Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

After just one perfectly beautiful day in Rome we were on our way to Naples. When our Rome tour guide found out Naples was our next stop, he told us even Italians are scared to visit there and tourists will be pickpocketed to the bone…so that was super encouraging. Admittedly, Naples was the sketchiest place we went but from everything we had been told we were half expecting to be mobbed by savages—and it wasn’t quite that bad :]

People kept warning us about pick pockets everywhere we went and I’m sure it can be a problem but we found the people in each and every city to be kind and helpful. Being in a foreign place where you don’t know the language or where anything is or how things are done can make you feel very vulnerable and finding that people are willing to stop and help you find what you’re looking for was one of the best parts of the trip.

There is a lot of immigration here on the east coast where I live and the cities around us (like Boston and New York) are major cultural melting pots. I never thought too much about what it’s like for people moving here and trying to find their way around but I hope I will be more sensitive and helpful now that I know what it’s like to be in a foreign place myself.

The first thing we wanted to see in Naples was the Amalfi Coast so we took off on foot to find the train. We walked what felt like a really long way trying to find the station and were starting to think we were lost right before we found it. The attendant at the station was actually really friendly and helpful (unlike the other train stations) and we were quickly on our way to Sorrento where we could get a bus up the coast.

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I loved riding the trains around Italy because it allowed us to see all the little places in between the big cities and we got to immerse ourselves in the culture for a few minutes. There were lots of kids and teenagers on the trains dressed in beach clothes. They were so different from American young people. Here on the trains young (and old) people put in ear buds and stare at the book in our lap so we don’t have to talk to people.  Most Americans also have a pretty large “my space” zone meaning we don’t like people standing too close or touching us. People in Italy seemed to touch each other a lot. If anyone touches me they can just stand back and wait for the popo because I’ll be screaming for my life :] Ok, it’s not quite that bad.

In Italy though, the young people came on and the train was booming with noise. They talked (loudly). They sang (louder). They sat on each other’s laps and clapped to the songs they were shouting. I stared at them in amazement :] I loved them though—they were so full of life and wildly connected to everything going on around them. They didn’t close out the world with ear buds and “personal space”—they just let the world come gushing in and it was really beautiful to watch them having such a good time.

The transformation in the landscape from Naples to Sorrento was incredible. We went from a big black and gray city to a the lush and colorful countryside that felt almost tropical. We rode by all sorts of little towns built right into the sides of the mountain and zipped by pretty little stucco houses and bright lemon groves.

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In Sorrento we bought our bus tickets then ran in a little café for another sweet and tangy cappuccino. We asked for a to-go coffee so the barista put it in a plastic cup with tinfoil on top—I guess Italians don’t really get coffee to go like Americans do ;]

There was a very long line for the bus so we tucked ourselves under an umbrella to get out of the sun and waited our turn. The bus was supposed to come every 15 minutes but it took at least 30. By the time we got to the front of the line, the bus was packed full with standing room only so we had to decide if we wanted to wait another 30 minutes or however long it took for the next bus or just get on and stand in the aisle. We didn’t want to waste time so we decided to stand.

We figured people would get off at some of the stops along the way and we would eventually get a seat but instead more and more people kept getting on at each stop. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t any more room, people were going to get on no matter what.

We wound up, up, up the mountain around sharp bends that I never imagined a bus could make. We kept stopping and adding more people and working our way higher and higher up the mountain. And then we popped up around a bend and I found out exactly why everyone says you must see the Amalfi coast.

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It is so, so beautiful. None of the pictures I took do it justice because they were taken out of the window of a moving bus. That line running along the side of the mountain is part of the road we had just driven. Our path snaked right along the side of the mountain and sometimes cut right through the mountain by way of tunnel. When I looked out the bus window all I could see below us was water…I felt like I was on a roller coaster hanging off the edge of a cliff. Sometimes I was pretty sure the bus was going to roll off the mountain but it didn’t matter because I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my life.

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That zig zaggy thing is part of the road we were on.

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I couldn’t believe all the color—from the crisp, clear blue sky to the turquoise and sapphire water. The pink, orange, and purple flowers hanging off of everything and the bright yellow lemon groves dotted between the cypress trees. It was stunning. The Amalfi Coast is one of those places that’s hard to share because you really just have to see it with your own eyes to understand what it looks like.

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Because we were standing in the aisle holding on for dear life, I didn’t really take many pictures on the way up…I just stood there and ate up all the color and beauty accosting my senses. Sometimes, to really appreciate something, you just have to put the camera down and see the world with your eyes instead of your lens. On this trip, I didn’t want to spend so much time getting the perfect shot that I looked back and realized I didn’t actually see anything.

That wild two-hour ride up the coast is one of my favorite memories from our trip. I loved everything about it—standing in the aisle holding on for dear life while our bus seemed to hang over cliffs, listening to Italian swirl all around us, and laughing with and at the other tourists on the bus who were as startled and enamored as we were by this wild, free place built between the rocks and the ocean. Did I mention I loved it? Love, love, loved it.

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 I wish we could have spent the whole day exploring the coast but we only had one day in the area and wanted to see Pompeii too. So we hopped on a different bus and took the two-hour ride right back down the coast. This time we got seats and sometimes, I admit, I closed my eyes around the bends because I thought I was going to die by plunging into the Mediterranean and I had already seen everything on the way up anyway :]

We accidentally got off the bus at the wrong train station but it didn’t matter because we were still able to get to Pompeii from there. While waiting for the train we met a college kid from Colorado who was backpacking through Europe for the summer—backpacking through Europe is the stuff dreams are made of. He was sort of lost and confused like we were and was also trying to get to Pompeii. He seemed very happy to have met someone else who spoke English. It seems like when you are in a foreign place, you become instant friends with anyone who speaks your language. When normally you would push pass strangers without taking notice, you suddenly are very happy to talk and tell them all about yourself—just because they can understand what you’re saying. So we talked to the backpacking college kid from Colorado and we all knew each other’s life stories by the time we made it to Pompeii :]

Pompeii is huge…and we only had an hour or two before we had to leave. If we ever make it back I’m going to leave a whole day just for Pompeii and do an audio tour so I know what I’m looking at. Here are some pictures:

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{Cart tracks worn into the streets from the days when Pompeii was populated}

I used to want to be an archeologist thanks to Indiana Jones so Pompeii was like eye candy for me. So sad and yet so fascinating.

So that was our day in the Naples area. Next we were off to the beautiful island of Sicily…and I will tell you all about it on Monday.

Thanks for reading along. Ciao! ;]

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series about Europe you can still read them here: Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Florence & Pisa; Rome, Italy.

Rome, Italy

After chasing trains all over Pisa and Florence the day before, we were happy to be taking a guided tour of Rome. We met up with our group in Civitavecchia and took the hour and a half bus ride into Rome. We had our first real Italian coffee at a stop on the way in. Our guide, Giovanni, told us about the different kinds of coffee and what he would pay for each—and told us not to pay more than he would even though we were tourists. We got a cappuccino that was perfectly sweet and strong and I think I’m going to have to invest in an espresso machine now that I’m always craving all the good coffee we had overseas.

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Once our bus arrived in the city we picked up our second guide, Valentina. We needed two guides: one to do the talking and the other to protect us from the Roman moped drivers. No kidding. There are about 15 gazillion mopeds in Rome and most of them are trying to run over tourists. I mean, I don’t blame them…it must be kind of annoying when a whole mob of foreigners are trying to cross the street together and are walking really slowly snapping pictures while traffic gets backed up…but let’s be kind and not smoosh each other into the pavement, okay? Okay. I don’t think Giovanni got paid enough to walk out in the middle of the busy streets with his back to the traffic just so we could cross alive…but it was nice of him either way.

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 {A Roman driver plotting our demise}

Traffic aside, Rome is majestic. Every time you turn around there’s something else to see. It’s incredible to stop and think of the history this city has seen and still has written all over it today. Rome is alive. Many of the places we went felt a little touristy and contrived—like they used to be something but are now used only to relive distant memories of a place that once was. Rome isn’t like that at all; it’s vibrant and bustling with both the people who live there and the tourists who travel great lengths to see it.

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We wound through one perfectly picturesque street after another and added our footsteps to the story Rome tells.

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We saw so many things—the Trevi Fountain and the ruins of the Roman Forum. Aventine Hill where you can see the Imperial Palaces. The Circus Maximus where chariot races were held…

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We went by the Tiber River and walked around the Arch of Titus and all through the Colosseum—and jeez, I thought my head was going to explode from sensory overload.

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After all that we walked to St. Peter’s Basilica and if the church wasn’t impressive enough, we got to see Michelangelo’s Pietà. The whole time I was standing there looking at it I was thinking, holy cow, Michelangelo did this when he was 23. I’m 27 and I’m still a loser. Oh well.

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DSC07435The Swiss Guards who protect the Pope. Nice pants, boys.

Our day in Rome was one of my absolute favorites. There’s just no place like it, so busy and alive and full of history too. I hope my coin in the Trevi Fountain works because I would love to go back someday. I picked up a little toy Vespa while we were over there to remind me of the crazy Italian drivers and the busy Roman streets filled with people living and breathing and adding their footsteps to the pages of the Eternal City.

Next we were off to Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast.

If you missed the earlier posts in this series about Europe, check them out here: Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Florence and Pisa.

Florence & Pisa

We spent most of our time in Europe exploring different parts of Italy. We had one day to hit both Florence and Pisa…and what a day it turned out to be.

We decided to start with Pisa but getting there took some work. First, we took a shuttle to the bus station. We needed to take the bus to the train station but since it was Sunday the buses weren’t running as often as they normally do. People started getting fidgety when the bus wasn’t coming because they didn’t want to miss the train. Some people decided to walk to the station, some pooled their money and took a taxi, we decided to wait. The whole time we were standing there waiting I just kept thinking, “I’m standing in Italy, I’m standing in Italy.” I had dreamt of that moment for so long—it was incredible watching it unfold.

In good Italian time the bus rolled in and we actually ended up driving right by the people who decided to walk to the station–patience pays off, my friends :] We really didn’t know what was going on with tickets so we just told the crabby man behind the counter what we were trying to do and bought the tickets he gave us.

After that we had to figure out how to validate the tickets and find the right platform to wait for the train. We rushed around, asked lots of questions, consulted with other people who spoke English and were trying to do the same thing, and finally settled on where we needed to be. Once we were settled in they announced the train would actually be arriving at a different platform so we all rushed back into the station and started over. The good news is, we did get on the right train in time :]

The train ride into Pisa was about twenty minutes long and I enjoyed every minute. We rode through the Tuscan countryside and even though I was dead tired, I couldn’t close my eyes for one minute for fear of missing something. Riding the train was perfect. I didn’t take any pictures or worry about a thing. I just sat there and watched the hills and wheat fields roll by while a dream that has lived in my heart for so long slowly came true.

We were told Pisa was a little place overrun with pickpockets and nothing to see or do but stop by the Tower. I would have to disagree. The streets were perfect Italy–exactly what you would picture in a postcard. I wanted to stop at every alley and take a picture of just one more perfectly enchanting little street.

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We didn’t really know how to get to the Tower and there weren’t very many signs pointing the way so we just kept wandering in whatever general direction other people seemed to be going. At one point we were sort of lost when I turned around to the Tower peeking up over the buildings and leaning right in our direction. That moment will live in my heart forever.

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I have to admit, I didn’t really want to see the Tower. I thought it was too touristy and I wanted to spend the whole day in Florence. But I’m so glad we decided to go because Pisa and the Tower were so much more beautiful and inspiring than I ever imagined. I used to think if I had seen a picture of something, then I was good, I had seen it. The Tower of Pisa changed my mind about that.

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After taking pictures at the Tower, we started making our way back to the train station. It started to pour and we huddled under an umbrella and wound through the streets. Walking the streets of Italy snuggled up under an umbrella with Darren is just about as close to perfect as I can imagine.

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I swore I wasn’t going to bring any touristy little nick-knacks back with me but I have to admit, a little Leaning Tower of Pisa did make it onto my desk. It was just too cute to leave behind!

We wanted to try real Italian pizza so we grabbed a couple of slices to eat on the way to Florence. We sat on the curb at the station and ate up while we waited for the train. We had lots of pizza in Italy but the stuff we tried that first day in Pisa was the very best–soft and airy–almost pastry like. I sit around and dream about it now :]

The train ride to Florence was another hour and a half but equally beautiful. We wanted to see the Duomo and actually saw the top of it sticking up over the building as we pulled into the station. Well, that should be easy to find, right? Wrong. We walked out of the station and managed to get lost immediately. Unfortunately we had spent more time in Pisa than we intended and we only had a couple of hours left for Florence before we could catch the last train out. Getting lost was eating up our time and we were both a little frustrated.

We did learn something though, when all else fails, find a street buried in touristy nick-knacks and follow the crowd…this leads you to a landmark every time :] We went down a street full of shops and could see the Duomo poking up over the buildings in no time.

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I had absolutely no idea how beautiful the Duomo would be. I know I keep saying that about everything, but you really can’t imagine what it looks like until you’re standing right there. It was incredible. I must have taken 100 pictures of it and none of them capture what it really looks like.

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Of all the places we went, Florence is the one I wish we had left more time for. But I tell Darren this just means we have to come back someday :]

Our time was up as soon as it started and we begrudgingly made our way back to the station. We had been very careful to leave extra time so we wouldn’t miss our train but once we got to the station we couldn’t find it listed anywhere on the schedule. We asked someone working there if the train was still coming and she assured us it was. We waited right up until the train was supposed to be there and still nothing.

Darren decided to ask again and figured out the train we needed was actually listed under a different name…just in time for us to watch it pull away without us. Our only other option (save a very expensive taxi ride) was to take the train back to Pisa and then on to Livorno. We had just a couple of minutes to find the right platform before this train left too. We made it on breathless and worried about getting back before the buses and shuttles stopped running for the night. Not to mention we had no tickets for the train.

Honestly, that first day we had no idea what was going on. We told the attendant at the first station that we wanted a round-trip but realized later that he had only sold us a one-way ticket. So we rode the train all day not realizing that we could have been asked to get off or be fined had our tickets been checked. Fortunately, that day no one looked at our tickets like they did the rest of the time ;]

We didn’t make it back in time to catch any buses or shuttles but we weren’t the only ones. We met a couple our age from Istanbul who wanted to share the cost of a taxi with us. Normally we wouldn’t take a taxi with strangers but they seemed as tired and befuddled as we were so we agreed. On the way to the taxi stand we snagged another couple from Peru to help cut the cost even more.

All of us started talking about where we’re from and what we do. It came up that I grew up in Missouri and one of the guys wanted to know what part. I told him Kansas City and he told me he grew up in Missouri too…and his parents still live in Joplin. I was like, “What the heck, my parents live in Joplin too.” What are the odds of meeting someone in Italy whose parents live in the same little Midwest town as yours? I guess they aren’t kidding about that whole small world thing.

Anyway, that was our first exciting, stressful, exhausting, perfectly imperfect day in Italy. Sorry I didn’t have more pictures…it was so overcast and rainy, it was hard to get any good pictures 😦

Next up: ROME!

If you have missed the earlier posts in this serious about Europe, you can still check them out here: Barcelona, Spain and Marseilles, France

Marseilles, France

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We spent one day in France exploring the port city of Marseilles. We got there early when the shops were just starting to open.  We walked along the water and watched a fresh flower market pop up all around us as people sat up tents and stands filled with bright, fragrant blooms. People in America don’t really buy fresh flowers unless it’s a special occasion like an anniversary or birthday and even then they are given as a gift and not just used for ornamentation. Flowers in America are expensive so buying a bouquet that will only last a few days doesn’t seem practical. But I noticed throughout Europe that people buy bundles of fresh flowers in the market for a good price and take them home with their regular groceries. I love that. This fall I’m hoping to plant lots of flower bulbs in our yard and garden that way we’ll have lots of blooms to bring inside next spring.

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We decided to take a ferry to the Château d’If. Trying to buy tickets took some work since we don’t speak French but we found that people are very kind and helpful when you ask questions and don’t understand how everything works. The woman working the ticket office for the ferry helped us figure out what tickets to buy and what ferry to take.

We waited in line for a long time before the ferry was ready to go…our first lesson in patience when it came to public transit. Everybody in America has a car, or more likely, two cars. Here we get around by getting behind the wheel and going where we want to go; that is not how life works in Europe.

Because Europe has such extensive public transit the best way to get around is by bus, train, or boat. But when lots of people need to go to lots of different places all using the same system, you don’t get to just climb behind the wheel and go when and wherever you want to–so you learn to wait :]

We stood in line listening to the musical sound of French float all around us and breathed in the smell of salt water and tobacco. I think I might be addicted to nicotine after breathing it in so much over seas. America is pretty restrictive about smoking in public so you almost never breathe in smoke unless you are actually smoking. But the people we came across in Europe smoke a lot, everywhere, all the time…and after a while you start to miss the sweet, tangy smell of the smoke whirling around in the air.

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Eventually the boat did come and we made our way across the cold, choppy water to Château d’If –the setting of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

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Bold red poppies and wild flowers dotted the scrubby landscape of the island. I picked a poppy and dried it between the pages of my journal. After an hour or two of exploring the pretty little white rock island we took the ferry back and started walking the streets and alleys of the old city–Vieux Port.

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It only seems right in France to make sure you eat a nice, warm baguette. So we found a bakery filled with fresh breads and pastries and bought both a baguette and a fruit pastry. We walked the streets munching on our treats and I can’t think of a better way to see the city than on foot with chunks of warm bread in your hand :]

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It seems any time Darren and I go anywhere, Darren has to go out of his way to find the highest point possible and make me climb up to it. So, you see that tiny gold statue on the top of the hill? That is Notre Dame and Darren made me walk up there, because as it turns out, he hates me ;]

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But this is the view from the top so he’s forgiven (as usual).

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The walk back down the hill was delightful because, well, we were going down…and I got to meet a couple little French cats. This cat was curled up asleep on a bench and didn’t want to talk to me after I took his picture. Another cat came over and put a show on for us by rolling around on his back and being very funny ;]

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By the time we got back to Vieux Port it was raining. We huddled under an umbrella and walked through a couple of outdoor markets looking for lavender soap (which I found) before we were on our way. Next we were on to Pisa and Florence, Italy…I can’t wait to show you our first steps in my favorite place come Monday :] Thanks for reading!

Barcelona, Spain

Before Darren and I met we both had big plans of taking off for Europe after college. He wanted to study art and architecture and I, well I didn’t have a plan really–I just knew I had to see Italy. Darren told me that before we met he had no intentions of getting married before 30. He wanted to study, see the world, and launch his career before he settled into marriage and family.

But life doesn’t often work out the way we plan and the two of us managed to fall in love in college. Darren told me he loved me for the first time the summer after my freshman year when I was only nineteen. As it turns out, I liked him quite a bit too and we married just a couple of months after I finished school. I was 22, he was 24. Somebody should have told us we were just a couple of babies…not that it would have stopped us :]

Scan0001 new{This was our second date. Darren cut the picture into the shape of Italy because I talked so much about going there}

All that to say, Europe got put on hold when we decided to start our lives together. We never gave up on it though and Darren actually had a secret little European fund set aside that he had been putting money into for quite some time. I stumbled across his secret stash one time and demanded he tell me what it was for and who his mistress was….but that is a whole other story ;] Darren told me about the whole caper on New Year’s day this year after which I forgave him for not telling me about the money and he forgave me for accusing him of having a mistress ;]

After that we plotted and planned what we would do and where we would go. This is the first post in a series of posts I will be doing about our trip. I hope you enjoy :]

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Barcelona was our first stop. The sun rising over the Mediterranean and the rugged mountains of Spain were our first glimpse of Europe.

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Once we landed in Barcelona we grabbed a coffee and pastry for breakfast before taking off to explore the city. May I just say this coffee and pastry changed my life. It is very sincerely the best thing I have ever tasted in my life. Dunkin Donuts is dead to me. I sit around dreaming about Spanish coffee now. It’s really pathetic.

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We only had a few hours in Barcelona before we had to leave for France so we took a bus tour to see as much of the city as possible before we had to leave. Barcelona is beautiful, modern, bustling with the hum of Spanish and mopeds. Like every place we would go after, we tasted just enough of Spain to make us hungry for more. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to return and see Madrid too.

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After Spain we went to France; I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in our adventure, friends :]

Europe.

We went

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We came back

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I can’t wait to show you all of it.