Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Visit to Italy (Part 3)

Hey everyone! I told you I would try to stay updated on the blog again.

This post all about the final part of my trip to Italy: Naples and Pompeii.

I took the train to Naples from Rome on Thursday morning. When I got to Naples, the first thing I could tell was that I was in a totally different place. Naples is very crowded but it seems like it is all local people. I never felt like there were any other tourists around really. After a mishap getting on the tram going the wrong way, I made it to my hostel. Hostel of the Sun is really great. My room was nice, they had an awesome free breakfast every day, and the people who work there are really cool.

However, I just really did not like the city of Naples at all. Maybe I didn't see enough of the city, but it just reminded me of all the bad parts of Asia. Over-crowded, smelly, and actually insane traffic.

I can point out some positive things about Naples though, so people don't think I'm being unduly harsh. First, as stated previously, my hostel was amazing. Second, pizza was supposedly created in Naples and it shows because the pizza is ridiculously good. Finally, the Archaeological Museum is really cool. It has many artifacts from Pompeii, including "The Secret Room", which is full of erotic art that was previously locked away from the perverse public eye, after being found during the Victorian age, until a couple decades ago. Children under 14 still aren't allowed in the room though, and 14-17 must be accompanied by an adult. Until very recently, even adults needed a reservation (free) to enter, but no longer. I just walked right in.

It must be a sign that I'm still a child at heart, because I spent 10 minutes in the relatively small room ogling at various penis-related paintings, statues, and other artwork.

Yes, even a penis wind chime... who doesn't want THAT?!

There is also plenty of other non-sexual artwork taken from Pompeii, including elaborate mosaics, coins, jewelry, many household items such as silverware and jugs, and various types of statues (both bronze and marble). The statues are simultaneously my favorite and also the creepiest thing that has ever existed. Maybe it's just from watching too much Doctor Who, but these are the kind of statues where you really don't want to blink in front of them.

All it needs is a pair of wings, and the Doctor would probably show up
The next day, I got up and took the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Pompeii. The number one thing I wanted to see in Italy was awaiting me!!

Here, I also had an audio guide tour from Rick Steves (the app is called Rick Steves Audio Europe if you want to download it, BTW). It was an overview but I learned many interesting things I didn't know before and it was a great idea to do an audio guided tour. I think you can also get audio guides from the ticket office, but of course you must pay for those.

It's wild to consider how well preserved Pompeii is considering a volcano within sight of the city erupted massively 2000 years ago. I was also impressed to find out that they were pretty advanced. They had pedestrian only streets and cross walks and fast food and indoor plumbing, same as we do today. They collected rainwater and had a massive amphitheatre and public swimming pools. I'm not sure why we have this idea that people in the past are not as smart or advanced as we are. They were far more advanced than some later points in history, like in the Middle Ages. Of course we have more advanced technology now with computers, but for basic things, I think Pompeii would rival any small city today. I don't think I would've minded living there really (as long as I escaped Volcano Day of course).

Mt Vesuvius looming large in the distance

A cross walk. Three stones meant a major road. The white things are reflectors so you can see at night

Pedestrians only barricade to keep carts and chariots out

The famous plaster-molded bodies from those who perished

A food stall counter

A bed in one of the many brothels

A brick oven... Italian food, never changes

A view onto the Forum area (central marketplace/downtown)

Inside the theater

The circumvesuviana train stop sign
These are just a few of my many (MANY) photos from Pompeii but I think this gives an accurate picture of the city. These pictures of some of my favorite of the bunch I took.

What do you think? Have you been to Pompeii (or Naples) before, and if so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

This concludes my trip to Italy! Next, stay tuned for posts about my last few weeks in France, my upcoming trip to Italy, and other plans for the rest of the year.
See you soon!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Visit to Italy (Part 2)

OK, so.... what a fail for me. I've been just 100% neglectful of this blog since I got back from Italy and I'm not entirely sure why. I have no excuses really, other than sheer laziness. I even had almost a whole week off school because of massive amounts of snow here in Normandy and I didn't update it then either.

My big news since the blog blackout is that I was finally accepted for my New Zealand visa!!! However, I decided to go home first for the summer rather than go directly to NZ from France. I'm headed over after my birthday in September instead. I decided I really needed a nice long hot summer after the miserable weather in France. I couldn't bear to leave European winter and go directly to Southern Hemisphere winter.

All I can say is I suck and I'm going to try and keep the blog updated more from here on out.

So onward to Rome!

My first day, I went to the Vatican because it was the last Sunday of the month, and thus free rather than being about 14€. I waited in line 45 minutes due to the crowds, although I actually had expected to wait longer, so it's wasn't so bad.

The Vatican is a big pretty building with lots of artwork inside it, although I'd say it's not really something I'd visit again. Most of the art is Renaissance, which is not really my style. (I know this is practically blasphemy, but they all start looking the same after a while, to me.) It's a lot of statues with broken off penises and giant ceiling paintings.

also, this creepy bastard

I was actually even a little disappointed by the Sistine Chapel because it's SO high up you can barely see anything (and definitely no details), and you can't even take pictures of it. There are guys that walk around and do nothing but say "NO PHOTO" over and over again and will try to grab your camera out of your hand if you have it out.

Thanks to Rick Steves guidebook and audio tour, I found a semi-secret exit out of the Vatican directly to St. Peter's. I say semi-secret as it's not the public exit but is intended for tour groups. However, no one tried to stop me from using it on my own (as Rick had said) and it made my entry into St Peter's super simple. When I left the cathedral, I saw a HUGE lineup outside to get in the normal entrance and I knew I made the right decision to "sneak in" the back way.

Now, in contrast with the Vatican, I found St Peter's to be amazing and VERY impressive-- both the interior and the view from the Dome. The Dome view was beautiful especially because the weather was very nice and sunny (albeit windy) that day. The stairs are killer, but they're worth it for the amazing view (and by this point I was Stair Master after all the stairs I climbed in Florence).

The interior is really wonderful as well, although there are some pretty weird things inside (weirder even than normal Catholic cathedrals... there's a body of a preserved pope on display in one area, for instance). The artwork and especially the architecture are fantastic though.

After visiting the church, I sent a postcard to my mom from the Vatican Poste next door, which was cool. They are, after all, an independent country and have their own postal service (which is supposed to be a lot better and more efficient than Italy's) and their own stamps, which have the Pope on.

The next day, I was super excited to go and see Ancient Rome. I visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate very well (it rained off and on all day), but it was still fantastic. I started at the Colosseum. If there is one thing I learned this trip, it's that tourism cards are worth the price. I definitely got my money's worth out of the one in Florence, but the one in Rome was worth every cent solely because I got to skip the ridiculously long line outside the Colosseum. If the line was like that in February, it must be horrendous in the summer so the Roma Pass is well worth investing in. It also includes free metro and bus travel for 3 days so that is a great bonus as well.

After the Colosseum, I wandered around a bit and got some lunch before making my way back to the Roman Forum. Rick Steves does a great free walking tour audio guide for the Forum. You can get it on iTunes or the Google Play store. I'm sure it sounds like I must be making money off promoting him!! But I'm not, I just really like his books and guides, even though they are more for older travelers. The Forum is wonderful and you can really imagine what it must have been like to be there in its heyday even though it's now almost entirely ruins. I was running low on time to see Palatine Hill so I didn't spend long in this section, but the view of Rome from there is great. It's clear to see why Ancient Rome's elite would've set up house there.

View of the Forum from near the Temple of Jupiter

The next day, I visited a variety of sites, mostly by walking, that took me all across Rome. I started just south of the Colosseum at the Circo Massimo metro stop. I walked to the Capitoline Hill museums, passing the Bocca della Verita, or the Mouth of Truth. You might know this from the movie Roman Holiday. It's super touristy so I didn't feel like waiting in line to get my picture with my hand in its mouth but I did snap a photo of it anyway.  After the Capitoline museums, I went on a roundabout route through Rome to end up at the Castel Sant'Angelo over near the Vatican. On the way, I saw the Trevi Fountains (pretty but way too congested and overcrowded just to be a pretty fountain; I tossed my coin in to ensure a reutrn to Rome anyway) and the Pantheon (WAY more awesome than I was expecting it to be; the dome is super impressive but hard to get photos of).

Trevi Fountain
Castel Sant'Angelo was originally built to be Hadrian's tomb but was commandeered by the Catholic church at some point. One pope even built a secret tunnel all the way from the Vatican to the Castel in the 1300s as an escape route in case the Vatican was attacked. It's now called Sant'Angelo because in 590AD people claimed to have seen the Archangel Michael on the roof, sword in hand. The interior is interesting historically (as it's been built and re-built and built onto multiple times. The very center dates to the Hadrian time period (150AD ish) but the outer parts were only built in the 1500s. The best part of the Castel is definitely the view, which is not quite as extensive as the one from St Peter's but the bonus is that you can actually see St Peter's in the distance.

On my last day in Rome, after a basically failed attempt at seeing the Appian Way, I spent most of the day just relaxing in the hostel.

Phew!! That's a long update! Next I will talk about my visit in Naples and (get excited) Pompeii!!!! After that, I will be posting about other things that have happened in the past month, including a visit to Mont-St-Michel in lower Normandy, the crazy snow weather we got the week after that, New Zealand plans, and my spring break plans to visit Germany (which is next week!). Stay tuned, tout le monde, I promise not to lag in posting again.

See ya soon!

(Photos: all belong to me; do not use without permission.)