Christine woke me up at 4:15 this morning. She never did get to sleep last night. I wasn’t happy to be getting up this early. At all. In fact I was probably quite the ass this morning. Sorry babe.
We walked to the train station in the dark and boarded our train at 4:50 or so. It departed pretty much right on time at 5am. It was pretty dark so all we saw on the way to Naples was the grafitti on the walls at the other trains stations and the lights of the tunnels and the other trains heading towards us on the adjacent tracks. Grafitti is a real problem in this country, I think.
I did some people watching. The people are definitely fashionable (which is to be expected in Italy, I guess) but the aren’t any more fashionable than people in… say cities like… New York or LA. At least not at 5am. There was one young man with some killer D&G glasses and another with three earings. Those two were pretty fashionable. The coats with fur hoods were pretty prevalent.
When we got to Naples, we had to walk upstairs to go from the local trains to the faster Eurostar TGV trains. Once we found the right platform, we walked across the street to a coffee shop. I paid for two fruit filled sfogliata and two Americano coffees. Christine took the tickets for the pastries while I grabbed the coffee. We drank our coffee standing at the coffee bar just like the locals, then we went and boarded our train, saving our pastries for the commute.
The Italian countryside was beautiful (again, as long as you overlook the graffiti that is pretty much everywhere). We saw grapes and all kinds, plenty of other kinds of crops and lots of livestock, along with the local ranchers and farmers in their fields. Truly picturesque… like something out of Godfather II. Cities built into the sides of hills… etc – all at 180 km/hr in super comfortable seats.
About half way to Rome, I checked out the dining car. Again, standing only to drink my espresso and walking down the aisle of a train moving that fast around curves isn’t easy… And our coach happened to be the farthest from the dining car. Learned a lesson there.
Once in Rome, we grabbed a taxi from Roma Termini to the entrance to the Musei Vaticano. It was about 12€. Maybe.
Oh, and it was pouring rain. I mean, like a Texas thunderstorm, pouring rain.
We went into the Cafe Vaticano, across the street from the Vatican and had a coffee and a cafe latte and some free lemon pound cake. Yum.
We then met our tour guide Tiffany (from Indiana of all places) and waited for the tour to start. Viator Tours was the tour company. They did a good job of getting us into the Vatican and showing us around, while keeping us out of the rain, and the tour group we were with was limited to 20 people… and we saw a few groups that were 40+ people, and that didn’t look like much fun.
I could write a whole book about all of the stuff we saw (and I’m sure there are already hundreds of those) so I’ll just try to recount a few of the highlights.
First, I have a huge amount of respect for the role the Catholic church has played in Rome’s history and the preservation of the city and the art in the city. I was surprised to find so many examples of non-Christian yet religious art: Sphinxes, obelisks, statues of Greek gods and goddesses, among other priceless treasures. I was also crazy surprised to learn how much the old Popes (think Middle and Dark ages here) were much more than political and spiritual leaders… The were basically emperors, just with a new God.
The map room is proof of that… We were both taken aback by how large the maps on the walls were and how accurate they were considering that to make them, the guy that the Pope hired had to basically climb lots of mountains, take measurements of the coastlines and other mountain tops from where they were and the put all of the measurements together to make a map, which the Pope then used to create a battle strategy against the barbarians and pagans that needed a little whipping here and there.
Then we pretty much owe the Renaissance period arts to the Popes during that period. They produced Michaelangelo, Bernini, Rafael, etc… We also owe lots of conspiracy theories to their secrecy after the Protestant Reformation. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in turn owe their names to the Popes. Pow. Bet, you didn’t see that reference coming, did you?
The Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) was amazing. Like wow. Oh, and don’t take photos in there (there are plenty online, so you don’t need to). I almost got thrown out for just picking up my camera to chest level to turn it off. Christine wasn’t impressed with me at that point 😉
After the Vatican, I was pretty overwhelmed with the amount of power that the Vatican has wielded for so long, and I understand where a lot of that power comes from, I think. And I can tell you at the time, I was so glad to have made the trip to Rome… and it was only lunchtime.
We had lunch at Ris Café, not far from St. Peter’s square. It was good, although I should have checked the prices better… Nothing like paying 50€ for some risotto with white truffles… Oh well, it was good, and I don’t need to eat white truffles again if I don’t want to pay for it.
After lunch we went back to the same place we started at to meet the same tour company and got on a bus to visit three more churches that belong to the Vatican, but aren’t inside Vatican City. We visited the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. St John’s was my favorite, I think by far.
Right before St John’s we visited the Steps of Jesus and watched more than a few pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees… Saying three prayers on each, before being rewarded with being able to touch the place where Jesus’s blood dripped onto the top step from his crown of thorns as he went to see Pontius Pilot for his judgement (yes, they took the steps out of Jerusalem and brought them to Rome). At the top, we saw the Image of Christ, that existed in the Lateran Palace.
Oh, and the relics in these churches are real relics. Like: the spear that stabbed Jesus while he hung on the cross. The chains that held Paul when he was beheaded. Parts of the manger that Jesus was born in. The bones of Peter and Paul…
Awesome stuff man. Wow. I’m still moved as I write this.
If you don’t believe all of that stuff happened, I dare you to visit Rome and these places and not come away feeling a little less sure of your own convictions. I’m bit saying you’ll wall out of the Vatican a born again Catholic, but it’s hard not to feel the power of the Spirit in these churches. Really.
After St. Mary’s (the last church) we ran to the Roma Termini, and found that there was an express train leaving the station about seven minutes from when we got there. We had a choice: try to buy tickets at self-service kiosk and make the next train or get in a long line and have to wait an hour for the next express. I opted to try the kiosk (Christine said “we will never figure thus thing out”) and luckily it had a button with the flag of England on it, which I assumed meant “English”.
About a minute later we had two tickets to Naples, or at least that’s what I thought I bought. We raced to figure out which platform to go to, and where we couldn’t find our trains on the first schedule board,
I looked at Christine and said “just keep up with me and we’ll find it.”
A few minutes later we found out train and the platform number and headed that way. I was perfectly perplexed when we saw the destination on our train and it wasn’t Naples. I looked at Christine and said “Where the hell is Reggio Calabria?”. She laughed and said “It’s south of Naples, near Sicily, so I think we are good.” So we boarded the train. We found our coach and confirmed with the other passengers we were sitting near that we were on the right train in the right car and at the right seats.
About a minute after we sat down and got comfortable, the train left the station, and I smiled and said “Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.”
Christine agreed and the proceeded to take a quick little cat nap on the way to Napoli. Cities built into the sides of hills… etc – all at 180 km/hr in super comfortable seats.
The gentleman sitting next to me on the train worked for either the Salerno government, or the Italian government in Salerno, and had been in Rome for work for the day. He was extremely nice, and very gracious as he tried his best to help me make sure we got off at the right stop, and we talked about the difference between Italian and American politics, albeit very light conversation, as I wanted to steer clear of making any inflamatory comments… and I don’t know anything about Italian politics. He did tell me to be very careful with my camera in the Naples train station, and I thanked him for the advice and help.
Once at the Napoli station, we found the bathroom (and 2e€ later we were able to pee) then our train platform. A nice young Italian woman made sure we got on the right train to Sorrento, and an hour or so later, and we were back in our town.
We were exhausted after the long day, so we popped into the Pizzeria da Franco on the way back to our hotel, and were treated to quite literally the best pizza we had in Italy.
After finishing our pizza, and one bottle of wine, we saw a local eating some fresh Parma Ham with cheese and bread, so we ordered a platter. Christine started to protest, and the waiter said “no, no, no, it’s not too much, I’ll bring it out” and so we enjoyed a second bottle of wine with the best proscuitto and cheese we’ve ever had.
And the bread… oh my gosh, the bread was awesome. I asked how it was made, and the waiter said “some flour, some butter, some egs, and ham and sausage, and cooked next to the pizza in our oven.” I think it was the ham and sausage that made it so good… not dry like all of the other sourdough bread we’d had at other restaurants… it was very moist and rich, and the perfect compliment to the parmessian and mozerella cheese and ham we were eating.
And the wine cups were plastic:
Mmmm. Multo beuno!