Saturday, May 10, 2008

Headin' down South

Sorrento is absolutely stunning. We got into our amazing hotel, which is still pretty vacant. High season doesn’t start until June, so we’re pretty much alone in this hotel, which is great! We have our very own balcony too.

The first day we just shopped around town, and I got myself a ridiculously awesome Italian leather purse. Mom thinks it looks like a man bag, but I think it rocks because it has a place to hold pens! It’s a totally functional purse, which I love. Mom got herself some ceramic painted pot thing. I’m not so well versed on kitchenware, but she was really excited about it.

That day we bought strawberries, tomatoes, and wine for dinner. We sat on our balcony and watched the sun go down. Legend has it that this was the location where Odysseus had to pass the Sirens, so it’s been known for centuries as being unbelievably beautiful. I wish the pictures could do it justice.

As a rainstorm rolled through.

The last shot of the night.

The next day we wanted to climb Mt. Vesuvius. I wasn’t aware that the car/bus took you most of the way, so this “hike” was severely less strenuous than the Cinque Terre hike. Nonetheless, the views from the top were unreal.

Quick side note: Mom the geologist

Mom graduated with a geology & biology major, but throughout childhood I have always felt she favored the geology side. Not only did we attend the rock & mineral show every year in Victoria, but she kept her senior year rock collection for who knows how long! I’m not even sure if she still has it, but I do know that she kept it until we moved from Victoria. And she made sure I knew she made a 97 on that project! For this reason she loves the rock beaches and volcanic rock. While we laid out in Camogli, I listened to my iPod and fell asleep. She on the other hand handled every rock in her vicinity to find the perfect rock. Now we’re lugging 5 rocks from the beaches of Sorrento.

Today she was equally as stoked to be climbing Mt. Vesuvius. As I asked her questions about volcanic eruptions trying to be interested, she diligently explained how lava flowed and how it cooled to form the rocks we see today. She was in heaven walking up to the crater, and looking at all the fractures and lava flows. Of course, she took a pumice rock with her.

Her explaining pumice rock to me. It’s porous.


Naples from above

The crater.

Mom wants me to display the fractures.

I promise it wasn’t windy up there; I’m just trying out a new hairstyle.

Sorrento in the background.

Mom didn’t want to go up any more steps after the Cinque Terre hike.

According to Geologist Carrie, rods from the earth’s core like obelisks can protrude with a volcanic eruption, and she suspects this is the remainder of one of those spires.

Pompei is down there. Somewhere.

The slick decline from the lava flow down to Pompei.

We conquered Mt. Vesuvius.


Witness my new obsession with fishermen.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Three C's: Como, Camogli, & Cinque Terre

My stint in Perugia ended over a week ago. The program ended on Saturday, and Mom came in the Wednesday before. I was able to show her around my new home for a few days and introduce her to my friends. It was harder to say goodbye than I thought it was going to be. I suppose I didn’t think it was ever going to actually end. Luckily, I can find consolation in the fact that I will see the friends I have made throughout the semester again, and I can always come back to Italy. Hopefully.

One of the last mornings in Perugia. My roommate Jenny and I stayed up after a late night at the discoteca to watch the sun rise. This was essentially my backyard.

Mom watching a rain storm from her hotel window.

Last picture with Kristen in Perugia.

I’m so fortunate to have an extra month in the country I’ve grown to love and around the people I’m starting to understand more and more. It’s so nice to travel without worrying about getting back to Monday morning 9 a.m. Italian class. It’s also nice to have more than one full day to discover a city.

The places we’ve been so far, hence the title: Como, Camogli, and Cinque Terre.

First stop – Como.

Fun fact: George Clooney has two villas here. Unfortunately there were no spottings.

The town is about 15 minutes away from the Swiss border and right on a big lake coincidentally named Lake Como. It was stunningly beautiful with the beginning of the Alps lingering above us. Being as it is fairly far north, it was pretty chilly here. Mom didn’t really pack for any sort of cold weather, so her cold-natured self clung to me most of the time as we walked around.

We stumbled upon some parade. Nothing like a marching band to cheer me up!

The first night we arrived fairly late, so we had a quick dinner at the hotel and then crashed for the night. The next day we walked around the town and the lake and took tons of pictures. At one point we stopped to sit and try to take it all in, and we discovered our new favorite ducks. They were black with a white stripe down the front of their heads, and they didn’t paddle along like normal ducks. We dubbed them Gesù ducks because they would literally walk on the water to get from place to place and then just float. It was pretty awesome.

Wisteria was everywhere.

Then we stumbled upon a weekend market that had ridiculous amounts of fresh produce, cheese, and meats. We picked up some sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and cheese and decided to have a little picnic that night for dinner. We later picked up a bottle of wine to add the final touch to the picnic. That night, we watched the sun set over the lake while eating our goodies. It was a perfect way to end the first full day of Carrie & Maggie’s Italian adventure.

The next day we took a cable car up to Bruante, which is the nearest town on the top of one of the surrounding mountains. We asked for a hiking map, and they gave us some legit trekking map that was of no use to me, and especially to Mom, because it covered WAY too much land than we could ever walk in one day. Despite this, we set off to hike to wherever. It turned out to be great despite our lack of direction. We hiked around for about 2 hours and then decided that we needed to eat. Not many places were open in this little town up top, so we found a hotel restaurant open. It turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve had here. We had a bottle of great wine (Verdicchio) and fresh fish.

Como from above.

After walking around Brunate. Mom didn’t want to smile.

For those of you that know my mom, you will know how typical this is of her. Instead of researching all the towns we were going to and what there was to see there, she researched outlet malls and which ones were closest to where we were staying. Across the border in Switzerland there is an outlet mall that she heard about, so the next day we just shopped. Surprisingly, we didn’t come back with much, but I’m pretty sure Mom has a different perspective on shopping when she’s lugging a 50+ lb. suitcase around.

Speaking of lugging suitcases…the next travel day was not what I would call ideal. Italy’s train system is difficult to navigate. Apparently it takes longer than 4 months to master the Italian rail system. We get on the first train, and it’s packed. I don’t simply mean that all the seats are filled; I mean people are sitting in the aisles and standing everywhere. Mom and I make it on and try to squeeze in wherever possible. A little bit of background, Mom has motion sickness. And it’s not just a simple case of not being able to read while in a car, train, etc. With the train being at overcapacity, it was pretty stuffy in there. For a while I thought Mom was going to lose it, but she kept it all together. I was proud.

When we got to Milan we had to buy tickets for the next train. The woman at the ticket counter told me that the train was pieno = full, but I mistranslated it and thought she said piano = slow. So she asked me twice if that was OK. I didn’t mind a slow train, so of course I said it was fine. We get on the train and like she said, every seat was full. I look at our ticket and it says that no seats are guaranteed, and then I realize that tiny detail was lost in translation. We sat on the floor for a while, but a man got off along the way and gave Mom his seat. Needless to say, we bought our train tickets in advance this time to make sure we’d have a place to sit on the trains that require reservations.

Second stop – Camogli

Fun fact: The town hosts a fish festival every year in May where they cook the fish in pans that are 9 ft. in diameter. We missed the festival by one weekend. :(

The first evening we were anxious to get out into the sunshine, so we opted to have before dinner drinks (aperitivi) at an outside café overlooking the Mediterranean. After two cocktails, we were in need of some sustenance, so we were on the prowl for a good restaurant. Up a dark alley we saw a red light and went to check it out. It was a tiny restaurant, but the menu looked more promising than all the others. This place was fully covered with random objects as decoration. Mom looked up from our table and saw two toy rats hanging from the ceiling. She wasn’t really pleased with my decision to eat here…until the cheese plate came. They had roasted three different cheeses, so they were warm and melted and delicious. It was then we realized that the grill over an open slow fire was how everything was cooked at this place. We had some unreal seafood. The restaurant was so good that we went back our last night too!

The first day we wanted nothing more than to lie on the beach and soak up some rays. It was a perfect day to do this too. The sun was out without a cloud in the sky, and a breeze would blow the instant I felt just a little too hot. Surprisingly, I didn’t get burned. Mom, however, was complaining about coming over here and being so pale…three days in the sun and now she’s 8 times darker than I could ever hope to be.

Italian men are not afraid to sport the Speedo. Here are two examples of how they can rock it.

Beached-whale style

Power stance and studly style

Old pans used for the fish festival mentioned in “Fun Fact.”

Camogli from our hotel

Third stop – Cinque Terre (only a daytrip, but adventurous enough to stand alone)

Fun fact: Mom has officially written me out of the will after the “torture” I put her through during the hike on Cinque Terre. It was around 8 km., of which only about 6 of them were uphill.

The next day we, more specifically I, decided to hike Cinque Terre. I had heard about it before I came over here and really wanted to do it. If Mom had done her research in other areas than shopping and outlet malls, maybe she would have opted out. Cinque Terre means “five lands,” and the area consists of five seaside towns that are all connected by a walking path. The paths turned out to be a bit harder than she expected. Let’s just say she and her body are still not too happy with me right now.

We started out at the westernmost town Monterosso and walked to the farthest town Riomaggiore. The first stretch was by far the hardest. At one point we were going straight up, trying to stay on the narrow path, while also avoiding sweaty, hairy, shirtless men coming the opposite direction. In the second town Vernazza we stopped for lunch. We did a picnic type thing again with salame and cheese. Back on the trail, the path to the third town was also pretty treacherous, but not as bad as the first. It was the longest stretch between towns, but we made it in pretty good time after having a burst of energy from lunch. At one point a larger fellow tripped coming the opposite direction, and I thought Mom, who was walking in front of me, was a goner. He regained composure in the nick of time, so nobody was seriously injured. Once in the third town Corniglia, we briefly stopped because we wanted to reach the finish line.

Looking back at Monterosso (1st town)

The trail


She is a trooper

Vernazza (2nd town)

Corniglia (3rd town)

Happy to have the hardest part behind us.

Rocky beaches

We were high up there!

Manarola (4th town)

It was at this point that I thought Mom was going to push me over the edge for bringing her on this hike. Luckily she has no sense of direction, nor does she speak Italian, so she kinda needs me around…at least for the next few weeks. I knew that the last two paths that run between the last two towns were the easiest, but she didn’t believe anything I said at that point. It in fact turned out to be true. The last two paths were short and flat for the most part. We strolled on Via dell Amore and ended in Riomaggiore roughly 6 hours after we began. A wine bar was conveniently located at the end of the trail, so we grabbed a drink and salad to hold us over on the hour train ride back to Camogli.

Via dell’ Amore (the path connecting the last two towns)

At the end!

Now we’re headed to the Amalfi Coast, which is way down south. There is a lot to do and see here, so I’m not really sure what all we will get to do. Whatever happens, I know it will be great.