Independent Republic of San Marino
Naples and Pompeii
Dinner with Billy and Christine Poorten
Pisa, Milan, and Novara
Today was essentially a travel day from, Venice to Naples, so we spent most of it on the train. However, we did take some time out from traveling to visit the Independent Republic of San Marino and the final country in our quest to visit every country in Western Europe
. For those of you who are not familiar with this country, (don't worry, we were not either until we met some friendly Canadians who enlightened us to its existence) it is a small "city/country" landlocked on the East coast of the Italian peninsula. Due to our train schedules, all we really had time for was a scenic bus tour that took us to San Marino's premier attraction, the country's castle, which is situated high up on a sheer-faced cliff. We visited on a beautiful day where rolling fog made it appear as if the castle was floating in the clouds. Overall, it was a beautiful place and one which we plan to return to when we have more time.
The rest of the day was spent on the train to Naples. One point of interest: we shared a cabin on the train with a family from BogotÓ, Colombia, that we really enjoyed practicing our Spanish with. The father was a coffee farmer, so it was also interesting to hear about his life and his work. We enjoyed his running commentary on the various qualities of coffee in Europe.
We arrived in Naples at around midnight and were more than ready to get to bed. We were met at the train station by a "taxi cab driver" who offered us a ride to our hotel. Bill immediately shifted into "bargaining mode" and spent the next 20 minutes trying to get a decent price for us (Italian cab drivers are notorious for trying to rip off tourists, so we were prepared for a fight)
. The guy insisted that the normal charge for a ride was 30 dollars and that it would take him 10 liters of gas to get us where we needed to go. We knew that this was obviously a lie, so Bill refused to pay the price he was asking for. As we began to walk away, the driver consented to our price and we followed him out to his car. The minute we sat down we knew he was shady. There was no meter in the cab and he actually picked up a friend of his on the way out of the parking lot. Real professional. I looked over at Bill and noticed that he had switched to "ready to fight if we are robbed" mode and I subsequently switched into "ready to run for help and save the bags" mode. Thankfully, the driver did take us to the hotel. But as Bill took out money to pay, the driver insisted on being paid more than the agreed upon price. When we refused, he became absolutely hostile and we had our first big Italian fight (an inevitable occurrence when traveling in Italy). He yelled at us, tried to block us from going inside, and refused to give us the correct change. At one point, he actually grabbed me in order to wrench the 20 euro bill out of my hand. But with adrenaline coursing through my body and the mantra "I refuse to take any Italian crap" running through my head, I tightened my grip, snatched the change out of his hand and left him furiously storming back to his cab, a defeated man.
Naples is a dump
. It is dirty, unsafe, and the locals prey upon tourists; so excuse me, but you see, back in old Napoli, there is no amore from us (sorry, Dean). We were ready to leave the minute we woke up, so we boarded a train bound for the historic city of Pompeii. In our many travels, Bill and I have been privileged to visit about 1 million archaeological sites, and after about 10, they all start to look the same. Fortunately for us, Pompeii was the exception. The site itself is absolutely huge and the best preserved (probably thanks to the lava that so delicately preserved everything there) that we have ever seen. Our continual quest for morbidity brought us to the area of the city where you can actually see people's bodies encased in volcanic rock. They are so well preserved that you can still make out the facial expressions of the victims as the lava poured over them. Needless to say, the expressions were not pleasant. In addition to this, there were 3 outdoor arenas, public baths, the homes of rich people, shops, and original street signs all still intact.
After Pompeii, we boarded our retarded (late in Italian) train bound for Rome. Upon arriving, we were faced with finding a place to stay which was difficult as it was a Friday night. We looked for a place and argued with about a dozen Italians before finally being approached by a hostel runner who offered us a reasonable price
. At that time, we did not know the name of the hostel, which resulted in a near panic response when the sign on the door read "Gay's Paradise Hostel." Apparently this is a common mistake as the owner immediately assured us that it was called "Guy's Paradise." This did little to alleviate our concern, but given the great price and location, we decided to risk it.
That night we met up with Billy and Christine Poorten. Billy and Bill were roommates in college and had not seen one another since our wedding over four years ago, so it was a pleasant surprise when we discovered that we would be in Rome at the same time. We enjoyed a fantastic Italian meal together and followed it up with even better gelato (great recommendation, Christine). After laughing ourselves silly from reminiscing, we finally had to part ways. Bill and I capped the night off by going to his favorite square in the world, the Piazza Navona. We wandered around, watched some street performers and artists, and headed back to our hostel to go to bed.
25 September - The following is for mature audiences only!
We awoke 15 minutes before breakfast was supposed to be served in the common area, so we packed our things and proceeded out for a bite on the go
. We stepped out of our room and were surprised to find that the lights were still off in the common room and there was no sign of breakfast. Bill flipped on the light so we could see what was going on and the image that greeted us was one that we will try to clear from our minds for the rest of our lives. There, smack dab in the middle of the common room floor, lying on dirty mattresses, were two couples (one being the owner of the hostel we had met the previous day) wearing nothing but their birthday suits. The owner sat up, looked at me, and I knew that at that moment, we just needed to get the heck out of there. We put the key on the front desk and decided to forego the pursuit of having our key deposit returned to us as either one of us would have gladly paid 10 times as much to avoid staying there another second. It was indeed a Guy's Paradise for those two guys. Yuck.
From Rome we headed to Pisa where we took the obligatory "fixing the leaning tower" pictures. After that, we had a quick stop in Milan before heading to Novara to catch our night train. By the end of the day, we were utterly frustrated by retarded Italian trains and even more retarded Italian people. Redemption came in Novara where we met two old men who took us half a mile to find an internet cafe and then waited with us at the train station until the train came. They did not want anything from us, they were just nice people
. Our train arrived and they waved goodbye as if we were family.
After an uncomfortable night train and short stop in Paris, we arrived in Tours to explore the chateaux in the Loire Valley. Today was spent resting and doing laundry. On a positive side note, the French people have been nothing but wonderful to us. So far they have been exceptionally friendly and helpful. While we are still bracing ourselves for potential Parisien surliness, if they are anything like the people in Tours, France may turn out to be our favorite country.
Today we took some local trains to visit two of the famous chateaux in the area. There we sampled wine (it was free to taste), indulged ourselves on French chocolate, and visited Leonardo da Vinci's last home.
Tour of the D-Day beaches in Normandy
Paris - The city of lights
And, I am embarrassed to say, EuroDisney