Friday, April 19, 2013

Three Days in Italia


After Marseille, the next stop on the itinerary was Genoa, or Genova, as the Italians call it and I find easier to say. Before the cruise itself, Mom found out that the infamous Portofino is very close to Genova and very possible to reach in a day trip. Mom had always wanted to see Portofino--it is the vacation island of the rich and famous, so she looked up how to get there before flying over here.

Once we got off in Genova, we found the train station and took the train to a little town called Santa Margarita, which has a ferry that goes to Portofino. We didn't look much around Santa Margarita then because we were franitically looking for where the ferry departed. We got there in the nick of time. They were just starting to pull up the ramp for the ferry when the let us on.

It was a very scenic trip to Portofino. It probably took about five to ten minutes as it was just across the pond a bit. Strangely, it reminded me a lot of being on Lake Murray, where my grandparents live, except that the houses were gorgeous, Italian/Mediterranean styled.

Oh! I should mention that it was Easter Sunday. We saw signs for "Pasqua" (Easter) everywhere. Pascua is Easter in Spanish, so Pasqua is the Italian spelling. Love the many crossovers in Latin languages. Easter in Portofino. How awesome is that?

All right, so once we got there, we walked around a little bit. We stopped at a souvenir shop where I bought a postcard for my friend Sarah, who loves postcards. Then, we decided to climb up one of the hills to get a higher view of the town.

Once we made it to the top, we had gorgeous views of the place. All the pictures we took look like postcards, but it was real life. Very, very picturesque.

Once we'd seen all we wanted to see, we decided to head back to Santa Margarita, as it was a gorgeous town as well and we hadn't been able to see much of it. We caught the 12 o'clock ferry and good thing too because there was another one coming in jam packed with people. Portofino was filling up rapidly. When we were walking around it wasn't bad, but as we could see from our ferry it was very full. We don't like crowds much in our family.

One thing we definitely wanted to get while in Italy is the gelato. It's their version of ice cream, but it's so much more delicious. They just don't make ice cream anywhere else as good as Italy. Helado in Spain and Portugal is good but just can't compare with Italy. However, you don't buy food in Portofino unless you're starving or are swimming in cash, so we waited until we got back to Santa Margarita and had eaten our packed lunches.

Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of Santa Margarita. My brain must have let me. I blame the vacation. Anyway, we found a nice place to sit on the rocks and watch the sea to eat our lunch. I finished before my parents and was restless, so I walked around this outdoor market while they were finishing up. Then we met back up and got our much anticipated gelato. Yum, yum, yum!

After we had walked around some more, it was sadly time to head back to Genova to give ourselves enough time to catch the boat. We got on a train, which was so much nicer than the one that took us there. However, it wasn't making as many stops as the first one that took us there. Mom started worrying that we'd gotten on the wrong train. As it turns out, it was a long-distance train instead of a commuter one that we'd gotten on in the morning. I told her that it would surely stop in Genova, all long-distance trains stop in big cities, but she wanted to be sure. Dad asked this Irish guy and he said he thought so, which didn't reassure Mom at all. So we got off at the next stop and asked a conductor. All was fine.

Then we were back in Genova. We didn't have time to go downtown and look around, but our boat terminal was very beautiful and we saw a Columbus monument near the train station, so we saw a few things. We did have time to go to a café, use the wifi, and drink delicious Italian lattes. I am now a fan of Italian lattes, although my dad prefers the Spanish coffee because it's stronger and cheaper. I can't argue with the cheaper part, but I like my coffee with more milk, which the Italians do.

That night, we went to an Easter mass on board. It was done in Italian, but they handed out a sheet that had the order of mass in six different languages so we could follow along. I understood about 30% of the sermon, also in Italian, based on my knowledge of Spanish. Not bad, if I do say so myself.


Now, I will move on to Naples. Even though all the days were great, if I had to pick a least favorite, Naples would be it. Perhaps not all of Naples is bad, but the port and train station was just gross and really sketchy.

Before going to Naples, we didn't know much about it, like what there is to see and whatnot. The last time we went, we went on an excursion to Pompeii. This time, we went to Sorrento, a part of the Amalfi Coast because Mom had heard of it and we saw it in my Rick Steves' book. I was more interested in seeing Herculanum, the other town buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. We planned to go there on the way back from Sorrento.

Once we arrived in Sorrento, we looked at the map outside the train station and headed in the direction of things that looked interesting. I really had to go to the bathroom, so we looked around for a place and ended up going to a place and bought coffee so we could go to the bathroom. It was really pricey coffee, but quite good. Again, I like the coffee/milk ratio of Italian coffee.

After that, we looked around for a place to eat our lunch. We ended up sitting in a little square on a park bench and watched the town go by. We didn't see a whole lot because a big bus was impeding our view. As it turned out, the bus was an excursion bus from MSC. Moreover, when the bus had left, another one pulled up. We kind of thought about hopping on the bus, but we supposed they wouldn't have taken too kindly to that.

Once we'd finished up lunch, we went to the point where you can see the coastline and ocean. Unfortunately, that's when it decided to rain, so we had to run back and catch the train (like my rhyme?). Besides, I wanted to have time to see Herculanum.

For those of you who I talked to right after getting back from the trip, I probably gave the impression that I hate Italy because of Naples. I was still feeling annoyed about that experience, so you got my negative emotions. Now that I've had time to blog and reflect, I really don't at all, but I am not a fan of the public transportation at all. You see, they don't run enough trains and so if it starts to rain or if it's rush hour, the trains are jam packed. On the way back from Sorrento, we had to shove our way onto the train and then be crammed into the train like sardines for an hour and a half. It took longer to get back than it did coming. Since it took so long and it was impossibly crowded, we didn't make it to Herculanum, which I was really disappointed about because I had loved Pompeii and Herculanum is supposed to be even better preserved. Guess, I'll have to go back, huh? Maybe give the rest of Naples another chance.

As it was, we barely made it back to the port in time to catch the cruise.

Messina, Sicilia

A lot of days during the trip, we were able to watch the ship pull into harbor. When we woke up the day of arriving in Messina, Sicily (an Italian coastal island), we had already parked (probably not the correct nautical term) and ready to disembark. Upon opening the curtains to our balcony, we could see that we had literally parallel parked to the street. We kind of felt bad for the people who lived right by where we parked because their normally lovely view of the sea was now blocked by our giant ship.
To emphasis this, I've included two pictures. One from our balcony (top-right) and another from the streets (lower-right). I think this second picture is great because it shows just how tall the boat was. These are several story apartment buildings and the ship kind of looks like another building behind it. Again, I feel bad for the people who have their view obstructed every other week by this ship.

After disembarking, we dodged the taxi drivers and tour people heckling us, and headed inland.  First thing we saw was a rustic church, kind of lower in the ground. It was very quaint and kind of a different style than most churches/cathedrals. It was nice.

Once we'd taken a look at the church, we decided to try and find the cathedral that we could see up on a hill from our boat (like we did in Marseille). Therefore, we headed uphill.

We walked through beautiful squares, avoided crazy Italian/island drivers, and huffed our way up. On the way, we saw a really cool looking building that kind of looked like it would lead through to the top, so we went in. When we entered, there was this really friendly Italian guy who greeted us and told us that it was a pawn shop. A pawn shop! Imagine this building in the next picture on Pawn Stars. Unfortunately, they weren't open, so we couldn't see what an Italian pawn shop sells, but nonetheless it was really cool. They let us go to the back part and look around (see picture).

The Italian guy was interesting because he was taking data from all the people who entered for some kind of statistics. He asked where we were from and how we had come to Messina. So he was probably seeing where tourism came from.

After the pawn shop, we continued on up. There were too high points that we wanted to see. The first was a hill-top cathedral. Before going in, we just sat on a bench and had a very peaceful view of the town. I enjoyed the view a lot. Then, we went into the cathedral. Like I've said before, I just love sitting and looking at all the symbols and comparing them with others--seeing new ones and seeing the constant ones (Jesus, Mary, etc).

Then, we walked across the way to the next point. I'm not exactly sure what it was because it wasn't open. It was a cool, old-looking building from the outside. Then there was another view of the city. Randomly, there was this guy dressed up as Mickey Mouse mooching for pictures. I kind of wanted a picture with him, but Dad pointed out that he had a money pouch around his neck and would want to be paid. When we were in Rome, these gladiators charged us for getting pictures. It's just a big hassle and we weren't feeling like it. Too bad. It would have been cool to have a picture with Mickey.

Anyway, after that, we headed back down. Since we were so close to the ship, we decided to go back there and have lunch. We'd pretty much seen all of the city. One thing that was interesting is that they had things representing Pope John Paul all over the place. Apparently, he had come to visit during his papacy or something. There was even a Pope John Paul basketball court.

Well, this concludes my very large segment on our time in Italy. The next blog post will be about going to Tunisia and finishing up the cruise. I'm also working on one about the cruise ship itself and our time spent on it.

To be continued...

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