Published: August 13th 2008July 20th 2008
Apparently all roads lead to Rome and it turns out the cheapest flights all lead there too. So Tom, James and I took the cheapest flight out there as soon as we could and landed in Rome with no plans and no idea where we'd be tomorrow, let alone where we'd spend the next couple of weeks. You'd think I'd have learned about accommodation pre-booking from Paris, but you know me. I never learn.
I don't know how it happened, but before we could figure out how to say "cheapest accommodation possible" in Italian, we found ourselves being ushered off the streets into a hotel on one of the main roads. Here we were offered unbelievable room rates by the manager who we later found out was hailed and admired like some sort of God by his staff, and referred to as "il Director", which made us slightly uncomfortable. I think it was Tom who first pointed out something suspicious was going on. For some reason, a lady let us into a room without even asking us to pay, which confirmed that something too good to be true was happening. We sat in our room for a while and wondered
This was the beach Papa Antonio sent us to. It was actually quite nice, but not not quite a beach.
what was going on, why it was so cheap, and why some new lady was banging on the door yelling at us that we had to talk to "il Director!" James figured we were being taken over by Nazis and Tom decided we were going to be murdered in our sleep that night, but the price was so good that we couldn't say no. We were marched down to the director, a bit apprehensive as to what was about to happen, but it just turned out they did want us to pay straightaway.
Apart from a few more Italian/English complications and a bit more staff worship of the old director, nothing actually came of the old murder/nazi theory, although Tom was convinced he smelt gas that night as we were drifting off to sleep. We made it through the night though, and hightailed it out of there the next day.
I have little to say about Rome because at the end of the day I think there are better cities in Europe. I don't know if it was that there were too many tourists, whether it had something to do with the 35 degree temperature (I was used
to English temperature by now - 35 is hot!) or whether it was the fact that the lines at the Sistine Chapel were about 11 kms long, but Rome just didn't do it for me. I definitely appreciated the architecture, the people, and the ice cream, but something about it just didn't push my buttons.
Next we headed to Naples to see what was going on there, mostly because Tom wanted to see Pompeii - the ancient city forever frozen in time thanks to Mt Vesuvius eruption on a fateful day in back in the summer of 79 (79 AD that is).
Accommodation here was a much more interactive experience. Papa Antonio, the lovable white-haired hotel manager, was like a father to us, giving us detailed plans to get Pompeii (inspirational), the Amalfi Coast (breath-taking) and a not so local 'beach' where there was no sand, only rocks. The day we made plans to go to the beach was when Papa Antonio really earned our respect. We'd discussed directions and all the timetables for getting to the beach, and then decided to go for a quick sleep before heading off. All of a sudden, Papa A came knocking
This poor bloke should have run for it... no point sitting around when there's a volcano going off.
on our door to tell us he had two Italian girls about our age who wanted to go to the beach as well, and he wondered whether we'd like to go with them. Would we like to go with them
!? I have never seen James change into his swimming gear so quickly, and frankly, I don't know why I was watching. Needless to say, the rest of that wonderful day was spent in the company of some lovely girls who handled the Italian side of things, while we told them great stories about all the sharks and crocodiles we see when we go surfing in Perth.
It was a shame to farewell Naples, although at one point, we were unsure whether we'd actually ever make it out of there alive. We got lost in a series of pitch-black backstreet slums, trying to find "Da Michels" which apparently makes the best pizza in the world, but is ridiculously hard to find if you ask the wrong people. We made it out of the slums by retracing our steps and puffing up our chests to scare off any Italian mafia or big rats who were hiding in the shadows. We finally
One of the main streets in the ancient city.
made it out, and after chewing down a humungous
margarita each (which wasn't sliced for some reason) we had to agree that it really was the world's best.
*Fact of the day: pizza was invented in Naples.*
Anyway, as nice as it all was down there, we had our sights set on greener pastures, or should I say bluer canals - for we were headed to Venice, one of the most amazing cities I've ever visited.
We were accidentally quite clever here, because we arrived on the overnight train from Naples, and got there at 5 in the morning, in time for an amazing sun rise and completely empty streets. Nothing can compare to this city - unspoiled in its eternal floor plan, never conceding to the demands of progress. I'm sure most people reading this will know that the city has no roads, just canals, and therefore two of mans' great inventions will never really amount to much - that is, the wheel and fire. It's a shame everything is so expensive there because I would have loved to have stayed longer.
And speaking of expensive, there are ludicrously priced toilets everywhere in Venice, and
5am equals no tourists.
there is only one way to avoid paying for them. It is here where I should stress how this was the ultimate shoe-string budget tour of Europe in history. If we could save a Euro or two (PER PERSON), we were going to do it without question. So we decided we would sneak onto a train, and utilize their facilities before they took off out of the city. When the trains pull into the main station, they usually stay there for about half an hour or so, and we figured we had time. We had a quick look at the timetables, but couldn't understand the Italian signs, so just jumped on any old one, as long as we had someone on guard by the door in case the train decided to leave. Well would you believe it, I managed to coincide my turn with the outgoing 11:07 to Bratislava. Right when I had walked into the tiny toilet and shut the door, I heard a desperate yell from Tom, and I legged it. Tom was holding the door open with both hands and his foot, and I jumped into the gap right as he let go. Let me stress 'into'
Good Morning Venice!
James on a bridge over not-so-troubled water.
the gap, not through it. With the strength of an angry crocodile's jaws, the doors slammed shut on my body and I was trapped and scared, and also about to pee myself. With some sort of superhuman strength, Tom and I combined to free myself from the clutches of death (well, Bratislava - which I've actually heard is quite nice) and onto the platform, and laughed so hard I actually couldn't hold it anymore. Some might say foolishly, I jumped on the train on the very next platform which remained stationary which was a great relief in more ways than one.
We moved back into Venice and headed south along the Grand Canal. I remember sitting with the boys on a huge set of stairs, at the southern end, right out the front of the big church there that overlooks the river mouth (or as I like to call it La Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
). We were eating the fruit we had bought at the markets that morning, and I remember a feeling of complete contentment. It was such a lovely feeling; the setting was beautiful, the weather was perfect, our commitments were none and our plans
Handsome roosters in Venice
Ol: How do you make a Venetian Blind?
James: Poke him in the eye.
were open. The company was ideal too, it was just one of those moments when you think all is right with the world. And as Venice marked our final city on our Italian itinerary, it was fantastic to finish on such a high note.
We took the overnight train out of there, avoiding having to pay for the notoriously unaffordable Venetian accommodation, with our sights set on Swiss cheese and new experiences in SWITZERLAND.