Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flagstaff-Phoenix-London-Stuttgart-Naples


Here is a travel log from our bike trip in Southern Italy. We voyaged for two and a half weeks, entirely on bikes (well, plus a few trains), surviving mainly on pizza and gelato, but more details on that later.  First, let's introduce the family (with some photos from our layover in Heathrow):

Leaf

  • Profile: eight-year-old boy, highly energetic (until he's not), super eager, skilled at arguing over absolutely nothing for hours, consistently underdressed.
  • Favorite gear: kindle, deck of cards, hiking boots, z-bars.
  • Keys to success: keep him warm, well-fed, and in a good mood on biking days, so we can knock out the 20 plus milers. 



Monet

  • Profile: cute, athletic, moody when hungry, a total earth muffin who hopes this trip has a low carbon footprint (hence the bikes), secretly desires Italian boots.
  • Favorite Gear: camera (with twenty-two lenses), running shoes, Peruvian sweatshirt.
  • Keys to Success: consistent meals, appropriate time to set up her tripod, no lolly-gagging.


Mark

  • Profile: head in the clouds, safety nut, the only one on this trip with any knowledge on how to fix bikes (limited), lolly-gagger
  • Favorite Gear: yellow jacket, allen wrench, supplemental reading material (Innocents Abroad)
  • Keys to Success: time to figure out the GPS, stop riding before sundown, warm socks




Our flight to Naples was pretty uneventful.  Leaf watched three movies on the eight-hour flight to London  (X-men, How to Tame your Dragon 2, and Epic). Mark watched one movie (X-men).  Monet slept, but she paid for it in Heathrow by getting searched.  From what we could tell, all people traveling with kids, got searched.  Why?  Everyone knows the Brits hate children.  Haven't you read Dickens?


We spent Christmas night in Kensington and ate dinner (lunch for us?) at a Persian restaurant. Not knowing what to order, we waited to see what our neighbors got.



Travel tip from Monet:



A green low weight bag for me since we will travel with only carryon due to our very tight connection in Stuttgart Germany and their very miserly weight allowance (15kg). Wheels are heavy and I was forced to wear this through 4 airports and 3 foreign cities. London was by far the most challenging since we arrived on Christmas and the entire transportation system was CLOSED. My shoulders hurt.  These organization bags were AWESOME.  They made living out of bike panniers for 3 weeks a breeze.


Mileage count:

  • Driving- Flagstaff to PHX 157 miles
  • PHX to London Heathrow 5257 miles
  • LHR to Stuggart Germany Airport 573 miles
  • Stuggart Germany Airport to Napoli Airport 593 miles

Next: Question: What do you get when you strand three neophytes with bikes at the Naples airport with a funky Italian GPS?  Answer: lost.




Naples Take One

Upon arrival in Naples, a well-dressed man named Mario (not pictured) showed up with three rental bikes, helmets, some patch kits, extra inner tubes, locks, a GPS, and panniers.  He then grabbed our suitcases and said, "You bike to B and B from here, eh? No problem, eh?  Okay. Ciao!"   The bikes weren't exactly top-of-the-line touring bikes, but they would do (Mark was happy to score a Bianchi cruiser, even though he later learned it was cursed).  So, off we went.  It was only supposed to be eight miles to the B-n-B. No problemo, right?




While Mark tried to calibrate the GPS, Leaf decided to check out his rented wheels. He wanted to carry his gear in panniers and Mark and Monet were more than happy to let him do so.  (He is an amazing 8 year old if you ask his biased mama.)

Ten minutes into the ride, things didn't look so good.  The GPS took our crew into north Naples. . .   Below, you can see Mark banging on his GPS to no avail ("Wait a second, are we seriously in Secondigliano? This is not safe. One wrong turn and we'll be swimming with the fishes!") and Leaf formulating a carefully constructed argument over which direction is north.  Meanwhile, Monet decided it was time to set up her tripod and capture the grittiness of Naples. After checking various maps (and the location of the sun!), the crew decided to ignore the GPS and wing it, heading south towards the water, gripping a printout from the B-and-B, and following the smell of pizza through the old city of Naples.



An aside on graffiti from Monet. "Maybe the illustration above is what to do when you get plugged up from eating too much pizza? Seriously Naples graffiti is gorgeous.  I read somewhere that Naples is like a beautiful woman with dirty bare feet and I think that is a perfect way to describe it."



Anyway, when we saw the above graffiti we were actually pretty close to our B-and-B but had no clue. Well, no clue until a silver car started chasing after us, honking, and a strange man stuck his head out and whistled. "Monet? Is this you?  We have looking all over for you!  You were supposed to arrive an hour and half ago! It is repose!"  The man turned out to be a friend of the owner of the B-and-B and he kindly directed us through the broken streets, where we stopped not less than a quarter-mile away. When we stopped, the man let us into our new lodgings.  He was agitated and spoke broken English and immediately needed to see our passports. We apologized over and over, but honestly we thought it was a miracle that the man found us in the middle of Naples. Mark, embarrassed at his poor navigating skills, became convinced that benevolent people like this must pop up all the time throughout southern Italy to help lost cyclists.  (Thank you, Naples!)




So, here we are in Naples. . .





Above, Leaf and Monet get somewhat settled in our B-and-B. Our next goal, after no sleep and surviving our first bike ride in Naples was to get pizza. We had scored a list of a few of the best pizzerias in Naples (provided by Caleb Shiff of Pizzicletta in Flagstaff, the greatest pizzaiolo in the states. . . Thanks, Caleb!).  His out of this world pizzas were definitely an inspiration for this trip.


We aimed for the first on the list, and after meandering through the old city and finding the magic spot, we discovered the wait at pizzeria Da Michele was 5 hours long (see below) so we took a number and went to check out another pizzeria thinking we would come back for a second serving or have a very late dinner if nothing else panned out.





We wandered down the list and found the bigger and zanier pizzeria, Di Matteo. The crowds were just as large and an old cook stood out in front barking names and back-talking with the natives. We're not sure how we got into Di Matteo so quickly (twenty minutes).  We were convinced Leaf's pleas had something to do with it.  He kept going up to the old cook and saying,  Mangia!  When we got in, we ordered Margarita and Arugala pizzas and they were both stellar.  Afterwards, Leaf was dancing in the streets (see below).






video

The next day. . .




The morning was gray and drizzly. We went out in search of breakfast and stopped at the first hole in the wall that we saw AND. . . it was amazing. Espresso and chocolate croissants, the perfect breakfast. Also, Leaf discovered the wonders of Nutella. He suddenly started wearing it like war paint. Before we hit the road, Monet managed to sneak into a store and buy some Italian boots, but with no extra room in her panniers, she left them in the hotel with the stored luggage.  Also, we managed to shoot a few photos near the docks (below).







Leaf (above) captures something amazing on film (below). . . although we are not sure what.





Monet's Mileage Count:

  • Napoli Airport to our AirBnB 8 miles (not including wrong turns)


Travel Tip:

If you have a smart phone, go to a train station and buy a local sim card.  This makes life much easier.  You can call your B-and-B and tell them how late you will be.  You can use the phone's GPS and compare results with your wonky Italian GPS. And when completely befuddled, you can google various words and phrases (and place names!).

Next:

Leaf getting ready for Pompeii. He looks determined doesn't he?


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pompeii



Naples to Pompeii was our first longish ride, 16 miles. This may not seem like a lot, but we were going through crazy Napoli streets in the rain, with panniers and a funky GPS, and, and. . . well, anyway, it was a good challenge. As we cycled, a teenager on a motor bike road beside us and tried out his English. We told him we were going to Pompeii and he warned us that this was way too far for the bambino.  Obviously, he didn't know Leaf.  Mark led the way because there were many twists and turns and he was equipped with the GPS (which was actually behaving). Monet was in the back although she found it terrifying watching Leaf's maneuvering the busy streets of Naples (darting in and out from behind parked cars). Still, after a few miles, Leaf had mastered his bike and started getting comfortable in traffic (maybe too comfortable, often hopping up on sidewalks and jumping curbs for fun). After the three-hour ride, we found a hostel in the modern town of Pompei (one "i", not two) and devoured some pasta. . .




Before going to bed, we stopped at the Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei built in 1873. The modern town was founded in October 1891 as a result of this shrine not because of the ancient ruins.  Catholics continue to make pilgrimages here (we're guessing mainly for the pasta).

Into the Ruins




The road to the ruins was guarded by a dog and a recycling container pictured with a sexy half-naked Roman soldier.   Both of these challenges were met with little difficulty. Once inside old Pompeii, the first thing you notice (and can't stop noticing) is Vesuvius, quiet and imposing, unrepentant, peeking over your shoulder.  And of course you think, what kind of fools would live so close to a volcano?   (Flagstaffers, perhaps?  Is that what you're thinking? Look, the S.F Peaks are dormant!  That said, if you know Flagstaff or have lived with a mountain constantly over your shoulder, well, this is a very familiar feeling. )


Monet read from the guidebook: According to historical accounts earthquakes were frequent and according to one historian, the writer Pliny the Younger (who met his death in Pompeii), said the earth tremors "were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania."

Porta Nocera Gate

The second thing we noticed about Pompeii, was how big it was. It was obviously a happening city with hundreds of streets and businesses and neighborhoods and cemeteries and stadiums and farms. . . and the entire thing was vanquished in an instant.  Poof.  Monet was mesmerized. "I love this place.  I thought I was going to enter a room with a still living (albeit old) inhabitant of Pompeii grazing on fruit while being serenaded by a harp player." Mark was mesmerized too, but quickly decided the city was a confusing maze that required a map; and it was also a place where one could easily get lost, especially if one were eight-years-old and not listening to his father. "Leaf!  Leaf!  Wait up!"



Above, Monet wondered if she found the oldest ever pizza oven.  "What do you think, Mark?"

"Sure. Sounds great."  Mark peered around.  "Leaf!  Leaf!  Stay right there!  Don't move!"

At this point, Monet started unpacking camera gear. "I'm going to get out my tripod." And below you can see one of Monet's few successful tripod shots at Pompeii.  For some reason, they didn't allow tripods, and a guide quickly told her to put it away.  Maybe they thought the legs would damage the stone streets?  No clue.  She smiled and complied, but needless to say, Monet was not happy.



The Stadium


"Leaf? Wait up!"

House of Ceii- Hunting Scene Fresco
Many of the walls in Pompeii were painted with exquisite frescos. They must have employed an army of artists. Even the Lupanar (or brothel)  housed many illustrated scenes advertising the "specialties" of the resident prostitutes.  Do you think that they prayed to the Virgin Mary?





"Oh, man. . . Where did he go now?"

rain catchment
ancient skyscrapers

We also noticed some strange and mystical artifacts. . .
barbell for gladiators? wine press? 



water vessel

"I'm right here, dad!  Where are you?"






The Thermopolium- the modern equivalent would be a fast food restaurant
The Triangular Forum

Eventually, we found each other at the Garden of the Fugitives

Monet read from her guidebook, "As excavators continued to uncover human remains, they noticed that the skeletons were surrounded by voids in the compacted ash. By carefully pouring plaster of Paris into the spaces, the final poses, clothing, and faces of the last residents of Pompeii came to life."

We got pretty quiet here. It's an intense thing to see, the poses of people while they died. We missed the famous guard dog of Pompeii (see below, a picture of the dog from Trip Advisor), which was probably a good thing. Monet hated to see dogs in pain. "I have never been so affected by a tourist attraction as I was by Pompeii in both positive and negative ways.  It is an amazing site to behold."

eerie... family of three?




To lift our spirits, we finished our tour at the theater



 Leaf will be a thespian one day



"Leaf! Quit standing on the ruins!"

So, after three hours inside of old Pompeii. . .

We started walking back to modern Pompei. We wished we could have spent more time at the site, there was so much to see, but we needed to start biking to our next destination.  We had to reach Sorrento before sundown and Mark was getting anxious.

View of Modern Pompeii from Ancient Pompeii

Monet's Mileage Count: 


  • Naples to Pompeii: ~18 miles (+2 for riding through town and a slight detour)
  • Walking around the ruins: ~6 miles


Travel Tip:

Get to the ruins early (8:30 AM).  We were nearly the first ones there and visited the old cemetery first.  It was like a ghost town.  Around ten, the tourists from Naples show up and getting clear photos proves difficult.


 Next: a flat tire and a farm. . .