13 April 2014

Italy (March 25-April 8 2014)

Well I finally did it and went and quit my job, which I'd been wanting to do for a long time.  So now I needed a new visa...to get a three year visa I had to wait for two weeks somewhere while the embassy processed it, so I decided to go to Italy.  I flew into Milan on March 25 and dropped off my passport at the Russian visa service provider.  I spend one more night in Milan and then set off south.

MARCH 27, 2014
My first stop was a town called Lucca, which I'd been meaning to visit for awhile.  Lucca is another old, medieval Italian town located near Pisa.  Here are a bunch of pix:

Lucca was OK, but after one night it was time to move on!

MARCH 28, 2014
I didn't know where I'd stay tonight, but somewhere in Tuscany, maybe in San Garignano...  So I went there, here are a few pix:

But the town was a bit dinky, and it was too early in the day to stop, so after a brief walk-about I kept going, to Sienna, where I'd always wanted to go.  Very nice town:

MARCH 29, 2014
After one night, it was time to move on again!  Again, I wasn't sure where I'd stay, but I figured I'd pick out one of the Tuscan hill towns.  The distances involved where pretty small, so I decided to detour to the Roman battlefield of Lake Trasimene.  I found the lake easy enough, but never found the museum supposedly at the battlefield.  Oh well...  I ended up staying in Montepulciano, which is a nice old medieval Italian town:

MARCH 30-APRIL 1, 2014
The weather had been consistently bad since I'd been in Italy--cold and wet.  So I decided to lunge for the south, where I hoped to find some warmer weather.  Wasn't sure where I'd stay, but I figured maybe Sorrento, south of Naples, or a bit further, along the Amalfi Coast.  Things were pretty easy down to Sorrento, but then the roads became tiny and I had to go really slow...  I didn't see anywhere to really stay in Sorrento, so I kept going (late March is apparently not tourist season, because many hotels, especially along the coast and on Lake Trasimene, were not open yet).  I drove through a couple more towns along the Amalfi Coast without finding a hotel (these towns are built on really steep hills, so if a hotel wasn't on the main drag through town I wasn't going to go looking for one on my big bike) before coming to Praiana, where I found a place right as I pulled into town.  The weather was indeed warmer, and the hotel had a great view and good restaurant.  Moreover, I was still helping my former company with a project, so I had some work to do.  So basically I ended up staying for three nights.  Here are some pix:

APRIL 2, 2014
After Praiana, I wasn't sure what to do--I had wanted to go to Capri, but after spending so much time in Praiana I wasn't sure I had time to do that, so Capri got the axe.  But I was definitely going to visit Pompeii, where I'd wanted to go for a long time.  After Pompeii, I figured I'd spend the night in Naples and visit the archeological museum there.  Pompeii was right on the way to Naples, so I went there first.  Here are a small portion of the many pictures I took at Pompeii, it was really cool, although most of the stuff from there has been taken to the museum in Naples, and there is actually very little information provided about most of the buildings there.

Not sure what this says...
 Some kind of storefront:
 Lots of painting on the walls in the various buildings.
 The Roman bathhouse:
 The locker room in the Roman bath--the niches were for the bathers to store their clothes, rather like the banyas in Moscow.  There were plaster casts of a couple of Roman bodies that they found in the bath; well actually bodies, which were incinerated by the ash, but they make plaster casts of the cavity in the ash where the bodies were.  The level of detail visible was incredible--folds in the togas, sandal straps, etc.  Very interesting if rather macabre.

 A fountain out of the street, where citizens could fill up with fresh water.
 Lead pipes for plumbing:
 A view of the forum with Vesuvious in the background:
 Another, more decorative bath house:
 A bench in the locker room of this second bath house:
 Really nice decorations throughout:

 Next was "House of the Faun" (satyr).  Lots of interesting mosaics, etc.
 A very Escher-esque design:
 I liked this design:
 The famous Alexander the Great mosaic was found in House of the Faun; the original has been moved to the museum in Naples, so this is a reproduction:
 These decorations are from some other house in Pompeii, forget which one:

 Looks like wallpaper but painted onto the walls--rather labor intensive!

 Finally, a little sprig of greenery to close things out in Pompeii:
I spent several hours in Pompeii, was pretty tired by the end.  I wanted to find a hotel quickly in Naples so that I could go to the archeological museum that day rather than wait until the next morning.  Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever had a harder time finding a hotel than I did in Naples.  I had two or three on my GPS, but none of them existed!  Just driving around, I didn't see any hotels near the archeological museum...  I was riding up these steep little side streets, went several kilometers away from the center before I was able to turn around, etc.  Traffic in Naples is pretty intense, so I wasn't very comfortable driving around looking for a hotel, because I couldn't focus on the road.  Finally I drove a couple of kilometers from the museum in a different direction, found a hotel, and was going to book it, but they didn't have parking, and in the process of looking for parking I found a better hotel...finally.  But it was already too late to do the archeological museum today, so I'd have to go tomorrow and get a late start for my next destination (as yet undecided).

APRIL 3, 2014
I got up early and headed off to the museum.  The archeological museum in Naples is pretty awesome.  I spent a few hours there and didn't see everything (skipped all of the Egyptian stuff, etc.).  Here are some pictures:

 Lots of very life-like statues:

 OK, maybe not lifelike, but...

 "Beware of Dog" mosaic from Pompeii:
 Seafood mosaic from Pompeii:
 Alexander the Great mosaic from Pompeii:

 Alexander the Great:

 Julius Caesar:

After the museum I dashed back to the hotel, got on the bike, and headed out of town.  I'd decided to go to Bari, on Italy's east coast.   It was only a couple of  hours away, so I decided that on the way I'd visit the Roman battlefield of Cannae, the site of one of Rome's greatest defeats (and Hannibal's greatest victory).  Apparently no one is really sure where the battle was, but they put up a monument where they think it might have been.  Here it is:
 A sligthly better view of the flat terrain on which the battle was supposedly fought:
 It really seems odd that they can't find any weapons, armor, etc. from the 60,000 Romans who were killed in the battle, maybe they're not looking very hard...  After visiting the monument I rode around a bit on the suspected battlefield, but there is nothing to see other than some wildflowers:
I pulled into Bari fairly late, found a hotel with parking right across the street, although it was in a kind of shitty part of town.  It took me about half an hour to walk into the old town.  I didn't realize it, but apparently Santa Clause (St Nicholas) is buried in a church in the old town:
 Nighttime in Bari:
APRIL 4-5, 2014
I really had no idea where to go after Bari, the east coast of Italy looks pretty boring, and the weather forecast was not good.  Finally I decide to go to Rimini, a beach town several hours to the north.  What a miserable ride!  It rained almost the whole way, and it was cold too, so I had to stop several times to get coffee to warm up.  It was still raining when I pulled into Rimini, where many of hotels were still closed for the season.  Finally I found a kind of run-down hotel right on the beach, I got a room with a balcony overlooking the sea.  Rimini wasn't anything very special, but after the freezing ride through the rain I decided to rest the next day, so I spent a second night there.

Here's a few pix from the second day, when it was at least a little sunny, but still cold:

APRIL 6-7, 2014
They told me my visa would be ready on the 7th, so I got back to Milan on the 6th and went to the consulate early on the 7th.  At first they told me it wasn't ready--I was really not happy, because I wanted to leave Italy already--but they double-checked and sure enough it was ready.  After picking up my visa I dropped off the bike and went back to my crappy hotel (Hotel Genius?).

APRIL 8, 2014--Flight back to Moscow!

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