Day 8 & 9: Paradise… Positano

Since yesterday and the day before were both spent in paradise… Positano rather, I’m combining both days into one post (and so I can catch up). We traveled into Salerno from Rome via trenitalia and found ourselves in a beautiful seaside village at the base of the Amalfi Coast. We were able to locate a small ferry that was traveling in our direction and hopped on at around 2PM. 70 minutes later… Positano… and we felt like our vacation was just beginning. Rather than blah-blah, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

Included are photos of the ferry ride into Positano, the village itself, and the port at Salerno. Just fantastic.20130615-051817.jpg20130615-051823.jpg20130615-051829.jpg

Day 7: The Great Rome

Enter Thousand Sunny. Of all the places you could imagine going in Rome, Italy, ”Thousand Sunny” probably wouldn’t be the first place you’d book. We, however, are budget conscious travelers so Thousand Sunny it was for two nights… AKA a bunkbed in the home of Maurizio, Marina and Zoro.

When we got to Rome, we knew right away that we were out of place. Sarah and I had enjoyed the sprawling small-town feel of Florence way too much to have any type of high expectations after exiting Roma Termini and seeing what could have been Rochester, Buffalo, or Syracuse with Italian street signs. What we saw of Rome, which although was only a day, felt way too modern to possibly be the land of Julius Caesar, or the mighty Empire. In fact, Rome looked like a caged animal… A lion behind bars opening and closing his lifeless eyes between naps. Surrounding ”old Rome” was, first, a 10-foot-tall pointed fence, followed by modern architecture, TV screens and outrageous street performers/vendors. Without buying any type of ticket you were allowed to enter the gates to inspect that rubble that used to be. The once-mighty Coliseum especially tore my heart out. Since I was a kid and first learned of what the Coliseum stood for I had wanted to visit Rome. Dried blood in the sand, the bodies of fallen gladiators buried beneath the grounds, and the dark cages where wardens kept there tigers before they were released to the excitement of thousands of Roman citizens… just an outstanding concept for my little boy mind. I guess I was just expecting grandeur, something more raw, something not bastardized by the chatter of coin machines, jumbotron screens, and other modern (in)conveniences.

Ultimately though, it was the Coliseum and it was awesome to be there.

Back to Maurizio and Zoro. I could be pretty lengthy here, but I’ll keep it brief. Thousand Sunny is a room in Maurizio’s flat in Rome. He and his fiancé Marina (and pitbull pup Zoro) live in a 3 bedroom flat right outside of the Battistini metro stop in Rome. They rent out two of the rooms to visitors and share pretty much the whole apartment. It’s a braver life-style than I’m willing to live, constantly having people in my home, rummaging through my kitchen. No thanks. But Maurizio, a Sicilian-born comedian/performer living in Rome, was the perfect host. He would try his hardest to converse with us, though most of our conversation turned into jokes and laughing at each other for random cultural differences… and the fact the his English was the worst of any hosts we had stayed with thus far. Maurizio had named his hostel Thousand Sunny after an anime magazine that he reads… that might give you a better idea of the type of guy we were dealing with. Two noisy Chinese roommates later (and one really cool housemate from Quebec City) and here we sit… On an open terrace, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea in Positano. Oh yeah, we left Rome around 9:30 this morning and arrived in Positano at 4. Ahh, but that’s a post for a different day… tomorrow

Photos include a crazy cool street act (one monk holding up another one with one hand), the coliseum, and us with zoro (sorry coast)!!!!!

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Day 6: Florence (Part Deux) and Pisa

Apologies for the late post. The following is an account of events on 6/11. Today, 6/12 will be recapped tomorrow morning!

If I only had a few words to describe our final day in Florence I would certainly consider using the term heart-stopping… As in a collection of heart-stopping moments strung together just closely enough to catch your breath. Lucky for me and unlucky for anyone reading this right now, I’m allowed far more than two words.

Moment #1: The Bell Tower at il Duomo, Fireneze

Nothing too terribly negative to report here. I mean, who actually expects to take an elevator to the top of a bell tower? Well this guy right here did and that unnaturally positive life partner of mine, referenced in a couple of previous posts, managed to convince him (me) otherwise, so the stifling stairs we went. The 471 steps to the summit proved a reasonable fee considering the opportunity I had to capture some of the most arresting images of the trip. Best views in Florence.

…literally out of breath heart stopping.

Moment #2: Pisa Junk and Esmerelda

We decided to go to Pisa against the advice of nearly everyone we bumped into that had traversed the area previously… Retrospectively I can say that it was a pretty silly decision. When you get off the train in Pisa at stazione centrale things look a little different than most other places: more garbage, more general stinkyness and way more gypsies. Suddenly I felt the same sensation I had had only a few days earlier when we almost missed our Cinque Terre trek and I did the “this had better be worth it” thing. Unfortunately, il Torre di Pisa (leaning tower) did not impress. Frankly, it’s small. Frankly, it’s boring. Frankly, it sucked. Tons of tourists all taking the same pictures (someone trying to hold the tower up and some trying to knock it down) and pick-pockets everywhere. Pisa itself we found to be the dirtiest and least interesting city of our trek. Not recommended at all… Even by other Italians which I find to be hilarious. When you travel to other large cities in Italy you often find (pardon my French) tshirts and sweaters that read “Pisa $hit”, or “I went to Pisa and all I got in return was pick-pocketed”. Even their own country has turned its back on most definitely a place no longer worth visiting. Throw in there the fact that we were literally chased… Like running on foot… By a crazed lunatic for nearly 300 meters through the main piazza in town, and it’s no contest. She was obviously a gypsy and offered to buy my camera. I told her to leave us alone and she started screaming at the top of her lungs, running after us. Eventually she stopped at a pay phone and sure enough we thought she was making a call to her gypsy posse in the train station where we were going. To our good fortune however, we made it on the train without further lunacy.

…literally “are we going to die” heart-stopping.

Moment #3: All’Antico Vaniao

I have limited words for what I’m about to say, because I start thinking about Vanaio and I lose most human capabilities… Breathe…

Hole in wall. Panini only. Freshest ingredients. Homemade, hot focaccia bread. Huge crowds. Huge sandwiches. Only 4 euro. Slabs of mozzarella. Prosciutto hanging from the ceiling. Amazing. Delicious. MUST VISIT if in FLORENCE. No excuses.

…literally wish we died and went to panini heaven heart-stopping.

Pictures include Sarah holding up Pisa like everyone else, Vanaio and the surrounding absurdity, and coast because I miss him.

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Day 5: Firenze… Quietly and Slowly

“Work is a blessing. God has so arranged the world that work is necessary, and He gives us hands and strength to do it. The enjoyment of leisure would be nothing if we had only leisure. It is the joy of work well done that enables us to enjoy rest, just as it is the experiences of hunger and thirst that make food and drink such pleasures.”

-Elisabeth Elliot

Couldn’t have said it better myself Lizzy. It’s easy to be thankful for gelato, fresh formaggio, or good wine. When was the last time we thought to ourselves however, “I’m so thankful to wake up in the morning to go to work”. I thought about this a bit yesterday as Sarah and I finally enjoyed a down day; one of those where you sleep without setting an alarm, meander without checking a map, and make plans without already having plans… get it? Of course we’d rather be here, on vacation in Europe, but I value the opportunity I have to work, be productive, enjoy my job, and take time away. Elisabeth mentions rest and leisure above, but if she needed one word to outline the point she’s trying to make, I’d bet it starts with “B” and ends with “alance”. Wanna bet…? Liz and I talked, I know, she told me.

Sarah and I were able to enjoy the Florentine market yesterday which consists of 7-8 streets, maybe 100 meters in length, lined with carts and stands dedicated to local goods. We were hoping to run into more of a fruit and veggie scene at some point, but the vendors seemed content to dabble in, mainly, soft leather purses and coats, gorgeous hand-painted ceramics, and fashonista shoes of course. Something I certainly did not expect seeing in Italy though was the huge population of  Moroccan, Indian and Pakistani people. They spend most of their time walking around with cheaper knock-off goods: umbrellas, sunglasses, etc. Many restaurants here even allow them to walk around the outdoor seating areas trying to sell customers roses and chocolates… Okay I guess for now, but very glad I won’t have to put up with that back in The States. In my experience they’ve been pushy, borderline rude, and impersonal. If you’re really going to try to sell me something, at least be able to talk to me… The two men we ran into the other night at dinner (one who sold us a perfectly acceptable umbrella for 2.5 euro and the other, who nearly stole 1 euro and gave me a dilapidated rose in return) could say hardly anything outside of “hey baby” and “nice price, nice price”.

 

Anyways… the quantity is limited regarding pictures from our quiet Monday in Florence, quality is excellent. I thought il duomo in Milan was astounding. Il duomo in Firenze is simply captivating. You actually stop walking when you see it for the first time, not wanting to move and risk missing a detail that your brain hasn’t absorbed yet. Architecturally not even on the same page as the goth-influenced duomo in Milano, but beautiful in its own regard.

…also a quick shot of two Italian men singing to Sarah at dinner last night 🙂

 

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Day 4: Liguria (Cinque Terre)

Well we missed breakfast, so that was a bummer. As promised, however, a more complete recap of yesterday’s events…

Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is not to be missed, period. The coastal villages in the Liguria region of Italy are some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We’re talking about towns of as few as 250 inhabitants, making Arkport, NY seem like a booming metropolis. These are the types of small, Mediterranean towns you see represented in the movies and TV shows: Milk carts making deliveries in the morning and bread makers running (literally) across town with hot bread and pastries wrapped in towels. It’s a simpler way of life, something I think… I know, that we take for granted living in such a “now, now, now” country back at home.

We started our day as Sarah and I usually do, perfectly on-time until we actually got to the site where the bus was supposed to pick us up for the tour/trek. We were lucky enough to book a hostel less than 1Km from the Stazione Garibaldi in Firenze, so our walk to catch any of the main buses, taxis, trains in or out of Florence is literally 5 minutes, 10 if we stop at any one of the million gelaterie in the surrounding piazze. Though we got to the station 20 minutes early, it took us about 19 1/2 minutes to actually find the tour company that would be showing us the region throughout the day (and by find I actually mean running laps around the station and stumbling across our guide and his bus by dumb luck). We ended up being, in prime Fiannaca fashion, the last couple on the bus, and, in prime Peter-specific fashion, I was pissed that we almost missed the tour that we spent 200 bucks on.

It took me a few minutes to catch my breath, but eventually turned to my unnaturally positive life-partner and said, “this had better be the trip of a lifetime”. Let’s just say that what we were able to experience in the Cinque Terre was nothing short of Sarah waving her magic wand to make my wish come true.

Then, immediately, Freddie happened. For the purposes of this memoir let’s just say that Freddie is a descriptor for what happens to somebody when they want to get off the grid. Freddie was our guide for the day, a French-born American citizen who grew up in Philly and had been living in Italy for the past decade: A guy who did the finance thing, the successful American Dream thing, the 9-5, suits and ties thing. He was “that” guy, who had everything except freedom; a freedom that he found (making much less money and giving up the traditional American comforts) in Liguria showing people the Cinque Terre 4 days every week and watching as facial expressions morph in unison at each new view of the sea, the coast, and the mountain-side villages. If he ever stumbles across this blog I would want to him to know that he has touched my life in a positive way. Sometimes that’s the best gift we can offer each other; positivity, perspective even. His freshness was in perfect harmony with the steaming bread I had seen earlier in the day and the milk that had obviously been gathered earlier in the morning. The theme of the day would present itself in new, exciting, ways over and over again.

The trail was wet. It rained all day, thank God. Had it been a traditional coastal day, 85 and sunny, the trek would’ve been exponentially more difficult. The bus leaving Florence took about two hours to arrive in La Spezia. Then, via a combination of trains, boats and 30-60 minute hikes along the steep grade of the hills, we would find Riomaggiore, Manarola, Monterosso, Vernazza, and Corniglia (3 of which are illustrated in the included pictures). Lunch was perfectly timed in more than one way. Not only did the octopus, sardine, crab, and potato antipasti and il piatto primo (fresh spaghetti con pesto) perfectly quench our need for fuel, but Sarah and I were blessed enough to find some pretty awesome company during our meal. We were introduced to Bernard and Ela, a young couple from Jersey and I was (happily) reminded after spending the rest of the day as a foursome instead of a twosome that nothing happens by accident. Friends find their way into your life via routes that you sometimes expect the least. It’s refreshing… go figure.

Pictures below include 3 of the 5 terre that we visited, train tracks cutting through the mountain side, Sarah and I at the port in Vernazza, and the only pair of shoes I brought on our 3-week journey waiting patiently, peacefully, in the train tunnel of Monterosso.

Florence again today (6/10) and leaving for Rome tomorrow night.

Much love to everyone keeping in touch with us while we’re here. Especially Mom and Dad Thompson for watching Coast. Miss that stupid dog…

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Day 3: Bergamo, Milano, and Firenze

Shorty post tonight, as we are getting up early for a visit to La Spezia and the Cinque Terra Tomorrow. Today was fantastic yet again. Awesome BandB hosts, best view of out trip, il primo gelato, and Florence’s #1 rated restaraut… (yea i read a couple reviews). Pictures include our view from Citta Alta in Bergamo, Il Duomo in Milan, Sarah and her first Gelato and wonderful Antonella… our hostess at Repepos B and B in Bergamo. Whats going on now… trying to figure out how to type an amperstand, apostrophe and question mark on this italian keyboard in the hostel… seriously, G to the hetto.

Florence for the next three days…

Cinque Terra Tomorrow at 7AM
Tuscany Monday
City of Florence Tuesday

Leave for Rome Tuesday night at 7PM

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Day 2: Dublin Part Deux and the Voyage to Bergamo

Dublin’s great. It really is. I don’t consider myself a seasoned traveler, though I find it hard to believe that a friendlier bunch exist elsewhere. I mean… I’m a friendly guy too under the right conditions, but I can’t say I was expecting much as we approached the end of our initial stay in Dublin and our first encounter…

…with Ryanair.

“Avoid at all costs.”

“Worst around. Tickets might be cheap but the attitudes are awful.”

“Want to experience an unnecessary rush of anxiety? Fly Ryanair.”

“I don’t always fly Ryanair, but when I do, I try to sleep the whole time.”

I’m the kind of guy who reads reviews of stuff before he buys it. I read reviews of everything; really everything. I’ve read your standard reviews of the big ticket items: TVs, computers, cameras and items of the like. I’ve read reviews of middle-ticket items as well: phone cases, ammunition and other odds and ends. What might set me apart from your average reviewer though is that I won’t think twice about about figuring out what the public consensus is regarding shaving cream, garbage bags, and, only once that I can remember… twice to be honest, that I needed to know if vegetables from Wegman’s would hold up better than Vegetables from Tops Markets.

It’s a sickness really, needing to have as much information as I do before making a decision I’m comfortable with. Which is why my decision to fly Ryanair may surprise many of the friends and family that know my compulsions best.

RyanAir is pretty awfully reviewed with the exception of one facet of their booming business… their ticket prices. Everything else though, from the (un)timeliness of their flights and tendency to over book, to the monasterial strictness of their cabin baggage allowance have been anything but heralded on the world wide web. Their tickets are CHEAP though. The process of buying tickets online is amazingly clunky as well. Not only would you have a better chance navigating Times Square tied to a blind seeing eye dog than you would their primitive website, but they reinvent the term “over the top” by trying to sell you everything but the kitchen sink along with your ticket(s).

“Would you like to purchase travel insurance?”

“No”

“Are you certain you don’t need insurance?”

“Yes, next please.”

“You know, people get sick in Europe. Travelers insurance could save you over 10,000 euros in hospital bills. Might you reconsider your decision not to purchase insurance.”

“No.”

“Then could we offer you a train ticket to the city, priority boarding, our own custom Ryanair cabin bag, a pocket translator, GPS, overpriced food and drink, possibly a hug…”

Understand Ryanair yet?

As I sit here thinking if I’ve been to hard on Ryanair (especially because we survived the flight) I remember that I had original started to write with it in mind to make a point. Despite the rumblings of the blogosphere, the countless horror stories, and the lack of any reasonable expectations, our experience with Ryanair was actually pretty awesome. The desk clerks were happy, the flight attendants attentive, and the captain funnier than watching Lindsay Lohan go from Parent Trap to Rehab for the 6th (and finaI) time… It was truly just that, an amazing contrast to what we expected and I think I know why.

It was Ryanair in Dublin.

Fast forward 6 hours…

Flight was short. Log wait for the bus in Bergamo. Short ride to city center. Shorter taxi to Repopo’s B&B (totally got swindled by Piero, the old man in the Best Western who told us our B&B was “was too far to walk” (i.e. let me call my buddy who’s a cabbie so I can get a kickback when he charges you 9 euro to drive you 300 yards)

Let’s just call that our first 9 euro mistake we’ve made so far 🙂

Anyway… Made it to the B&B. Husband and wife team. Amazing people. Too great to elaborate on now, but their story will be told eventually.

Now laying in bed next to my lovely wife, tired. Bed. Now.

Oh… Photos include our hotel in Dublin, Sarah leading the way to St Patty’s Cathedral, Dublin city hall, and the bar at the Old Jameson Distillery (awesome).

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