Blog #23 - Ruined in Pompeii and Spoiled in Capri!

When we last left you we were on a train heading to the notorious southern Italy, which is known to be quite a different ball of Italian wax.  

After our time was up in Rome we had a little more time to burn in Italy.  So our dilemma was how to spend it?  Stay in Rome?  Head north?  Go up into the mountains of Abruzzo?  

At the end, our decision was guided by the fact we found a cheap-o flight out of Naples to our next destination in eastern Europe.  So, Naples, Pompeii, and Capri here we come!  

The south, in particular around Naples, is a ramped-up version of Italy.  Everything happens with more passion.  Things are a little less safe, it’s a little louder, but the food and the wine is so much more intense!

Vince had been to the area many years prior and knew Pompeii would make a good travel base so we used it as our springboard to the area.

So after a long travel morning, we got to Pompeii, walked across town and arrived at our humble and cute “Hotel Diana”, which we found was right next to another train station.  Not the same train line we used to get there… but hey, this is what adventure is about, right?  It turns out Pompeii has three separate train stations, each on different train lines, which range from almost legitimage to total sketch – so, guess which one came in on??)  

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We still had an afternoon at our disposal so we got right back on the local train (sketch) to knock the first ancient site off our list … Herculaneum (Ercolano, in Italian).

A little brief history lesson for those who don't know about Herculaneum. 

Clearly, it isn’t nearly as famous as Pompeii, but they both suffered the same fate under the same volcano on August 24, 79 AD.  However, it was closer to Mt. Vesuvius, and so it was buried deeper, more quickly, and with hotter ash, than Pompeii.  As a result, the details in Herculaneum are generally better preserved than Pompeii. 

At the site, which has only been 25% excavated, jewelry, furniture, food, legal documents (in stone), several hundred skeletons, and (multi-storey!) houses have been found, showing how people lived, worked, and even ate.  So interesting!  Plus, compared to Pompeii, this site is small and compact, making it manageable enough to see within a two to three hour period.

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Just as we were wrapping up, and the sun was getting low in the sky, we contemplated dinner.  Back to Pompeii, or, hmmm… only 30 minutes by train to the best pizza on earth, eh?  So just like that, we were on a train for Naples, for pizza.

Naples -- what an intro to the South!  Dirty, gritty, crazy but the best pizza on earth!  Our goal was Pizza Sorbillo because it was recommended by a Neapolitan (that we met on the train) as the best pizza in all of Naples.  When we got there, it was busy as heck.  We took a number and grabbed a glass of prosecco from the happy hour stand next door and enjoyed the circus of a street outside while we waited.  

Once seated, we ordered quickly, were served quickly, and we ate quickly (that part was easy), in order to make it in time for our train.  Our walk back to the station at twilight, was quick and direct.  We held on tightly to our pockets so we could make it home in one piece.  Score 1 for team Luciani, no mugging!

The next day, after dreaming about ancient life and watching a pretty-cool documentary on Herculaneum (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edgpma-xeK4) we woke ready to tackle Pompeii.

For a city, Pompeii is mid-sized.  For an archeological site, it is enormous.  There are several streets, squares, temples (no roofs), two theatres, an huge oval amphitheater, and of course, a brothel. 

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In Pompeii, there is little shade, so we just walked around until we were totally ruined.  Hahaha...get it?  Ruined.  And we probably only saw half of the place.

Either way, seeing these cities in the flesh, almost as they were 2000 years ago, has been the crown of all our visits to sites of ‘antiquity’ on this trip.

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Coming back to the present, we were ready to change gears, and footwear, and get hiking!  It wasn’t easy to get to, however, early one morning we got a taxi up to the start of the trail known as the “Path of the Gods” (Sentiero dei Dei), which is high up on the Amalfi coast. 

From its beginning in Bomerrano to Positano, it take four hours to complete.  We started very early, the weather co-operated, and for most of the hike the views were simply breathtaking.  If you can believe it, the last portion of the walk is a straight descent down more than 1000 steps – our legs were literally shaking by the end. 

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Yes, we’re nuts but it was beautiful and worth it, plus we have to burn the pasta calories off somehow! 

Positano is quite the looker.  It is on the water and nestled between mountain ridges.  It was however very busy (both the beach and the town were crowded). 

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After making it back to our home base Pompeii, we had a nice meal and made dessert friends with the family that ran an excellent Gelato shop called Golden Ice.  Vince corrected the daughter when she called whipped cream “soft cream”, and in turn she told Vince that he spoke Italian like a robot.  Haha…thank you very much Signore Roboto!

Alas, the next day we would say bye-bye to the Pompeii.  Because we were about to really open the wallet and splurge on Capri.

After so many days in the sun, we ended up sleeping in.  After a boot-camp style jog with all our bags, to the furthest train station (did we tell you Pompeii has three train stations??), we just made the train we needed to catch to make the ferry in Sorrento

After a ferry ride that made us thankful we didn’t have time for a big breakfast, we took a bus to the less expensive side of the island in Anacapri, to our hotel.  Hotel Senaria was cute and clean, and had excellent service.  Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore.  Remember when we told you that a 4 star in India is about a 1 star in the western world?  Well on Capri, a 3 star is more like a 5 star, service-wise.  It wasn’t cheap, but it was only for one night, and we were very happy.

So, what to do?  Aside from the usual Italian activity of strolling around to ‘be seen’, what can you do on Capri? 

Well, every island has a high point.  So our first activity was to go to the top!  Much as with the Amalfi coast, the views from the top of the island on Capri are breathtaking, and half the fun was the crazy-windy chairlift ride there and back!  

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Later in the afternoon we started for the famous Blue Grotto, or in Italian, the Grotta Azzurra, which is a water-filled cave on the sea.  No bus for us.  We walked down from Anacapri and along the water using the “Path of Old Forts”.  This was a lovely surprise! 

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It was a lovely trail, winding above the sheer rocks which went into the sea.  We alternated from watching crashing waves and reading the cute ceramic plaques that described the wildlife and plants in the area.  We even saw goats roaming below in the rocks!  Don’t fall! 

When we got to the Blue Grotto, it was closed.  It was unfortunate, but we weren’t surprised.  We’d been told that with the rough sea it wouldn’t be possible to go in.  Not safe for swimming!  But it still put on a great show.

Also – little known fact, when the tourists aren’t lined up at the Blue Grotto, the fishermen are!  These guys were pulling in a fish every single minute! 

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For our last night in Italy, of course we got all dressed up in style, went into Capri, and started people watching.  We put on our best cruise-ship threads and chose a restaurant based on the fact Jerry Springer was in a bunch of the photos.  Must be good right?!  Haha.  Well, the food was good, but the service not so much.  We had Gnocchi alla Sorrentina and Caprese Salad, of course.  After all, this is where the stuff comes from.  (Oh, and by the way, Jerry Springer’s face shows up in a lot of restaurant photos in Capri!)

Time to go!  The next day we had to get to the Naples airport to catch our flight to Budapest.  In order, we took a bus, a boat, our feet, another bus, to the plane.  And it all worked!  Everything ran on time that day, such that we actually had time during our walk to visit the pizzeria where Julia Roberts enjoyed a slice in Eat Pray Love.  It is called L’antica Pizzeria di Michele, and it makes only two kinds of pizzas: Margherita and Marinara.  (If they made a third kind it might be called “Get Lost!”, or “No Pizza per te!”).

We write this from Budapest, where we have a private apartment for a week.  

We were sad to say goodbye to Italy but now we’re excited to see what Budapest has in store for us.  Only a couple more months of this crazy adventure left...we have to make the most of it!

Ciao, and szia!

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