In the middle of our semester in London, I went with some classmates to Italy. One of our friends set the itinerary, booking all of our lodgings, and telling us where to be on which days. Travel arrangements, for the most part, was the responsibility of each the individual. So, we round up making our way to Venice in smaller cell groups.
Our first stop was Venice, which was more of the same from my first trip there (minus random, fun hostel people). Bologna
We stopped in Bologna only because it’s the birthplace of Kappa Sigma, a frat to which one of our classmates belongs to. Emboldened by the spirit of his fraternity’s forefathers, this guy overcame his fear of heights and climbed with the rest of us to the top of the Golden Assay, a tower overlooking the city. Before the tower, we went to a restaurant called Da Cesari for lunch and walked around chugging a giant bottle of wine. Da Cesari supposedly has awesome rabbit ravioli, but I made the mistake of ordering some pasta with Bolognese sauce which was rather mediocre.
Rushing out of Bologna, we got to Florence around sunset. When we were shown to our hostel rooms, I was thoroughly grossed out by my gassy male roommates, particularly since the space was so small. Unable to find lodging elsewhere, I stayed in the other room with my other classmates (yep, I’m that high maintenance).
We had dinner at Da il Latini—easily the best meal of the trip. Once seated, we were given an unlimited amount of food of whatever the kitchen was preparing that day, and unlimited wine. The meal included three or four types of meats, two pastas, and some other stuff. My personal favorite was the chicken liver spread over a slice of toasted baguette-like bread. We asked for an extra plate of those. The meal was capped off with some limoncello (lemon liqueur).
A bit of bad luck the next morning put most of the group in a foul mood—in contrast to the last night, I was super laid-back and relaxed for no explicable reason. The first morale-drainer was our hostel’s lack of hot water. It was winter, and our only bathing option was a cold shower. I was the only one who went ahead and showered anyway. Next, we ventured back to the train station and found there was a labor strike, halting all trains for the day and stranding us in Florence. At that point, some of my classmates were ready to explode. We wound up renting two Mini Coopers and, coincidentally, had exactly two guys in the group who could drive stick so we didn’t have to pay extra for automatics. Leaning Tower of Pisa
Packed into the Mini Coopers, we drove off to Pisa to see the world-renown testament to Italian engineering (just kidding!). Some of us ate at the McDonald’s there. It was delicious. Also, this was the first place I’d seen a Duff Beer that wasn’t illustrated. Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore and Manarola)
Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages built on rugged cliffs on the western coast. The car I was in got there earlier and we checked into the “hostel” first. This place was awesome, ’cause we booked the entire two-bedroom apartment (which had two bathrooms and a little kitchen) for our group. It was luxurious compared to the compact hostels we’d been staying at prior.
Since the group in the other car hadn’t arrived yet, we gave them a call. They told us they’d gotten lost and were still on the way. So, we waited for what might have been a full hour or so before we went out to explore without them. We looked at stuff, ate some gelato, saw a wet dog, and then got a table for dinner. It wasn’t until we’d already ordered when the guys from the other group showed up.
I don’t recall who spilled the beans, but some of the guys or the one woman in the other group revealed to us that they hadn’t actually gotten lost. They’d simply stopped at the beach for a while, and for some reason whoever was on the phone decided to lie about it. Our little leader, the one who planned most of our itinerary, was peeved at the lie. I don’t think her boyfriend or the two other women from our car really minded. We were exhausted from the fast-paced travel and welcomed the downtime. I think, in particular, the women were appreciative of the ability to take a hot shower (having skipped their showers in the morning thanks to the broken water heaters in Florence).
This resulted in a temporary schism in the group. Our leader was pissed at the guy who came up with the lie, and we proceeded to enjoy Cinque Terre as two separate groups, essentially by whichever car we came in. That night, my group grabbed two bottles of wine from the market and went home to play some King’s Cup. Most memorable made-up rule of the game: one of the girls required us to drink if we referred to her as anything other than “Your Majesty” or “Her Majesty.”
The next day, my group took the train to Manarola, one of the other Cinque Terre villages. A little bus brought us up into the hills to the Cantina Sociale for wine tasting. It was raining and, from the looks of it, the place was closed. After a bit of knocking, someone finally showed up to let us in. After sampling some pretty good wine and making some purchases, we walked (a long way) back into town. Her Majesty was not happy with our lack of transportation.
We ran to catch the last train from Manarola back to Riomaggiore, ran to our car, drove to La Spezia and dropped off the car, and then ran some more to catch our train to Rome. I was tasked with carrying Her Majesty’s ridiculously large bag up and down the many stairs we came across, lest we miss our train. In the end, we still had ten minutes to spare once we got to the platform in La Spezia where we met up again with the others. Rome
We arrived late in the night and I felt rather at home, having spent however many days there in my previous trip to Italy. I knew exactly where our hostel was ’cause I’d been there before: it was the Yellow Hostel where I’d gotten blackout drunk a year before and missed the New Years’ countdown. So, more or less, I led the group to the hostel. As with our prior accommodations, the size of our group allowed us to book another two-bedroom, two-bath setup for just us.
Almost immediately, we went out for a night walk and ate some kebabs (so good). Regrettably, our little leader and the guy who came up with the joke/lie still had some friction, and the guy wound up going back to the hostel by himself sometime before we arrived at the Colosseum (when we came back, he was passed out on his bed in a rather comical position). After a night’s rest, we went exploring. Of course, I was seeing the same things I’d seen a year ago, but it was still fun and our group was reconciled into a single unit (for the time being). Some of the guys, myself included, got personal bottles of wine to increase our enjoyment of the ancient city. Later that day (after sobering up), some of us went to the Holy See for the Vatican. Having already been to the Vatican Museum with my brother, I waited in line to go up into the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica while the others went to see the Sistine Chapel. Nearing the entrance of the Basilica, my friends finished their other little tour and ninja’d their way into my line. We went up the many stairs to the dome together. Pompeii
Following Rome, our group split up into three or four smaller groups as originally planned in London. I made the journey to Pompeii in a little group of three. We took the train to Naples and, once again, I was unimpressed with the city. Admittedly, we didn’t stay there long enough to get much of a feel for it.
After my last experience of being barred entry into Pompeii at 3:15 PM, I had us catch the earliest possible train to get to there. When I finally entered the ruins of the ancient city, I understood why the cutoff time was 3 o’clock. The place was huge. We wandered for hours and still didn’t see everything before we were simply too tired to walk. On our way out, we stopped by the Villa Dei Misteri. Despite the intriguing name, my friend and I quickly grew bored of the building. We went outside and sat on the curb, waiting for our other friend who was a bit annoyed with us ’cause she thought we ditched her. Good times. After Pompeii, I went off on my own, returning to Rome for a night before flying to Germany (which I’ll get into in another post).