13 February 2012

In the land of sunflowers and wine: Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of the adventure..click here.

Just to set the scene...we ended our tale in a portacabin somewhere on the outskirts of Rome, lamenting thin walls and noisy neighbours...

Day 4 ROME - NAPLES
Today shall furthermore be known as the 'Day of the Queues' and the 'Day we came to Nasty Naples'. Got up early after not much sleep - yes those prats did come home at midnight and banged and crashed round for a good hour – two toilet trips ensued due to having been woken up. Got up at 7am and made sure that we returned the favour by banging and crashing round for them – some of it was on purpose I might add. Got the first shuttle to town, and were at baggage deposit by 8:50am. Got in a rather long queue & there was an Italian guy who didn’t seem to think things were moving fast enough so proceeded to get in a very loud argument with the baggage deposit people whom also got very heated – this held things up for a while as no-one seemed to want to back down. Anyway after this we rushed off to the Vatican Museums (this of course being our 2nd attempt after giving up yesterday), and we were hoping not to see a huge queue (luckily today there were blue skies!) but unfortunately there was still a massive one. 


Now because I’m telling the whole truth here – I will admit that we did jump the queue – but only because we were really pushed for time with catching the train to Naples etc – where we joined the line we still had to wait for ½ hour anyway but I think we saved at least another hour. Made it in and literally whizzed round – think the quickest you’re supposed to be able to get round it is 1.5 hours but we did it in just on an hour. It was worth it to see the Sistine Chapel but it would have been even more impressive minus the crowds. Then it was back to yesterday’s café for another late breakfast, back to Termini to pick up our luggage and then on the 13:16 train to Naples. Queued again at the train station for about ½ hour to get our tickets sorted – as I said a day for queuing!

The train trip down to Naples was nice enough apart from sitting outside Naples station at a standstill for ½ hour. Arrived finally, and were pleased to find our hotel was less than 5 minutes walk away. First impressions of Naples on that walk – dirty, noisy, and unpleasant and unfortunately these impressions didn't improve for the rest of our stay.

The room is nice enough (luxury compared to our noisy cabin last night), no matter that you can barely sit on the toilet without hitting your head on the wall and the shower is so small you almost have to suck in your stomach just to get in it! Nevertheless having a hot (non-communal) shower, and being able to wash my hair was a luxury and more than made up for the lack of space.

We went on a mission trying to find somewhere to eat (we wanted a real restaurant), and do you think we could find one damn restaurant in the whole of Naples?! In the end we came back to the hotel and asked for their recommendation (wish we hadn’t!). They sent us to the scummiest place ever – bit like a school canteen – the food was cheap and there was a reason why – it was crap! Really crap! My spaghetti carbonara was overcooked noodles with fatty overcooked bacon and my ‘stuffed peppers’ were strips of peppers in a bed of oil which had clearly just been shoved in the microwave – very cold in places and hot in others. Mark’s ‘gateau of potato’ was precooked & reheated and came with an added extra – a fried bug which I found when I went to have a bite – needless to say it was one of the worst meals we have ever eaten! 

We have decided that if we can avoid it we'll skip staying back in Rome again on Sunday, as it is a bit of a hassle to get to the campsite and another sleepless night like last night WOULD do our head in, not to mention make us tired and grumpy, or more so than we already are anyway.

However we have called the B&B in Siena and they are full at the moment & won’t know till tomorrow afternoon whether they have anything. Tried a few more places but nothing definite as yet.

In any event, we REALLY don’t want to stay here any longer than is possible – there is rubbish in the streets everywhere and when we were out at the phone box calling hotels I saw 2 VERY large rats running around about 10 metres away – Lordy it just gets better and better.

Anyway at least tonight I don’t have to worry about getting up for a midnight dash to an outside toilet – thank goodness for small mercies. We are going to try and call a free number in the morning for Siena hotels and think we will try to visit both Herculaneum and Pompeii in the day as well.

All in all, a bit of a strange day – both Mark and I feel uncomfortable in Naples – it just has an air of something sinister about it – very hard to explain but we are glad to be heading out of the city for the day tomorrow!

Day 5 POMPEII - HERCULANEUM - SORRENTO
Packed – and tiring is the only way to describe today. Up at 8am, we were planning to get to McD’s for brekkie as it opened at 9am. Got an all-day ticket to Pompeii and then went off to McD’s – however just our luck that like everything else in Naples it wasn’t meant to be. This McD’s didn’t do a breakfast menu as it had a café attached that opened earlier. So we flagged that idea and headed straight out to Pompeii.  

Pompeii exceeded all our expectations – we had no idea that the site was so massive and that there was so much to see. It is one whole city complete with markets, temples, a forum, an arena for gladiator games, a sports arena, amphitheatres for theatrical performances etc. We pretty much saw the whole thing in 4 hours which was going at a reasonably quick pace. Several of the villas still had frescos on the walls & parts of their marble atriums intact as well as some lovely gardens. We rented audioguides which were very informative, but rather longwinded so at each point we only listened to about half the explanation otherwise we would have been there literally all day. Had a soup/roll breakfast at about 10:30 which filled a large gap. Hard to believe it was pouring with rain 2 days ago when it was so fine today – even got a bit burnt especially on the top of my head – not clever – but we just weren’t expecting good weather after the deluge we got the other day.


Finished up at Pompeii about 1:30 and went back on the train to Ercalano (Herculaneum), which was much more compact and there were a lot more complete buildings with roofs etc than in Pompeii. It was also a wee bit like a sunken city as it was at a much lower level than the actual town of Ercalano is today. It reminded both of us of what a town in Morocco or anywhere in the middle East might be like today.


Still very interesting to go and see but think we were both a bit tired from all the walking at Pompeii. Finished Herculaneum about 4pm – went and had a sit down and a drink – my feet were definitely aching by then.  Had a wee think – neither of us particularly wanted to go back to Naples knowing what a dearth of quality food there was – we decided to take the train to Sorrento since we were already 1/3 of the way there – and we felt a bit more optimistic about dining somewhere nice for dinner.

Sorrento was divine – quite touristy but very relaxed and it seemed hard to believe this pretty place was only an hour from Nasty Naples. Walked down a few quaint alleyways selling everything from lemon liqueurs, fresh fruit (lemons the size of large grapefruit) scarves, painted crockery. We went past a restaurant which Mark was quite keen to have dinner at – I wasn’t sure because there was no one eating in there (it was still early) and the prices looked cheap (and I was a bit wary after the previous night’s experience). We walked round a bit more but ended up going back to that one which was in the end a good choice by Mark. There was a cover charge which made everything a wee bit more expensive, which stupidly made me happier because I felt that anywhere that had a cover charge had to be halfway decent – and it was – the food tasted fresh and that was a big plus! Went back to the train station (via the supermarket) and ended up having to run to make the train.

Had our tickets checked after 1 stop and turns out we didn’t have the right tickets (ours were only good as far as Pompeii) so the ticket collector told us we had to get off at the next stop and buy tickets – we were pretty bummed about this because the next train wasn’t for ½ an hour – anyway what we didn’t realise was that they would hold the train for us while we ran like crazy into the ticket office to get tickets – crazy – but a piece of very good luck which we needed!

Sat next to an American and Australian guy on the train – the Aussie seemed to think he was some kind of hero and was talking quite loudly about all the girls he had scored – clearly not expecting anyone else to understand the conversation – or maybe he just didn’t care! 

Got back to Naples, tried the B&B in Siena and definitely no room tomorrow night – shame. Tried the freephone hotel reservation number which was of course Mon-Sat till 7pm and this was 8.30pm on Saturday night – doh! Well had a wee think and decided that we would go to Siena anyway and try our luck for a hotel there or in San Gimignano. Went to the train station to try and get our tickets validated so we could get the 6:06 train (the ticket office didn’t open till 6:10) – no luck! Mark asked 3 different ticket cashiers if they spoke English (in English) and either they did and thought we were rude for asking in English or they were just plain unhelpful. Then we went to the Information office where the guy was every bit as unhelpful but managed to get a train time out of him at least. We are both really knackered and have the thought of getting up at 5:30 to look forward to. If we make all the connections we should get to Siena for 11:30am which should be early enough to sort out accommodation surely! We’ve decided to catch a faster train and pay the supplement so that the journey will be 5 hours instead of 7, and means we only have to change once. My face feels burnt, my feet are so tired, roll on a relaxing train journey and a couple of slower days – I think we need it!


Day 6 NAPLES - SIENA A day to remember
A day which ended oh so brilliantly! I woke at 5am for the toilet and then couldn’t get back to sleep as knew not long till we’d be getting up. Mark then mentioned how worried he was about us walking to the station at that hour of the morning and that got me worried so by the time we got up we were both grumpy and stressed.

Had to hand the key back in – the bloke in reception was snoring loud enough to wake the dead and it took several goes of banging on the glass door to rouse him. Made it to the station safe and sound thank goodness, and then had to wait 20 minutes for the ticket office to open. We were first in line and for some reason today the process was a whole lot simpler – bought the supplement 15.60 euros for both of us so quite reasonable. Got on the train, beautiful morning, and could see Mt Vesuvius very clearly. The train took 2 hours to Rome, where we had a short wait – called the campsite in Rome to cancel – in the end had to use my mobile to do this as we had no money on the phone card and needed to cancel the reservation this morning.

The train from Rome to Chiusi took about 1.5 hours – we had got a bit behind schedule on the earlier leg and came into Chiusi with only a couple of minutes to spare to make our Siena train – however there were quite a few people changing and the Siena train waited for everyone. Finally made it into Siena at 11:30 and caught the bus up the hill to the town centre (we didn’t even buy a ticket but got away with it thank goodness!). We were both feeling extremely shattered after lack of sleep and 5 hours on the train – but on first glimpses we were pleased we made the effort as it looked lovely. Walked no more than 150 metres before we saw a sign for a 2-star hotel and went on in – was 65 euros for the night, saw the room, said yes, but had to wait for it to be cleaned so off to McD’s for brunch. Mark’s burger was cold and crispy round the edges while mine took 10 mins to make – I could barely stand up by the time they gave it to me I was that close to passing out and felt like I had been waiting a lifetime. We were back in the hotel at 12:30pm, and spent the afternoon reading and watching TV before drifting off (lovely – just what the doctor ordered!) about 2:30 – slept till about 5pm although Mark didn’t get much sleep so he has zonked out well before me tonight bless him!

Mark watched the rugby (England v Italy) from 5-6:30, England kicked Italy's butt (we could have been there if we had gone back to Rome – but I’m sooo pleased we’re here!). Felt a lot more rested and relaxed – some people might say we were a bit sad for spending 7 hours in the hotel today but boy did we need it. 


We then went out for a walk and it seemed as if the whole of Siena had the same idea – everyone seemed to be out strolling the lanes, it was almost as if it is something they do of a Sunday evening, if not every evening. Went down to the Piazza del Campo – words can’t describe – absolutely gorgeous circular square – all cobbled and sloping and the buildings surrounding the square were also built as if on a curve – very medieval and pretty. 

So here we were Sunday 7th April 2002, about 7pm. And just as a few spots of rain started to fall whilst we were standing with our arms round each other, Mark pulled a wooden box out of his pocket and said ‘I’m absolutely pooing (actually shitting was the word he used but we'll try and forget about that!) myself, but would you marry me?’


To which I said ‘Oh baby’ and the rest of the night is a blur!

What we actually did was buy a phone card and find a phone box – the phone card was easy enough but had to walk right back through town to find a phone box and then the card wouldn’t work – finally got hold of my Dad on his mobile in NZ – got the times wrong – I thought it was 7:40 am but it was actually only 5:40am (doh!!! I forgot the clocks went back last weekend!) Also called Mark’s Dad (his mum was out at the neighbours). AAAAGH! So the Dad’s knew and the Mum’s didn’t. Anyway we came back to the hotel quickly to pick up our phones, then called Mark's M&D again – they were so thrilled for us. 
Then I got my Mum and Dad to call back on my mobile and briefly gave them the good news – but in the meantime my credit has run out on my mobile and Mark’s has run out too – what a pair we are – neither of us has any credit to call to get more credit – we’re going to have to try and get some somehow though tomorrow. Typical that the one night we have news we want to share with the world and we can’t call anyone! Oh well!

Had a lovely meal out and splashed out on some wine, then wandered back through town. Going to try and locate an internet café so we can inform a few more people tomorrow and sort out some credit for the phones!

We are also looking forward to wandering round Siena leisurely – I have so fallen in love with this place – it is a quaint, charming, pretty, relaxing and the perfect place to be asked the most important question ever – we will never forget today in stunning Siena!

Of course it was hard to top that magical moment in Siena when two young lives committed to love each other forever, but there was still much, much more of this amazing country to see. Stay tuned for more in Part 3....

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