We had two weeks off from our program, from late April to early May. It’s a strange time to have spring break because we only have two weeks of our program after it, but it didn’t bother me because it was warm and I went to Italy and Spain.
I took off to Pisa with three friends from my program. Pisa is a small town with very little going on in it other than the leaning tower. It has sort of a college town vibe, but with one giant tourist attraction in the middle of it. The tower itself is incredible to see in person; it’s an architectural marvel!
From Pisa, we took a bus to Florence. It was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, and we didn’t feel the need to do much there other than wander the streets and marvel at pretty buildings and bridges. We also ate amazing Italian food and gelato every day. I developed an intense and complicated relationship with gelato, and since leaving Italy I’ve been experiencing something similar to withdrawal.
Despite it’s authentic cuisine and beautiful sights, I couldn’t help feeling like I was in Epcot. It was amazing, but this time of year is a busy tourist season, and it seemed as though no one actually lives in Florence. Everyone was a tourist.
It didn’t even strike me as odd until we got to Naples, a slightly more urban location where we felt like the only tourists. Naples has a completely different vibe, and reminded me of really Italian parts of Brooklyn or San Francisco. It also seems stuck in the early 80s. All of the young people there wear bright colors or Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts and tight sweats pants. It was a stark contrast to the painfully chic fashion styles that we’re used to seeing in Paris.
We attempted to take a day trip to Pompeii on Italy’s apparently unreliable public transit. After about 40 minutes on a completely packed train, it broke down somewhere between Naples and Pompeii. There was an announcement in Italian that apparently said that there wasn’t going to be another train to Pompeii, and we, along with the other non-Italian speaking tourists, got off as it went back to Naples. Standing on the platform in the middle of nowhere, we started talking to other tourists. We met two kids from Quebec that came from Rome for a day just to see Pompeii. They were pretty sad that the train broke down. When finally another train came to take us back to Naples, the conductor told us that there was a bus to Pompeii. We hurried for the bus and told the Quebecois kids to do the same, but they didn’t want to miss their train back to Rome. We felt bad for them, especially after we eventually did end up seeing Pompeii.
There wasn’t enough time to to the top of Vesuvius, so we had to save that for another day.
Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and… Wow. The pizza.
After our long day of public transit mishaps and destroyed ancient cities, we were incredibly starving but wanted to wait to eat at a pizza place that the owner of our hostel recommended. It’s theoretically supposed to be some of the best pizza in Italy. And it was out of this world. I was so incredibly hungry, and the pizza was so good, that the memory of eating it feels a little like a dream. I may have blacked out.
The following day, we got on a train to visit Vesuvius, fully expecting it to break down or take twelve hours. To our delighted surprise, the train not only lasted the duration of the journey, but it wasn’t completely packed and it ran express! We got to Pompeii in thirty minutes. It may have been some kind of public transportation karma.
We took a big tank-like bus to the top of the mountain, and then hiked up to walk around the crater. It felt like being on a different planet, and the view from the top was unreal. I was in awe and experiencing some mild and pleasant vertigo.