Friday, August 15, 2008

Italy in August

The story starts in the summer of 1991 when I moved with my family to Naples, Italy for the sake of my father's job. We spent three years there and in the process I made a lot of great friends, most of whom I unfortunately lost contact with after moving back to the States. Only in the past few years with the help of MySpace and Facebook have I been able to reconnect with these folks. One of those I reconnected with was Veronica, a beautiful Italian girl who had moved to Alexandria, Virginia where I met up with her in the summer of 2006 shortly after I myself moved to nearby Arlington. Earlier this year she sent me an email with a whopper of a news item: she was getting married and would I be interested in attending the wedding? I immediately jumped at the opportunity.

With maps printed, itineraries checked and travel books in hand, Sabrina and I took off on a direct flight from Dulles to Fiumcino-Rome airport on August 6th. The plan was to pick up a rental car when we arrived, drive to Naples and spend the next three days there. After having attended the wedding and seen some of my old haunts, we would drive back to the Fiumcino-Rome airport, drop the car off and take the train into Rome, approximately 30 minutes from the airport.

You know what they say about the best laid plans. Veronica's wedding was spectacular and her and her new husband, Salvatore, were such wonderful hosts that we ended up staying another day. In addition I met up with an old classmate of mine from Naples, Deanna, who was one of Veronica's bridesmaids. Over the course of just a few days our tight-knit group of 10 people hit up some of the best that Naples had to offer including Solfatara, the Anfiteatro Flavio and Capri. These highlights in addition to the wonderful Neopolitan shellfish-based dishes that seemed to be offered at every restaurant in the area made for an amazing time.

Much later in the evening on the 10th of August than intended, Sabrina and I hopped in the rental car and headed to Rome. Tired from a full day of activities on the island of Capri, we nonetheless resolved to be in warm comfortable beds that night. We reached Fiumcino-Rome airport near midnight and found nearly all the nearby gas stations closed. The few that were open did not have diesel save for one, a Q8 station which did not like American credit cards. As a result, we burned through all our remaining Euros and still had only filled the tank to ¾ capacity. Rather than continue racing through traffic circles looking for open stations with diesel, we resigned ourselves to having to pay the rental car company to refill the tank completely and dropped off the car.

Unfortunately by this time the train to Rome had stopped service meaning we had to get a cab which was estimated to be about 50 Euros. Yet we had spent all our Euros on the gas and none of the ATMs in the airport were accepting my debit card. I then happened upon a car service which though they did not take credit cards would be willing to stop by an ATM in Rome to get the cash out. Naturally it would cost a bit more but their English was good (my attempt at speaking Italian had reverted to little more than gutteral sounds by this point due to frustration and general exhaustion) and it would be in style: a Mercedes-Benz. Our driver, sensing our mounting frustration, raced into the city at over 160 km/h. We had to make several stops before finally finding an ATM that would spit out cash. So we eventually did end up in warm comfortable beds as we resolved to do but a hundred Euros shorter than expected.

Our time in Rome, though longer than what we spent in Naples, seemed somehow shorter. By the end of the first day we'd seen nearly everything. The Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum were our first conquests. Our remaining days saw us going to the Vatican, the Palatine hill and even the Jewish Ghetto. Throwing away our Washington, D.C.-tuned sense of direction, we did as Romans did and picked a place and walked towards it, climbing over or going around whatever ancient ruins lay in our way. If a tiny alleyway branched off our current route that seemed to be better pointed in the direction we wanted, then we'd go down that, making sure to avoid the mopeds racing through it. And if we saw a gelateria with flavors we liked, then we'd stop and get some ice cream. What with its creamy texture and amazing flavor, Italian gelato is far superior to anything that can be found Stateside.

After having visited what seemed like every spot on our maps, the day arrived when we were to head back to the States. An early wake-up along with a quick breakfast saw us out the door and at the nearby Termini train station by 7am. The Leonardi da Vinci Express had us to the Fiumcino-Rome airport by 8am and our flight took off with just a slight delay. I'm writing this as we fly over the Atlantic and I can't help but think that we'll both miss Italy, especially Naples. Despite the inconvenience of having to search for an ATM that will take your card or the horridly high prices thanks to the state the dollar is currently in, it was an awesome trip and one that neither of us will soon forget.