Saturday, December 7, 2013

Naples, Italy

Naples is another daunting post. In fact, Naples was a daunting port from the get-go. There's a lot to do around Naples and it was difficult to decide what to do. Pompeii is nearby, there's the Amalfi Coast, the island of Capri is a short boat-ride away, etc, etc. All seemed like great things to do, but all were not doable in the same day. We had to make decisions. In the end, we all decided we definitely wanted to see the Amalfi Coast. Julie found a tour that would also include a trip to Pompeii in addition to driving the Amalfi Coast. We were all in.

The first thing we saw when we stepped out onto our balcony that morning was Mt. Vesuvius, towering over Naples. It was pretty impressive with the sun rising behind it.

I was really, really looking forward to our day in Naples. Fortunately, I woke up feeling way better than the day before. The cold was not gone, but the unbearable symptoms of the day before were. I could handle a sore throat and a little congestion. We got off the boat and met our tour guide, Marcello. He quickly corrected us - Mar-r-r-r-cello. We were lovingly chastised for not rolling our r's and spent the rest of the day subtly practicing our r-rolling. Mar-r-r-r-cello was, hands down, my favorite tour guide of the trip. And we had some really good ones, so that's saying a lot. He had a loud personality, a good sense of humor, and it was obvious from the moment we met him that he loved Napoli and Italy immensely. What better person to show us around the area? He also chastised us, again lovingly, for calling it Naples. He said it's Napoli, not Naples. He said he doesn't call New York, Nuova York. It's New York. And, therefore, it's not Naples. It's Napoli. We couldn't argue with his logic. And we didn't want to. Napoli, it is.

Meet Mar-r-r-r-cello:

We immediately headed off to Pompeii. I wasn't super excited about seeing Pompeii. It's one of those places that, if you're near it and you don't go, people are like, "why didn't you go there?" So, I was more excited to be able to say I'd been there than to actually see it. Pompeii was a thriving city in Italy that was buried by volcanic ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. I guess I just didn't think it would be that interesting to see. Like many of the places that we went to that I wasn't that excited about, Pompeii's awesomeness jumped up and slapped me in the face for my indifference. We loved Pompeii and having Mar-r-r-r-cello there to explain everything made it even better. That man knows Italy.

It was fascinating to see this ancient city so well-preserved with artifacts of everyday life there around every corner. And, look at all the rocks. Can you guess who was in heaven?

Pompeii is one of the most visited tourist spots in Italy and it showed. Here's Stella fleeing a herd of tourists coming up behind us:

Pompeii is huge. We only saw a very small part of it, but we thoroughly enjoyed seeing what we saw and hearing fact after fact about it from Mar-r-r-r-cello.

I particularly like this next shot with Mt. Vesuvius looming over the ruins.

I think Pompeii was Stella's favorite stop on the trip.

Pompeii was fascinating. They have plaster casts of some of the victims that were created from the spaces left in the ash after the victims' bodies had decomposed. They have well-preserved frescoes. They have ruins of the ancient temples that were there. They have it all!

Pompeii turned out to be really cool and I was glad we went there. It ended up being much more exciting to see it than to just say I'd been there. We probably spent a couple of hours in Pompeii and then it was off to see the Amalfi coast. We drove down to Sorrento, a large town at the start of the Amalfi coast and stopped there to have lunch and see the town. The coastline was breathtaking already!

In our conversations with Mar-r-r-rcello about Napoli, he informed us that the pizza in Napoli was not the best in Italy or even the world. It was the best in the galaxy. He said he knew a restaurant in Sorrento that was run by a guy from Napoli, so we could get really good pizza there. He showed us where the restaurant was and then told us where to meet him after lunch to continue our drive down the Amalfi coast. Lunch was superb and Stella had a good time.

After lunch we had a few minutes to shop a bit and then it was off down the coast. The views were amazing and it was a beautiful drive, but there were virtually no places to stop along the highway to take pictures. At one point, Mar-r-r-rcello had our driver pull off so we could snap some pictures as we got near Positano, our next destination, but it was a precarious pull-off.

This next pic is a shot of the road and you can see why it was difficult to stop along it.

And Stella, of course, did what she did best on the driving portions of our tours.

When we got to Positano, the southernmost town we would be going to on our tour, we had an hour or two to poke around and see the town. It's literally built up the cliff from the water, so it's quite a hike through town. There are no streets through Positano, so our driver dropped us off on the road at the top and then we made our way down through the town on foot.

It was a cool little town and we had fun poking around. We hiked down to the sea and had a great time enjoying the view of the coast.

We stopped on the beach to collect some sea glass (one of our favorite souvenirs from coastal places we visit) and Stella was in heaven playing in all the rocks.

After enjoying the waterfront, we began our hike back up to the road. We poked around in the shops along the way and, naturally, stopped for some gelato.

We met up with Mar-r-r-rcello and our driver again and then headed back up the coast to the port in Napoli. After saying goodbye to Mar-r-r-rcello, we still had a little bit of time before we had to be back on the ship, so we decided to walk into Napoli and check it out a little bit. It was a nice little walk through town and it was fun to actually see some of the city.

We had a very full day in Napoli and saw so much. It was probably one of my favorite stops on our trip. With everything we did, though, there was still so much we didn't get to see. I'll definitely have to go back to Napoli someday and see it all. With our day in Napoli done, we headed back for our last night on the ship before debarking in Rome the next day. Thank goodness we had a few days in Rome. I wasn't ready to go home yet!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli or Sicily, Italy

For our day in Sicily, Julie had booked a Godfather tour. We would be driving to the small Sicilian town where some very well-known scenes from the movie, The Godfather, were shot. After that, we had a couple of other towns on the itinerary. The first thing we noticed in Sicily was Mt. Etna, a volcano that was spewing smoke the whole time we were there. It was pretty cool.

We met up with our driver and tour guide, whose names I can't remember, and headed off to Savoca, the little town where the Godfather I scenes were shot. We made a pit stop along the way, I think so the driver could use the bathroom or something. We stopped right along the beach, so we snagged a photo, found a piece of sea glass, and ate some pastries that our guide had so kindly brought for us.

Then it was off to our first stop. Savoca is a very small town nestled into a Sicilian hillside. The road to town is steep and very windy. It's definitely off the beaten track.

Our first stop was the Bar Vitelli. If you've seen the Godfather, this needs no explanation. If you haven't seen the Godfather, then an explanation won't really help. Let's just say it's a very significant spot in the movie and looks just like it did in the film.

 After our stop at Bar Vitelli, we headed off to the church where Michael and Apollonia are married in the movie, the Chiesa di Santa Lucia. It was quite a hike up the hill from the Bar Vitelli.

After checking out the church we headed back down, following the same route the wedding party makes in the movie.

With the Godfather tour complete, we headed off to Castelmola, another little town perched on a Sicilian hillside. When I woke up on the ship that morning, I had started to feel that little scratch in the back of my throat that always tells me I'm getting a cold. As we made our way to Castelmola, I started to feel really terrible. Fortunately, I was able to really enjoy Savoca, but the rest of our time in Sicily was pretty much a blur for me.  Here's the view looking down from Castelmola. It was quite pretty. I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

And here's the main entrance/square into Castelmola.

We walked around Castelmola a bit and then headed off to Taormina, a bigger touristy city nearby. I had one main goal in Sicily and that was to eat a killer cannoli. Our guide said we could get good ones in Taormina and she would show us where to buy them. Here I am feeling terrible but ready to dig in to my delicious cannoli. It was the best cannoli I've ever had, hands down.

The rest of the afternoon was spent poking around Taormina, looking in shops, etc, etc. As we made our way back to meet our driver and head back to the ship, everyone wanted to stop for gelato. I was exhausted and had a terrible headache by that time, so I wanted nothing except to go to sleep. I sat down on a bench in a nearby square while everyone else got their gelato. Pretty soon I saw Mr. Frisby walking toward me carrying Stella, screaming, under one arm and holding two ice cream cones in the other hand. He explained that when the gelato man saw Stella, he insisted on giving her a cone of her own, free of charge. After getting the cones, Stella decided to throw a tantrum for some unknown reason, so Mr. Frisby picked her up and got out of there, thus explaining the scene I saw coming down the street. After finishing her tantrum, Stella thoroughly enjoyed her gelato.

As we drove back to the ship, my headache kicked it up a notch and by the time we got back to our room, I was ready to crash. My memory of the day is a little fuzzy, but I remember going to sleep immediately. I believe Stella had a nap, too. Or maybe Mr. Frisby just went somewhere with her. Anyway, I remember waking up as Mr. Frisby was heading to dinner with Stella. I felt much better after my nap, but opted to stay in our room and order room service. While eating, I watched several documentary clips about our ship and how it worked. It was quite fascinating. It was really too bad that I wasn't able to enjoy Sicily more, but I guess it just means I'll have to go back. At least I was able to enjoy the Godfather Tour and that cannoli pretty much gave my life meaning, so it all worked out in the end. Sicily was a success!