Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Living a Dream

I have been living a dream.  No, better.  Really, I could not have planned this if I tried.  Clearly, Italy and I have gotten along quite well.

To preface...we've been doing mostly Couch Surfing in Italy.  That's where you contact someone local, through the Couch Surfing website, and they let you sleep on their couch for free instead of using hostels or hotels.  It's made the trip so much livlier and more varied.  They show us sides of the cities that we would'nt have seen and make the experience more authentic. We are never quite sure what the next "couch" is going to be like, which makes the adventure so fun.  Also, my Dad doesn't know (yet) that I'm couch surfing.  We'll tell him when all is said and done. So shhhhhh...don't spill the beans :)

We started our Couch Surfing in Roma with Davide.  The first afternoon we got there, we took the bus/metro downtown to start seeing the Eternal City.  We started at the Coliseum.  It was surreal--right when you step out of the metro station, the Coliseum is right before you, and next to it, the Arch of Constantine.  I forgot how much I love art history.  Well, I knew I did, but seeing these things in person made me love it all the more. We spent the afternoon touring il Coloseo and taking tons of pictures.  We wandered around Rome a bit afterwards, but mostly just headed back to Davide's. When we got back, Davide made some homemade pasta sauce for us, and then we went out for gelato. Not a bad start to our time in Italy...

The next day, we went back into the city center and explored more of all the history and architecture.  It is so crazy to see all these ancient ruins right amidst the city.  Really, you can be walking through the streets, turn a corner, and be surprised by beautiful sculptures or fountains.  We got to hit most of the major sites...the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, etc.  I'm sure we saw more that I'm forgetting--I'll remember when I look back at the pictures.

We went back to more home cooked food (it'll become a theme...) and then Davide took us out to a bar with some of his friends.  That's why we're loving CS'ing, because we get to meet lots of local people and see what life is like outside of the touristy stuff.

We spent the weekend in Rome repeating this pattern--going to the city during the day and then out at night.  I loved Rome.  I loved just walking around the city and stumbling on all the beauty.  One unfortuante thing is that when we went to Vatican City, by the time we got there, the museum was closed.  That means I didn't get to see the Sistine Chapel the Last Judgement, and especially the Peita.  The Pieta is undoubtedly my favorite piece of artwork, so turst me, my disappointment is quite overwhelming.  I guess this means I'll have to be back, and as I did throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, I'm sure it will happen. 

After missing 2 trains...we left Roma for Naples.  When we finally got there Monday night we went to our hostel--we couldn't find a Couch Surfer in time.  We spent about 3 days at the hostel and around Naples.  It was much less exciting to me than Rome, partly because I was kind of sick/exhausted.  But we met some really cool people at the hostel.  One couple from Israel cooked us an Israeli dinner one of the nights and we got to chat with them for awhile.  We are going to try to meet up with them again when we go to Israel at the end of the month.  We also got to go down to Amalfi for a day and quickly realized that wasn't  nearly enough time for Amalfi.  The best part was taking the ferry back to Naples--I definitely need to live near water and have lots of access to boats wherever I decide to live.

After 3 days at the hostel, we found a couch surfing friend and went to spend 2 days there.  It was a completely different experience than our first one.  Walter lived outside of the city and was younger so he still lived with his family.  The first night we stayed at his place, his parents were there too.  They were an adorable Italian family, and even though they didn't speak English, we loved eating dinner with them and trying to converse.  Of course, we ate lots of pizza in Naples, as it is where pizza originated. 

We only spent one more day in Naples, but it was an awesome one--we went for a hike with Walter up on an old volcano near where he lived.  We packed a picnic lunch and hiked for about 5 hours.  It was so nice to get outside in nature after having been in cities for so long.  And staying with Walter was such a relaxing break.  It was much cooler, we all had our own beds, and his mom gave us fresh towels and prepared breakfast for us when we woke up. 

The next stop was Florence, another city that I fell in love with.  We spent 10 days there in total, yet I still need more time to do and see everything.  There is just so much there.  And, unfortunately, we have acclimated to Italian schedules where we wake up at 10, can't get out of the house before 2, eat dinner at 9, and go to bed at about 1:30 a.m.  It makes it much more difficult to do anything productive.

The first couple of nights we stayed with Andrea and Guiseppe, right in the city center.  They lived at the top of the building and had a rooftop terrace that looked right at Duomo.  Really, we were about 2 blocks from it and could've probably thrown a stone to it.  They were a bit crazy and staying with them was interesting to say the least.  We could only stay there for a couple days though, so next we went to stay with a different Andrea and his six other roommates.  It was more like a hostel living with them...it was quite chaotic, but Andrea was a great host.  He let us have his room all to ourselves and they were great at helping us out and giving us rides when we needed, etc. 

I don't know if I can say enough about Florence.  Kristen (a friend who lived here for a semester) gave me a list of things I needed to do, and I probably only got about 1/2 of them done (sorry Krit...) I spent most of the days just wandering around Florence, trying to get lost in the city.  And I would gladly do that for another month if given the chance.  I did get to see the Uffizi gallery, with lots of beautiful artwork, but was unable to climb Duomo or see the real David (again, this was due to us not being productive ever, coupled with Italy's completely illogical hours of operation).  So, Florence also goes on the list of cities I will certainly revisit.

Despite the objections of our hosts, we obviously had to go to Pisa and take the obnoxious "holding up the tower" pictures.  We almost didn't go because the trains were on strike the day we planned to go, but I'm glad we still made it out there.  You really don't need more than an afternoon in Pisa, but it was worth it to go.  The Leaning Tower is such an infamous sight of Italy, so seeing it in person was again, a bit unreal.  The whole complex with the Baptistry and Cathedral in Pisa is quite beauitful as well.  But really, one afternoon is sufficient.

One of the highlights of Florence was doing a tour of wine country.  Its one of the few "guided" things that we have done, and were reluctant.  Truly though, I don't know if it would've been possible to see so much of the countryside or the little towns on our own, without a car. We saw San Gimignano, Siena, and the Chianti countryside, and got to do a wine tasting in Chianti.  I was unfortunately a little disappointed in the wine tasting as they seemed to rush through it and it wasn't very personal, but I'm still glad we did it.  And the Tuscan countryside is as beautiful (if not moreso) than all those dreamy looking pictures. 

One of my favorite parts of the entire Italy experience has been the train rides.  I could sit on a train, reading or listening to music, all day long.  I usually wish that the train rides were longer than what they actually are and I'm sad to see them end too quickly.  Maybe one day I'll just spend a vacation riding trains all over Europe.  And boats of course.