A long summer in Italy
Post our short visit to Paris, we had planned to come back to Italy to explore the southern region, of what has been our favourite country in Europe so far. What we were dreading though, was the blazing summer sun in places not close to the coast where we would not have respite until well past sunset. Our first stop Rome was one such place.
Chapter 1: Rome, blazing
We arrived into Rome on a sweltering, hot day with temperatures of over 39 degrees greeting us at the airport. We were to couchsurf with Marcello but since he was not back home till later in the evening, we deposited our backpacks at the train station and trudged along the sizzling sidewalk towards that monument that has become symbolic of Rome – the Colosseum. The streets were so hot I was sure one could easily conjure up some fried egg and bacon on it. The first thing we noticed was how much easier it was to understand Italian after having learned Spanish in Latin America. Italian and Spanish are a lot alike and I would imagine it being easy to learn the other if you are fluent in one.
There were massive crowds at the colossus that is the Colosseum, some lining up in queues that stretched over 500 metres, street vendors going mental waring their goods, hordes posing for their token photo and your usual gathering of Italian men whistling and catcalling at anything that resembled the female species. The thing that strikes you first about the Colosseum is just its sheer enormity and as we positioned ourselves at a vantage point in the shade, thoughts raced through my mind on the scores of battles, valiant gladiators, enormous crowds and the frenzied cheering that this colossal structure bore witness to. No matter how many photos you might have seen of the Colosseum before, it will still have you awestruck.
Not having done a photo shoot for a while, I feared that I might lose my touch, so through the ever reliable modelmayhem.com site, I managed to connect with a Romanian girl Ioana, and we decided to create a few shots at twilight against the Colosseum. As expected, as soon she turned up and began posing, we grabbed the attention of most onlookers and within a few minutes Ioana had a few thousand marriage and dinner proposals.
What our first 3 hours of sightseeing on a hot European summer’s day taught us was that sightseeing during the months of July and August in Mediterranean Europe, especially in places away from the coast, was best done post dusk. We found the heat and humidity during the day almost unbearable to go out in and would spend most of the time reading, writing or cooking. Even the lure of visiting the most coveted of sites, the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican would not have us line in kilometre long queues under the mid-day sun. That arduous task, we left for the stoutly devoted.
Chapter 2: Napoli and the Amalfi Coast
After braving the heat in Rome for 3 nights, we got on our first Train Italia service for the year to the city of Napoli. Two hours later, we were picked up at the train station by Pete, who was soon to become on of our favourite CS hosts. A self confessed punk rocker, he was a well travelled Italian bloke who after living in Bristol, UK for over 7 years had now settled down in Napoli with his stuntman of a cat – Skimask.
Dee and I for some reason were not that keen on exploring Napoli itself but its surrounding sights such as Capri and the famous Amalfi coast, both a couple of hours journey away from Napoli. We took a ferry out to the island of Capri and were instantly captivated by the beauty of this magnificent island. The blue grotto is a definitely tourist trap as the prices for a 3 minute tour of this phenomenon costs a cool 12 Euros, but hey should you have a holidaymaker’s budget, I’d definitely recommend a swim with swimming or snorkelling goggles on.
Post devouring yet another delicious pizza for lunch we headed down to the Piccolo Marina (Little Marina), a 20 minute walk from the center of the town. Now there are various points of interest on the island, but I would definitely term this short walk to the marina as a ‘walk in paradise’. I suppose the photo below shall testify. Once down at the marina, we stepped in for a dip in the turquoise blue waters which was surprisingly chilly given the sweltering temperature of the outside air.
We planned a day trip to the Amalfi Coast to visit the town of Amalfi, catch the sunset at Positano and come back by train to Napoli by nightfall. A foolish plan it was, as it took us close to 4 hours to reach the town of Amalfi from Napoli and instead of rushing ourselves in this tranquil place, we decided to spend the night at Positano in the hope that we would find a cheap place to stay. And find we did, a B&B for just 40 Euros a night, an absolute bargain given that it was high season. 2 bottles of wine, some crackers and cheese purchased, we walked down the windy paths of Positano to grab ourselves a vantage point to witness the magical sunset.
Chapter 3: Sicily and Don Vito
After a magical few days on the Amalfi Coast, we proceeded to make our way down to the island of Sicily. Sicilians do not consider themselves as having strong ties with the rest of mainland Italy, and it shows not just in their language (Sicilian), but also in their cuisine, which is dominated by seafood. The journey to Sicily was memorable as this was the first instance where I saw an entire train being ferried across, yes you read that right, FERRIED across from mainland Italy to Sicily. One for Ripley’s..
We spent 4 days in the city of Catania with Massimo and his family who were by far the most wonderful host family we’ve had on our travels. If you thought couchsurfing was all about sleeping on mattresses and sofa beds, fancy this – Massimo offered us an entire floor in his house to us, including a private terrace! The family treated us like their own, with Massimo’s beautiful wife, Paula, always ensuring we were well fed. Their 2 little teenage children were funny as they constantly seemed to be embroiled in arguments with their “paaaaapii!”.
Apart from lazing on the volcanic rocks that enveloped the coastline of Catania, we also trekked upto Europe’s highest Volcano – Mt Etna. To avoid the hordes of people making a beeline for the cable car and to gain some physical fitness after the carb fest that is Italian food, we climbed up the steep slope with a little bit of difficulty due to the loose gravel surface. On a clear day, one can see the entire city of Catania and the little towns beyond it as well from atop the Volcano. We were blessed with clear skies and temperature that hovered in the mid 20s.
Our last stop in Italy was in the pristine town of San Vito, which I was sure had been named after Don Vito Corleone. Alas, that was not to be, but the town of San Vito and the beach on it was one of the most beautiful sights we had seen on our travels. We’d lazed on countless beaches over the last year, but the fine texture of the white sand, the crystal blue turquoise waters and the mountains that made up the background were a treat to behold. We set up tent for the night in what was our first camping experience in Europe. And how different it was to Latin America! The campsite was fully equipped with over 10 showers and bathrooms, 2 restaurants and even a disco! Luxury camper vans adorned the grounds with families laying out their stove cooked meals on large foldable tables. Roughing it out camping? Oh no, save that for another day!
We spent over 6 weeks in Italy and we we still had not seen the east coast during our time there. It’s a gorgeous country with world renowned food and sights. I believe it is the people who are brazen, fiery yet extremely hospitable (which I believe is a Latin quality) that makes this country worthwhile to visit. I would definitely recommend the Amalfi Coast as the perfect getaway destination for holidaymakers and honeymooners alike.
If you do not know about this yet, you’ve been living under a rock for most of your life. Pasta, Pizza, Coffee and Gelato – try their variations in sumptuous quantities, all day, everyday.
What not to miss
The island of Capri and the stunning Amalfi Coast. Sunset from the town of Positano is magical and the ‘Path of the Gods’ trail is a must-do. If you do venture down to Sicily, San Vito Lo Capo warrants a visit during summer.