Napoli, Italy (Naples)

Naples is full of activities, excursions, history, and people. We got there and suddenly found that there was so much to do and so little time. This area of the Mediterranean, overlooked by Mt. Vesuvius, is also covered in geological history. We spent some time at the island Capri, explored parts of mt. Vesuvius, wandered around a castle and more. So much to do, and so little time, but I’ll break it down.

What we managed to do:

– Island of Capri
Famous for the blue grotto, we took a ferry from Naples to try and go see it. Unfortunately it was closed due to rough seas, but we hear it is rare to be there on a day it is open. We took a tour around the island and passed the grotto entrance, which was almost fully covered by water. We did get to see the beautiful green grotto, full of emerald waters created by the yellow sandbar. The island itself is beautiful and relaxing (and also expensive), we kept thinking it didn’t feel like Italy and almost more Greek as it was covered almost entirely by white homes. After eating some limoncello gelato, we skipped the hike up to Villa Jovis (Tiberius’s place) and headed home.

The green grotto of Capri
The green grotto of Capri

-Archaeological museum
Lots of cool artifacts, got in a couple fights with Italians (about the arte card, see below for more). Should go see if before heading to the ruins.

-Mt. Vesuvius on horseback
Highly recommend, and very affordable too! Check it out here, http://www.horseridingnaples.com/ It was one of the highlights of our trip!

Taking a horse up to Mt. Vesuvius!
Taking a horse up to Mt. Vesuvius!

– Herculaneum
An ancient ruins right under Mt. Vesuvius path lies Herculaneum, or in Italian “Ercolano.” You can see frescos still in tack, wood that has turned to charcoal, and all the aspects of an ancient Roman city. This city was covered in lava after the volcano blew, so was preserved in a different way than Pompeii.

-Royal Naples Free Walking Tour
https://napolithatsamore.org/

royal-naples-city-center

-Castel d’Ovo
See cover photo. Legend has it, this castle was built on an egg…

-Walked Around Old Town Naples City Center
-Pompeii
We made time to go Nov 1st, the day after daylights savings ends. Nov 1st is also the day that things close at sunset, which happens to be around 5pm. We got to Pompeii just before 4, thinking we would still have a couple hours (til 7:30pm) to explore the grounds. Nope, last entrance at 3:30 and we spent half an hour on the train for nothing. It was rather disappointing, but we made a plan. Our train didn’t leave til almost 1pm the next day. We would wake up early, catch the train there, and spend our morning exploring. We took the wrong train, but still managed to make it to Pompeii in the morning with time to explore!

Pompeii Ampitheatre
Pompeii Ampitheatre

What we wished we could have done:

-Galleria Boubon

-Castel St Elmo

-Catacombs

-Explored more of Naples

-Eaten more pizza

We only got pizza once, and not even a famous place. We did go to a traditional Neapolitan kitchen (by accident) and had some of the most amazing food. Campognola, check it out.

Day trips to do:

-Ischia island

-Hot springs lake

-Sorrento

-Positano on the Amalfi

-Amalfi

-Other Scavi

-Climbing up Vesuvius on foot

You can't go up to the very top of vesuvius, but on our break we got to see some volcanic rock.
You can’t go up to the very top of vesuvius, but on our break we got to see some volcanic rock.

Scams:

While we didn’t get scammed the traditional way, we still felt scammed by the institution. We bought the Campania arte card, which was supposed to give us free entry into a few places and discounted entry into the rest, including transportation. First problem with this card was we wanted to buy the “young card,” meant for those between 18 and 25. It included almost everything for free and was a hefty discount in comparison to all the other options. Thing is…. in the fine print it wrote that you had to be an EU citizen, but was marketing towards everyone who was young.

1st disappointment: Fine print information.

The card was supposed to last 3 days, I figured that was 72 hours. We bought it around 5pm on the first day and used it to go to the museum. The 4th day, although still within the 72 hour range, we tried to use it for the metro and it didn’t work. Same with Pompeii, except she tried to tell me that the 72 hours was already over (which it definitely wasn’t).

2nd disappointment: Not timed, on a end of the day basis.

In the end we probably didn’t save much. €12 for the museum, €11 for Herculaneum, maybe around €10 for transport…. comes out to about the same cost. We would have been better off researching our options a little better, finding a travel only card, and looking for free things to do, like the Castelle d’ovo.

Learning a language… In another Language

 

My italian has been coming along quite nice, so naturally I decided to learn Russian. Sarcastic thoughts aside, the other girl could only speak italian and a few words of english. Guess I was going to learn the basics in another language I had only been learning for 4 months.

I visited the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, and in my hostel I finally met someone from Belarus! This is a country that has fascinated me due to it’s sheer mystery. No one really talks about it, visa and permits are really strict, and it’s no one’s first travel destination. The mystery is intriguing to me, and it only intensified when I learned that the pronunciation of the country does not rhyme with Polaris, the pool cleaning vacuum. Meeting someone from Belarus was exciting, but like I previously stated, she barely knew any english. Lucky for us, I have been studying italian for the past 4 months and I knew enough to be able to carry some sort of conversation, with the help of google translate of course.

We talked for a few hours, speaking slowly, being extra expressive, and laughing a lot. I showed her a photo of a hedgehog, and tried to explain that is used to belong to my boyfriend. Instead she thought I had said the hedgehog was my boyfriend! Funny how communication between humans work. I learned a lot about italian, and I did my best to help her with her english.

The next night I went downstairs to talk with her, Anastasia, again. She was accompanied by two italians from Sardegna (Sardinia). They knew a little more english, which made having conversation a little easier. With that, Anastasia decided to teach us the Cyrillic alphabet, aka the “weird things Russians use as letters (many other slavic languages use it too).” Examples such as:

А
A
Б
Be
В
Ve
Г
Ge
Ґ
Ge upturn
Д
De
Ђ
Dje
Ѓ
Gje
Е
Ye
Ё
Yo
Є
Yest
Ж
Zhe

Instead of using the english pronunciations listed above, they were sounded out using the italian alphabet. Noticeable changes being “ghe” instead of ge, and “je” (like in german “ja”), and “jo” for ye and yo since there is no technically j in italian. Looking at the english pronunciation now… I’m actually confused.

The pronunciations weren’t the hardest part to figure out. She would write an example word, but then translate it to italian, a very strange experience indeed.

Here is the paper she wrote all the notes on.

The Russian alphabet with italian pronunciations.

The 5th letter down is the “de,” same in italian and english. On the back of the page were a few examples, our name, and our doodles. I thought the de looked like a rocket ship, though they thought I drew a grave at first!

Our names were written in the top left hand corner, our doodles all over
Our names were written in the top left hand corner, our doodles all over

 

.

My name in russian would be: Мэри 

Our russian lesson ended with Anastasia reciting a russian poem. Like any unfamiliar language, it sounded like straight up gibberish to me. Maybe one day I’ll understand, you never know. Russian may come in handy one day in the future.

My Weekend in Krakow

November 14th, 2016

This was my last trip with my trusty travel partner by my side. Without a visa, American citizens can only stay in the Schengen area in Europe for a maximum of 90 days. He arrived in krakow a few days before me and I left a few days after him. I have roughly 6 weeks left in Europe and only 3 more trips in the work with the possibility of a few day trips.

Now to talk about Poland. It is always nice getting out of Italy, and I start to forget the annoying ways of Italians. Poles still have some rude and lazy qualities, but at least they aren’t unreasonable or angry all the time.

Krakow is known for a few things, but most famously is known for Auschwitz, one of the largest German concentration camps ran during the holocaust. It’s located about an hour and a half outside the city, we booked a tour (Cracow city tours) that had all-inclusive transportation, entrance, tour guide, and even lunch. The camp auschwitz was still mostly in-fact, Birkenau –the  largest concentration and death camp– was mostly in ruins. We heard about the how the nazis deceived their prisoners every step of the way until the cyclone-B was dropped. We saw the actual hair of prisoners, shaved and taken from them to make textiles. We looked at the photos of prisoners they registered; faces all carrying similar and dark features. We held each other and thought about Donald Trump. A lot.

These are the pots and pans brought by those who thought they were coming to start a new, and better, life.

This place made us feel a lot of things. Yes sorrow for the past and the innocent deaths, but also fear and wonder of what the future holds. This camp serves as a reminder of history, and that we cannot let this happen again. It was a heavy week. We wondered if such rounding up of a certain race could ever happen again. Would the media report? Would people know and protest? We saw this hook on the streets of the camp. Our guide explained that as punishment, people’s arms would be bound behind them and hung by the hook. This would break their scapulas, which would make them unfit for work and sent to the gas chamber. We saw an older man wrap his finger around the hook and take a photo. It was the most disrespectful thing I saw all day. Tasteless. Infuriating. How could someone mock a death sentence so casually? This brings up a lot of ethical arguments, questions, and issues. That is what the exhibition is for: to make us think.

Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the camp.
Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the camp.

Now that the heavy stuff is setting in, we can drown our sorrows in some good ole polish Wodka. I didn’t get a chance to go on a pub crawl or go to a wodka tasting (food poisoning, very fun), but I did get to try some honey lemon vodka. Usually I think vodka tastes like straight up paint thinner, but this stuff was “sipable”. It didn’t make me cringe, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After my boyfriend left I explored krakow a bit with some friends from my Erasmus program. We shopped around and visited the wieliczka salt mine. There are several markets around the city, both in the main square and the Jewish quarter. Lots of little trinkets with Russian influences and lots of warm socks and hats, mittens, and more. Besides typical souvenir things like magnets and keychains, I saw cute little wooden boxes all about and lots of polish pottery.

The salt mine was real neat, not cold inside so perfect for a winter weather day. We were extremely impressed with how big it was. Caverns so large you can hold a wedding or go bungee jumping. There were a lot of sculptures made out of blocks of salt (who could have though?) and we got to taste some of the wall. Very salty, but with some sort of mineral-ly twist.

Super Blurry souvenir pic we got from the Salt Mine. Maybe a layer of salt on the lense??
Super Blurry souvenir pic we got from the Salt Mine. Maybe a layer of salt on the lense??

Krakow has been good, although my Ryanair flights have been a little rough. Too bad the train can’t get me back to milan in an hour and a half. Oh well for now!

Rick Steves is Awesome!

Before I started my journey abroad my employer loaned me some of his old Rick Steves travel guide DVD’s. They were fairly outdated, but I still watched and laughed at how dorky they were. My grandma owns the Rick Steves travel Italy book and she swears that it is the best. My mom suggested I download the app or the podcasts and listen along on his guided tours. “No mom, Rick Steves is for old people.” Well I’m here right now with a complete change of heart. I like Rick Steves a lot, and I think he’s a funny man and a great writer.

Have you ever gotten the audioguide at the museum and found yourself completely bored by it? Yeah, story of my life. Listening to a guy (usually british) talk way too long about something uninteresting is…. well, really uninteresting. What I like about the Rick Steves’ tours are that they are short and sweet. No nonsense, just get to the point and talk about things that people actually care about. Plus it’s guided! We did the Vatican Museum audio tour and we felt it really helped us not get overwhelmed by how huge the museum is. We were able to hit all the big things in the museum, learn a lot of interesting facts, and also LAUGH! Hardly ever have the audioguides included humor. Rick Steves and his female host are able to bounce dialogue off each other to create movement both in the writing and in the audio, so nothing becomes monotone. Sometimes Rick will say something weird.. something that a dude would say. Like “oh look at those pretty ladies (towards a statue)” and his female host (forgot her name) would be like “Rick pay attention! Those are sirens, they will lure you to your death!” Funny things like that. Makes for an interesting storyline.

We have only done some of the audio tours in Rome, including the one in Pompeii. We only had around 2.5 hours there, so listening along to him expedited our trip and allowed us to conquer at least some of Pompeii during our short time. We also used his audio tours to explore some of the neighborhoods in Rome, including the city center with the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Campo Di Fiori, and all the cool things few and far in between.

I know he has several other tours for other cities in Italy, including Florence and Venice, and other for other countries as well. It is worth checking out, plus it’s free! You can check out his website at Ricksteves.com.

A Night at San Siro Stadium

I finally made it to my first european football game, or in american terms, my first european soccer game at the legendary San Siro stadium in Milan. The National Team of Italy vs. the National Team of Germany. Two very well known teams, but I’m not here to pretend like I know anything about who is better or who even the players. I’m here for the experience.

I don’t often go to sporting events. Maybe the thanksgiving UT football game, maybe a major league baseball game if I’m in town, the olympics when it’s on TV, etc. What’s fun about a live event is the energy and the crowd, similar to the experience I would get at a concert or festival. I knew that europeans can get rowdy at matches, so I was excited to embrace the energy with open arms.

Outside of San Siro Stadium
Outside of San Siro Stadium

I wasn’t able to sit with my friends because I had bought a ticket way later and they block the different sections off, and frankly I did not want to mess with any security guards here. I was sitting next to a couple of italian guys, who occasionally would give me a few pointers on what was happening. I played soccer as a kid, so I knew the rules, but there were a few things that confused me. For instance there was no clock counting down the time left in the game. All I could find was a screen displaying the score, which remained 0-0 the entire game. There was a 3 minute warning, and halftime seemed pretty short.

The colors in the crowd seemed pretty strange as well. There were many italia flags, but only a few hats and shirts supporting the team. The rest of the crowd was a sea of black and navy jackets, typical milanese. I saw “the wave” being done for a good 5 seconds, but only on the upper tier. Sometimes they would chant “I-TAL-IA” over and over in support. A couple times people started jumping up and down and doing some other chant in italian. I guess it’s a good way to keep warm. There was lots of cheering and noise. Whenever kickoff happened or a goalie would kick the ball the crowd would go “ahhhhhhhhh-AH” with the last part going off as the ball flies through the air.

Cheering on Italia for the win (well the draw)
Cheering on Italia for the win (well the draw)

The strangest thing of all to me was at the end of the game, the ref blew the whistle and everyone stood up. I was expecting the national anthem to play or some sort of post-game rally. Even more so I was expecting there to be overtime, since no one had scored yet. Nope everyone was just leaving.

Getting home was a little rough, I found my way to the metro station, which was packed to the brim. Whoever designed this station was very smart and had a lot of foresight. To get in they had the full size revolving turnstile doors.  They limit the # of people who can go through at a time to 450 and then it stops and you have to wait a while, until the next train comes and goes. Once you go through you are able to switch your metro card quickly and easily, allowing the transport to get paid, and preventing potential damages from a riot to get through the gates. This also relieves congestion to get on a train. M5 is the only metro in Milan (that I have at least seen) that has the glass casings preventing anyone from getting pushed down into the tracks. After this experiences, I see where that design idea came from.

I think I’ll have to come back for another game, maybe on a day where the student section and seats are for sale. I had a great time at this one, and I’m excited for more. Go Italia!

Vodafone frustrates me – A LOT

In honor of yet another unfair charge I received from Vodafone Italia, I wrote a little song to the tune of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

This is a story all about how, Vodafone charged me all up and around. Now I’d like to take a minute to ventilate, about how Vodafone cost me much more than they say.
In south Milano, on exchange, I needed phone service, that’s simple to say. 10 a month, 10 for sim, it seemed real good, until I learned how I was a fool.
When of couple of charges came over my way, started draining all the credit I had paid. I tried calling them up, but I got scared. They said, “questo è Vodafone, posso auitarti oggi.”
I tried and I asked “Parli inglese,” but all I got back was a “sono milanese.”
They gave me a “ciao” and I wanted to hit him. I put my phone down and said “I wish I gotten Tim.”
I gave them some more when the zero grew near, my new cycle was closer and was already here.
If anything I can say that this service sucks, but I thought “one more month, just a few more bucks.”
I left Italy in late December, and yell to Voda “I don’t need your number.”
I looked at my phone
It said “AT&T”
To finally surf the web, hidden charge free.

EU Daylight Savings

So apparently….. Europe has a daylights savings as well. This would make a lot of sense. As I woke up today in panic thinking I overslept my alarm, but I found I still had 45 minutes of sleep. Technically I would have overslept, if it wasn’t for my phones automatic time change. Secondly, my boyfriends watch was an hour forward. We were soooo confused, like was it like that this whole time? Was it fast? Was it somehow really slow?

No. It was the “fall back” of European daylights savings. Who would have thought that existed. Totally thought it was only one of those weird American things conceived to “sell more grills” or some other consumerism reason. But no. The last Sunday of October time goes back in Europe. A week before the USA daylights saving time.

Firenze, Italy (Florence)

David: one of the most iconic pieces of sculpture in the world. Carved from memory and inspiration alone,  Michelangelo was able to embody not just the human figure, but each and every detail of the human body.

The way the muscles are sculpted, capturing each curve and line; the way the blood vessels in each hand is carefully carved such that they emulate the way blood actually flows within the body. The toenails and fingernails, each polished to perfection. David, the naked man, yet posed so eloquently and unafraid; a pose of confidence and strength. On and on about every detail, but words are not enough to capture the perfection that Michelangelo was able to create.

12 euros gets you in to see one of the most amazing pieces of art, plus some other medieval and religious art. The Galleria Dell’Accademia is small, but worth every cent. It is part of what it means to be in Florence, or Firenze, a city of art and culture.

Probably the best work of sculpture in the world.
Probably the best work of sculpture in the world.

Firenze is a beautiful city, swamped with tourists, but the reason is apparent. The heart of the Tuscan region has several churches trimmed in green marble, and even if you are sick of churches by now, it is worth the walk to see the outside. The duomo of Firenze has a huge orange dome, with a bell tower nearby, and a beautiful facade.

We trekked up some hills on the south side of the river to check out Piazzale Michelangelo, with the most amazing view of the whole city. You have views of the Tuscan trees and hills on one side, and the Orange-roof houses on the over. Walk around some more on the south side and you’ll reach the Boboli gardens and one quite strange museum.

At the top of the Piazza Michelangelo you'll find this church with the green trimmed marble (typical of florence churches).
At the top of the Piazza Michelangelo you’ll find this church with the green trimmed marble (typical of florence churches).

The Specola. Taxidermied animals, insects of all kinds, wax sculptures of the human anatomy, sea specimens, parasites, and so much more. There’s 32 rooms and we spent over 2 hours marveling and gawking at every single exhibit.

Don't ask me what this animal is... I don't know either.
Don’t ask me what this animal is… I don’t know either.

On the north side, it’s a bit more touristy. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio and saw the multitudes of gold shops, none which we could afford (or even care to buy from). Looking at the bridge, it’s not the pretty, but in the evening it starts to glimmer gold.

One unique thing we got to experience was the Firenze Opera. It felt a lot more like a symphony with a few soloists (who played the main characters). They would come on at their cue and sing, but do little acting. Seats were 15 euro each, and it was totally worth it, even if we fell asleep a few times. Luckily they had both the English and Italian subtitles written at the top. Even if I knew Italian I doubt I would be able to hear every word they sang. One thing we learned from the show was that Italians love to clap. They just wouldn’t stop. Between songs there’d be a long clap and at the end we left before the clapping even stopped. It probably went on for 10 minutes. Interestingly enough, people only clapped, there wasn’t really any cheering or standing ovations.

We spent a couple hours in Pisa, getting our picks with the leaning tower. Unfortunately it was pouring the whole time, and we got soaked. We saw the Keith Haring mural, but after both of those things we were 100% done and hoped on the next train back.

Even in the rain I still have to hold up the leaning tower.
Even in the rain I still have to hold up the leaning tower.

We didn’t see much of Tuscany, but kind of got a picture about why people are so infatuated with it. The rolling hills with the beautiful tall trees, the art, the culture, the wine, etc. I’ll be back in Tuscany one day, because hey you can’t do it all in one go.

Another site worth checking out, especially if you like street art. This is the Clet studio. Ever see a street sign that has be decorated? It's probably a clet.
Another site worth checking out, especially if you like street art. This is the Clet studio. Ever see a street sign that has be decorated? It’s probably a clet.

Taking the Train in Italy 

What trains are available

Italo – fastest trains between big cities

Trenitalia Freccia – Fast trains, multiple types with different speeds, destinations, and luxury

Regional – lots of stops, goes to the small cities and stops

Intercity – between main Italian cities stopping in the larger cities in between

Frecciabianco – “white arrow” fast trains between big cities with a few other stops in between. Offers 1st and 2nd class.

Frecciarosso – top of the line trains offering standard to executive seats and coaches. These trains usually have wifi, reclining seats, entertainment, and food carriages.

When should I buy my ticket?

For the regional or IC trains, whenever is fine. These usually don’t sell out and the price is the same months before and minutes before.

For the fast trains you should buy as soon as possible. These have tiers and the lower tiers are cheaper and sell out sooner

Deals

Sometimes train lines will have deals such as 50% off on trips to Milano, or 2×1 Saturday trains, etc etc. There are limited seats for the offer and they also sell out quickly

Loyalty cards

You’ll have to have an Italian address and contact details, but you can easily sign up for the Italo Più (Italo More) card. You get points for buying tickets and making purchases which can go towards future train tickets.

Cartafreccia – Get loyalty points for riding trains or using your card for purchases. You can redeem the points for train tickets or other items such as magazine subscriptions, toys, electronics, etc.

They also have special “cartafreccia days” where card holders can get extra special discounts on certain train journeys.

To sign up for a Cartafreccia you can go online or go in person to a Trenitalia office, located at main train stations. The difference is in person you don’t need to provide a passport or identity card, just an Italian address.

What are the trains like?

The trains in Italy are fairly nice. Some of the regional trains have really weird headrests, but are still tolerable. The trains tend to run late, but make sure you aren’t late! The one time you are late is going to be the one time that the train is on time. It happened to us, and it’ll probably happen to you.

The trains are WAY nicer than the bus, so if you can, spend a little extra to take the train, it is well worth it. Also take the fast train if it is available.

My Views on Language

When I first came to Europe, language was very daunting. I wasn’t very motivated to learn about a language and it kind of scared me. I started in countries with languages and letters somewhat foreign to what my typical 26 alphabet is. Danish, German, and Dutch. I didn’t try to learn them that well, and did my best to get around then.

In Germany I met a guy from the Austin (yes Texas) area who was taking a class on German. I was fascinated, but I doubted that I would remember, understand, or even care about it. Now I’m in Slovenia, another country with a few extra strange letters, and I can see the similarities and differences between languages. Their š is a lot similar to the “sci” sound in Italian (although it is actually “shu”). Their words like “pizzeria” are the same, but just with an added “j” making the “yuh” sound (pizzarjia).

France was when language first started making sense, as I took 6 weeks in middle school. It is also similar to Spanish (somewhat), which I studied in high school. French is really hard with the pronunciations, so I didn’t get very far in practicing.

In Spain things started to get better, all my Spanish came rushing back and I don’t remember having learned as much as I actually knew.

Coming to Italy I knew a few things and was prepared and motivated to learn the language. It’s been hard, but I keep pushing myself. The more I push myself to learn another language, the more my interest in other languages perks up. It’s not just the language itself that fascinates me, but the way that the country thinks.

I think when I go home to Texas, I am going to give spanish another try. In two months I have learned more italian than spanish in the 4 years I studied it. If I can push myself to learn spanish like I have italian, I know I can do so much more and put it to such good use.