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Sarah Vanlandegen: Adventures in Italy

Because I’m a huge fan of unconventional things, I am going to start off talking about Naples, Italy. To put it lightly, Naples would not be the top destination for tourists, or even most Italians for that matter, but it is surely one of my favorite places. Naples was authentic, rugged and full of personality. It was a city where I felt like I was experiencing real Italy. For those of you who like to get away from touristy locations, Naples is the place to go. Among a few other reasons, visitors sometimes tend to keep their distance from Naples because this city is home of the notorious Italian Mafia. Petty crime was a very regular occurrence, among more severe crime, which luckily I did not run into. It was not uncommon to be walking along and suddenly see a guy on a motorcycle fly past and rip someone’s bag right out of their hand.

Apart from theft, Naples was full of scams, which I unluckily did happen to be a part of. Depending on the way you view scams, either the money was taken, or we gave it to him—either way, it blows. So here is the story, sorry Justin. Justin, my roommate, and I were walking down the street and of course I made him stop to look at this “iPhone.” I was like “Oh my gosh, Justin, you have to get this, I just paid $300 for my iPod touch and he is selling this for only 100 Euros and you know we can talk him down.” Suspicious of a scam, Justin and I thoroughly checked out the iPhone, we checked all of the settings, the serial number, everything imaginable to ensure it was not a fake. Everything passed and we couldn’t figure out why it was so cheap. We figured that it was probably stolen (Justin’s guess was that the Mafia jacked a shipment of iPhones and was trying to pass them on the street as soon as possible) but regardless of the reason, the phone checked out to be the real deal. Justin argued with the guy back and forth forever and finally Justin “walked away” and the guy called him back and settled on his price. The man boxed up the phone, charger and information and all, bagged it and gave it to us. As Justin and I walked away I was jumping up and down with excitement and jealousy, I couldn’t believe he just got the new iPhone for such a good deal.

Suddenly, a steady stream of swear words began to come from Justin’s mouth. I asked him what was wrong and he goes “I bet you a hundred dollars there is no iPhone in this box….” We then opened the box to find a bottle of water. Accordingly, I became a victim of my first scam. Trying to find the silver lining I pointed out that at least we got a free bottle of water. Turns out it wasn’t even drinkable water, those jerks.

Naples very much redeemed itself when we sat down for dinner. We ordered what I thought would be a small pizza and a small calzone, and when they came out my jaw dropped. The calzone was ridiculously huge, like the size of a small child. Taking a bite of that calzone was like biting into Italy itself, who knew an entire country could be wrapped up in one dish. It was impossibly incredible. Before you die, you must travel to Naples and try the food. Another thing I loved about Naples is that it is full of character. Besides awesome food, one can find good, cheap wine, tons of street vendors and pasta shaped like explicit body parts. There are endless outdoor seating areas where one could sit for hours and have the best kind of live entertainment: people watching. Naples, my friends, is a people-watcher’s dream come true. I’ll just leave it at that.

By far the best part of Naples, however, is its close proximity to one of the most incredible places I have ever visited, the Amalfi Cost. It is one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. The only downer is that we had to take a bus round and round up this windy mountain and being a sufferer of motion sickness, it was not a pleasant experience. I just kept yelling “sack” in Spanish praying that the word was similar in Italian. Finally, my roommate got the point across through some hand gestures and yelling the word “vomit” repeatedly. Simultaneously, about 20 old ladies whipped out plastic bags and passed them my way. They came prepared.

Even through my motion sickness incident, the coast was still awesome, by far one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. I also enjoyed relaxing on the beach, looking out over the view, and pondering the meaning of life. Haha, but seriously.

Another one of those “small world” incidents happened when I was on the beach and started talking to these random five girls studying abroad in Italy. It just so happened that they had classes with Alysse Gear, a Drake student and one of my best friends. No big deal. I tried to impress upon them to remember to give her a hug for me and made them promise they would, but later found out they didn’t. Rude.

After returning from the Almalfi Coast back to home base in Naples, I arose early the next morning to visit the “Lost City of Pompeii” and climb Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii is unlike anything you have ever seen. When Mount Vesuvius erupted somewhere around 79 A.D., it wiped out a prosperous city of about 20,000 inhabitants literally preserving them in time. The city was physically buried alive under 4-6 meters of ash and pumice and was “lost” for over 1,500 years. Today it is quite a remarkable site. Stepping into Pompeii is like hopping on the magic school bus and taking a journey back in time.

It is remarkable how well everything was preserved. When it hit Pompeii, the lava was so hot that apart from the infrastructure, it literally disintegrated most of what it touched. This created “casts” formed in the place human flesh and bone, definitely some wild stuff to see.

Moving on from 20,000 people being burned alive by lava, on a lighter note, lets talk about the city of love: Verona. Verona is the city where Romeo and Juliet theoretically took place. There is a famous wall where you can write a love note or pretty much whatever you want. Then there is a statue of Juliet and apparently it is good luck to rub part of her bust. On any give day you can see people young and old lined up to rub the “lucky place” on the statue. It is quite entertaining to watch, I must admit. Apart from being home to Romeo and Juliet, Verona is also home to one of the world’s best wine festivals. As luck would have it, without planning, I happened to be in that very city on the 150th Anniversary of the festival. It was a fun experience pretending to know about wine while sampling some of the finest wine from all over the world.

As you can see, Italy is full of fun little adventures and this is just the beginning, or “part 1” if you will.

Until next time, keep your purses safe, watch out for lava and don’t trust anyone trying to sell you an iPhone on the street.

VanLandegen is a senior international relations, spanish and biology major and can be reached at sarah.vanlandegen@drake.edu

Photos courtesy of Sarah Vanlandegen


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1 Comment

  1. Sean Thornton November 24, 2010

    I am an American living and working in Naples for two years now. There is a saying,” If you stay for a day, you will hate it. If you stay for a week you will love it. If you stay for a month you will never want to leave.” I think the last part is because you have had your car or household goods stolen and you are still looking for them. There are always good and bad things about a place. I have lived all over the world from Asia, the middle east and in Europe. Naples by far is the most interesting and aggravating place I have ever lived. Naples is a sub cutlture of Italy with its own personality, language and traditions. One of which is the lack of respect for any thing and anyone outside of their family. You can see this in how they drive to throwing trash out the car windows and just dumping things on the side of the road. You have to watch out for everything and not trust anyone. There is a thirty percent unemployment rate because most work is paid under the table so as not to pay taxes. I have a Napolitano wife and many friends and it is explained to me this way. When an American wakes up his first thoughts are “What can I do today that is productive or fun?”. The first thought of a Napolitano is “How can I get over on someone or something today?” Every purchase, business arrangement or appointment has an underlying meaning (Camorra) or possibilities of less than ethical or moral outcome. Having said all of this why do I still live here? Because there are always diamonds in the rough and Naples has many. I am more cynical than I have ever been but I have lived more that I have ever lived before. The food, the sites, the summer and when you have a chance to meet a good person hold onto them because they are few and far between. Once you make a friend it is for life. Yes there are thieves, human trafficking for prostitution, lack of respect for anyone or anything but living in the moment is exciting. The motto for Naples is “Live for today for Vesuvius my end it all tomorrow.” So if you have an aversion to living in the old west fashion, Spaghetti Western, then please avoid Naples. If not keep an open mind, your wallet close and enjoy.

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