On Sunday, the fifth day of our vacation to Italy, we were ready to leave Rome. Not so much because we were tired of being there; we’d only put a small dent in what there is to see and do. It was more because knowing the reservations at two more places had been made, and it was inevitable that we go. Besides, after reading so much about Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, I know I was looking forward to being near the ocean. I’m glad I had the short time to do a post while we were there because as much as I can say I’m able to hang on to memories, being able to savor the better moments after it’s all over can get lost in the shuffle.
When we travel, my volatile personality battles with itself. I’m an odd combination of someone who loves beautiful hotels with soft towels and scented soap, and one who also enjoys being very casual, and comfortable. Going unnoticed. Because I’d approached my planning for our trip from the latter perspective, I quickly decided that we’d not be staying in Positano, a picturebook perfect place that I would have loved to stay — but not with two of my sons in tow. So Sorrento seemed to be a better choice. If we decided to take a bus to Positano, or a boat to Capri, then I’d be satisfied with that, hoping to return someday just with the MoH.
Some would call me a dreamer, or not very practical. I’d prefer to say that I look for the silver lining of most aspects of life. I’m a highly observant person with a near lethal critical eye, so I enjoy looking for the softer more beautiful characteristics in as much as I can find. It works, because although I am incapable of not noticing the underbelly of just about everything, I prefer to wallow in everything else. Yes, this is about Italy…
Because we spent so much time on line before we left trying to book train fare and failing (that’s a whole post in itself…) we took time to go to Stazione Termini the day before leaving Rome to use the self-serve ticket machines. All went perfectly, so on Sunday, after allowing one of the swarms of men who offer to “help” put luggage on the train and then actually haggle with you about what the service they forced on you is worth, we were off to Naples. I knew there would be a bit of confusion once we arrived there, because never having been there, we couldn’t quite figure out how we’d get from the train station to the docks to catch a boat to Sorrento.
Bear in mind that I’m a planner by profession, so if I say something is not quite clear after I’ve spent time thinking about it and searching for options, then that means I’ve decided that we’ll just figure it out. Besides, the MoH kept telling me we would be on a bit of an adventure, so I allowed myself some moments of letting go of my worries.
And then we arrived in Naples. Yes, I’d read about Naples, which was why I never considered staying there for even a second. To be fair, we’d just stayed in a huge city, so even if I’d planned for us to venture into Naples to see the spectacular Museo Archilogico Nazionale, we’d do so from a smaller town. Any possibility of doing that evaporated when we stepped off the train. The “loves the finer things in life” side of me kicked in when the four of us had to traipse across the station four or five times just looking for information about where to catch the “tram” I’d read about. Yes, I understand that Italy works differently than other places, and that it’s best to relax and “go with the flow.” I. Get. It. Okay? But then we decided to venture outside the station to figure it out ourselves. Surely there would be obvious signs to follow. When one can read Spanish, Italian isn’t that different, thankfully.
But there were no signs, and the station was in some kind of transition with construction going on that looked as if it was stalled and hadn’t been touched in quite some time. Walkways were blocked, and as we ventured out toward the large square in front of the station where buses were lined up, we were more than cautious about traffic. For as much as vehicles didn’t honk their horns in Rome, it seemed every one of them used their horns to warn anyone in their path — red light, stop sign or not. Trash was everywhere, accumulated against buildings, wafting across streets as traffic passed, and worse, wedging in the wheels of our luggage as we searched for the yet unseen “tram” mentioned in one of our travel books. (Erm, thanks, Rick Steves. You might want to edit that book. And don’t forget to change the phone number for museum reservations in Florence while you’re at it.)
We walked back and forth. We asked people for direction, and then finally we found the city buses and began to look at their numbers hoping to see the “1” we needed. A tram looks different than a bus, doesn’t it? Or so we thought. Right as we’d decided to go for it and walk the distance to the port, we located a bus — full sized — with a “1” emblazoned across its front. Perhaps that was our tram. But by the time we’d figured it out, it left and we stood on the curb waiting, trying to decide if we should wait for the next, walk, or catch a cab. After eyeballing the cabs streaming by in the frantic traffic, we knew there was no possibility of the four of us and luggage fitting into one tiny vehicle. One cab driver actually stopped in the middle of a huge intersection, motioning at us out his window, wondering if we needed his cab, and we had to wave him on.
So we set off in the general direction of the port. It was beyond hot, and the area we walked through looked as if it might be a business district. All was closed since it was Sunday and the traffic immediately became sporadic. Light posts were missing from their bases, wires exposed in a tangled mess. Phones had been vandlized, receivers hanging from their sturdy cords, missing covers for the ear and mouth device. At one point, a young man with a beautiful girl on the back of his motorcycle drove up onto the sidewalk in front of us pulling his bike alongside the store windows and cruised in the opposite direction, slowly, as if allowing the girl to window shop.
We began to look into the shadowed alleys to find one that looked safe. Yes, I was not feeling very safe, and that’s a rare thing. But we found one and just being able to walk in the shade calmed my nerves long enough to notice the high rise buildings from which laundry slowly flapped in a breeze we couldn’t feel. I could begin to smell the salt from the bay, so knew we couldn’t be that far away.
I was wrong. The port is huge, and we came out, luggage in tow, near where the large cruise ships dock. More of the seemingly always present orange plastic construction fencing lined the busy street, so we had to pick our way through it all, then wander along the docks until we finally found where the ferries dropped off and picked up people headed across the Bay of Naples.
The MoH’s suitcase experienced a flat as a result of this particular leg of our adventure, so he had to carry it for the remainder of our vacation. He thought it had just become heavy since he was just as tired as the rest of us from our ordeal, and he just pulled it harder. The poor wheel had all its rubber worn completely flat on one side.
If I told you I was traumatized over this experience (um…not the flat on the suitcase wheel — Naples), I’d expect you to know it was an exaggeration. But I can say that I was offended. Seriously. And then I was embarrassed by my reaction, so that pissed me off. Picture an ugly black cloud with lightning bolts flashing out of it hovering over my hatless head, and you’d have the right picture.
So much for relaxing. For adopting a “whatever” mentality. For embracing the casual “no worries” attitude that the MoH abhors when he hears someone mutter that particular phrase. I was only an ugly American who would wallow in self pity, unbeknownst to anyone but her family. MoH being the mostly calm person he is, ventured off to find a cool Coke to share once we’d found a bench to sit and wait.
When the ferry to Sorrento arrived and we were settled on board, my mood had passed, the deep blue water we skimmed over helping to soothe my ugliness. It was only then that the MoH realized that the Cirumvesuviana we’d opted not to take to Sorrento had a stop we could have taken to the bay to catch the ferry. The travel book had evidently neglected to mention that particular piece of information. Of course, there was more than enough mention made of the rampant crime and pickpocketing that goes on, so clearly, that factored into our decision to forego use of the Circumvesuviana at that point in our little adventure.
Maybe if I was 25, I’d have a different outlook than I now do. But when I was 25, I had two babies and wouldn’t have been able to even afford thinking about Italy, so who knows. I do know that as much as Naples might be described by some as having “an attractive, rude ebullience,” I will say that the only thing I found attractive about it was being able to board the ferry to Sorrento — regardless of what Rick Steves thinks.
The silver lining? The MoH. He doesn’t always understand my strangeness, but is always willing to lighten things up when the time is right. It’s nice.