Posted by: Andrea | April 2, 2008

Rome Lowlights

Unfortunately, even though we had an awesome time, there were a few lowlights. The weather wasn’t great (it rained) and the lines at St. Peters were pretty bad. And absolutley killed my feet. Standing all day on marble is not pleasant. But really all of that was manageable except for one huge glaring low. This one can really be summed up in one word: NAPLES.

People, please, I beg of you now, never ever ever go to Naples. A lovely blog I just started reading described Naples as ‘the ninth circle of hell’ and I couldn’t agree more. The ninth circle that smells like old fish, to be precise. My sister and I decided to go there on a day trip purely by accident, because I looked at a map and Naples was the closes city to Rome. We knew nothing about it, except that it was near Pompei, which I’ve always desperately wanted to see. Following some internet research, however, I discovered that most people were recommending at least two days to visit Pompei. We settled on Herculaneum insted, another similar site that was covered with lava (instead of hot ash like Pompei) during the eruption of Vesuvius. This one was smaller, due to the difficulty in digging through quite a few feet of rock hard lava, so it was doable in one day. The internet also informed me the site was just ‘a five minute walk down the hill from the station.’

Well. We should have known from the train station toilets that this was not going to be the happy go lucky day trip we were envisioning. This toilet was the most disgusting one I have ever seen. No toilet seats. No toilet paper. No soap. No paper towels. There was actually a grate in the floor under the toilet to catch whatever sort of running water accumulated on the floor. I didn’t even want to lower my pants in case the bottom of my jeans accidently dipped into it. I managed to simultaneously lower my jeans and also pull them up, not an easy maneouvre. Then, the hovering commenced.

We managed to find the ticket counter, then the train, and jumped off at our stop. When we walked out of the train station, not only wasn’t there a sign, but the only people we actually saw were groups of teenagers just hanging out. We had no idea where we were going and decided to walk downhill, as the map I had showed that Herculaneum was approximately south of where we were. The further we got from the station, the worse and worse the town became, until I became convinced that we’d gotten off at the wrong stop. This just couldn’t be for Herculaneum! Five minutes downhill from the station and we were wandering along a road covered in trash passing a bunch of boarded up shop windows and closed restaurants. To use my sister’s description, ‘I’ve lived in Africa for a year and I feel more unsafe here.’ She was also mugged at knifepoint, I might add, and grabbed her bag back from the mugger, who was so surprised that he ran away. She doesn’t scare easily.

After all this, we just decided to go back to Naples because we didn’t feel comfortable walking through town and we weren’t sure we’d even gotten off at the right stop anyway. Following some interactions with a very friendly local chihuahua, we made it back to Naples. It was now 12:30 and we hadn’t eaten anything all day, since we’d been running late to the train station in the first place. As soon as we walked out of the train station and into Naples, I suspected this whole ‘day trip’ idea had been a big mistake. The place is dirty. And load and crowded and the drivers all act like they’re on crack. I seriously almost got run down so many times and I only crossed three streets. We stuck out so much, as if I had a big sign that said ‘TOURIST!’ hanging over my head, and I didn’t even want to pull out my map in case I drew even more attention to myself.

I’d also never been more aware of my inability to speak Italian until we arrived in Naples. At least if guys give you a hard time back home you can tell them to fuck off. Or give them the withering eye roll, which I am very good at. But I can’t say ‘fuck off’ in Italian and even if they did understand it in English, they’d probably then just say something crude about me to the approximately 15 male friends standing around with them. Roman men did a lot to better my opinion of Italian men in general (while at the same time making me wonder if I’d somehow inexplicably become much less attractive than I was at 16, since I wasn’t getting the suggestive ‘ciao bellas’ every time I walked down the street). The stereotypical Italian male was back in force in Naples, however. And yes, you Neapolitan male, as much as you are happy to welcome me to Napoli, I’m not so very interested in a prolonged conversation, thank you very much. And that kissing noise you make when I walk by? So very sexy. If I could just say in Italian how hot that is, I’d be all over you right now.

Our first goal was food and it had to be pizza, considering pizza was invented in Naples. I’d read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love (which is excellent, by the way, and you should go and read it immediately) and she’d waxed poetic about the pizza she’d eaten in Naples. We walked three blocks, I kid you not, and decided we couldn’t go any further. We stopped at the first place we came to that said ‘pizza’ and ordered the plain old Margherita. We sat down in the little plastic chairs sitting on the sidewalk in front and admitted to each other that we really, really, really did not want to be in Naples. Up until this point we’d been putting on brave faces, trying to figure out what to do, finding sights to see in our little book, but it all crumpled and died while waiting for our pizzas. We both just wanted to go back to Rome.

Needless to say, my sister and I faced facts over our (admittedly, every yummy) pizzas and hightailed it back to the train station to get the first train back to Rome. I almost wanted to take a picture of the huge pile of rotting garbage in the streets, the massive groups of men just hanging out and the cars that almost killed me, but I was afraid to take out my camera and be so lame as to do that. So sadly I don’t have any documented proof of this trip, but I’ll just have to leave it to you to imagine on your own. Be sure to include the intense smell of rotting fish.

Oh, and the cost of this debacle? Eighty Euros. Each. that’s $105 to ride trains all day and eat pizza. And that was only because when we bought the tickets we thought they were return. They were not. And yes, ok, this is technically not Naples’ fault, but we were still a bit miffed at our own stupidity. The only thing that made this day bearable was the pizza and my sister. She has an amazing ability to made any situation amusing and so instead of being uncomfortable and possibly crying, we just laughed about it and went back to Rome. Provided us with a great deal of amusement over the following days too! The highlight of the trip? Our really yummy pizza was the cheapest meal we ate the entire time, including the pizza we ate walking down the street wrapped in paper because it was too expensive to eat it where it was actually made. So for pure dining economy, Naples gets two thumbs up!

The other best part of the trip:

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I think a dog makes everything better.

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