Roaming Around Italy--A trip to Europe

©Fernando Caracena 2014

This blog entry continues from the trip from Florence to Rome, which is describe at the end of the blog " From my Journals--A trip to Europe". During the portion of the tour of Italy, described below, we went in a big loop that took us south to Naples and back up to northern Italy. We were often a big hit with the Italians we met along the way. They were impressed by seeing two Americans driving their way in a red Porsche convertible. At the end of this portion of the trip, I parted company with my friend and headed for the town of Barcelona on the train.

On Arriving in Rome

7 May A bit of a scare on arriving at Rome

Art and I arrived in Rome at sunset, looking for some place that offered a rental plan having meals included, which in Italian is called a pensione. We wandered into the office of a place that advertised itself as a pensione. No one was there. We inquired around, and someone told us to look in a nearby Spaghetti restaurant, which was below ground level. Taking us there, that person pointed out the manager to us through a basement window that looked down on the restaurant. [People in Italy were always very helpful. They would cheerfully go way out of their way, taking as much time required, to help us find a place or a person.]

I talked with the manager as best I could. He indicated to me, that they did not offer short-term pension plans; but, he offered to find us such a place. He removed the napkin that had hung around his neck; wiped his mouth; and motioned for us to follow him . We proceeded to a building where a lady of the night stood at the main entrance. I thought, 'Oh, Oh, this guy may have really misunderstood what we wanted!' We went up the stairs to the third floor. We stopped at a door that had an attached brass plate with a name engraved on it in fancy script.

Our guide knocked. There was a long pause. Then the door opened a crack, the security chain visible. We saw an eye looking us over from top to bottom. I thought for sure that the manager had really mistaken out intentions and had directed us to a bawdy house.

Finally, the people on the other side opened the door and spoke with me. I was relieved to find out that the family who owned the flat rented out rooms to tourists on the sly. Apparently this business was supposed to be government regulated, and they were keeping their activities secret. We agreed to rent from them. The couple were dark featured, apparently southern Italian.

8 May Our Landlord's Daughter

After awaking late on Sunday morning, we chatted a while with our landlords. That is, we managed to express ourselves. A friend of Tiberio, their son, was present there and he spoke English, which he had learned in the U. S. while being stationed here by the Italian airforce. I do not remember his name, but I will call him Paolo for the sake of the story.

The landlord’s very beautiful daughter was also present. She was trim, petite and had a face that was very regular—a classical beauty. Italy abounds in such beauties, but they are common enough to be taken for granted. She was studying English and wanted to practice English pronunciation with me. She preferred me to Art, perhaps because he did not know any other languages but English.  The parents left us alone so that she could practice her English on me. We walked around the inner courtyard of the building, which was very private and filled with potted plants. I did not realize at the time that her parents had placed great trust in me. Or maybe they hoped that we would fall in love and that I would take her to America with me. I do no know what was on their minds. Later I saw them walking with their daughter down the street, arm-in-arm tight on either side of her to make sure that someone did not make off with her, or perhaps fondle her as some of the street louts of Rome sometimes did. No mano morta for their daughter.

I told Paolo that his friend's siter was really beautiful. He replied, "No" that she was too skinny, that he liked his women with “substancia!” Perhaps, he really did like her but did not want to reveal it.

Afterwards, the two young Italians, Tiberio and Paolo, offered ride with us in the red Porsche to guide us around Rome, and we accepted. They were ecstatic at being able to ride in such a nice red convertible through the streets of Rome. We motored by the Colosseo, then on to the Appian Way, then to some catacombs, and on to some church. We saw very much of the city and its fountains, as a blur from the racing red Porsche.

Our young Italian fiends were delighted to ride in the sports car convertible, with the top down. They were vociferously happy. I was a bit embarrassed and amused by how they behaved. They shouted a comment for every girl they saw in the street. “Che bella!” or “a brute!”—How lovely! or You are beastly ugly!

In afternoon when we returned from our sightseeing tour famished. We had a good meal of spaghetti and steak. Then we went back to see more ruins.  When finished, we had a light supper. We went to be early, because next morning we planned to take a quick trip down to Naples, where Art would have the Porsche serviced. We kept our rental at Rome, because it would be a long day trip, and we would be returning late at night.

9 May Napoli

Setting out at 9:30 AM, we arrived in Napoli at 11 AM, looking for the service station without a map. Instead, we kept asking people for directions, each one of whom sent us in a new direction—sometimes up dead end streets. Finally, wandering around, we saw signs for a Volkswagen garage. Perhaps they would know where the Porsche service center was. We followed the signs and soon came to the very street and the very shop that we were looking for. But having spent two hours looking for the place, it was now siesta time, and they would not yet be able to work on the car. If we were to leave it there with them, they told us that the car would be ready at four in the afternoon; until then, we had to find other means of transportation. From the service station, we took a trolley into town where we ate a substantial meal for a very small price, and afterwards wandered through the streets sightseeing. Returning at 4 PM, we were amazed, the car was ready! After all, this was Italy, and the car was ready right on time! Perhaps we owed the good service to their Germanic clientele and sponsors?

Vesuvio—the killer volcano

Vesuvius towering above Naples. From Wikimedia Commons. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Italy license.

There was not enough time to visit the famous dead city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in ancient times by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. We decided to climb the Pompeii-killer volcano instead. We set off from the Porsche service center for the volcano, again without a map. Negotiating a difficult maze of narrow streets through Naples, we finally arrived at the base of Vesuvius, where a road went half way up the mountain. There, we began on foot to ascend a winding trail up to the top.

At the beginning of the trail, a colorful, old fellow coming down the mountain offered to act as our guide for a price. We told him that we were quite happy to go it alone and discover the sites for ourselves. Not recognizing the meaning of the word, "no" he was stubbornly persistent. Finally, he told us that he would make us a deal. All he needed was a pack of cigarettes from a nearby curio and tobacco stand. Buy him a pack and he would go along with us for the fun of it. Just to get him off our backs, we bought him the cigarettes. Afterwards, everyone was satisfied and happy; and he proved to be a cheerful companion.

Reaching the top of the volcano, we looked into the crater. A few thin strands of smoke rose here and there out of the cracks in the caldera. Looking out toward the horizon, we could see nothing because of a sea of low-level clouds that extended beneath peak height in all directions. Our guide now showed us why he wanted the cigarettes. He lit one, and blew smoke into a crack. Immediately, a large cloud of steam condensed above the crack and hung above the peak.

It was dark when we left Naples and we did not get back to Rome until 2:00 AM. We had hurried back because we would be meeting Art's parents, who would be arriving in Rome the next day.

10 May Touring Rome on foot and the Kosher Restaurant

We did more sightseeing in Rome the next day. This time, we walked everywhere, which gave us time to savour the impressions of the various sites. Spending too much time at the Vatican, we missed meeting up with Art’s parents at the train station. We had fallen into the spell of leisurely pace of Italians, or perhaps, we had tired of our previous non-stop schedule.

At the Spanish_Steps we bumped into a couple that spoke English. They were American, and by coincidence from the Bronx, and of all things, from Art’s neighborhood. They lived just down the street from Art's parent's house. Art chatted with them for some time. Afterwards during our walking tour, we kept bumping into that same couple from the Bronx. The random encounters happened so often that it got to be a joke. We would stop at a side walk cafe, and there they were. At Saint Peter's Basilica [video], we bumped into them again!

After our walking tour, but before supper, we met up with Art’s parents at their hotel. They also had not had supper yet. Art's family was orthodox Jewish. His parents suggested that we have supper at a the only Kosher restaurant in Rome, which we did go to. The waiter seated us in the crowded restaurant. And who do you suppose would have been at the table next us? Who else? It was the couple form the Bronx! After supper, we walked back with Art’s folks to their hotel, and then returned to our place tired and ready for sleep.

11 May. Return to Florence

We had intended to drive on to Genoa, following the itinerary of Art's parents,  but had to stop over in Florence for the Porsche's scheduled check up. From Genoa, we had scheduled a trip to Spain, which I wanted to include on out tour. On the return trip to Florence, we took the extra time to stop at the town of Assisi, home of St. Francis, which was located along our way. There are relics of the saint on exhibition there, but what is most striking, is the serenity and beauty of the small town perched in the hill. The streets are clean and uncrowded. The balconies over narrow streets are filled with greenery and flowers.

On the advice of a motorcyclist that we met on the road into Florence, we found a really inexpensive place to stay. The large motel rooms had showers, and included two meals a day--all for 2,500 lira per night.

12 May

At the 1700 mile check up, the mechanic found that the Porsche gear box needed some work. We had to remain in Florence until mid afternoon of the following day. We welcomed the extra time in Florence, which we could use for seeing the usual tourist stuff. We did not want to come home and have people tell us, "What! You were in Florence and did not go see Michaelangelo’s  statue of David?" We had already done what many tourists do not do, and that is to soak up the local color and chat with the locals.

That day, we made a walking tour of Florence and returned tired and hungry to the motel. We had seen some exciting stuff, for example Michaelangelo’s  statue of David, and Il Duomo. But such is youth, that it soon becomes bored if new and spectacular things are not encountered fast enough. After viewing the great architecture and statues, Art wanted to go to the opera. Hungary and tired, we went back to the hotel to get ready and for supper, after which we would go to the opera.

Returning, we encountered two Austrian girls in the hallway of our motel who had checked into a room near by. Both of them were blonde. One of them was big and very Germanic looking. I'll call her Bertha. The other was smaller, pretty and gracile. I'll call her Lily. When I had first noticed them in the hall, Lily had turned around and looked back at me in a sidelong look and smile. I had learned that the girls were Austrian by chatting with the clerk at the motel. At the restaurant, the waiter seated Art and me right next to the table occupied by Bertha and Lily, who was directly behind me. Lily was friendly and very pleasant. We exchanged a few words with each other. Neither Bertha nor Art seemed to approve of our developing friendship. Privately, I suggested to Art that we could double date these girls and skip the opera, but Art was determined to go to the opera as planned, without any dates. He was adamant. I think that he quickly caught on to the situation; he figured that I would be with Lily, and He would be left with Bertha.

After supper, the girls went their way, and we went off to attend a performance of Norma. I went along with a feeling of deep frustration at having met someone so beautiful and friendly, and yet having to follow a prearranged schedule to see some stodgy old opera. Grudgingly, I went with Art to see Norma. To my young mind, the plot of this opera was too convoluted and boring. I spent most of the evening looking at the girls in the audience, many of which were quite beautiful. I was a poor twenty four year old guy, frustrated at missing an opportunity of being in the company of a beautiful, friendly girl, who was taking out that frustration by admiring the landscape of pretty girl's faces. Looking back from my mature years to my days as a young man, I am amused and can hardly believe that young man was the same person who would become who I am now.

13 May. An Unlucky Friday

I had hoped to see Lily again in the morning, but woke up too late. The Austrian girls had already had breakfast and left. After breakfast, we walked to the Porsche service center kidding about the car; that it would not be ready today, since it was a Friday the 13th. The jests turned out to be the unfunny truth. The car would not be ready that day. A special part that was needed to repair the gear box had been ordered from Germany and would not arrive until the following day. The earliest the car would be ready, would be that Saturday evening. If not then, the car would not be ready until Monday. This delay would mean the loss of our planned side trip to Spain.

I quickly decided to go it alone, to take the train to Barcelona. After having to spend an extra day in Florence, I did not want to spend another, or perhaps a whole weekend!

Art decided to accompany me on a side trip to Genoa to catch up with his parents. At Genoa, I would go onto Barcelona. After my side trip, we would meet up again in Nice for a drive to Paris by way of Genoa.


Christopher Columbus, a famous native son of Genoa. Public Domain from the Creative Commons.


Arriving at Genoa, after renting accommodations at a very reasonable rates, we went out for supper, which we finished still early enough to look up Art’s parents. It turned out that they were already asleep, having wanted to get an early start the next day; but they got up cheerfully, and we had a cup of chocolate with them in their room. After that we called it a night.

There were some sights of interest in the port city of Genoa; but by the time we got there we had become jaded to the standard tourist fare. In retrospect, we could have visited the Christopher Columbus house there.  We both were preocupied with separate goals for the moment. I had my mind on Barcelona and Art on his Porsche.

The next portion of my trip, in which I went alone onto Barcelona by train, is described in a following article.


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