Sunday, November 15, 2015

Italy Day 9 - Sorrento, Capri, and the Endless Queasiness

So, last night was pretty bad.
I spent most of the night feverish and very, very sick. I tried moaning and groaning extra loud to get some sympathy, but Kerri slept right through it. As a result, she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning as we headed off to breakfast.
Kerri had a few tiny, strong cups of coffee and some fruit.
Alex got his daily week's worth of carbs in one meal and Tori had some fruit and some unidentifiable goo.
I stared blearily into the middle distance and tried desperately not to pass out.
Alex helpfully waved some sort of drippy meat-like thing under my nose.
"Mmmmm. Greasy. Want some?"
He has to realize that those sorts of things are only funny when I do them.
I made it through breakfast without any sort of spectacular gastrointestinal event and we piled onto a small bus that was to take us to a ferry so I could test my internal fortitude with a high speed boat ride over choppy water.
At the boat dock, we had a few moments to take in the breathtaking scenery of Sorrento.

The Japanese lady posing for her own album cover or something.

Buildings built right into the sheer cliffs.

An excellent view of Mt. Vesuvius.

The buildings seem to grow right out of the rock.

Okay, stomach. Here we go.

I did appreciate this dire warning. "Please don't drive your car off the pier and into the ocean."

We made it to Capri without any sort of projectile incidents and then we were free to explore the splendor of this lovely island. And by free, I mean very, very expensive.

Capri seems to be an island composed almost exclusively of: limestone; high end shopping establishments; and tourists.
Our first order of business, since I had survived the boat ride, was to get on another boat. This is one of the optional tours that you can purchase while you are on tour. Your tour guide will assure you that each one of these is the one thing you don't want to miss. Victoria was actually very eager to do this one so we happily climbed aboard a small boat for a guided tour of the shores of Capri.

A bronze sculpture of a child is perched on a rock, welcoming visitors to Capri. "Please come to Capri, spend all your money, and leave."

Someone had dressed the sculpture in clothes from the Napolise soccer team.
Some dramatic rocks with a tunnel leading through them.

Legend has it that you must kiss a loved one as you pass through. Of course, I kissed my sweetheart. (Photo not available.)

Tori and Kerri were delighted with the views.

Alex was moved almost to tears by the spectacular scenery.

A thin, wobbly set of tracks used to carry building materials up the side of a sheer rock face. What could possibly go wrong?

10,000 pieces of wobbly scaffolding where the wobbly tacks end. Again, I can see no possible problem.

Capri is known for its grottos where light shines spectacularly through the water making it glow blue.
Since the second boat trip didn't actually kill me, I suggested a third, but we opted instead to participate in Capri's only other option. Wandering around the shops, gawking at the incredibly high prices of everything.

To get from our boat to the town proper, we took a funicular; which means "vertical subway", I assume.

It was actually a really fun ride up the steep hill and, given the stability of the tracks we had seen on the other side of the island, I was not worried at all for our safety. Nope. Not a bit.

Once we arrived safely at the top, our tour guide, Beatrice gathered up all the women in the group and showed them a "charming little shop where they make custom sandals right on your feet!"

There was a shrieking stampede of women and a wailing cry of agony from all the men.

Tori was beguiled by the shop's charms. The entire store was maybe 10 feet by 6 feet. One man inside fitted sandals to your feet and made them with all the bling you wanted on them.

"Ask him how much they are," I whispered to Tori.
"I will," she hissed. And, yes, a 14 year old girl can hiss something that has no s's in it.
"Seriously. Ask before you order them."
I backed slowly out the door. "Make sure you ask before you..."
"I WILL!!!"

Are you going to ask how much they cost?


Before he makes them?

 While Tori's shoes were under construction, Alex an I took a short walk to a scenic outlook, so I would have a clear shot to jump when I found out how much the sandals cost.

This is known as "Shoe Buyer's Cliff". The ground below is littered with the skeletal remains of husbands, fathers, and boyfriends who had to pay for custom-made sandals.

We returned to the store where Tori was showing off her new kicks.

See how they glow? That's because they are made with 26 pounds of pure gold.

 Kerri was in the store paying for the sandals as Tori showed them off to anyone who happened to pass by.

"Did you..."
"YES! The lady in front of me bought a pair. He told her that they were 70 Euros."
"Oh," I sighed. My still agitated stomach settled a bit. "That's actually less expensive than I was thinking."
I was admiring the sandals when Kerri staggered out of the store, clutching a tiny slip of paper.
"Guhhhh," she groaned.
My stomach lurched a bit.
Kerri held the slip of paper out to me with a shaking hand.
It was a receipt.
For the sandals.
Which cost 180 Euros.

"I... uhhh... guhhhh...." I gurgled. "I thought they were 70 Euros..."

Yeah. 70 Euros without the bling. 180 with the bling.

We staggered over to the taxi stand where the open air, convertible taxi was waiting to take shell-shocked shoppers away from the town and back to the boat so they could go back to the mainland for rest and recuperation from all the shopping.

Once back at the shore, we had a few minutes to enjoy the beach before the boat came to take us back to Sorrento.
Ooohhh, lovely beach.
Clear, warm water.

Tori and I waded into the warm, blue water.

Mmmmmm... so nice.

Come join us, Alex!

 We coaxed Alex in to the water with us.
"Ummmm, I don't think so," he said. "Have you actually looked at the beach?"
"No? Why?"
Ohh, scenic medical waste.

And glass.

And sharp plastic.

And toys for the little ones!

 We scrambled out of the water without contracting any incurable diseases and didn't remove our shoes for the remainder of our trip.

I fell asleep on the ferry ride back and Kerri got some hilarious pictures of me with my head flopping around like a wet rag, but she'll have to start her own blog of she wants anyone to see them.

I went back to the hotel to take a nap and the family went off for a wonder around the town. When I got to the hotel, I was exhausted and still feeling a bit rocky from last night.

I almost never nap, but I was desperate for one. I stepped out of the elevator and walked down the hall toward our room to find a swarm of maids cleaning all the rooms in our wing.

"We'll be done in about an hour and a half," the head maid explained.

I whimpered and cried a bit, but went out to the 5th floor roof garden to take a brief nap in the sun.
I turned a lounge chair into the sun and settled in. The warm afternoon sun washed over me and I very quickly drifted off toward sleepy oblivion.


A terrible shrieking noise yanked my from my lemon-scented happy place.

I turned to see a lady dragging chairs around the roof.


The entire roof area was empty, but she was arranging the chairs that were within 10 feet of me.


I focused all my mental energy at her, but her head didn't explode.


Soon, she had the chairs arranged in a pattern that seemed to please her. She then sat in one a few feet from me and called her friend Janet in England.
She didn't have anything much to tell Janet. She just wanted to talk.
And talk.
And talk.
And talk.

Again, my mental powers failed to transform her head into a thin pink mist.

I rolled over and tried in vain to get some sleep. Eventually, I gave up and decided to give the room another try.

"Tell Janet I said hello," I said as I passed my friend.

The maids were finished and I flopped on the bed and had just started to drift off again when Kerri and the kids burst through the door, ready for dinner.

I sighed and hauled myself out of bed. I was feeling better, but I was still exhausted. We followed our noses to the most garlic-scented restaurant we could find.

there were many, many places to choose from.

We opted against this place even though they did serve the genuine hot dog of America.

We were foreigners AND Americans, but still passed.

And, although the gelato looked okay, I couldn't bring myself to eat anything with a sign as psychotic looking as this one. "Did you like your dinner? I made it with meat from my own thigh. Would you like to try the wine?"
We followed our noses to a small trattoria with a wood-fired oven and settled in for our last pizza in Italy.

Yup. Even better than psycho gelato.

Tori got delicious home made gnocci.

I had a pizza with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a lovely glass of wine. It had remarkable curative powers. I felt much better after dinner!

We wandered around a bit after dinner but headed back to the hotel early. We had to pack up and be ready to go early in the morning.

Tomorrow we fly home.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Italy Day 8 - Erotic Pompeii & Super Sick in Sorrento.

I awoke this morning in a fuzzy sort of art hangover, bleary-eyed and sore from yesterday's Extreme Museuming™.

We trudged wearily through the breakfast buffet (more hot dogs and champagne!) and boarded the bus for a long, long ride to Pompeii and Sorrento.

The bus stopped for lunch at a spot that our tour guide assured us was a delightful restaurant with wonderful, fresh food. "When they know we're coming, they cook all fresh food," which does not bode well for the poor slobs who show up without us.

We were herded into the restaurant, a decrepit low-end hotel nestled in the corner of a highway off-ramp. Lunch was a depressing buffet of sad looking meals sitting under heating lamps in metal chafing dishes.

Kerri got a bowl of soup and a salad. Alex got lasagna (which was served with french fries) and a salad. Tori and I each got a sandwich. We split a bag of "Italian Flavor" chips (which, thankfully, did not taste of Italians).

Our bill for this mess of a meal was just north of 50 Euros. I enjoyed the trip very much and don't care to harp on any negative things, but this one scalded me. Our amazing, multi-course dinner the night before had been only about 80 Euros.

I was still grumbling as we were herded back onto the bus to continue our journey to Pompeii.

We arrived in Pompeii at about 2:30 and met Willy, our local guide for a tour through the ruins.

Pompeii is a city that was destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Rather than being swept away in a flood of lava (which would have left nothing in its wake) the city was buried under tons and tons of volcanic ash, preserving everything underneath for the benefit of tourists who wish to look at the ruins of a once great city.

We plowed our way through the vendors selling calendars with racy titles like "Erotic Pompeii" and entered the park.

Welcome to Pompeii. We invite you to please not interact with the feral dogs, who may want to kill you and eat you. Thank you for your cooperation.

Our first stop was a small field where gladiators held practice sessions.

A lovely spot to practice your deadly arts.

I assumed that this lady was a gladiator, but she refused to engage me in combat when I challenged her. I consider that a win for me.

I couldn't help but wonder what was in all of the little rooms that surrounded this field. I peeked in and was rewarded with a rare sight.

Banks and banks of computer hardware. I knew ancient Romans were advanced, but this is ridiculous.
I had read about Pompeii but I had no conception of how large it is or how much of it is already excavated. It's a huge park that visitors are allowed to walk around in freely. Many spots are gated off as they are under active excavation, but the rest of it is open for exploration.

The roads are long and paved with large stones.

When it rained, water would flood the sunken streets. Many of the street had large blocks of stone laid across them where pedestrians could cross. The stones probably also made a chariot ride a thrilling adventure.  Especially if they were texting and charioting. "Hey, Claudius! Watch out for those.... AHHHHHHHHHHRRRRRGHHHH!!"
Don't text and chariot, kids. It can wait.

Many of the stones had deep ruts in them from the chariot traffic that drove over them.
Alex was wildly impressed.
Alex did perk up a bit when Willy showed us an ancient fast food restaurant. His enthusiasm waned a bit when he discovered that they were no longer serving the traditional Roman meal of lasagna and french fries.

 Our first stop with Willy was the saunas, where ancient Romans would relax after a hard day of looting and pillaging and developing lead poisoning.
The saunas were an incredibly elaborate system of rooms with raised floors that allowed hot water to flow through. The water was piped in from a source over 60 miles away. It's an incredible feat of engineering. Unfortunately, the Romans didn't read the warning signs on their piping. They used lead pipes and as a result, they suffered from chronic lead poisoning, making them short, bald, and prone to drooling a bit, I'd imagine. Scientist figure that the water's high calcium content coated the inside of the pipes with scale, saving the Romans from the full force of the lead's ill effects.

Water, heated by slaves, flowed under the floor, heating the room above with sweet, lead-scented steam.
Willy was shocked when I pointed out a high-tech camera mounted on the wall. It seems that the Romans liked to view their neighbors in the baths! I'm awaiting my Nobel Prize in Archaeology for this discovery.

After the baths, Willy took us to the salacious red-light district of Pompeii and to the infamous She-Wolf Brothel. So named because of the cries that could be heard emanating from its rooms. True fact.

To find the She-Wolf Brothel, you simply follow the... um... descriptive carvings in the paving stones throughout the city. They point you in the right direction, as it were. I wonder if they had a song like they had in Munchkinland, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road"? 
Long lines at the She Wolf. I wondered if patrons could purchase "Skip the Line" passes like the Vatican offered. Willy had no answers to many of my questions.
Once at the She-Wolf, visitors were allowed to pick from a delightful menu of services, all illustrated in glorious color with vivid detail.

"Ummmm... yeah... Lemmie have a Number 3 Extra Value Package."

"Would you like fries with that?"

There were several small rooms with stone beds where service was provided.

And a luxurious toilet for any other personal needs. It is frowned upon to try this toilet. Don't ask me how I know that.
After the She Wolf, Willy brought us to the town's former central square and set us free for 15 exciting, untethered minutes where we were free to wander around the well-preserved square.

Mt. Vesuvius in the background. Waiting to strike again...

We're free to roam!

One of the vicious, slavering feral dogs that inhabit the site.

A giant room contains many of the objects that have been excavated. They're cleaned and cataloged and loaned out to museums.

A plaster cast of a dog that was killed in the eruption.

A heartbreaking figure crouched in terror as he died.

A plaster cast of a baby who was killed in the eruption.

It was a somber collection of artifacts until we got to one that really piqued Alex's interest:

An ancient LEGO!!

Alex went in search of more Legos. "I'll rebuild this place," he announced. 

Alex prowled the ancient streets, searching for more Legos.
Alex wound his way through tiny alleys and down ancient passages until he finally found himself at...

A pizza joint. Seriously. Right in the middle of Pompeii. Come on, Italy. I expected better of you. Who do you think you are? America?

Alex was disappointed and deeply dejected that he hadn't located any more ancient Legos, but our time in Pompeii was over. We bade farewell to Willy and were herded back onto the bus for our drive to Sorrento, the final stop on our tour.

Sorrento, as I imagined it, was a quiet resort town, nestled in the craggy hills along the Adriatic Sea. Sorrent, as it actually appears, is a busy, crowded resort town, crammed between towering jagged mountains.

The bus ride there was a butt-pucking twisting, turning nightmare that left me sweaty and panting. Out the windows, I was treated to a view of:
A. A stone wall, inches from the bus
B. A terrifying drop down a sheer, rocky cliff to the ocean, 75 miles below.
All the while, our bus was swarmed by suicidal scooter drivers, surrounding us, passing us, and enveloping us. I felt like a virus being attacked by white blood cells.
Everyone else found it picturesque and thrilling.
I was bathed in cold sweat and twitching slightly as we alighted at the Michelangelo Hotel and went up to our rooms to rest for a few moments before we were scheduled to meet with the group and walk to a local restaurant where we would be treated to a lavish "Celebration Dinner" of either chicken or fish.
It sounded suspiciously like wedding reception food to me and after the fresh and delicious lunch, I was skeptical.
Our hotel room was lovely and had a balcony that overlooked the scenic Sorrento public rail station and a vast lemon grove.

More scenic. The lemon grove is off to the right of the picture.
Kerri and the kids rested for a bit and I struck out on my own to explore a bit with the 45 minutes of freedom we had been allotted.

I pushed my way along the crowded streets and found myself on a narrow, winding pedestrian street lined with tiny shops selling all sorts of lemon-themed souvenirs.

I managed to find the strength on myself not to buy lemon-scented socks and was able to return to the hotel just in time to line up for the great herding to the restaurant, where dinner and an endless supply of wine awaited us. We wandered down the street as a unified herd of slack-jawed tourists and found ourselves at a restaurant with a huge balcony and captivating views of the coastline. We were allowed a few moments to revel in the beauty before we were herded into a banquet room that looked like every wedding reception ever.

Tables were arranged around the room and a pair of local musicians had been hired to serenade us with Karaoke versions of America's Greatest Soft Rock Hits of the 70's.

It was lovely.

Did I mention the endless supply of wine?

There were 2 pasta dishes followed by the main course. i chose the fish, a decision I would deeply regret in the coming hours.

During the meal a stray cat wandered into the reception area and provided at least as much entertainment as the singers, who were doing their best with Abba's "Dancing Queen".

After dinner, we wandered around town a bit and then, eventually went back to the hotel for some sleep. Alex remained in the hotel lobby to text some of his friends and at about 11:30, he knocked on our door.

I had just drifted off to sleep, lulled by the delicate scents of lemons and diesel fumes wafting through the window. I dragged myself from bed and opened the door.

"I don't have my key," Alex said. "I can't get in the room."
"Knock on the door," I answered. "Tori will let you in."
Alex turned and pointed to the door next to ours. "I've been knocking for, like, 5 minutes. She won't come to the door."
"You've been knocking on that door there?" I asked, pointing.
"Uhhh, yeah," he answered, rolling his eyes. "Duh."
"Your room is over there," I said, pointing to a door on the other side of the hall. "Duh."
It was with a delightful sense of smug satisfaction that I saw him enter his room and quietly closed my door.
A sharp pain erupted in my stomach, doubling me over.
I was then able to spend the rest of the night sweating, fevered, and moaning in agony with wave after wave of stomach cramps and all the thrilling projectile delights that accompany a really volcanic bout of fish dinner poisoning.

Tomorrow - boat rides on the choppy ocean!