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(Old) Mask of V Days 1-3: Travel, Pompeii and Rome

(Originally posted on December 31, 2010)

Only have an hour of internet so no time to look up names to things I forgot and stuff. Enjoy!

Traveling
We went to the airport to catch a flight at like five or so, but didn’t stop to get dinner because we were running late. By the time we boarded at ten o’clock we were all beyond starving. Luckily this flight was on a semi-commercial-ish airplane instead of one of the cargo planes, so it had movies and served food/drinks. We partook of a decent and hot meal. Date Night was the first movie, which was okay and had some funny parts. Salt was the second movie, and was really only good for laughing at the total lack of logical security by any of the good guys.

One lovely moment on the flight was looking over at the distant lights of the east coast as we went into the Atlantic. It was pitch black everywhere except for a couple of tiny cities. I enjoy flying at night because it’s fun to see the lights spread over the blackness like rivers (ooo, I’m feeling poetic), and this was particularly pretty.

About four hours later I looked out the window to find the sky was getting lighter. We stopped over in Portugal around dawn (at this point none of us had really slept and were all quite tired). But they had hot tea so it wasn’t unbearable. After an hour or two of sitting around trying not to be miserable, we got back on the plane and took off again. Four hours later, we landed in Naples at sunset. (It was pretty disconcerting to have a four hour long day.)

The rest of this day consisted of finding a car (which was too small), a room, dinner and bed. We ate on the base at a pizza place, and it was actually fantastic. Naples is said to be the best place to get pizza in Italy, and I was very impressed even though it was just the on-base restaurant.

Day One: Pompeii and Sorrento
We woke up a little late, and then hung around waiting for Dad to return with an exchanged car and a GPS. Two hours later we headed out… with the car but no GPS, as none of the latter were to be found. This turned out to be a bad idea. For about two hours more we wandered in the not-so-lovely city of Naples trying to get on the highway the right way. Being as most streets don’t have viewable names and the highways are almost impossible to get on the right way, it was a mixture of pure luck and wasted time that got us finally on the road to Pompeii.

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Pompeii. Picture taken by Laura.

Pompeii is pretty awesome. It’s also huge. The streets are paved with huge stones and gaping holes, the perfect sort of place to break an ankle if you don’t watch where you are walking. The city is surprisingly in-tact, even with wall paintings still in some of the buildings. Our stops included the house of the guy who was the first to stab Julius Caesar, which I thought was pretty interesting. They have a collection of pots, and some of the ash people, which were quite sad. We went on a long walk on a hill above the city, and the views of mountains on one side and the volcano on the other were breathtaking. And yes, there were several Doctor Who references. On our way out, we swung around the coliseum and the theater.

We grabbed lunch at a vender right outside, and I bought some fresh-squeezed lemonade. It was incredibly fresh and not sweetened at all. About 18 Spenda’s later, it was about the best lemonade I have ever had.

The next destination was Sorrento, a small town along the coast. But without the GPS, we were destined for yet another hours-long journey being aimlessly lost.

Once we got on our way, we were just in time to see the sunset over the cliffs and cities along the ocean, which was really beautiful. We got stuck in horrible traffic coming into town, and there was much, “Do you want me to do such-and-such (like park here)?” from Dad and much, “I don’t know,” from Mom. I will gladly take the credit of being the one to finally say, “Let’s park here now.”

Having parked, we made our way into the town, which was much cuter when not viewed from the inside of the car while stuck in traffic. Most of it is closed off to cars, filled with quaint shops and restaurants. We found a Pizzeria down an alley, where I got some really good macaroni and cheese. We stopped for gelato on the way out and grabbed a few souvenirs, including a gipsy scarf for me. Then it was back to Naples, where we were briefly lost again but eventually made it to bed.

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Sorrento at night. Picture taken by Laura.

Day Two: Driving and Rome
The least exciting day so far. Slept far too late, and then the parents had to find a GPS, and once the GPS was found we set out for Rome. The GPS was in Italian and it took Laura and I about an hour (spent largely trying to read the manual in Spanish) to get it to change to English. Then it took many more hours trying to put in an address (the safety lock was on or something so it wouldn’t let us just type something in), finally getting in the address for the hotel without the actual building number. Overall too much time in the car bent over the stupid GPS.

We stopped for a very late lunch at a McDonald’s in-route. I make no apology for this sin. I actually rather like going to McDonald’s in different countries because they’re all… different. Yep. This one had shrimp (Mom got some) and really good Coke Zero.

Finally we got to the hotel. At this point it was too late to do much of anything except walk around town. After a vote, we decided to opt out of that in favor of a quiet dinner and evening of rest. (Plus it was going to cost about $100 to take the bus into the city, which seemed a little excessive when we would only be there for a few hours.) On the recommendation of a hotel person, we went to a pizzeria on top of a huge hill. It was too dark to see what we were looking at, but still pretty. I got white pizza again, and it was quite good. There was a soap opera on the TV, which amused my family to no end.

Day Three: Rome
We set out early in the morning and caught the bus into the city. The first stop was St. Peter’s Basilica, which has the largest interior church in the world. It was a little by accident that we went there first (we thought it was the Vatican so my dad got in line for tickets but it turned out to be St. Peter’s). We went through the tombs of the various Popes, which none of us fully appreciated as we are not Catholic. However, it was interesting that some of the tombs were very elaborate with gold and paintings and carvings while other graves were just marked with a plain stone. Peter is allegedly buried there, and he has his own richly decorated room. (We found out later that Peter was crucified on the hill St. Peter’s is built on, which I thought was really interesting.)

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Siblings in front of St. Peter’s. Picture taken by Mom.

The Basilica itself was mainly huge, huge, huge and fairly dark. Michelangelo’s sculpture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus was there, and it was stunning. There was a lot of gold and intricate marble work. But mostly it was just huge and darkish. And no, we didn’t see the Pope.

Laura and Mom decided to go up into the copula (cupola?), which is the huge dome. Philip, Dad and I set out to get tickets to the Vatican. We got in line just in time to be told that it would be closing at 1:30 today and the line was 2-3 hours long. We were cutting it close but decided to wait it out and see what happened. Skip forward about an hour, and Mom and Laura reemerged to tell us we wouldn’t get there in time so we should just go get lunch. I was pretty bummed because I’ve only wanted to see that Vatican since I was like six years old… but it really couldn’t be avoided. It isn’t open tomorrow, but we might be able to make another stop in Rome before we leave. If not, I’m sure I can get back someday.

Lunch was eaten, and it was good. We set off down side streets, popping in and out of shops on the way. Laura and Philip bought themselves some nice masks, and I got a couple small things and a Roman Holiday calendar. I was eyeing some daggers, but my dreams of buying one were shot down by Laura and Dad talking about how cheap the same ones could be bought online.

Rome is pretty cool because once you get off the busy streets, it’s quaint and full of lovely piazzas with fountains. We stopped through a carnival in one of the piazzas. There were live musicians (including my first time seeing a one-man band) and donuts as big as my head, as well as other stalls full of toys and writing quills and puppets.

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Also we went to the Pantheon but I forgot to write that part, so here’s a picture taken by Laura.

We stopped off at a café to rest and drink warm beverages. I think we distress Italians wherever we go because we’re a family of five, and this seems to be quite a crowd to the average citizen. Anyway, from the café we hurried on to the Coliseum, trying to get there in time to get tickets. We managed to run in, literally the last in line for the day. But we got in, so that’s what counts.

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Me in the Coliseum. Picture taken by Laura.

It was sort of sobering, walking around this huge tourist attraction and thinking about what it was actually used for. I think gladiators are sort of celebrated today, but when you really think about it, it’s just sick. Not to mention lions against Christians and that sort of thing. However, it was cool to be there in person, exploring the different levels and such.

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Mom and Laura. Picture taken by me.

We dropped by the huge famous arch (the name escapes me) on the way to the Mouth of Truth, as seen in Roman Holiday. But our luck with lines had run out, and we arrived five minutes late of getting to stick our hands in the mouth. We snapped a few pictures and went on our way to the Spanish Steps. Most of this walking trip was a combination of trying to catch a taxi, pushing our way through crowds and nearly weeping from pain. It was quite dramatic. We passed some famous fountains with hardly a glance. We also passed a mask shop stuffed with leather masks. I was too tired to go in and look, so I’m hoping that later on we will find a similar shop where I can acquire a Popinjay mask.

Eventually we found our way to the largest McDonald’s on earth, which isn’t so much large as it is endless. It’s rooms attached to hallways attached to rooms forever. This was a place for my picky brother to eat and the rest of us to rest our feet. Strengthened a bit, we managed to limp to the Spanish Steps. They were quite impressive, but overcrowded and stuffed with street vendors that got up in your face about selling you their stuff. We left the steps and found a quiet restaurant to eat at.

The night came to a close with us nearly getting blown up by fireworks or shot at by teenagers. Which is only a slight exaggeration. Everyone has tons of fireworks for New Years, and one band of young men were having a blast (ha) with their very loud explosives on the sidewalk between us and the bus out of the city. I was walking a bit away from the family when I noticed the young men were running toward me. I really thought they were going to throw their explosive at my feet for a laugh, but they threw it at the sidewalk not far from the rest of the family instead. Nice blokes, them. Then not a block from that we come across a group of teenage boys who all have various fireworks and guns of some sort. I’m fully aware that these were probably toy guns. However, considering there were huge riots here last week, I was not about to take a chance. We gave these youngsters a wide birth and quickly got into the bus.

Now we are back in the hotel, awaiting room service to bring us tea and hot chocolate with which we will be celebrating the New Year. And there are tons of fireworks going off outside, and they are much less frightening when at a safe distance and (hopefully) not in the hands of drunk/young men.

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The siblings with various masks (I’m wearing one of Laura’s) in front of St. Peter’s. Picture taken by Dad.

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