11 years later I have finally returned.
To celebrate graduating from Arizona State, my girlfriend Erin and I are vacationing in Europe, and we just completed a week long stay in Italy.
Now if you read any of my previous guest blog posts from 2011, you may remember I didn’t have the greatest experience the first time around, but I came into this trip with an open mind.
We arrived in Rome the evening of May 21st. We quickly realized that the budget-friendly lodging in Italy was quite different from other European countries. In Paris, Lisbon, and Edinburgh our hostels were marked with big bold letters, and we would enter into a lobby with a reception desk and sometimes even a bar or restaurant on the main level. In Rome we followed our GPS to the location of our hostel and found a run-down building with a giant black door. There was no signage or windows but the door was unlocked. Inside there was a dimly lit staircase. We walked up five flights of stairs and still there was no indication we were at the right place. Certain that we had made a mistake, I called the number on the website. To my surprise we were indeed inside Sandy’s Hostel. The owner, who was the hostel’s only employee, did not stay on location during the day. Rather he lived in a nearby apartment and walked over whenever new guests arrived. He gave us our keys, showed us to our room and then returned to his home. Although the building and the process of getting our keys was unusual the room itself was actually very nice.
Aside from the unusual check-in experience, Rome was very enjoyable. We visited the Trevi fountain, Colosseum, Pantheon, and Vatican City. Not a whole lot had changed in the last decade it seemed. The sights were still beautiful, the pasta alla bolognese was still yummy, and the street vendors were still selling the same squishy toy pig that oinks when you throw it on the ground.
Our stay in Rome was short. Just a day and a half and then it was off to our next city:
It was really cool showing Erin around my old town. We walked down Via Mazzini past our old apartment, ate gelato at Grom, rode the mini metro and got drinks at a small bar near Piazza Matteotti. We also visited my old school, San Paolo. I told her about how my teachers would always yell at me for non studiate and because I needed to be piu ordinato. We also looked through the windows into the gym and I showed her the low ceilings that made it so we had to shoot line drive shots while playing basketball.
Fortunately, we didn’t run into any of my old teachers while we were at San Paolo, but I did see a familiar face when we walked by Donati’s clothing shop.
Sergio Donati didn’t recognize me when I first walked in. (He said that I had gotten bigger since the last time I’d seen him.) Once I showed him an old picture of my dad he remembered me and got really excited. My Italian was rusty, but we were still able to have a conversation. We even called my dad together so they could catch up. Sergio was also very happy to hear my parents would be visiting Perugia next year.
After a night’s sleep at Little Italy Hostel, it was off to Naples.
Naples is most well known for their pizza, but after my first few meals there I must say I was a little underwhelmed. But then I discovered this on the menu.
The hot dog and french fry pizza. An Italian speciality known as Wurstel e Patatine that was available at every pizzeria in the city. It is just as delicious as it looks. I ordered it any chance I had for the rest of the trip, and now I can confidently say that Naples pizza lives up to the hype.
The funny thing about it is a hot dog and french fry pizza is something Italians probably consider an American food even though it is something you would never see in the United States.
To me, what the hot dog and french fry pizza represents is the potential for greatness when two cultures come together. By combining two American staples with a classic Italian dish you achieve a final product far greater than either Americans or Italians could accomplish on their own.
The art of misrepresenting another culture’s cuisine is something that the Americans have mastered.
Think about the Chimichanga. A chimichanga is considered “Mexican” food even though it is not Mexican at all. The chimichanga originated in and is almost exclusively popular in the United States.
Same thing with Orange Chicken, a specialty at Panda Express. Americans think of Orange Chicken as Chinese food but it’s something you would never find in China.
French fry pizza, Chimichangas, and orange chicken may not accurately depict the culture they are meant to represent, but they are awesome nonetheless.
In addition to the food, Naples is also known for being the Vespa capital of the world. The motorized scooters are very popular especially around the city center.
Erin and I were feeling adventurous and decided it would be fun to rent Vespas and take a day trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. We found a rental shop and went inside to check it out. The owner showed us the various options and we picked one out that was big enough for two people to ride. He showed me how to start the engine, adjust the speed, use the brakes and turn. I wasn’t really paying attention though. It seemed simple enough. I’d rode a bike before and this was just a bigger bike that didn’t require pedaling. After he was done talking I hopped on. Steering was much tougher than I thought and the throttle was extremely sensitive. Immediately after hitting the gas I crashed straight into the side of the store building.
At this time, the owner felt it was appropriate to mention they also did car rentals.
For the safety of ourselves and the residents of Naples, we decided to rent a car instead.
While less daunting than the Vespa, driving a car in the streets of Naples was anything but easy. Everything I had learned in Driver’s Ed was completely thrown out the window. There were no rules of the road whatsoever. Naples had no traffic lights, no stop signs, no right of way rules, no lane markings, and definitely no courtesy for other drivers. Pedestrians crossed wherever and whenever they felt like it, and Vespa drivers would swerve in and out of traffic coming inches away from hitting nearby cars. There was so much honking and yelling that it was impossible to tell what or who drivers were upset at. It was a relief once we made it out of the city and onto the freeway.
Our first stop was Pompeii. Erin and I got lunch in the town and then toured the ruins.
By mid-afternoon we arrived in Sorrento. The view during the drive down into the city was really cool. The city of Sorrento was fun as well. I got gelato that was served in a hollowed out lemon.
I also tried Limoncello, which, when I lived in Italy I remembered smelling like hand sanitizer. It was actually quite good though.
After a nice dinner on the beach, we drove back to Naples.
During the week in Italy, we saw the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Trevi Fountain among other famous landmarks, but the most beautiful sight came on our last day.
While we were walking towards Via Toledo, an area known for its clothing stores and street vendors, Erin noticed a folded piece of paper on the ground. Upon further inspection it was money, but not a one or a five or even a twenty. It was a Fifty Euro bill. Just lying on the street. In a town notorious for pickpockets and thieves, nobody had noticed a crisp 50 free for the taking. I picked it up, looked around, and asked if anyone had dropped it. No one said anything, then a man who walked by said, “It’s yours now.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d found coins and a piece of gum on the ground before. Once I even found a lottery ticket that was a $5 winner, but nothing as awesome as this.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because as it turned out, 50 Euro on Via Toledo went a long way. Using the money we found, I bought a new pair of shorts, a t-shirt, some belts, a gold chain and a wallet from a man selling them on the streets. I wanted to get a caricature drawing of us too but then we didn’t have enough change left over after I was done shopping.
Our lucky find was a perfect end to the trip.