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Anna is currently in Auckland.

A priest, a receptionist and Aunty Pompeii...
We've met some great people along the way.
The evening of our Vatican adventure, we were walking wearily back to our hostel (still finding enough time to gossip away), when a man who had been walking just behind us asked, when we paused for a moment, if we were kiwis. Turns out he's from the Shore, an old Mairangi Bay boy, who came to Rome 10 years ago to study religion, and now had his own parish. He started walking us back to our hostel, chatting the whole way, and was so excited to hear kiwi voices again and catch up on news (he was particularaly interested in the anti-smacking debate). He was so eager to pass on information about Italy (albeit, all the Catholic points of interest) and I think was a little disappointed to hear neither of us were catholic, but still gave us each a little Catholic charm, blessing them before he handed them over, and told us the saints that were going to protect each of us (defined by our birthdates). It was a really great encounter, and we hoped a good omen for the journey.

However, the train journey to Pompeii was horrific. We were cutting it very fine after the Vatican to get to our train on time, and we had to first catch the metro across town to the main train station. It was rush hour. There was LOTS of people. And Italians like to push. Needless to say it was the scariest experience I've had for a long time. I had my pack on, and found myself so squashed in I could barely breathe, and had absoluitely no control over my balance.... my feet were barely touching the ground, and my pack was incredibly hampering and much cursed by the Italians. When we finally got on our train to Naples (had to go via Naples to Pompei) we sat in the wrong seats (we NOW know what the word for seats is!) and were growled at by the lady who's seat it was, rather rudely. We had to get all our packs down and move further on, to our window seats further along, where a bunch of Italians were sitting in the aisle seats who did NOT want to move for us, and were incredibly rude. It's quite a horrible experience knowing people are slandering you loudly in another language and you have no way of responding. So by this time we were tired and miserable and hating our heavy luggage as much as the Italians! Finally we reached Pompeii.

We stayed in Pompeii town... a really pretty, well-groomed town very much a centre for the tourist site nearby, but much sweeter than I imagined. The Pompeii hostel was the one hostel we'd had qualms about booking... 12 bunks to a room, and very basic. However the lovely receptionist guy gave us a room that we had all to ourselves (off season has its bonuses). He also didn't charge us the Italian Hostel Association fee we were supposed to pay. And the next morning, when we went to breakfast, they had the most amazing breakfast... good hot coffee (and hot chocolate, bliss!!) and real, fresh croissants. (The place we had stayed at in Rome was great, basically a guy's apartment that he rented out the rest of the rooms in, so big, quiet, airy and clean, but the breakfasts were packaged pastries and biscuits...very average). We were supposed to only have one croissant each at Pompeii, but they were so good, and we were so hungry, we went back to see if we could buy more, to which he promptly gave us another free. Yay for Pompeii Hostel Reception Guy!!!

The next day we got to the Pompeii excavations at 10am (we were at the back gate at 9.30, where the hostel guy had told us to go, but discovered the audio guides were at the other main entrance, a good 2km walk away. So we walked right through the site till we hit the other side, and managed to get ourselves into an unofficial tour (they have lots of unofficial tour guides which charge 9euro-ish a person for a group of about 10) so we followed him along for 2.5 hours, and then went back after that to get audioguides and wandered around a bit more. We were there for a total of 7 hours, and it still wasn't quite enough. The place is HUGE. And fascinating! For such an ancient city, they had sophisticated systems.... proper bakeries, wineries, white-marble clad piazzas, sewerage, even cats eyes on the roads! And the frescoes.... wow. You'd just turn around in a random room in a random building that used to be a house and come across the most vibrant frescoes, of birds and animals and people (and pornography! We visited the main brothel area too where the sorts of things going on in each room were graphically represented in frescos above each door) still in tact after almost 2000 years and an awful lot of ash.

Anyway. At 5 we went back to the town to solve the next two biggest problems we had. I had run out of space on my memory card and desperately needed to download some images to CD, but more urgently, Sheena had left her camera charger back in England, and we had had a terrible time trying to find a replacement in Italy, despite calling Sony UK, Sony Italy, many Roman camera shops, and a lot of time on the internet (partly the reason for our dash to the train, too).

So we found a camera shop on the main drag in Pompei, and the young guy owner, who loved the fact we were from New Zealand (we got the whole Lord of The Rings thing) together with his mama, patiently burnt our CDs, and managed to find a charger for Sheena! In Pompeii!! We were so ecstatic, I think they understood our relief, as Sheena hadn't been able to use her camera in Pompei. By the time we got everything done, it was 6.30, getting very dark and cold again, and had started to rain. By this stage we'd taken so much of their time, the owner told us to come back in an hour, as we still had to get to an internet cafe to check our trains to Sorrento, where we were staying for the night. When we got back, they had fully charged Sheena's battery for her. Also, the owner's aunty had arrived, a tiny wee lady who spoke basic English after visiting England in the 50's, as well as two of their family friends. We were asked where we were heading, and after they heard, there was a massive Italian argument between all 5 of them as to the best way to direct us to the station, with everyone trying to speak louder than the other, much hand gesturing, and Sheena and I very confused amongst it all. I got the giggles.
Then the aunty, after going out on the street to direct us, decided it was much too far, too wet, and too dark, and told us she was going to walk us back to our hostel to get our bags, and then drive us to the train station!! She said we reminded her of her American nieces, and played Queen all the way to the train station on a very empty tank of petrol (which would have been a good half hour walk in the rain). After trying to give her some petrol money, which she flatly refused, she left the car running outside the train station, came in and inquired of the very sour train office man when the train was for us, and with a hug and a kiss to both cheeks, a warning not to talk to anyone because it was a dangerous station, and a wave, she was off.
We now call her our Aunty Pompeii.
Posted on 08 Apr 2007 by Anna
A week has flown by!!
Ok, so I know I haven't updated this for a week... my main problem is that we get to a place and I think "I MUST get to an internet cafe" and then think "Oh.... but there's so much to see... oh well, I'll do it this evening....". And then don't.
So apologies!
I am actually sitting at the moment in the information centre at Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre, overlooking the most beautiful little bay, so I am going to try and catch up on a few posts. Apologies for no images as well, I keep forgetting to take my little camera-computer-cord-thingy, so will try and remember at the next one.
Anyway, back to Roma....
Posted on 08 Apr 2007 by Anna
The Vatican experience
So, we were told (and had checked in several guidebooks) that the Vatican museums opened at 8.45am, and after seeing the 3km long queue the day before, and on the advice of two girls from Holland staying at our hostel, who had said theyÓd met an American girl who had got there at 7am to be first in, we set our alarm for 6 and were waiting, plesantly surprised at our punctuality (I'm not renown for it) at 7.05 at the Vatican gates in the bitterly cold morning, 2nd in the queue. It was interesting watching the area wake up, and the hordes (literally, thousands) of tourists start to turn up to get in. At 8.15am, they started to let clump after clump of guided tours through (many who had turned up only at 8) and after 8.45 came, and went, and they were still letting hundreds of guided groups through but hadn't let us through, we questioned the guard, who replied that we weren¨t allowed in until 10am. 10AM!!!!!!!! We were guted. It meant 3 hours of waiting in the cold, which was really really freezing, and made us very concerned about getting sick. We were finally allowed in, to a foyer which looks very much like an airport terminal, with security checks and check-in points.

It was worth it. After we'd thawed, anyway. And managed to find our way through badly marked corridors to find the audio guides and the starting points (no maps available). I was rather grumpy by this stage.

However the beautiful, exqusite marble statues, Raphael's exquisite rooms entirely frescoed in brilliant vibrancy, and then the amazing Sistine Chapel, which despite being an entirely un-intimate experience (you're viewing it with 300 other noisy tourists), still made me cry with how beautiful it was.

Because we'd spent so long getting in to the museums, and had to be on a train to Pompeii, we missed out on St Peter's Basilica around the front, which I was totally gutted about, but have to live with.

So, it was an odd day. Lessons learned: go on a guided tour to the Vatican.
And wear more warm clothes in Rome in April :-)
Posted on 04 Apr 2007 by Anna

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