Sunday, June 5, 2011

Days Twelve to Twenty

Friday, May 27- Day Twelve
We started the day waking up early to catch the sunrise over the island while sitting out on the hotel terrace. There were too many clouds to see it clearly, but I really enjoyed the spiritual experience of watching the sky light up and turn from dark blue to light blue to pink to orange. Several of us went back to sleep for a few ours, and then we all ate together in the heavenly breakfast room. Mom would have loved it. I put up pictures on facebook cause I felt it was warranted. There were wicker chairs and white linens and an amazing view. The breakfasts in Europe have so far been mostly disappointing. Options include rolls that are hard as bricks, ham and cheese, cereal with warmish milk, some potent fruit juice, and a bowl of fresh fruit.  I usually stick to fruit, with which you can't really go wrong with unless you get a bad apple. At first I liked to eat a breakfast roll with a little butter and ham and cheese, but then we started having to eat sack lunches every single day, and they ALWAYS consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich (with no other toppings--I'm pretty sure Dad would've straight up not eaten it), a bag of weird Italian chips, an apple, a water, and some kind of chocolate. Needless to say, I don't think anyone will be able to pay me enough to eat ham and cheese after this trip, although the ham(proscuitto) here is admittedly a lot better tasting than normal deli meat that we have at home. Anyway, after breakfast, we left and rode the lift back up to Taormina to see the old Greco-Roman amphitheatre that's located there. We didn't spend a whole lot of time there, but the view was breathtaking. Allison, Maggie, Matt, Dillon, Wade and I were happy to point out the cross at the top of the mountain that we'd climbed the night before, and everyone was jealous that we'd had time to hike up to it. We ate our sack lunches in what is most definitely the quaintest and most beautiful city park I've ever seen. I'm using a lot of superlatives and absolutes here, but I honestly am not exaggerating; everything was just so perfect! I posted pictures of this park on facebook, it's the one with all the stone castle-looking structures. The weather has also been really divine since we've been here, except for one day in Positano, and I'll get to that later. So the six of us wandered around this incredible park for like an hour, and then we rode back down to Baia Azzura and got on the bus to Agrigento. It was a 3 hour drive, and we didn't even have time to set our stuff down in the hotel before we began our tour of the ancient temples.  There wasn't much left of any of them, except the Temple of Concord, which had apparently been used as a church in the 13th century, so it was better preserved. The temple of Zeus was pretty cool because we saw remnants of these HUGE 'giants' that had stood around the walls of the temple. The pictures on facebook don't do them justice. They were MASSIVE.  We had an amazing view at one point of all the temples lined up across this hill outside the city, and I wish I could've taken a good picture of it. But it was just something you have to see in person. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable and spoke English well, but was sometimes hard to understand because of her heavy Sicilian accent. We got some great gelato while we were there, picked some almonds fresh off the trees, and then went back to the hotel for dinner around 7 and then played cards and went to bed. 

Saturday, May 28- Day Thirteen
We got to sleep in a little on this day because we didn't leave the hotel until 930am. We packed and got on the bus which took us to the Agrigento museum. This was my least favorite part because we had the same hard-to-understand tour guide and almost all she did was talk about large ancient pots called craters that really had no impact on anything we were studying. I did learn a lot about the ancient art style periods, which was cool.  We went to the Scala di Turchi, or Turkish steps, for lunch (which of course consisted of the normal sandwich, chips, etc.). It was really really windy and Amanda and I opted to lay on the beach for a few hours, during which I started work on a sand castle that ended up being incomplete cause I got tired of building it.  We left the Scala di Turchi slighty sunburned and ready to hit the bed.  Unfortunately it was really difficult to sleep on the jerky bus ride to Palermo, so we didn't have an opportunity to nap before we had a loud and energetic supper in honor of Jenna's birthday, after which we had some fun talking in one of the girls' rooms and then headed to bed.

Sunday, May 29th- Day Fourteen
This day was the halfway point on our trip, and I think the point at which it became almost completely normal and expected to see incredible things. I was uplifted by our devo in the morning, and entertained to see the reactions of the people around me as they tasted the strong wine we had for communion.  Immediately after the devo, we left the hotel at Palermo and drove to the cloister of the Benedictine monastery and cathedral in Monreale, a 15 minute trip. We were assigned to write about two of the tops of the columns we saw in the cloister, and it was really interesting because there were probably over 100 columns, and each one had a unique top. I wrote about columns that featured Zaccheus and Daniel in the lion’s den. We ventured into the cathedral and were immediately a little embarrassed to be the only tourists to walk in the middle of Sunday Mass. There were a lot of people lingering around the doorway, though, so we didn’t have to work too hard to blend in, although I’m pretty sure we were the only people obnoxiously taking pictures. But I don’t regret the episode of tackiness because I got good pictures and was able to experience the grandeur of an Italian Catholic Mass without having to participate.  We once again ate sack lunches after seeing everything there was to see in the few blocks around the cathedral and cloister (including a pretty awesome vista at one point) and we even got to interact with a little Italian girl and her father who knew some English. Our next stop was a place back in Palermo, called the Cappucin monks’ crypt, which was perhaps the most macabre thing we’ve done so far. The walls were lined with decayed bodies, mostly of monks, but some of the townspeople apparently thought it was fashionable to preserve yourself in some way and leave your body to hang in the crypt so your family could come visit you. They said that the two children positioned in a rocking chair together were from the same family, and the other members of the family would come on Sundays and hold their hands so they would be able to ‘join’ them in prayer. It was pretty sobering. One guy had a quote above his body that read “I once was what you are now, and I am now what you will become.” I still get shivers when I read it.  It was outside this crypt that we first came into contact with the American navy guys who were stationed at Palermo. They were really happy to meet other Americans that they hadn’t been on a ship with for 3 months, and it was fun for us to talk with them and compare stories. We then took the bus over to the Palermo cathedral, which was closed, so we took a little break and then headed over to catch a glimpse of the Teatro Massimo, the place where the family in the Godfather Part III gets shot.  None of us were overly impressed, but both buildings were fun to see and pretty on the outside at least.  We were much more impressed when Kyle surprised us by taking us on a ‘sight-seeing’ train through Palermo. The thing was huge, red, really obnoxious, and barely fit our whole group; also, it ended up being less of a sight-seeing tour of Palermo, and more of a train ride in which we danced to LOUD American music and waved to everyone we saw.  Some of them laughed at us and some looked annoyed, but we were surprised at how many started dancing with us! They would be walking down the street and hear the music and we’d be dancing out the sides of the train (which was totally not enclosed except for a roof) and they’d just start busting a move. The young navy guys throughout the city were especially excited by it, and several tried to get on the train with us, although like I said, there wasn’t even room for our entire group, much less five more huge navy seals.  That might have been the craziest thing we did on this trip, and I loved every single second of it.  We finally met up with Robbie and Mona after our train ride, had some dinner in separate groups, and then got on a night boat to Naples. I didn’t really like the experience. I won’t say more than that for fear of offending delicate sensibilities. It was just not the most pleasant thing to sleep in a TIIIIIINY cubby-hole-esque room while the ship churned back and forth all night. Needless to say I was relieved when we disembarked the next morning.

Monday, May 28th- Day Fifteen
The first thing we did upon arriving in Naples was to visit the Grand CafĂ© Gambrinus  for a pastry and cappuccino, both of which were divine. We went on a bus tour immediately afterward with a guide named Giuseppina, who was 7 months pregnant. I promptly fell asleep and missed the entire thing. BUT the National Archeological Museum, the place we visited next that was also guided by Giuseppina, was amazing and I absolutely loved the artwork we saw and the sneak peek of Pompeiian artifacts we got to experience. I bought a print of one of the frescoes found in the neighboring city of Stabia, of a young lady on a green background wearing a dress with flowers all around her. It’s called “Flora” or “Primavera,” depending on which scholar you ask, but I really liked it because she’s turned away from the painter, and therefore we’ll never know what her face looks like. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and mysterious at the same time. After that we picnicked in a garden near the Pompeii site, and then went on a four-hour tour of it with Robbie. I honestly can’t decide what my favorite part of the trip was because I loved it all and was SO happy throughout the entire thing, but if I had to pick, Pompeii would be up there in the top few for sure.  Coincidentally, the impressions of people’s bodies as they died had the biggest impression on me. The city and archeological findings were phenomenal, but the fact that so many lost their lives in an unthinkable way was really staggering. I took lots and lots of pictures there, but I didn’t load all the ones I took on facebook, and I would’ve taken more had I thought I would have enough camera battery for it. I was sad to leave, especially after our final excursion down to the “Villa of Mysteries” which was the most intact house they found, and included a huge fresco of a cult ritual that they think indicated that it was the home and meeting place of the cult of mysteries, or the cult of secrets, that worshipped weird things and did all sorts of crazy stuff.  Robbie took 10 or so of us down there, explained the fresco and showed us around, and then bought us all some amazing granites from one of his friends who had a stall outside the villa; it still amazes me how many people Robbie knows, especially when it seems so random. This guy was the only person selling things outside the Villa of Mysteries, and Robbie just happened to be BFFs with him, so he even gave us all a fold-out souvenir thing of Pompeii.  Anyway, next we picked our luggage up off the bus and took a train to Sorrento, where we ate a REALLY awesome dinner that included an entire plate of fried yummy things, a huge pizza (which I only ate a fraction of), and a piece of Coach Burks’ birthday cake. It was awesome, and we wandered around Sorrento and shopped a little bit before heading back to what was the nicest hotel we’d stayed at. It was called the Hotel Astoria, and everything about it was cute and quaint and really comfortable. Also, I got to room with my friend Amanda Herren rather than the people I had been rooming with, so it was a lot of fun.
More later. I'm pooped.

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