After my trip to Thailand, I have been counting the days until the new vacation calendar at work kicks in so I can book another trip. You can say I’ve been bitten by the travel bug or, some might say, I’m just really on the verge of an Office Space moment and need to step away from everyday life. In any case, I ordered some Contiki and G Adventures brochures in late March/early April and once they arrived, I excitedly scoured through them and bookmarked the places that really appealed to me (so pretty much every page). On my bucket list, I wanted to hit every continent and I really wanted to visit Peru to see Machu Picchu. But when researching airfares, it seemed like it wasn’t really a good time so I decided on Europe because I shamefully have never been. And, this is going to sound really lame, but ever since I saw Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Eat Pray Love, I’ve always wanted to visit Greece and Italy (respectively). And so, I decided on the Mediterranean Trail plus 3 day cruise in the Greek islands with Contiki!
Okay, on to the trip!
Left Toronto on June 18th and landed in Rome, Italy on June 19th, around noon. Unfortunately, there was a stop in Montreal added to the flight and that stop took longer than the 1 hour expected. Also unfortunate were the smells on the plane and not being able to fall asleep at all.
Cons: no personal entertainment screens, no washrooms in the back of the plane, after booking there was an additional stop added to pick up more passengers in Montreal, really god awful smells on here and couldn’t sleep at all (plus it was chilly), the inflight meal was “beef” but it pretty much had only potatoes and carrots (perhaps a beefy sauce), the person in line for the bathroom before me pooped for like 10 minutes and then I had to go in right after.
Pros: cheaper than Air Canada and free wine.
Lost in an airport
Jun 19, 2012
Flew into Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci.
Spent pretty much an hour looking for an airport shuttle service I read about on wikitravel. In asking numerous people, everyone kept sending me from one terminal to another (while it being more than 30 degrees celsius and me carrying a giant backpack, a daypack and a purse – so I was a hot mess).
Gave up and just took a bus to Termini station and from there, found a taxi who drove me to the hotel (where he informed me that the hotel was quite far from the city, bah!). Literally made it JUST IN TIME for the first meeting with everyone on our tour.
Cost €4 to get to Termini station from the airport and €30 to get to the hotel via taxi from there.
Stayed at Regent Hotel Rome
From Jun 19 to 22, 2012
Wifi was crap. Continental breakfast was quite good. Rooms were not great but not disgusting. Location-wise, quite outside of central Rome. Everything took a 30+ min bus ride and it didn’t even show up on the touristy maps.
Funny story. So apparently there’s a Regency Hotel and then ours, Regent Hotel. Pro tip: when talking to cab drivers in a foreign place and you’re slightly/quite inebriated, just show them the address instead of saying the hotel name. Unless it’s like the Sheraton or something that is likely not to have a similar sounding name. I was pretty out of it when I took the cab back and we just told the cabbie to bring us to Regent Hotel. When we got to a hotel, he was ready to let us out and we were about to get out until I took a better look at the place and said, “hey wait a minute, this doesn’t look familiar! Does this look familiar??”. Turns out, we were at some random hotel called the Regency Hotel We had to give him the address for him to bring us to the correct hotel. What would have been a cheap cab ride back became less cheap thanks to the detour.
First meal in Italy!
Went to the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza della Rotonda
Saw a proposal happen at Trevi Fountain right beside us!
Went to the Colosseum and Roman Forum (after Vatican City)
Jun 20, 2012
Almost had a heat stroke.
Jun 20, 2012
Quiche and salad, pasta with shrimp, ravioli, canolli. The singing that accompanied the food (video to demonstrate below) was very… loud.
After dinner, we went to a local bar (can’t remember the name) where we got 2 hours of open bar. Cranberry vodkas and Sex on the Beach galore!
Unfortunately, I paid for it the next morning when I was hungover and nauseated all morning (TMI alert; before puking, and I felt better after that. That and a Gravol).
Luckily, the next day, we had a free day to do whatever we wanted to do in Rome.
Jun 21, 2012
It looked super ghetto, stations and the train itself. Everything has graffiti and the trains have no air conditioning, just opened windows. Some stops like the Euclide station by our hotel had a really musky smell and my fight or flight impulse kicked in.
We accidentally ended up going even more north of Rome on the subway, into what looked like the rural, farm areas. Switched trains to go south again and figured out the bus to go to Termini station where we had lunch at a random restaurant we stumbled upon. I just got a plate of prosciutto and mozzarella (I love me some prosciutto ever since a friend introduced it to me, though I was never a fan of ham, and like a crack dealer, she got me addicted to the stuff).
Wandered around that area for awhile (it was ridiculously hot outside so it was welcomed relief to be inside somewhat air-conditioned stores – I say somewhat because having visited Hong Kong, where AC is on blast everywhere pretty much all year round, I found everything to be fairly warmish cool). Had to use the bathroom and the only one we found in the station/shops was one that required €1 to enter it. I was like OMG WHAT AN OUTRAGE, but at least it was rather clean. And had toilet seats to sit on. Most toilets here, I’ve found, don’t have a toilet seat and it’s just the porcelain so you have to hover and if you can’t hold yourself up, your butt falls into the pee splattered porcelain. I don’t know if that or the squat toilets in Asia are worse. Ya, probably squat toilets since there, there’s a possibility of your foot stepping into pee.
That night, some of us on the tour went for dinner to a place that was recommended to our tour manager.
It was THE most delicious meal ever. 16 dish starter with everything from prosciutto to meatballs to numerous veggie dishes. Then for the main, mushroom pasta made with rigatoni. Lastly for dessert, I got tiramisu while everyone else got cheesecake. To top off the meal, some espresso and limoncello. All for €34! I would eat here every day, if I could. Of course, that would mean I would be obese to the point of needing to be airlifted from my home but it would be so worth it.
Vatican City, Vatican
It was a ridiculously hot day and due to having to wear appropriate clothing (i.e. covered shoulders and covered thighs) for going into St. Peter’s Basilica, it was definitely heat exhaustion felt by all.
And I don’t think I had ever been so happy to see a drinking fountain before.
Following the right guide CON-TEE-KEE: visiting the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilicia
Being a former art history nerd, it was a surreal experience being in the presence of the infamous Michelangelo art that I’ve seen a hundred times in textbooks. We were asked to not take any photos (with or without Flash) but I took some sneaky photos. People around me were more obvious with their photo taking so I too tried to take a less stealth version of a photo (sans Flash, of course) by centering in frame the paintings I knew and loved but then I got caught by a plain clothes security person and was poo-poo’d down for taking photos.
Oh well, it was an awkward moment in front of everyone but I got photos to preserve my memories, so it was worth it!
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica
Giant lemons and phallic symbols galore!
Also really sad/somber experience in Pompeii.
We went to see the Pompeii ruins. Had a really funny guide named Andrea (dude). He pointed out all the phallic symbols in the stones, telling us it meant that it was a sign for a brothel. There were a lot of phallic symbols everywhere. We toured a brothel too, it had a lot of fresco paintings on the walls depicting “sexytime” in various positions and there were some rock beds (beds, made of rock).
Some of the houses were well-preserved. Displayed was also the cast of people and items who had perished in the ash and soot when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.
We saw some of the houses, the amphitheater, the baths, the gymnasium and of course, the brothels. In the amphitheater, there was a choir group there and they sang for the crowd.
There is still a lot of Pompeii to be excavated.
Random thing that happened to me: Tried to buy a postcard in a souvenir shop near our hotel in Sorrento and the guy wouldn’t sell me the postcard
Because I was trying to pay for it with €5 but that was all I had!
Luckily I found a €1 coin buried in my purse but geez, what a weird thing/asshole.
Let me tell you, the whole sending postcards to people thing ended up being a lot more complicated than anticipated. The not being able to buy a postcard with €5 thing, the originally trying to find a post office to buy postage to mail it off before being told I could just find stamps and mailbox at a Tabacchi, then trying to actually FIND a Tabacchi that sold stamps, then finding a Tabacchi that sold stamps but when I was without my postcards, then enlisting the help of our awesome tour manager to find a Tabacchi that sold stamps, to then eventually finding one while searching for one in Sorrento on the same day my tour manager found me stamps after I had already mailed them out.
Lesson from all this: don’t promise postcards to anyone.
Gelato in Sorrento – Primavera
Jun 23, 2012
Apparently it’s one of the more well-known gelaterias. I bought a medium for €5 and got it half of mango and half Kinder Surprise Cizeali.
Was it good? Yeah it was good but was my mind BLOWN? Not really. Would I go again for more? YES!
We had dinner in a restaurant called Il Borgo which was up high in the hills and had a beautiful view of Sorrento. Food was really good. There was an antipasto, two kinds of pasta, a main and dessert (plus limoncello at the end). Lots of food but I couldn’t finish it after the huge meal we had the evening before.
After dinner, we went back into centre of Sorrento where our hotel (Hotel Astoria) was to go out for the night. First, we stopped by a karaoke place called Danielle’s Pub but it got inundated with youngins so we all headed out, wandering around to look for a better place with a DJ. Stumbled upon a place called Immotei and danced the night away. But good lord, were there a lot of skeevy guys there.
Beautiful island with breath-taking views. Buttttt I forgot my camera in my excitement of finally being able to go on a beach 🙁 I also (slightly) conquered my fears of heights and shoes-falling-offness and got my first taste of Europe and their rocky beaches.
But let’s not talk about the Blue Grotto because I will get all ragey.
Went to Capri via ferry from Sorrento then on to a smaller boat (thank god for Gravol working). The boat took us around the island, stopping to tour the Blue Grotto (€13.50 with tip) where the asshole boat guy wouldn’t let us out to go swimming while everyone else was doing so. EVERYONE. Later, we docked the boat on the shore where we hung out on a rocky beach for an hour (totally painful going to and from the water). The boat tour ended after about 2 hours.
After lunch in a mom and pop restaurant (where I had a caprese panino sandwich that took forever to come but it was tasty), we took a taxi to the chair lifts that cost €10 that took us to Anacapri, the most highest point of the island. It was something out of a postcard, really scenic and beautiful… but I forgot my camera, fml.
The chair lift ride was ridiculously scary, just imagine a single seated ski lift chair as your feet dangle below you, meters above the rocky terrain below. On the way up, I was death-gripping the bar but on the way down, the view was fantastic and a lot less scary (something about facing backwards on something going up). On the way down, I also took off my flip flops and held onto them instead because on the way up, my feet were tense and trying not to move in fear of them falling down below me (then bye bye shoes). Due to the altitude, my ears were also popping. Funny enough, I saw all these Asian tourists going up while I was going down and they were all holding umbrellas and things to shield themselves from the sun. Meanwhile, when I was going up, I was holding on for dear life and couldn’t imagine having to hold a big ol’ umbrella too.
Tried to get back to the ferry dock via the cheaper bus but it took too long and had to get back to our meeting point, so we took a taxi down the twisty, windy roads again. All in all, amazing place (but beach wise, it sucked and Thailand’s beaches were a million times better not just because there was sand but almost white sand, it looked awesome and didn’t cause my feet to cry out in pain when I walked on it. Plus, I missed the feeling of sand between my toes :().
I just freakin’ wish I had brought my own camera.
Took a ferry from Bari, Italy to Greece
A 10ish hour ferry ride. We were supposed to the the night ferry, with the cabins, but we couldn’t get on it so ended up on the day one.
We were going to the ferry port in Bari, when we stopped at a rest stop. As I was looking at all the different types of snack foods, an old Italian woman starts asking me a question in Italian. Are there that many Asian people in Italy that speak Italian?
While I was picking up snacks in Bari for the 10 hr+ ferry, I came across this weird package of “Nutella & Go”.
It piqued my interest so I bought it.
It was actually like cookies in the shape of bread sticks to dip into creamy Nutella. Very similar to those little snack packs with the peanut butter. Inside the round container, beside the dip and cookie sticks, there was a sealed part with the word “limone” on it and that was the drink part – iced tea with lemon type of drink.
I liked it. They should export this stuff to Canada.
Final notes on Italy
- Wine is dirt cheap there (I got a half bottle sized wine for €8 – here, I can only get a glass with that!). As someone who can get drunk easily, the indulgence on wine can also have bad consequences.
- Things were a bit pricier than in Greece. Let’s look at the market of magnets (since I was collecting magnets along the way). Magnets in Italy were around €2-3 whereas Greece, it was pretty much always €1 or €1.50.
- I love limoncello! I also love those giant lemons, kind of makes me feel miniature holding one.
- Might be useful to invest in one of those hydration packs if visiting Rome and its outside attractions in the summer.
- I wish I had had more gelato while there.
- Why no toilet seat covers?!?
- Everyone needs to go that restaurant, L’Orso ’80, if in Rome.
- I never once got to say the phrase in context, “when in Rome…”. I feel jipped.
- ALWAYS MAKE SURE TO BRING THE CAMERA!!!!
- MI SCUSI!!!