Days spent – 21 days (13 July 2016 to 3 August 2016)
Places visited – Turin, Milan, Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Bologna, Venice
Books read – Tales of the Alhambra, The Divine Comedy (unfinished)
Things done – Egizio (Egypt) Museum, Milan Cathedral, Cinque Terre, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Accademia Gallery, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Cathedral, Santa Croce Church, Pantheon, Colloseum, Chinese visa application, Diocletian’s baths, The Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Capuchin Crypt, Castel Sant Angelo, Santa Maria del Popolo Church, Nero’s Tomb, Pompeii, Veiled Christ, Rialto Bridge
Highlight(s) – Vatican, Pompeii, cool people
Lowlight(s) – Venice
Cost – £987.28 (£47.01 per day)
Warning: This is long!
So, ciao Italy. First stop is Turin and according to Turin’s tourism guide there’s a healthy rivalry between Turin and Milan. This is weird because when I was in Milan I didn’t hear about this and I spent longer there. For me, Milan wins this rivalry and I wonder if Turin has Napoleon Complex as it tries to rid itself of its industrial history. That said, Turin does have an excellent Egyptian Museum. In fact, it’s the largest Egyptian collection outside of Egypt. It’s a must for any actual or bidding Egyptologist. My ancient Egypt knowledge isn’t too bad, but I did learn a few things here, mainly because there was a large section on their gods. It doesn’t matter how many Egyptian things I see and do I’ll never cease to be amazed at how – that many thousands of years ago – they had the knowledge to preserve their dead for the afterlife so proficiently. After all, they took out the brain whilst only breaking one bone in the left nostril to do so.
I’ll briefly mention Cinque Terre although I’ve already posted about it. I underestimated this hike! Monterosso to Vernazza is quite steep and circumstances dictated that I had to do it with my full pack in thirty degree plus temperatures. Near the top my sweat was literally pouring of my arms and face! It’s very touristy in high season but rightly so because it’s just so picturesque, maybe I should have spent more than half a day here, dusk would have been nice…
When in Rome… Ah! Do as the Romans do. I remember this now! I eat pizza and I eat pasta and I cross roads without a care for vehicles. I must remember not to do this in Asia… Or I will die, repeatedly! As there is so much to do in Rome I decide it’s a good place to get my Chinese visa (it was too soon to get it before I left). All was going swimmingly until they requested my full itinerary for my entire stay in China (I had nothing planned). Lots of planning later and I submit my application. Although, I walk there and it’s hot (if there’s orange trees around you know it’s going to be very hot). I then don’t have to wait so I’m very thankful that China decided to give a visa to such a perspirated mess as I was!
Italy has a lot of art, actually in has masses of art, and I try, I really try, but I can’t quite seem to appreciate it the way I feel I should. I miss Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan because one needs to book at least five days in advance to see that and I’m just not that organised. In Florence I go to Accademia which houses Michelangelo’s David and the Uffizi Gallery. For most of my time in the Uffizi I question why I’m there but I do manage to be appreciative of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. I quite like David though. A little bit like looking in the mirror but I’m willing to forgive that! You can admire it more also if you know a bit of the history for all Renaissance work was before Italy even existed. Michelangelo was born in Florence and there was a rivalry between the Medicis (a powerful Florentine family) and Rome. David looks toward Rome with his heart-shaped pupils as a symbol of Florence’s defiance. Although the best part of seeing David for me was seeing a man trying to get a perspective photo of himself cupping David’s errr, you know…!
In Rome there is art everywhere. But, specifically, I’ll talk about a ‘Secrets of the Vatican’ tour I did (sorry Alex, I know I’m not supposed to!). The story starts with Bernini and Pope Innocent X, who got along really well. But Pope Innocent then died and was succeeded by Pope Alexander VII. Bernini and the new Pope didn’t get along quite so well. The Pope then commissioned a sculpture of an elephant from Bernini. Bernini was reluctant to do this because a) he didn’t like the new Pope and b) he’d never seen an elephant before! But, you don’t refuse the Pope so Bernini proceeded to sculpt an anatomically incorrect elephant (it has toes!). The elephant was to be erected outside the Pope’s apartment but the Pope was dismayed after the erection as he found himself looking at the elephant’s rear rather than his smiling face as was his intention. The Pope always suspected Bernini to have been mischievious with this misdeed but it wasn’t until four hundred years later, in 1982, this was proven when a diary of Bernini’s assistant was found in the Vatican Archives. In this diary was proof that the statue has been deliberately erected facing the wrong way!
Many thanks to Christina for mentinoing the Capuchin Crypt to me and without that I may not have seen it. On my last day in Rome I go here and boy am I glad I did. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed though. Having already been to the Paris Catacombs I wasn’t expecting much from this place but I couldn’t have been more wrong! Also, it couldn’t be more different from the Catacombs. Sure, it’s still bones and not even as many, but they’re arranged in such an artful way (art in Italy, who’d have thought?). There are even full skeletons dressed as friars in a leaning pose as if they are praying. There’s something quite strange and eerie about a room, full of bones, lit by a chandalier, made of bones.
After Rome I’m off to Naples and a special mention must go to Naples as it’s so unlike anywhere else I went in Italy. It seems to have all the character that Rome lacks. Equally, I can see why people don’t like it. One doesn’t feel one hundred per cent safe there, but that just makes you more wary. It grows on you in a way I can’t really explain. It also has the best pizza in Italy, hands down. I guaratee you’ll get a better pizza in Naples for four Euros than you would in Rome for sixteen Euros. Graffiti is an Italian word and it’s in Naples I see why! I wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s interesting to have been.
Naples is quite close to that place you may have heard of called Pompeii. It wasn’t quite as I had imagined it to be but it’s cool to see it as it was. You can actually see the ruts in the stone caused by the continuous passage of carts and chariots. It’s here that I visit my first brothel! It’s not hard to find as I’m guided here by the many phallic symbols that adorn the walls and floors. Okay, it hasn’t been in use since 79AD but thankfully there’s still kama-sutra-esque paintings on the wall detailing the specialist position of each girl. However, the stone bed does not look comfortable and I wonder how much this played a part in the thinking of the men when choosing a girl!
Also in Naples is a famous artwork called the Veiled Christ. This I can also appreciate for it is unlike all other work of its type. It is not the Passion, nor does it feature Mary (or Mary and others) lamenting. It’s just him, shrouded in the veil, lifeless and scrawny alongside the instruments of the Passion, just very dead. It seems so real that it almost makes him seem mortal, in a slightly oxymoronic sense.
It’s weird travelling through Italy, I guess Spain is quite similar but you get a real sense of how divided the country was until recently (it only unified in 1861). This is most obvious in its Cathedrals. Milan’s, Florence’s and of course St Peter’s couldn’t be more different architecturally if they tried but each of them are spectacular in their own way. The fresco on the dome of Florence’s cathedral is interesting. We’re not allowed to see it without knees and shoulders covered but the fact the fresco contains a vision of the devil thrusting a burning club up a man’s rectum is fine! Say what you will about the Catholic Church though, they know how to build stuff!
I also need to mention cool people, they know who they are (but just in case they don’t I’ll tag them on the book of face anyway!). The good times, the meals out, the beers, the sangria, the more-bearable queues in Florence! The day trips, the distance walked, the seclusion of my visa application process(!), the slightly-more-bearable unbearable train journey to Pompeii! Thanks for everything.
Much-more-bearable Florentine queue!
The lowlight: Venice. I’m not sure in what context people can enjoy this place. I understand as a solo backpacker it probably isn’t the best place for me to be but I’m not sure sure I’d enjoy the place with a girl for a romantic weekday break in shoulder season. In high summer, it stinks, and in not just the canals, the odour of the throngs of tourists (such as myself!) doesn’t help either. It’s an awful place to walk around and I got no enjoyment from doing so whatsoever. If Rialto Bridge is the best this place has to offer then I pity it. Thankfully I’m only here as a stopover for six hours or so, an hour would have been plenty…
It is quite pretty though…
Ok, last paragraph I promise! Ah food, Italian food, pizza and pasta. I think the best way to sum up Italian food is with a few stats: ten pastas, five pizzas and six gelatos! I won’t go into much detail on pasta and pizza as it’s hardly exotic, it’s just better here. I really have no idea how Italians stay so thin. Gelato is a gift from the gods… My favourite was Oreo but they’re all exceptional. I even tried an obscure one for a change that I didn’t think I’d like, such a pistachio, but it’s still great. Occasionally, I’d come across a specialist gelato place (or you can be keen and seek one out). Here, the flavours aren’t as simple as mojito (what genius of the modern age came up with the idea of combining mojito and gelato?!) or pineapple, you get a whole sentence, for example mascarpone cream with melted chocolate. It tops Italy off and makes it a bit like heaven. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a difference.
Strawbs – written 15 August 2016, published 18 August 2016
Thankfully this didn’t blow when I was there…!
Trajan’s Column – loves this, it tells the story of a second century battle (most people couldn’t read then).
One day I’ll learn portion control regarding pasta without scales, today is not that day…