Jimmie Massie and Harrison Jones hike a circle around Italy for seven days in late October 2008. Thirteen buses, seven trains, two planes, and a jet-boat.
- HJ: Scribe, Navigator, Resident Introvert, Ipod-guy, Italian Linguist, Curator of Culture, Anti-tourist, Gelato Critic
- JM: Team Dad, Vacation Expert, Bad-Decision Police, All-American, Transportation Guru, Direction Asker, Gelato Critic
- Milan Gelato Owner: made us try his signature raisins and creme, insisted on Obama, convinced we would return for more raisins and creme
- Senorita: The nude woman framed on the wall of our first Italian hotel room
- Sketch-master Flash: The con artist who tied charm bracelets to our wrists and nearly stole our wallets
- Mr and Mrs Cosby: Mooreland Farms neighbors on vacation in Venice, bought us expensive cuisine and wine
- Complete Idiot: the guy who jumped on to a moving water taxi in Venice and nearly fell in the water
- The Ultimate Waiter: the guy who gave the iciest glare possible to Jimmie directly in his face when he sat in the exclusive restraunt seats to listen to the bandstand play the theme from Titanic. Good times.
- Unnamed Girls: All of the women we could have talked to in our train cars but didn’t
- Antonella Marchisella: Bryanston Teacher who lives outside of Pescara and helped us order our first Italian Pizza
- Train Lady: The nice women who spoke no English but helped us when our train abandoned us in Sulmona
- Dominic: Airport Taxi Driver who nearly had our bags in his trunk for a mere 100 euros, tried to drive us everywhere
- Hotel Clerk 1: Smooth Italian who sold us a three star room in Naples when we haggled him for hostel prices
- Indian Chilren: Screamed “this isn’t happening” and began crying when a dog wagged its tail at their sea side lunch
- Hotel Clerk 2: Amazing receptionist, owner of Hotel Bussola di Hermes in Annacapri.
- Animals: the two boys who swung from the seats and spat out windows on subway in Naples
- Gelato Girls: too many to count
- Devils and Pirates: Children dressed up for Halloween in Monterosso
- Creeper McGee: The guy with face piercings we had to share a sleeper car with on the train
- Sisters: New York Ladies we hiked with for half an hour in Cinque Terra
Day One: Blandford to London to Stansted to Milan
Day Two: Milan to Venezia
Day Three: Venezia to Pescara
Day Four: Pescara to Sulmona (abandoned by TrenItalia) to Napoli
Day Five: Napoli to Sorrento to Capri
Day Six: Capri to Sorrento to Napoli to Sleeper Train
Day Seven: Sleeper Train to Cinque Terra (Monterosso and Riomaggiore)
Day Eight: Cinque Terra to Milan to London
I think there is too much that happened in our trip to narrate the whole thing like I usually do. So I will give the major highlights and then talk about the metaphysical discussion Jimmie and I enjoyed throughout the week.
Saturday we flew into Milan. This is a very dirty city and should be avoided almost at all costs, except perhaps to see the Duomo, a museum or two, and very rich Italians flash their Ferraris through the shopping district. We ate Burger King of all things on the first night off the plane, I think because we were a bit nerve-wracked from nearly missing our flight out of England and not having a place to stay, nor a train to catch. So we settled on Burger King and a tiny one-man hotel room (pictured above) hosted by a tiny Chinese woman who thought I said “cat’ when I said “do you have an extra cot?” Also Gelato.
Sunday we caught a train to Venice after we scooped around Milan. The duomo was impressive and gave me much to think about in terms of religion vs. spirituality. We were nearly pickpocketed in the town square, and by that time we knew we were very ready to leave. I bought a translation guide at this point because I left my Europe phrase-book on the train. A bird crapped on my shoulder in the Milan train station. Three hours later we were in Venice, where we turned away from a hostel at the door and then lied to a little old lady in a hotel that we would be back for a room. We found another hostel across the channel from St. Mark’s plaza, and then met my next door neighbors from Richmond for dinner. They bought us quite a bit of wine. Gelato. Then Jimmie sat down in a seat in the plaza to listen to the grandband play the theme from Titanic. He was subsequently iced by the quintessential bow-tie waiter with the napkin over his arm. I had too much wine.
Monday we looped around Venice by boat and foot, stuck our heads in shops and practiced our Italian. We went through another smaller but still impressive church with a 200 ft bell tower – great view (above). I saw someone almost fall into the channel when he jumped onto a moving water taxi. Gelato. Then we caught a train to Pescara (on the east coast) which took us 5 hours. We did not talk to any of the semi-attractive girls that were in our train cars. Although Jimmie might have said “ciao” when we left. We were in Pescara by 930, and could not meet Antonella, our Italian teacher-friend from Bryanston, until tomorrow morning. We settled on a very sleazy one star hotel owned by an overweight, sweatsuit and gold chain wearing Italian with a brother in New Jersey. We had my first kebab and probably regretted coming to this city as well. Grafitti everywhere.
Tuesday we walked around the beaches of Pescara and enjoyed the Adriatic Sea. There was a demonstration in the streets before lunchtime put on by at least two thousand college students. It was protesting some sort of political leader who made a bad decision about education. We also saw teenagers climbing in and out of their school walls. The town seemed to be on hold, but the shopkeepers were loving it. We met Antonella and had our first Italian pizza, then got back on the train and headed towards Naples. Jimmie and I thoroughly enjoyed our train ride through the golden-snowcapped mountains of east Italy, and hardly noticed that the train was starting, stopping, and going pretty slow. What did it matter, we were on holiday. We rolled footage and journaled like crazy, until we arrived in Sulmona with the clouds rolling in around 4:30. We waited for our connecting train while the wind whistled through the station and a dog barked. Five minutes, no train, we checked the departures list, our train had gone, we went to the front desk, lady in the green hat says: “no more train today.” ?! We bought a ticket for a train connection, we said, but she said, “Only runs through August.” Why TrenItalia sold us faulty tickets, we’ll never know, but were stranded in Sulmona. We hiked 5K through the town only to discover it was a lovely mountain-town (birthplace of the “confetti” candy that looks like flowers), and then figured out how to catch a bus to Naples at 800. Grocery store meats and yogurt, thunderstorm out the windows, and we were in Naples. Naples – even worse than Milan. Don’t go or you’ll get knifed. Jimmie seriously saw two guys circling a large path around me while I was checking times for the next trains. We were on full alert and vigilant as we told our friend Dominic, who also has brothers in Chicago and New Jersey, that we wouldn’t pay 100 euro for a taxi. We made a great business deal with a three-star hotel clerk and – bam – we were living large in a double bed, ten foot ceiling, marble floor hotel room. No Gelato today.
Wednesday we took the circumvesuvia around to Herculaneum and enjoyed the extensive Roman ruins. This is the town that your Latin textbooks took pictures of. Great photos and exploration here, also a weird statue of a serpent in a tree in their lower baths that freaked me out. Then we kept training around the bay to Sorrento for a nice sea-side lunch, where I ordered Octopus Pizza and called my mother to tell her about it. This is also where the Indian children began screaming when a dog came by wagging its tail near their lunch. We hiked up the winding trails of Sorrento (three scoops of Gelato) until we realized we didn’t want to be in Sorrento but Capri instead. Jet-boat over to Capri and then saw the same Indian family snapping at each other about renting scooters. We caught a killer taxi-ride up the 500 foot cliffs and over to the other tiny town, Anacapri. It took us 1 hour and 5 wrong turns to find our hostel, which again, had been converted into a three star hotel, which makes sense seeing that it was half a mile away through the winding Meditteranean alleys. We settled in and then ordered fresh bread, meet, and beer from the local butcher’s shop, then dined like kings in the local town Piazza. The bells tolled and the wind whipped trash around in circles until it started to rain, at which point we went on a walk. After sufficiently creeping ourselves out in the Italian thunderstorm, we ran back home through the rain.
Thursday was “stay in one place day.” We took the ski-lift up to the top of Monte Salaro and scampered around the top of the island. Nice photo-op by the large steel cross ontop of the mountain. We then ventured back down the moutanin, failed to rent scooters, and so walked down to the cliff coast. Jimmie picked exotic fruit and handed me some dried grapes… until I realized they were raisins. The sun came out. We got splashed by a 30 foot wave coming up a twenty foot cliff and were drenched. Jimmie pretended to be the little mermaid. We dried off in the hotel and then were on the move again, back to Sorrento. Best pizza maybe of my life in Sorrento, and then three more scoops of Gelato. Subway to Naples which took us nearly two hours, where we ran into two of the most uncivilized teenagers I’ve ever met in my life. If I knew Italian, I think I would have said something to them, but really, it just made me see how much they needed the gospel. It seemed like no one had ever corrected them or made them do something they didn’t want to do ever in their life – they kept punching each other, swinging from seats, spitting out the windows, yelling at strangers, and being completely unaware of others. It really bothered me. Anyways, we saw Dominic again in the Naples train station, then caught the train just in time to make it to the next town, where we had a two hour delay turn into a three hour delay when the train was late. We got on the wrong train car and so decided to get back off so we could move up the platform closer to our sleeper room. As we were walking outside next to the train, it started rolling, and so we began to sprint to the next available door so that we could jump on and fling open the door, as if in an action movie. We made it and then found our sleeper-car, where we shared a room from midnight until 7 am with Creeper McGee.
Friday we enjoyed a rainy Cinque Terra, the “five lands,” where I am pretty sure all model train sets got their ideas for scenery. The five towns themselves look like a model train set, where the trains run through tunnels along the hillside and little rainbow cottages dot up and down the green mountains. The guidebook described the pleasant aroma of juniper, rosemary, and pine – they were absolutely right; it was everywhere. Honeymoon material for sure. Another hostel turned us away, so we dried off and collected our bearings in the local catholic church while the rain kept pouring down. I felt terrible about not paying for a 20 minute train ride and confessed my ethical failure to Jimmie during out “thought for the day” time. We then found a sketchy but at the same time nice hotel in Riomaggiore, one of the five lands, and took the most satisfying three hour afternoon nap, because, let’s not kid ourselves, sleeper trains suck.