Wednesday, July 21, 2010

wanderlust wednesday: italia

When my girls S, A, C and I went to Italy during our ten-day academic hiatus abroad, much fun was had by all (well, until the last night, but I'll get to that). In fact, it may have been one of my favorite trips of all time! We flew Ryanair to Milan, where we checked into our itty-bitty kind-of-icky hotel room and immediately went out on the town for some real, honest-to-goodness Italian pizza! We were only in the city for one night, so we traded a wild night for a reasonable bedtime and got up early in the morning to explored the city--first, we climbed the Duomo to the very top:

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(Duomo di Milano)

The remainder of the day was dedicated to unhurried exploration. We had some lovely white wine with lunch, meandered through mopeds, and, completely by chance, suddenly stumbled upon a (partially) crumbling castle!

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After enjoying some ice cream on the grounds, we packed up and took a late-night train to Venice, where we met quite a character:

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(Fulvio "you can just call me Fabio if you want"--a middle-aged, leather-skinned Italian-to-the-core tennis instructor who just cracked us up. I don't think he realized that we were not laughing with him...)

Darkness had already fallen when we arrived, so we set our sights on the campground we had booked for the next couple of nights. Somehow (I think en route to the bathroom), C and I were separated from S & A in the vast blackness of the campground. We thought we knew our cabin number, but apparently we hadn't the slightest clue. We hooted with relief when we found what we *thought* was the correct cabin, but that was before we opened the door to find that it was absolutely chock full of mattresses:

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Please pardon C's funny face, as we were both in hysterics. We deduced that this was not, in fact, the correct cabin, and continued our search. The next "cabin" we found with the appropriate numeral stamped on its door was the beauty on the right.  I don't know what we were thinking. First of all, not a "cabin"... but we were taken in by its four walls and a roof. We just figured we'd been had by our guide book. Despite the fact that it was exceptionally dirty and disgusting and resembled an oversized outhouse with makeshift beds in it and didn't appear to have been cleaned since 1995, we cut our losses and bunked down for the night (okay, we were exhausted).

Turns out, we actually had a really nice, cozy (actual) cabin right next to S&A, who had a very restful night's sleep. I don't know what the heck that outhouse-esque monstrosity was for. Shamed and grateful to be awake and alive, we set out the next morning with a story for the ages and smiling faces.

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After a cup of much-needed cappuccino at a curbside cafe, we wandered through the marketplace, strolled along the canels, stopped at shop after shop of Carnivale masks and elaborate glasswork, and finally wound up privy to the notorious pigeons in Piazza San Marco.

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The interior of the Basilica was incredible--my love for mosaic was born here. Little monkeys that we were, we wouldn't have been satisfied without climbing to the very, very top. That evening, we went for a wonderful gondola ride...

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...watched the sun set...

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...enjoyed the absence of pigeons and the beautiful lights of the PM piazza...

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...and drank strong limoncello by the water.

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Lovely as it was, we felt that we had seen all we needed to see of the small city on the water. We had anticipated an extra day in Venice, but decided to head to Florence a little bit earlier than planned. Of course, the very first thing we did (after checking into our campground--real tents this time--not recommended for October) was visit the local Duomo:

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And climb the usual snaking, skinny stairs to the top of the highest tower, to observe the city from above:

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After shopping (the girls bought gorgeous handbags at the market, I was already too broke), we swung by the Duomo once more--just in time to catch the sun set.

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That night, we had a nice, relaxing dinner of fresh gnocchi (and were accosted by accordianists who demanded tips for their gratuitous performance).

The next morning, we decided to take a bicycle tour of Tuscany. I am sorry to say that I can neither remember the name of the tour, the Irish tour guide, or the name of the winery we visited. If I could, I would highly recommend all of the above--it was incredible!

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We took a van from Florence with the other members of our tour group, and I was awestruck by Tuscany's beauty.

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The tour began at a castle that produces wine and olive oil (how Italian!), where we visited the cellars, had a little tasting and enjoyed the view.

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Next, we hopped on our bikes and prepared to hit the road!  It was a pretty easy ride--at least, at first:

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The problems began after we stopped for lunch (everything was included--it was a great deal!). We feasted on bread and salad and pesto pasta and the wine just kept flowing! When the time came to continue the ride we were fat full with delicious food and maybe a little bit on the tipsy side, which made bike riding a little bit less enjoyable... but we managed!

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The next morning we waited in line for hours and hours to see Michelangelo's David before heading to the train station and waiting for hours and hours for the train to Rome!

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After a wild night on the town, S was the only one to get up at the crack of dawn. A & I followed a couple of hours later and met her in town. C didn't make it out of bed in time. We headed over to the Forum, and wandered around for a while, taking it all in:

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The Forum was actually really cool (I'm partial to ruins of any kind), but I was already pretty unimpressed with the city in general. It seemed so dirty and impoverished! Little children were begging us for money almost as soon as we set foot outside of the train station. After exploring the Forum, it was time to visit the Colosseum. We were just starting to worry that C would miss out on all of Rome when she was spotted, strolling along outside the arches of the area in which we were patiently standing in line.
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It was my dear friend S's birthday that night, so the owner of our hostel (great hostel, very nice guy!) took us out to a big prix-fixe dinner at a hole-in-the-wall local restaurant that he claimed was the very best. We took up all of the outside seating and sat, banquet style, with all of the tables pushed together. It was a fantastic meal! We got to try practically everything on the menu (served in plentiful portions) and drank lots and lots of divine wine. Then we hopped through the streets, lounged by Trevi fountain (below), and generally enjoyed la dolce vita!

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In the AM, we visited Vatican City. We had to get up incredibly early and wait in line for longer than I've ever waited in line for anything in my life. What a bizarre place! We spent most of our time meandering through the extensive museum and staring at the ceiling in a very crowded Sistine chapel.

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St. Peter's Basilica was extravagantly beautiful, but something about it was unsettling (A & I had lost S in the museum and climbed to the upper dome without her). When we went down to the Vatican grotto (the tomb where all Popes are buried), John Paul II had recently died and nuns were standing vigil over his body while groups of tourists attempted to sneak contraband photographs and the guards tried to hold them back. It made me very uncomfortable. Actually, the whole of Vatican City made me uncomfortable--I tend to get nervous once-spiritual places that have become overrun with tourists (needless to say, I did not take many photos there). A & I snuck out for lunch and waited for S to emerge.

On day three, we took a trip out to Ostia Antiqua!

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Ostia is a really beautiful, ruined ancient harbor city on the outskirts of Rome. This was much more my style--the crowds were minimal and it was wonderful to be so interactive! We had plenty of peace and quiet, and could slowly explore every niche and cranny of the little city without succumbing to the pressures of claustrophobia.

Our flight was at 2 am, so we took a couple bottles of vino downtown for one last hoorah under the lights of the Colosseum.

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It was all downhill from there. I won't go into detail here, but events transpired something like this:

1. I put my purse down with the rest of our bags and go gallavanting off with my friends (not terribly far away, mind you).
2. We tire of basking in the Colosseum's glow and gather up our things to go out on the town.
3. I realize I no longer have my purse.
4. I freak out.
5. We take a cab over to the American Embassy, which is (of course) closed.
6. I really freak out.
7. I borrow a calling card and make multiple frantic, fruitless phone calls (I think one was to my parents).
8. I decide I will attempt to board the plane sans passport.
9. We take a van to the airport, where they laugh in my face re: boarding said plane.
10. (All of my money and credits cards have also been stolen).
11. My dear, dear friend S offers to stay behind with me.
12. I decide I can't let her do that.
13. She throws her credit card at me as she runs for the gate as the plane is about to lift off.
14. I return to the city, where I roam the streets in perpetual tears, engulfed in luggage (which I eventually pay to store at the train station). (There were multiple little frustrations here and there that caused me to walk much more than necessary.)
15. Walk into every little hotel that I can find until I find one that has a room.
16. Lay in bed and cry. The woman who owned the hotel took pity on me and was especially kind. She brought me treats and passed along any and all phone calls promptly and with a sad little smile.
17. I get up at the crack of dawn and go to the Embassy for a temporary passport.
18. I go back to the airport.
19. I buy a new plane ticket.
20. I finally fly back to Ireland (I think I missed my final exam, but at this point I can't even remember that part--I was so traumatized by the experience).

And after all the agony? It was still a great trip (overall)! I certainly learned a lesson or two, though perhaps not well enough :)

Next week: Morocco!

7 comments:

  1. well italy looks beautiful and sounds delicious! sorry about the purse fiasco

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  2. Looks like you have a wonderful time!

    xox
    Chandler

    http://chandler-freshstart.blogspot.com/

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  3. I have literally been there, and done that.
    Wasn't Florence BEAUTIFUL?

    I lost my wallet in Paris, was an illegal immigrant in the country I was living in, had to make multiple calls, lost all credit cards, etc....You know the game. It sucks.

    Number one rule of travel: Shit happens.
    At least you probably looked great doing it. :)

    Love travel posts, so great. Have fun conquering Morocco!

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  4. Looks like an amazing trip. The thing with yout cabin, you're right, it's always the sort of bad/sort of strange moments that end up being the best travel stories.

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  5. Looks like you know how to have lots of fun travelling... I think I might start doing some posts related to my travels as well, starting tomorrow perhaps!

    The Duomo in Milan looks amazing... I don't know why people always say it's the "meh" Italian city. I've never been, but 99% of Italians I've met abroad of from there, which seems to support it's "meh"ness. What did you think?

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  6. Really enjoyed reading your amazing trip... but the part where your purse got stolen was quite agonizing... like 呈婷呈婷呈婷呈婷 said,"Prevention is better than cure..." you should use this company http://bit.ly/9AmT7f to help you protect and recover from any loss. :)

    ReplyDelete