Hello, my name is Alyssa, and I am a disease. Missing more school today because I am sick yet again, the worst. My immune system is apparently non-existent in Spain, and I’m so tired of it. Not really sure how to fix it, I had a big plan to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to give it a boost, but my amazing Auntie sent me a box of Christmas goodies all the way from Chico, CA, so I keep eating those instead, oops. Hopefully this will be my last cold for the rest of my time here…? Crossing my fingers.
Again, luckily I still made it to Italy for the week, illness free. Getting to Rome, however, was quite the process. I woke up at 3:30am and headed to the airport to catch a 6:30am flight to Santander. I’ve never seen an airport so crowded, people were getting craaazy and if I hadn’t cut in front of the security line (sometimes you have to play the dumb American) I definitely would have missed my plane. I arrived in Santander at 7:40, not at all happy to be there. It was still dark, raining, cold, and I was only half human. I slept for three hours in the world’s most unforgiving chairs, and after a leisurely coffee and bacon sandwich I still had 5 hours until my flight to Rome so I decided to venture into the city. Turns out Santander is adorable, it completely charmed me and now my new life plan involves retiring there, where I’ll pass my days riding my beach cruiser and reading the paper at little outdoor cafes. I also had no idea how much I had been missing the ocean until I finally saw it again. I spent a few happy hours looking at the sculptures along the seafront, browsing the holiday market, watching kids fall in the ice skating rink in front of City Hall, and admiring the old buildings before heading back to the airport and finally onward to Rome.
Over the next day and a half in Rome my strategy was to walk until I found something that made me want to stop and take a better look, which worked out pretty well, considering that there was something interesting/historical about every 200 meters. Using this method I was able to see a lot of the main tourist hot spots, including the Roman Forum, the Colosseum (did you know that it’s named that because it used to hold a giant statue of the hated Emperor Nero that took 26 elephants to move?), the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and so on, but I also found some things more off the beaten path, like lots of gorgeous little churches, and an art exhibit by Italian painter Pablo Echaurren that I loved. Whenever my feet started to hurt or the cold made me cranky I would duck into a cafe and grab a cappuccino, which worked out perfectly.
Which brings me to the food. Madre mia, the food. I could describe every meal I ate in perfect detail, because every single one was so worth remembering. I think my favorite, if I had to pick, was after I had stumbled upon the old fish market, and from there accidentally found the Jewish district, right as is started to rain and my stomach started to rumble. I stopped at a kosher restaurant called Nonna Betta, where I was able to sample jewish-style artichokes, and oh my god. They kind of taste like the best potato chips you’ve ever eaten, somehow they manage to cook the tender leaves around the heart so that they are light and crispy, yet still greasy and salty, and after you pick those off you get to eat the perfectly cooked and seasoned middle, yum. Of course I also ate spaghetti caccio e peppe for my main course, and finished the meal off with a tiramisu, all the while attempting to chit chat with the cute old Italian couple next to me, who barely spoke English but apparently wanted to get me hammered, because they kept filling up my glass of wine.
After packing in some sight-seeing in Rome I took a slow train down south to Naples. I arrived at night and was immediately overwhelmed: no one spoke English, it was crowded, and there was trash and graffiti everywhere. Somehow I managed to find the correct bus and made it to my hostel, which felt like a sanctuary. I wasn’t so sure about Naples, but the next day I walked around the bay and it was lovely. I explored two different castles right on the ocean, the coolest part was that they pack the insides with a bunch of different art exhibits. I had two favorites, the first one was all about chiaroscuro (thank you Mr. Currie, 10th grade Humanities), and the second you had to wind down this dark cobblestone staircase to this narrow hallway where they were projecting footage shot in rural western Africa, and then inside they had probably 50 black and white photographs covering the floor all lit from above, it was really well done. And it’s not every day that you get to explore castles, or even see a real castle. Pretty cool.
Of course I ate a lot of pizza, and it lived up to the hype. Thin-crusted without being cracker-like, greasy in the best way possible, smokey mozzarella, yum. The best place by far was called Gino Solomillo’s Pizzeria. I tried to go the first day I was there and made the mistake of thinking I could show up at 2:30 and find a seat. Little did I know that people start lining up a half hour before they open at noon just to get a table, and it remains so packed until they close that they usually have to stop taking reservations around 2. The next day I was there by 11:45 and got a seat by 12:30, and my margherita pizza was absolutely perfect. By the end of the trip I started to feel a little creepy about just how much I enjoyed sitting by myself and eating. I suppose it’s like eating a burrito in California, or a croissant in France, there are just some foods that you can eat other places and it will taste good, but when you eat the real thing it’s a whole different experience. And that’s how I feel about the pasta/ pizza/ espresso/ gelato in Italy, it really can’t quite be replicated elsewhere, I’m not sure why. Plus every time I went to a restaurant in Italy I was ‘la princesa’, and who wouldn’t like that :)
So now it is back to real life, which is probably a good thing. It’s not normal to eat 5000 calories a day, all carbs. Or to leave a restaurant needing to unbutton my pants, and then go eat gelato an hour later. Or to get followed around by short men with tall hair, and even taller names (like Maximilliano). It really was a great trip though, lots of nice people in my hostels, great food, art, history, culture… the only thing that bummed me out at all during my time there was that at least once a day I was asked if the reason I was in Italy traveling alone was because I had read Eat, Pray, Love. Which I haven’t, but something about their tone made me feel extremely unoriginal. If I manage to drag myself out of bed today I plan on heading first thing to a used book store to try and find a copy to see what the deal is.