorry, folks! The others will come soon and will be much shorter! Promise!
We love you all and will see you in the good old' US of A in a few weeks!