When I booked this trip, I was hesitant to book guided tours. I even bought the book “Europe Through the Back Door”. I wanted to do what the locals did, eat what the locals eat…but when you’re travelling alone for six weeks, and loneliness gets the best of you, tours are the easiest way to meet people. I signed up for a tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel at the hostel. For some reason, even though it was a hostel sponsered tour, we had to meet at another church downtown. I think that’s dumb. I get lost easily, and meeting in reception would have been a lot more convenient. There were only five of us, tour guide included. Two kids from Jersey, myself, and a blonde girl from Canada training to be a tour guide. After the ice-breaker introductions, I found out that one of the kids had a house in Boca, and the girl had a place in Miami. Small world.
But back to this “tour-guide-in-training” thing. Talk about a cool job. Move overseas for the summer, get paid like crap, walk around familiar sites, insert humor at inappropriate moments, and share a few drinks with your tour afterwards. Where’s the application for that job?
We started by walking the Angels Bridge, each angel holding a symbol of the Passion – crown of thorns, nails, cross, etc. We turned to the left and Tad, or tour guide, warned us we were about to enter the “gauntlet”. Just look straight ahead, don’t make eye contact, and keep walking. He was right, dozens of people tried to shove flyers in our hands, living “statues” lured us in for photographs, but we survived! In all the guidebooks and internet sites I studied before this trip, I read that the best time to visit the Vatican is early in the morning. NOT SO. That’s the absolute worst time. That’s when all the tourists, who have read the exact same thing I did, are lined up for miles waiting to get inside. Being with a tour guide, we didn’t have to wait at all. We walked through the museums, stopping every now and then so Tad could give us a “Rome for Dummies” breakdown of what we were looking at. Had I not booked the tour, or had such a cool tour guide, I would have been completely lost looking at all the statues and tapestries. I’d also have no idea just how crazy that Nero guy was. (“Watch Rome burn, build a huge house with a 1000 swan powered party boat.”)
Before wrapping up the tour at St. Peter’s Basilica, he us through the Sistine Chapel. I wish I had the words to describe it. I looked up, my jaw dropped, and thought it had to be the most fascinating piece of art I’ve ever seen in person. Not only because, well, it’s the Sistine Chapel, or because Michelangelo literally crippled himself painting it, but because he wasn’t even a painter. He had a few mentors to help him through the first couple of panels, but fired them after a few months and continued on his own – and you can tell the difference, too. You’re not allowed to snap photos of the ceiling, copyright infringement and all, but you know me…I did. I won’t post it here, but if you know me personally on facebook, it might be there…
I left the next morning for Naples by train. Once I arrived in Naples, (Napoli), my iPhone was completely dead. Bad news. I keep all the email confirmations from the hostels I book, along with their detailed instructions on how to get there. I had two choices: fin a McDonald’s and use their free wifi, or find an internet point. I chose door number 1. My quest for free internet was unsuccessful, since I didn’t have an Italian phone number, so I went on a search for an internet point. Hot, sweaty, dying to put my pack down, about an hour later, I finally find one. I wrote down the directions and headed back to the metro. The directions said to take line 2 to the first station, but after looking like a complete idiot standing all by myself on the platform for line 2 for 20 minutes, I came to the realization that line 2 must be under construction. I was right. An hour later, I finally found the hostel.
I signed up for a cooking class at the hostel, but after a little siesta, I was told the cooking class was cancelled. Guess that means I have to go find food. Walking down the street by the hostel, I saw another girl with a backpack who looked a little lost. I asked her if she was looking for Flashpackers, she said yes, and I pointed her in the right direction. Gosh, wish people did that for me sometimes.
My first impression of Napoli wasn’t a very good one. The streets were dirty, buildings weren’t anything special, and the traffic – HORRENDOUS. Scooters and cars pack the street, and I’m surprised the city even bothers with traffic lights anymore. I learned quickly that if you need to cross the street, just cross the street. Walk right in the middle of traffic. They will stop. I picked up a pizza, went back to the hostel, inhaled said pizza, and passed out. Day one in Naples, and nothing accomplished.
The next morning, as I was getting ready for the day, “lost girl” was in the bathroom with me. We ended up having breakfast together and decided to check out Pompei. In 79 AD, the volcano Vesuvius erupted, killing everyone. Once all of civilization was wiped out, it erupted again, preserving the city under ash and soot. Archeologists are still working on the site, and 1/3 of it still hasn’t been uncovered.