Jared in Italy – Part Uno

Bonjourno! To say the least….

I am in Italy! I cannot believe it! I get that feeling every time I arrive somewhere new…I usually go through a state of shock that lasts a few days, but once I settle in to a country, get used to its money and learn a few words, I lose that state of shock. But, it’s only been a day since I arrived, so shocked I be. Let’s go back and say a few more words about that crazy 15-hour boat ride that got me here…..

Put it this way, I still feel like I am rocking back and forth. Boat rides mess with your head. Screws up your equilibrium and stuff. The boat was pretty big….semi luxurious and had 1st and 2nd class cabins….of course I didn’t get a cabin, because it would have been wayyyy expensive to do so. As a matter of fact, I expected to have a free boat ride, because my Eurail pass was supposed to cover it.

I got to Patras, Greece, where all the ferries to Italy leave from, barely in time to catch what I thought would be a 6:00 boat…only to find that my Eurail schedule was a waste of paper. The boat, luckily, wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:00…but the kicker is that Eurail passes are only valid on certain days, and yesterday wasn’t one of them…so if I wanted a free boat ride I would have had to wait two days, and that would have meant spending much more than I would have spent on the ticket, just to stay and wait for the free boat.

So, I bought the ticket, which was roughly $25, but then they nail you with a “port tax” of an extra $6. So, $31 to sit in an airplane seat for 15 hours….but like I said, the boat was pretty nice and you could walk around, up on deck, and they had a bar, restaurant, TV room/Gambling room. But I had to sleep on the boat….no way I was gonna try to stay awake for 15 hours….so in the area where all the airplane seats were located, it wasn’t too full, thankfully. I stretched out on the floor in between a row of seats, bunched up my jacket for a pillow and tried to sleep. I suggest you try to sleep on a hard floor….and report to me the situation with your back……cuz mine hurt like hell. I kept waking up every three hours, shifting around, trying to find a comfortable position….and you can get pretty creative in these situations…feet up on the chairs, back on floor…or crunched up on a seat….or the fetal position….you name it. It was like this that I passed 15 hours. Some of the time I spent up on deck where I met a guy named Aaron, who I ended up coming to Naples with.

So, we arrived. Let me tell you, I was pretty nervous about coming to Italy, because many people have told me stories of pickpockets, thieves, groups of kids pulling scams on you….gypsy women throwing their babies at you, forcing you to catch them out of reflex, thereby occupying your arms long enough for a kid to stick his hand in your pocket and make off with your wallet…..so by the time we pulled into the port at Brindisi, I was expecting to have to beat off hordes of kids and baby throwing women as I got off the boat.

Well, of course I was over worked about the whole thing. I didn’t even see one gypsy kid as I walked from the port to the train station. Actually, Brindisi turned out to be a nice little town. I hung out with Aaron, and we had some time to kill before our train to Naples (we had both decided Naples would be a good first stop to see Pompeii), so we made our way to the first Pizza place we could find. Mission:  In Italy, must eat pizza. They don’t sell it by the slice here, so you have to order a whole pie, but the pie wasn’t too big and easy enough for two healthy boyz to chow readily. It was good pizza, but honestly folks, we got it better in NYC. OH YEAH.

The train ride from Brindisi, which is on the east coast of Italy down near the beginning of the boot, to Naples, on the west coast, took about 6 hours. Before this train ride, I thought Greece had the best countryside I had ever seen…but Italy beats Greece, hands down. Everything is so green…fields, hills, mountains, rolling plains….tons of farms and vineyards…you can see grapes growing just about everywhere….it looked just like it does in the movies.

I passed the time on the train playing some guitar and singing my entire list of cover songs.  An Italian girl named Daniella came and sat with us in our cabin….oh by the way, you sit in cabins with two rows of 3 seats, facing each other…..and she was clearly drunk, because of the way she smelled and acted….and she only spoke Italian, so we had a hard time communicating, but she motioned to me that she wanted to play my guitar…so I let her. She couldn’t really play, but I was nice about it…smiled a lot….encouraged her….until she started banging on it while strumming, and she had a metal watch on which could have scratched up the surface….so I swiftly snatched it back and said “Bueno! Graci!” She smiled and mumbled some more and eventually left, saying “Ciao!”

So, I had heard a lot about Naples (Napoli) before coming here….mostly bad stuff….like it’s very dirty, there are pickpockets everywhere….the Mafia runs the town…it’s crime infested….etc. My reason for coming here is that I wanted to see Pompeii, a Roman city whose ruins are remarkably preserved, because it was buried in volcanic ash when Mt. Vesuvia erupted and spewed its lava all over the area (that sounds gross…) in 79 AD. But I was definitely nervous about coming to Naples for all the aforementioned reasons. As the train neared Naples, the landscape got progressively more dirty and city-ish. Mt. Vesuvia, Europe’s only still active volcano, loomed in the distance, overshadowing the entire area. If Vesuvia erupted, that would be the end of Naples and the entire Amalfi coast. The train pulled into the station as I readied myself for war against the pickpockets….

Exit train station. Immediately I felt like I just walked out of Port Authority on 42nd street and 8th avenue….but before Rudy took over and cleaned it up a bit. Shoddy looking people everywhere…vendors lining the streets selling the same crap we have in NY….like the little rubix cubes, or barking dog dolls that move their heads….I felt like I was home. It did not feel safe, and I did not like it, right off the bat.

The rumors were true. So I held onto my stuff tightly as we made our way through the scary people to the hostel we wanted to stay at. Of course, when we arrived, there was no rooms available….so yet again begins the quest for a place to stay. We checked around at a bunch of hotels, but most of them were overpriced, and you couldn’t stay there unless you were a card-carrying member of the Mafia. Finally, we found a place for 80,000 lira a night, per room…about $40….so Aaron and I shared a room, $20 each…not so bad.  But imagine staying in a dumpy hotel right near Penn station….that’s where I am right now.

As we were dragging our bags up the stairs to our room, the front door of the hotel opened. In walked an old man, hair greased back, shades, pin stripe overcoat slinked over his shoulders….2 young Italians covering his back in Dick Tracey looking suits. The receptionist/owner looked nervous and began to say, “I’ll pay!  I’ll pay!” And some money was handed over. The old man looked satisfied. Then he leaned towards the owner, grabbed him by the collar and said in rough, whisper-like voice, “Bambino….. never…never….never go against the family.” He pulled out his gun and pistol-whipped the owner, turned around and walked out. We locked ourselves in our room….only to come out for pizza and beer.

Next morning, we made our way to Pompeii. There is a train called the CircumVesuvia, which connects Naples to the other towns around the bay of Naples, and stops at Pompeii. The ride was 40 minutes.  Out of the right side of the window you could see Mt. Vesuvia towering over everything. What if it erupts? I might be buried in lava like the Romans! Oh my! So, Pompeii, ancient Roman city, being buried in lava for 2000 years and all, is pretty much a scene of Roman daily life frozen and preserved quite well for us to check out.

The lava encased the entire city and kept intact many of the houses, streets, bodies of its citizens, mosaics, paintings……quite fascinating. They have plaster molds of people still in the positions they were in as the lava rained down on them, enveloping their remains in stone, to be revealed again only by modern archaeology. It is quite eerie to see these molds and the positions people made as they died….with their arms over their faces…or crouched with their knees against their chests. Looked pretty painful. You can actually go into some of the houses and see murals on the walls, or the original doors, still encased in lava rock. The murals are fascinating…many of them depicting sexual exploits, different positions, and various other erotic artwork. Romans lived very decadent lives, at least the rich ones anyway. I took tons of pictures of Pompeii….hope my camera is working…guess I’ll see when I get the film developed.

That night, we decided to check out Naples and see if there was anything in town that was worth seeing. After filling up on pizza and Gelato (their version of ice cream, and goooood), we began walking. Everything looked closed and there were not many people on the streets…and the ones who were there didn’t look very friendly. We passed a few packs of bad boys who were eyeing us….we just kept walking. The city looks nice, but I think the safety factor sorta kills the experience. And then, as we walked, a stray dog jumped out and started barking wildly, teeth bared….what the hell is it with me and stray dogs?!?! They must have a conspiracy to attack me wherever I go in the world. I yelled at it and stamped my feet at it…hoping it would go away, but it just kept advancing. I guess we were in its territory. My heart was racing, again, and I slowly walked backward away from the vicious pooch. After a while, we put some distance between us and its territory, and it backed off. I was getting ready for some fight or flight action…..but I lucked out again.

Naples is a dump….don’t come here. If you want to see Pompeii, stay in Sorrento, which I hear is much nicer, and I am going there tomorrow. I will be checking out the Amalfi coast, supposedly some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world….and the island of Capri, also supposedly amazing and touristy.

Before I leave Italy, I absolutely have to hear someone say, “Mama Mia!” I also gotta hear some good accordion music….

Well, that’s all I have to say about Italy so far…..thanks for reading.

Jared