Italy 2013

Nov. 17th, 2013 09:32 am
lamora: Take a moment goddamn. (pretension : coffee break)
[personal profile] lamora

Above: the three of us in Pompeii.

This November, I went to Italy with my mother and sister. It was quite the adventure. Mostly it was magical -- until the very end. But we'll get to that. First, let's start with the good stuff.


We were at the airport by 4am to check-in and organize ourselves. They moved our 12:30 flight to a 6:30 flight, and then we ... did not get on it. For some reason, they are seeing a high volume of travelers in November (more on that later) and we had to spend a very long six hours in the airport. Such is the price you pay when you fly interline! So, increasingly exhausted and desolate, we sat around YUL and hoped we would catch the next flight to PHL, because that was our last chance. Ironically, the flight to Italy was not the problem -- plenty of seats on that one -- but getting to Philly was holding us back.

Anyway, we didn't get to explore Philly during the layover. We had lunch instead before piling on to our next flight. Somehow, we accumulated so many pillows that I had to take a picture of them.

We landed in Rome around 9am their time. Getting through security/Customs was a breeze. At this point, we had been awake for nearly 48hrs straight. I did manage to snag about three hours of sleep on the plane, having left Mom and T to curl up on a free seat against the window.

We were nearly scammed at the airport by a taxi company. Luckily, I'd researched the fares beforehand and spotted the deception. I made us leave the supposedly legit taxi cab and the irritated cabbie both called me "cheap" and actually said "mama mia." I thought that only happened in movies! We got a coach instead for a fraction of the proposed price.

By the time we got to our hotel suite and checked in, it was around 11:00. We spent most of the day booking tours and exploring our immediate neighborhood; we were pretty wiped by that point. Ended up eating dinner at an adorable little trattoria with an even more adorable owner.

I was horrified at the offer of both bread and the olive oil/vinaigrette bottles. I don't know if they did that because we were foreigners or if the custom has somehow traveled from North America to Italy -- but I always thought Italians a) refused to take up tummy space with bread and b) could not stomach the idea of "wasting" olive oil by pouring it on a plate to dip said bread.

Above: ancient brothel in Pompeii. Nice.


We got up early to get ready for our tour of Naples and Pompeii. Our hotel made us breakfast boxes, but also let us downstairs to the restaurant early to grab coffee and something hot. The tour group picked us up directly from our hotel and then we were off on the Highway of the Sun.

Upon arriving in Naples, we enjoyed some sightseeing, and went to a little shop where they specialize in handmade cameos. I got a couple of things for myself, including this lapis lazuli ring:

I also got a couple of gifts for friends and my mother-in-law.

From there, we headed to Pompeii where we enjoyed a nice lunch -- and the local Lacrima Christi wine. The ruins of Pompeii were amazing. There are no words for what it's like to stand so close to not only an active volcano, but to be standing in the middle of the great city it destroyed. We saw preserved bodies and incredible shells of buildings. We also picked up a stray dog, who joined our tour group (for free, the little bugger) and came with us the entire way.


After the tour, we got on the bus and headed back to Rome. It's a good three-hour drive; we stopped for dinner at a nice trattoria on the way back to our hotel. The coffee and the pasta in Italy are out of this world. I am still wondering how I am going to go back.

These are the Spanish Steps. They don't look like much -- and where is everyone?



We got a hop-on/hop-off bus tour of the city, since in the end that was preferable to trying to navigate the city by public transit, and their subway system is notoriously sketchy. We got a 48hr ticket, since we had a tour on Thursday.

We went all around first, getting off at Villa Borghese to check that out before enjoying a cappuccino. From there, we walked to the Trevi Fountain. This was the day it rained on us, but it didn't dampen our spirit. We kept a hand on our bags at crowded attractions and were very attentive at keeping an eye on each other. While there is no cause for paranoia, it should be noted that a city as tourist-centric and heavily populated as Rome contains more than a few pickpockets.

We stopped for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. We happened to notice this was right next to the American Embassy. Hmm.

Still, the only place were really felt uncomfortable was Termini Station, which we had to walk through several times to get to our destinations. It's basically Rome's Berri-UQAM/Union/Grand Central huge hub. Nothing happened, but you really feel like a stranger in another country in that station.

We bought some souvenirs -- and an SD card, as I was out of memory -- but mostly stayed in that night and sampled the local limoncello instead, heh. After a nice walk, we returned to the hotel to recharge electronics, divvy up money, and relax for a big day at Vatican City.

St. Peter's Square, Pope Day.


Up early for breakfast in our hotel's restaurant, and then we headed to Vatican City. We were all feeling much better after a bout of mild illness, and were ready to face the thousands of people on Pope Wednesday!

Upon reaching St. Peter's Square, we realized the Pope's arrival was imminent, so we scored a spot by the fences and settled in. Considering we are a group of atheists, we got ridiculously excited to see Papa Francesco darting around through the crowd on his little Segway thing. My sister got better shots than I was able to, but yeah, we were within a hundred feet of the Pope.

While everyone else stayed for the Pope's address, we went to the Vatican Museums with, like, a dozen people and had the place pretty much to ourselves. I saw the Sistine Chapel. It's every bit as beautiful as pictures suggest. Speaking of pictures, they had a very strict no-camera policy in the chapel that was, ah, enforced. I thought this was because people did not realize how their flash can damage artwork, or perhaps because it was such a "holy" place where Popes are elected ... but no, it's because they want you to buy shitty laminated pictures in the gift shop for 10EUR. Well SCREW YOU, VATICAN.

Also, I am compelled to point out that I love ASSASSIN'S CREED, especially the Ezio Trilogy, so all throughout this trip, I was mapping out routes in the games. The Chapel was no exception.

I really wanted to see St. Peter's, but the line was unreal; we would have been there all day. Instead, we did the Spanish Steps, Santa Maria Maggiore, and did some shopping. We returned to the hotel frozen and exhausted. Mom and T went out to dinner and got into the free red wine, but I was not feeling so great after a particular abuse of gluten. (It was fairly simple to eat GF in Italy, but how could I resist the allure of fresh, original Italian delicacies? Answer: I couldn't.) I stayed behind to recharge.

One of the relics in Santa Maria Maggiore: supposedly this contains the pieces of the manger.

Despite a fairly dedicated itinerary, we spent more time than planned at several attractions. So we did not get to see as much as we'd hoped, but we were satisfied.


Firenze! We had breakfast boxes prepared for us again, and then the tour company picked us up. We drove through Chianti Valley and stopped once for a cappuccino and washroom break. We moved through green hills, olive trees, and vineyards. This is the Italy you see in the movies -- this is the one you want to visit. Rome is beautiful and full of so much history -- but that history has been surrounded by peddlers, pickpockets, and more people than the city knows what to do with.

The drive through Tuscany was so beautiful. Upon arriving, we went to the Galleria to see the original David, Michelangelo's masterpiece.


Pictures were not allowed. Actually, pictures in 90% of Italian museums are not allowed. But an exact replica of the David is in the Piazza Croce, and you are allowed to take pictures of that one. So I did. However, I recommend seeing David to everyone. There are no words for the feeling. It was imposing, awe-inspiring, and powerful. David is not to scale, so to speak (he is like 15 feet tall and weighs in at about six tonnes) but the perfect anatomical detail of this statue is beyond belief. It's a masterpiece among masterpieces.

We had lunch at a snazzy Florentine restaurant hidden down an alleyway. It consisted of pasta I did not get sick on, turkey, salad, wine, and more pasta. It was delicious, and we got to know our tour mates at the same time.

From there, we went to Santa Maria Croce. The church was incredible, but the mausoleum was poorly lit and there were restoration processes in progress. Still, it was amazing to visit the burial grounds of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, and others.

Our tour guide gave us some free time around Piazza Croce. I ended up getting a small gold-engraved handbag from Misuri and a new engraved leather belt for S. Once free time was over, we headed back to Rome.

Florence was easily my favorite part of the entire trip.

Suddenly: SWISS ALPS


We got up early, had one last breakfast in Rome before our car picked us up. The driver was unreal -- like, 150km/hr in town unreal. I haven't covered Rome's driving here yet, but trust me when I say that the worst drivers on the planet? Are in Rome. Every single car there is banged up, scratched, and small -- they drive like animals. They literally do not give a fuck.

Above: not giving a fuck

This is the kind of city where two scooters will shimmy in to park between three cars, and another car will park along all five vehicles, boxing everyone in. Also, they all parked on the sidewalk. I am not even kidding.

Anyway, we arrived at the airport in record time ... only to find out that there was only a single seat for us. We did not want to split up, especially not with a second uncertain connection to make in Philly, so we discussed our options. The agents told us that they have never seen so many people selling out flights at this time of year. This was something we had heard around several cities, as well; maybe people are getting wise to the fact that Rome is lovely in November. Regardless, this meant that flights all weekend looked terrible for us. Weighing the cost of buying a ticket versus staying in a hotel until Sunday (the only flight we could reasonably make, and even then it was dicey) we shopped around with various agents around the airport and bought tickets home the following morning via Air France.

Gotta say, Air France is awesome, as far as airlines go. Between the cappuccinos, wine, refreshing towels, and actually edible airline food, it was great.

We landed in Montreal around noon Saturday, took a cab to my place, and Dad picked up Mom and T there. S and I immediately went to have ribs!

Rocky end aside, this was a magnificent trip. I saw so much of Italy in such a short time. The people are lovely, the food is exquisite, the coffee is amazeballs, and the driving is fucking terrifying. All in all, I recommend a visit to Italy -- but I would suggest staying outside of Rome and visiting it for a day or two instead. This beautifully historic city suffers from tourism fever -- inevitable, but it's sad to see the likes of the Pantheon and Colosseum decorated with street vendor after street vendor.


Date: 2013-11-19 02:11 pm (UTC)
velithya: (Default)
From: [personal profile] velithya
sounds gorgeous! I have to say I am surprised it was so easy to eat GF there - italian food in Australia seems pretty difficult to get GF in my experience. Did they have GF pasta readily available or something?

Date: 2013-11-20 12:06 am (UTC)
velithya: (Default)
From: [personal profile] velithya
Ah righto, so if there was a bit of contamination you would still have been okay.

mmm, cheese.


lamora: (Default)

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