Sunday, November 11, 2012

Italy -- Day One

My Italian adventure began with a 10:20 flight out of Salt Lake on a Sunday morning.  I went from there to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, and from Paris to Naples, arriving around noon on Monday.  That's about the same time that my fellow travelers left from the London airport for their short flight to Naples.  (Although my friend Heidi lives in the U.S., she'd been in Great Britain for a friend's wedding.  That's actually the reason she decided on this trip to Italy, since she was already relatively nearby.)

There are some good views on the flight from Paris to Naples.
While this wasn't my first international trip, it was the first time I was alone in a foreign country.  I was a little nervous about this, especially I'd heard that Naples is one of the more corrupt and dangerous cities in Italy.  I decided that I'd feel safer staying back in the secure areas of the airport while I waited for about four hours for the others to arrive.  It turned out that the secure area was just the baggage claim carousels and a few accompanying benches.  But, I stuck to plan and fell asleep on those benches.  After a few hours, I woke up to see two nervous-looking airport employees pointing me out to an armed security guard.  He came over and asked me something in Italian, and I told him in English that I was just waiting for my friends' flight, which was arriving soon.

You know, there was one time when I was in law school where I'd been on interview trips to California every weekend for the past few weeks.  In the meantime, I was trying to balance a full course-load and law review responsibilities.  As usual, on this weekend I hurried home from classes on Thursday afternoon, spent about five minutes packing, and ran off to the airport, making it there about thirty minutes before my flight departed.  There were delays, and I didn't get in until late, after a tiring day of travel and catching up on a couple hundred pages of reading for my patent law class.  Fortunately, the hotel restaurant was still open, so I went in and ordered dinner.  I then sat there mechanically eating all of the complimentary bread the waiter had brought me, resting my chin on my hand because I was too exhausted to keep my head up otherwise.  And then the waiter came out and gave me a very sympathetic look before handing me some kind of fancy appetizer made with salmon and caviar, "compliments of the chef."  He pointed to where the chef was standing behind a nearby window that opened into the kitchen, and the chef gave me the same sympathetic look that the waiter had before smiling and gesturing that I should try the appetizer.

I mention this story because the Italian security guard in the Naples airport gave me the exact same sympathetic look before telling me in broken English that it was okay for me to sleep in the baggage area until my friends came.  Sometimes it pays to be so transparent that everyone can tell when you're about to start crying from exhaustion.

Finally, the others arrived.  Although I was still exhausted, I was eager to get out of the airport and actually see some of Italy.  Unfortunately, that would not happen for a while.  It was then that one of the main drawbacks of traveling in Europe with Europeans started to become clear -- they're just not as interested in maximizing every minute of their time in Europe.  They haven't invested as much time and money into the trip as someone traveling from the U.S. has, and they can easily come back another time, while I figured this might be the only time I would make it out to Italy.  So, first Steve spent about forty-five minutes slowly filling out paperwork at the rental car office, and then Steve and Herb spent a full hour examining every inch of the rental car to fully document all preexisting damage.  And then they decided that it would be best just to go find our hotel in the outskirts of Naples instead of checking out the city itself.

On the drive to the hotel, it became clear that the British and I had also arrived with different expectations of Italy itself.  That is, I didn't really have any expectations, while they apparently expected it to be more like the parts of Europe they'd experienced before.  Herb kept complaining about how dirty it was.  I agreed that it was dirty, but it certainly wasn't any worse than the other foreign country I'd traveled to, so I didn't see it as being a big deal.

Actually, on initial impression, Naples reminded me quite a bit of India.  There were the same kinds of trash piles on the sides of the road, colorful laundry was hanging from most of the apartments, and the buildings showed the same signs of having too much humidity and too little upkeep.  

I don't have any good pictures of the trash, but you can kind of see the paint peeling off the buildings behind our hotel in this picture.

Our hotel itself was pretty awesome, in my opinion.  Sophie got a good deal on our rooms through, and it was great, especially for the price we paid.

Hotel Panorama

Our room
The room itself was nothing too exciting, although it was clean and neat, but we had a balcony that looked directly out onto the sea, and that was pretty sweet.

Hotel balcony
After enjoying the sunset for a while, we decided to drive back into Naples for dinner.  Our hotel was about twenty or thirty minutes from the city itself, and then somebody had decided to go to one specific restaurant that was mentioned in a guidebook.  Unfortunately, the guidebook did not include directions, and Steve's GPS device got confused by the narrow one-way streets of old Naples.  We ended up driving around the city for more than an hour trying to follow the GPS device's contradictory instructions.

At one point, Steve drove too close to the parked cars on the right side of the street (of course, he's used to driving on the left side of the road, while Italians drive on the right side).  I don't know what damage he did to the other car, but he broke the side-view mirror on our rental car.  So much for their careful examination of the car to make sure we didn't get charged for any preexisting damage.  Some bystanders yelled at us to stop, but Steve kept on going.  Although I suggested that we probably were supposed to stop, I didn't insist too hard that we go back.  Still, this accident made it all the more baffling when someone suggested that we stop and ask a group of traffic cops for direction.  Voluntarily contacting the police in a foreign city with a reputation for corruption is not my idea of a good plan -- voluntarily doing so when you've just committed a hit-and-run seems like an even worse idea.

Instead, the more sensible members of the group were eventually able to convince Steve that we should just give up on the guidebook restaurant and stop anywhere that was still open.  We finally ended up eating at a cute little roadside pizzeria.

I thought it was quite good, although I was dubious about some people's choice of pizza.

Yes, this pizza is topped with French fries and hot-dog pieces. 

On our way back to the car, we walked past this cute church.

And with that, our first day in Italy was basically at an end, and we headed back to the hotel for some well-needed sleep.


HanakoGal said...

Nice to read your next installment. :)

Hokie said...

Liking your story so far...:)