We write to you from our tent, which is set up on the sandy shores of Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea (although obviously not updating online from here). We are settling down for the longest winter’s nap of the year. We have been counting down to the winter solstice for many weeks now, and are looking forward to more daylight hours! This solstice is special, as there is going to be a lunar eclipse. We have our eyes peeled on the sky, and although it’s currently cloudy we hope we’ll be able to see this astrological event.
Since our last update, we made another spontaneous decision. Although it was getting increasingly cold (for example, when we woke up in the comforts of our hotel the world outside our window was covered in a blanket of white), we decided that rather than continuing south we would head north to Rome. It wasn’t a completely illogical decision, however, as we had a good reason to go: Anthony D’Souza. Anth is our very first mutual friend, a British exchange student that we met on our first trip to the Grand Canyon. He was visiting Rome with a friend (as per a new year’s resolution) for four days and being so close to Italy’s capital we knew we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Anth (known to Alec as Cheesy Puff). We learned first hand how difficult it is to take your bike on an Italian train, but after a series of trains, many hours waiting in stations, and a couple of irritated security guards, we arrived in Rome and met up with Anth for a couple of hours. Totally worth it.
And then we were in Rome! What a place, totally teeming with history everywhere you looked. We spent four days in the city but could have easily been there for two weeks before seeing all the attractions. But we made good use of our time there, and saw most of the popular spots. A highlight in Rome proper was the Pantheon; this is considered the most important architectural achievement (it remains the largest concrete dome ever built) and the 2000 year old temple was made even more spectacular by the snow falling through the dome’s opening. Rome rarely sees snow, but did during our visit, and it made our experience seem extra special and gave the city a different kind of beauty.
Things cleared up as our stay went on, which made our visit to the Vatican very enjoyable. After touring through the impressive St. Peter’s Basilica, we climbed up to its dome (highest point in Rome) and had an incredible view of the city. Also in the Vatican, we visited the sovereign state’s museum, which included Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It was an absolutely incredible museum, and really showcased the triumphs and achievements of the people who have called Rome home.
Speaking of Roman homes, we unfortunately had our first not-so-good Couch Surfing experience here. Up to this point our CS experiences have been quite positive, so we still have faith in the organization, however we wouldn’t want to stay with Sem again. Although we realized from the start that he was a bit eccentric, we enjoyed our first evening with him, during which we went to his Buddhist meeting with him (something quite ironic/unique to do in Catholic Rome!) and also to a potluck at the local bicycle co-op. It was really cool biking around the city with him at night, and on our way we got to see the Colosseum all lit up! But unfortunately, on our third night with him he didn’t come back to his apartment until after 3 am despite many attempts to contact him and him being well aware that we were going to come back to his place in the evening. We were left outside his apartment in the freezing cold for two hours, after which we thankfully followed another tenant indoors and waited outside Sem’s door. Sem returned with his cell phone in hand, without a word of an apology. Quite disappointing! So we decided to cut our stay with Sem short and checked into a hostel on our last night in Rome.
In general, we really liked Rome and we hope to one day come back (and, since we threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, the fates will ensure our return). We will probably return when we have a larger disposable income… we’ve decided that the phrase “when in Rome” likely means that during your stay in the city you must abandon any attempts to be thrifty. For example, an extremely parched Caitlin paid 3.50 euro for a coke in the Vatican. Ouch. Well, when in Rome!
We are now happy to be back on the road and back in small towns. Today we met a fellow cyclist who gave us lots of route suggestions and has set us up with some friends in Sorrento and Sicily. Kudos again to Italian hospitality! The weather has warmed up, thankfully, and we are enjoying lunches outside and comfortable nights in the tent. Today we saw plenty of sun, and were able to work on our winter tans, aw yeah.
We continue to head south to Naples, where we are spending Christmas.
Ho ho ho,
Alec and Caitlin
P.s. Cool cultural fact: Santa Claus doesn’t come to Italy for Christmas, but a witch riding a broom does!
P.p.s. Happy birthday to our little sisters… Holly who turned 23 and Laura who turned 18!
And now for the real-time update… we arrived in Naples today on Christmas Eve! We are spending the holiday in a warm and dry hostel, in a lovely private room which could pass for hotel accommodation.
The bike ride from Rome was nice and flat, and although we enjoyed heading south again along the sea, the roads were extremely crowded and in pretty poor condition. To make matters worse, as we approached Naples garbage was overflowing from a garbage strike (although thankfully they cleaned up the city center for Christmas). Naples has a reputation from being a bit raunchy, and the roads up to this city showcased this by the many prostitutes that lined the streets. However, after walking around the downtown streets we have an appreciation for the place, certainly a bit rough around the edges but also very much authentic. We also had a good introduction to Naples… upon arrival we were interviewed by a local news channel regarding our experiences biking in Naples/Italy in attempts to create bike lanes.
It feels very strange to not be with our families at this special time of year, but we are happy to be together and spending Christmas in a different way. We are having Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas breakfast with the other guests at the hostel and we have lots of yummy fruits and nuts in our room waiting for us to eat tomorrow. The Christmas gifts we are most grateful for this year is the hostel’s laundry service, showers and wi-fi connection so that we can Skype home! All in all, it will be very nice to rest and relax for a few days.
We wish everyone the merriest of Christmases. We hope you are spending it with people you love, and sharing in some good food, music and general cheer. We miss you all, especially at this time of year, but we look forward to reconnecting again someday soon.
Lots of love,
Alec and Caitlin