Today I wanted to talk about my time spent in Naples. Now, this may come as a surprise to no one except me but Naples is generally not considered a safe city. I found this out once I told Joni we were headed there, and she regaled me with tales of caution from her accountant, who insisted that Naples is one of the worst places in Italy.
Somehow, we managed to avoid getting robbed, harassed, hustled, or even hollered at, and had a wonderful time while we were there.
We spent our first day on a food tour, which took us through the streets of the city. Now, after reading the generally positive reviews of this tour, I felt pretty good about it. Everyone had really positive things to say, right?
It started out innocently enough, with our guide taking us to a coffee shop to enjoy Cafe’ Napoletano (espresso with whipped sugar and coffee), and then to enjoy some fresh Napoletano sweets. Delicious, and not at all a foreshadowing for what was to come.
You see, as our guide explained to us, Naples used to be a poor town, full of army folks and prostitution. These people just couldn’t afford to eat. So poor, so starving, so sad, etc etc.
Instead, they turned to the kinds of food others wouldn’t eat. Ya know, things like stomach. And hoof. And cheek. This, they boiled until all the fat melted off and it became somewhat chewable. Then, they doused it in salt and lemon and choked it down, a tradition which they continue to this day.
You see where this is going, right?
I’m just going to pause right here and tell you that I wasn’t even going to eat this stuff, until Joni looked me squarely in the eye and declared “I’ll eat it if you will.” And guys, I can’t back down from a challenge. So we did.
We “enjoyed” cow udder, intestine, hoof, cheek, and stomach. It was…interesting.
I think my favorite part had to be when Joni attempted to chew her hoof. You see, a hoof is all cartilage, right? And whenever you chew cartilage, it doesn’t really break down. It just turns into smaller and smaller bits of cartilage. So, after a few minutes, Joni was still sitting there with a mouthful of hoof and looking increasingly queasy. I took the coward’s route and nearly swallowed it whole.
My second favorite part would have to be the hair still attached to the cow cheek, which my guide assured me was sanitary because ‘it was all boiled anyway.’
We finished up the tour with fried pizza and seafood, which I turned down because I may eat cow hoof, but I draw the line at shrimp, dammit.
I told you guys I’d be back with more Europe posts, and I am not one to disappoint! As I was sitting here thinking about the rest of the time Joni and I spent in Roma, a vision of dozens of posts swarmed before my eyes. You see, we fit in so much, and saw so many things, that it would take me forever to write it all up. So, I’m going to do something a little different. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here we go:
The Colosseum was an incredible experience, and when I asked Joni later, she said it was one of her favorite things that we did. Why? Because it’s some of the coolest history we have. (Side note, you can click on any of the pictures in groups to make them larger).
There’s nothing like visiting these ancient buildings and trying to wrap your mind around the fact that people, real people, lived and fought and died here 2500 years ago.
Along with the Colosseum, we went to the Vatican Museum, where we saw the Sistine Chapel and rubbed shoulders with thousands of other awed visitors.
We also found out that the Sistine Chapel, where no photos are allowed, is actually enormous, and the most famous panel within it is actually quite small:
We visited St. Peter’s Basilica, listened to audio guides about a thousand dead popes, and got to see some of the best religious art in the world.
We walked through the Roman Forum, an entire city’s worth of ruins that culminate in a palace overlooking the Circus Maximus (where the old chariot races were held).
We went to the Trevi Fountain and the top of the Piazza Venezia, which the Romans hate because it’s made of white marble, but looks just as beautiful to us:
We ate more gelato than any person has a right to- though the best was the one separately recommended to us by two different tour guides.
We made real, Italian pasta in a class taught by a real, Italian chef. And then we ate every last bite.
We drank bottles of wine and climbed the entire city and when people asked us if we were tired, we stared.
Because this is what Rome is about. It’s life. It’s the past and the present and the art, all mashed together into one teeming, thriving city.
I am currently on a train, heading from Naples to Rome, where I will board my flight allll the way to Amman, Jordan. I haven’t spent the last few weeks writing as much, because I’ve finally had company! I already told you all about my nefarious weekend in Rome with Sarah, but shortly after she left, my step-mom, Joni, arrived.
Now, I don’t know if you guys know this, but we’re the kind of family that spends 13 hours at Disneyland and rides all the rides in one day. Since Joni was only going to be around for five days each in Roma and Napoli, we went full out.
Which I will tell you all about, in great detail!
But today I’m going to start with our trip to Tuscany. Now, Joni had never been to Italy before, so I wanted to make sure we had the best time possible. I booked us a one day trip through Tuscany using viator, which started at 07:30am and ended at around 9pm back in Rome.
This was the first large tour group I’d been in since coming to Europe, and about 70 of us climbed into a bus, where we received headphone sets and walkmans. We were basically just missing the fanny packs. Our tour guide was an Italian woman with a British accent, which sounded probably as weird as you’re thinking.
Our bus stopped for a coffee break about an hour into the drive, at a location clearly designed for us tourists. They had free samples of about….oh, 50 types of chocolate, as well as olive oil, limoncello, wine, champagne, and more. I mean I think they thought we would try only one or two, but come on, it’s me. I tried every single one. (Free!)
Breakfast accomplished, we climbed back into the bus and finished our drive through the Tuscan countryside.
Arriving at the city of Montepulciano at around 0930, we walked through the ancient village, with a guide telling us all about its history. Like how people rolls barrels full of nails up the mountain for…fun? It was absolutely beautiful, and I wish we were able to spend more time there.
Alas! Our time there ended, and we were whisked away to an ancient monastery, where we took several scenic photos and thought ravenously about lunch, which was forthcoming.
I have to say, one of the best things about being on a tour like this is the ease of it. You know how people go on cruises because all the entertainment is there, in front of you, and you hardly have to think of anything? The tour was like this. They took us from place to place, fed us amazing Tuscan food and wine, and taught us all about the history of the area. So relaxing, but also so much fun. (Especially the wine!)
To that end, we ate this crazy lunch, with approximately 1000 different kinds of cheese and wine tastings from all around the Tuscan region. And we had this…dessert wine? With a biscotti? I mean I was thinking something like moscato when I dipped my biscotti in it and took a bite…but it was more like Crown Royal. Or jet fuel. Just awful.
Afterwards, we headed to the city of Piensa, a picturesque little town famous for cheese. (according to me). We walked around the whole city, got some souvenirs, and then boarded the bus back home for another drive through the winding Tuscan countryside. There’s something just absolutely peaceful about the golden rolling hills, and it reminded me a lot of home. *tear*
Ah, well, one day I’ll go back!
Anyway, the day ended late and we were all tuckered out after the trip, so we returned to our super luxurious hotel (did I mention that? They upgraded our room for free!) and crashed out for the night.
Don’t worry though, I’ve got plenty more stories about the days ahead.
Well hello! Long time no talk! That’s because I’ve been busy making memories. And guys, do I have some stories to tell you. But! First things first. I’ve spent the last 9 days in Rome, where I’ve made new friends, spent time with old ones, and got to show an Italy noob around. (As if I’m not one)
Let’s begin from the beginning, shall we?
I previously told you guys that I was staying in an ancient farmhouse in Tuscany, with no wifi and lots of animals. Well, my day to leave came around and I packed everything up, dragged my suitcase to the car, and let the farmer’s son drive me the half hour to the train station. I was waiting on the platform with Nala, barely five minutes before leaving, when I realized that I had forgotten my wallet. You will recognize this as something that I absolutely cannot lose. Luckily, the farmer’s son had gone to the market and hadn’t left the village yet. I caught him as he got to his car, and he escorted me back to the farm, where my wallet sat waiting. D’oh. Unfortunately, this also meant I missed my train, and my connecting one, which put me in Rome at 4pm rather than 12pm. This sucks all by itself, but my friend Sarah (hi Sarah!) had come down from Germany for the weekend and landed at 9am. She was forced to wander alone while I languished in the Tuscan countryside. Such is life.
Pause here for a moment while I tell you guys about this game that my mom got me. It’s called Anywhere, and can be found on Amazon.
I hadn’t played it before, since I didn’t want to be a lonely loser, but Sarah and I spent the entire weekend playing and had an absolute blast. It features such cards as “make up a silly walk,” and “pick someone to follow around. Follow them for as long as possible.” You better believe we followed a man wearing incredibly tight pants all throughout the city.
Our second night in the city was amazing and ridiculous and just…well let me tell you. We made the bus ride to the Coliseum, during which an incredibly drunk man sat thirteen inches away from us and made awkward, unending, eye contact for half an hour. He was undoubtedly fascinated by us, to the point where he attempted to read our cards and even check out the pictures I was showing Sarah on my phone. After an understandably creepy amount of time had passed, we finally managed to hop off the bus and make a run for it before he realized we were gone. Upon reaching the Coliseum, however, we found out it was closed. Staring at it, and the various people milling around inside, Sarah turned to me and said, “I think I need a drink.”
And thus began our adventures.
We started first at a hipster bar, where the bartender did his best to impress Sarah and accidentally threw an entire bottle of liquor on the floor. Then they gave us free shots because they forgot to give us our bruschetta.
Suitably tipsy, we made our way to a highly recommended pizza shop, where we told the wait would be a half hour and finally got a table two hours later. In the meantime, we wandered the streets and even managed a few words with a Syrian shopkeeper, who was very impressed by us.
Finally sitting down, we ordered an entire liter of red wine and devoured a whole pizza each. We closed the shop down at midnight, after the exasperated waitress asked us for the third time whether we wanted to order any more food.
Then, because I had told Sarah I’d always wanted to go to an Ice Bar, she looked one up and we made our way over there. We arrived at 12:30, and the guy at the entrance paused, my credit card in his hand, before telling me to look up at the live feed inside the bar. It. Was. Empty. I mean literally not a single person was inside. Having saved us 30 Euros (for a cover fee), we thanked him profusely and asked for bar recommendations. He directed us to the Nag’s Head, a Scottish pub which he promised would have people in it.
Also, I just need to tell you guys what we looked like at this point. Sarah was dressed all in black, from head to toe, and I was wearing sky blue leggings with a hot pink workout shirt that read “After this…pizza.” Oh, and my red Gryffindor sweater. So basically we were hot babes and everyone knew it.
In contrast, the pub was full of middle-aged women in club attire, with full face makeup. Seeing we were completely out-dressed, we hurriedly redid our hair from ‘ponytail’ to ‘inside-out ponytail.’ Very effective.
We then continued to play Anywhere, enjoying glasses of Guinness and dancing around awkwardly at our very own table. At one point, Sarah walked into the kitchen (on purpose) before hurriedly being shoved out by a very distressed waiter and waved in the direction of the bathrooms.
It was at this point, after having been alone for approximately 30 seconds, that an Indian man named Tareq came over and made himself comfortable at our table. Now, it was very loud in the bar, and I had a really hard time hearing him. So every time he spoke, I would turn to Sarah (who had come back from the bathroom) and ask her what he said.
It was because of this that I thought he was a writer. For the Vatican. After asking a million questions about what he wrote, he exasperatedly told us that he was a waiter and that he served people food for a living. Oops.
I mean seriously, this guy would not leave our table. So in desperation, I stood up, eyed the bar, and beckoned a different table full of men over in order to get him to leave. And, I mean, it worked. He did leave. But then we were stuck with this other table full of men. So…it was better?
We ended up spending the rest of the night hanging out with these guys, before they tried really hard to get us to go home with them. I mean, come on guys, we’re not fourteen. We know what you’re trying here.
So it was with great enjoyment that I watched Sarah break down into full hysterics over her lost necklace, fabricating a hilarious and semi-realistic excuse to leave. And let me tell you- she didn’t half-ass it here. She went all out, sobbing, tearing at her hair, looking all over the floor, etc. etc. I even made up a nice backstory, telling the guys with us that it was from her dead mother and literally irreplaceable.
Since she was just *so* upset, we had to make a quick break for it. Running off down the road, I called an Uber, which was just minutes away when the guys from the bar caught up to us. I’m fairly certain they saw us chit-chatting, with Sarah perfectly fine, before she broke down again, RAN TO THE NEAREST CAB, and climbed in, screaming for me to join her. I, being the good friend that I was, couldn’t just leave her, and shrugged woefully at the poor bar guys before joining her in the cab.
Today I am sitting here in my very own farmhouse, deep within the rolling hills of Tuscany. It’s as nice as it sounds. The weather up here is gorgeous and the house is 500 years old (as told to me by the incredibly nice owners staying next door). I’m here for a total of four nights, and I have to admit, when I first got here, I was…sad. Because this place is beautiful, and romantic, and so very clearly a honeymoon-esque place to be.
And I’m here alone. Ah well, such is life.
I’ve cheered myself right up by finally having no plans at all. There’s not even wifi here, and my phone signal is straight out of 2006. This means I’ve spent a lot of time staring into the middle distance with the sun on my face and the goats baaing behind me.
Did I mention this was a working farm? The people who own it have everything- goats, pigs, rabbits, horses, sheep, chickens- even their own vineyard! They own the entire mountain we’re sitting on, as well as the one next to it. Of course, this means we’re approximately 20 minutes from any sort of store. Obviously I didn’t think this through, because I realized very quickly I had no food and no means of retrieving any (most people drive themselves here). However, the first night I was here, they cooked me a fantastic meal (of all homegrown foods) and even gave me a bottle of their own homemade wine. Ah-mazing.
The next morning, they even took me down to the village supermarket so I could get groceries for the next few days. Pro tip here guys: don’t ever attempt to use the self-checkout in a foreign country. Everything is different. When I first started scanning my items, the woman manning the self-checkouts pointed to the sign above me, saying “10 items maximum,” which I very obviously missed. (I had like 25). Then, when I went to ring in some bananas, she literally shouted “stop!” ran over, and showed me that you have to pre-price all your produce before getting to the checkout stand. Of course I had like…10 items of produce, which I shamefully went back and priced out while leaving my basket hogging an entire checkout stand.
Then she had to come over to verify my age for my wine.
Then I accidentally took an item out of the bagging area and she had to unlock the register so I could continue.
At this point she just gave up and scanned all my groceries for me.
She left me to pay and I thanked her profusely while I finished up.
Then I couldn’t figure out how to get out. I was locked in the grocery store.
Finally, I walked up to her, as shamefully as you could possibly imagine, said “scusi,” and then gestured helplessly at the locked doors.
I think she probably wanted to fall off her chair in laughter, but she was very graceful, scanned her badge at a kiosk (you’re supposed to scan your receipt) and let me out.
I’m writing to you from my hotel in Florence, where I am taking a vacation from my vacation. God, how spoiled do I sound? The truth is, it’s pretty tiring getting up and getting out all day, every day. Combined with the care of a tiny needy dog who sometimes pees on things like your bed, it can be downright exhausting!
So! Like I mentioned previously, I’m completing a status challenge in order to get Hilton Diamond status for the next few years. That meant canceling a few of my Airbnbs and switching to hotels.
And boy, is it worth it. I took off yesterday from Nice, where it had kindly decided to start storming exactly as I ran for the train station. Soggy and freezing, Nala and I climbed onto the train, where we sat, delayed, for two hours. Like, I mean, we hadn’t even left the station yet.
Anyway, I had a connection in Milan, which I ended up missing. Knowing this, I went down to customer service, where I waited for an hour for help and ended up missing another train. Oh! And someone tried to pickpocket me! Never underestimate the excitement of travel, guys.
Long story short, I ended up in Florence 4 hours late and tired of hauling all my (Nala’s) stuff through train stations. Luckily, upon arrival at the Hilton, (almost) everything got immediately better. Seeing as how I’m currently a top-tier elite, my room was upgraded, and, of course, I got executive lounge access, which means free food and drinks all day long. The point I’m making here is: get status! It makes everything 1000% nicer.
I’m now freshly showered, fed, and watered, and spent a lovely morning in a whirlpool spa area doing absolutely nothing. It was glorious.
Now, a final story to send you guys off before I spend some more time relaxing and chilling out.
So, last night, like I mentioned, I was pretty tired. Nala too, since she had been traveling with me all day. Well, she had already pooped in the train terminal, but luckily the Italians love dogs so everyone just chuckled and shook their heads.
After arriving to the hotel, I spent a few minutes in my room before heading to the club lounge to grab a few drinks and snacks. When I came back, Nala was waiting for me at the door, frantically greeting me and jumping around. Well…I soon found out why, when I encountered my plush, amazing, king-size bed covered in pee. This means my dog, who I had just left, (and who was just outside!) found herself alone, jumped up onto the bed (because the floor wasn’t good enough?) and decided to relieve herself. All. Over. It.
I mean come on! Shamefully, I called down to the front desk and asked them for a new bedspread, because my dog has no manners. They were very kind and sent up housekeeping with a new one, who remade my bed while I awkwardly watched and tried to ignore the wet pile of dog pee bedding right next to us.