And here we’ve arrived at Part II! In this portion of the trip, we visited the most locations in the shortest amount of time, and yet it felt the most leisurely. INTERESTING VACATION FACT FOR YOU, HUH? This portion also contains my favorite place in Italy: Pompeii! Here’s another interesting fact for you: Did you know ancient Pompeii was filled with perverts? IT’S TRUE! Just wait until you see how much these people loved dicks.
We took a train to Naples, where a driver picked us up at the train station, to take us to our hotel in Positano. On the way, we stopped for a few hours to tour Pompeii, where we had a really fantastic guide, who knew just about everything. I don’t remember his name, but if you’re in Pompeii, ask for the sweaty, smart, fat guy.
Pompeii was not what any of us expected. I thought we would see some ruins, obviously, but I imagined there would be museums and modern structures housing most of the relics, like in the rest of Europe. Um, nope. Pompeii has more or less been left as they found it after they removed all the ash and debris. It’s an entire city. It’s huge. You’re free to wander the streets and enter a few buildings, and just explore, which is so impossibly cool. And since all life virtually stopped in an instant, you get to see what the Roman empire was like in its daily life. The ruins in Rome are amazing for their grandeur and scope, but they don’t give you an intimate picture of life for the everyday citizen. Pompeii does, and it is fascinating.
The streets of Pompeii.
Pompeii’s Forum. Word of warning: I took FAR more pictures in Pompeii than anywhere else in Italy.
You can see how they set up their businesses, with small restaurants attached to homes. They even had sliding wooden doors to open and close their shops! One house has a mosaic of a dog in its entryway that is particularly famous – it’s the original “beware of dog” sign. But the thing Pompeiians apparently loved more than anything else was sex.
We toured the local brothel, which is, obviously, the busiest building in Pompeii. It was a smallish building, made up of a single hallway with three doors on either side. Through each door, you would find a tiny room containing merely a single, stone bed. Which is funny enough in itself to us sex-minded tourists, but the best part is above the doors. Above each door is a beautifully painted fresco, showing you exactly what you can expect from the occupant whore: spanking, doggy-style, the boring missionary prostitute, and, everyone’s favorite, the tranny. Yes, we saw a detailed fresco advertising the services of an ancient, crossdressing sex worker. It was amazing.
Sex things happened here.
That one on top? Totally a dude.
But Pompeii’s sexual fetishes didn’t stay confined within the walls of the brothel. We also saw the “office” of an independent whore, who cleverly advertised her services with a large stone erection jutting from the wall above her door. Additionally, when you start to look for them, you find penises everywhere in Pompeii. Carved on street corners to ward off evil, graffitied on frescoes, and even carved into the sidewalk, pointing your way towards the nearest brothel. You can’t go more than a couple seconds without seeing a dick in Pompeii! Take your kids to Pompeii, parents. They’ll love it.
Spot the dick!
Erection, showing you where to do your business.
Eventually, we got to see the main event: dead bodies. Of course! What more do you want when you come to Pompeii? The first two bodies we came upon were in the produce market area of the Forum. They were presented in glass cases, and they weren’t nearly as fun to look at as we anticipated. The first thing you realize when looking at the bodies at Pompeii is that these people died horribly. Much like the city of Pompeii shows you an intimate look at the lives of ancient Romans, the bodies of Pompeii show you an uncomfortably intimate look at a horrific mass death. It turns a 2,000-year-old natural disaster into an actual, personal tragedy. I mean, look at this poor guy:
It gets even worse from here. On the other side of the Forum are more bodies, some of the most famous discoveries in Pompeii. There’s a pregnant lady laying on her stomach. There’s a small boy, curled up and trying to cover his face. There’s the famous image of the twisted dog, trying in agony to escape its collar and run free. You can still see the collar and chain. It was, to say the least, incredibly depressing.
Sorry, animal lovers.
But! We must soldier on, because there are MORE dead bodies to see, and, depressing or no, this is one of the most fascinating things any of us has ever seen, and we are bloodthirsty for more carnage. Our tour guide informed us that on the other side of the city — an hour’s walk, he said, because this place is seriously huge — is the “Garden of the Fugitives,” where you can see a group of dead bodies, all laying where they were found. Um, yes please? Grandma and the tour guide returned to the van to wait, because they didn’t want to travel that far, and Aunt Dana, Nikki, Sara, and I scampered off happily to see some more death and destruction.
Along the way, a charming family from Mississippi with two small boys stopped us. “I hate to be rude, but have you seen any dead people running for their lives?” they asked us. Only in Pompeii can a person sanely ask that question. And only in Pompeii could someone else actually have an answer: “We’re going there now! Follow us!” we replied.
Our new, morbid friends in tow, we wound through the maze of streets, and eventually found the Garden of the Fugitives, a perfectly charming ancient vineyard, if it weren’t for the corner filled with dead babies. Behind a glass wall, we saw 13 dead bodies, all curled up in various states of agony. There were men, women, and children, one of which looked too small to even be walking yet. You could see facial features on some of them, so you could get a much-too-clear picture of their final moments of agony as they gasped for air. I just kind of stared in shock for a few minutes.
That, right there, is a dead kid. Yikes.
“Look, a lizard!” shouted one of the boys from Mississippi, before attempting to climb over the fence and chase it. Clearly, this kid isn’t fazed by mortality.
On the way out, we went to see the amphitheater, which, it turns out, is the oldest known Roman amphitheater built out of stone. It inspired the Colosseum. So, that was an unexpectedly awesome bit of history to stumble upon. We entered the center and looked up at the stands, and could not believe where we were. How many people died on the exact spot we were standing? To me, standing in the very middle of this empty, perfectly preserved ancient amphitheater was way cooler than being shuffled around the outer edges of the cramped, noisy Colosseum. We were literally the only four people in the place.
The view from inside. Before we scaled the walls.
So, of course, we had to break some rules. With a boost from Sara, I climbed over the wall and up into the stands to explore (a great picture exists of the rule-breaking in action, but blame my sister for not posting it on Facebook for me to steal yet). The rest of the family quickly followed, as we spread out through the FORBIDDEN SEATING. What badasses! Nothing makes history more exciting than blatant rule-breaking.
Afterwards, we sat and had a beer outside the city walls, while waiting for the driver to pick us up. Could anything be better than this? It turns out, yes, because we were now headed for the Amalfi Coast.
The drive was breathtaking, following the windy, asshole-clenching twists along steep cliffs dropping directly down into the Mediterranean. But don’t let that distract you from the beauty, because the Amalfi Coast may be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I mean, LOOK:
Positano is pretty indescribable when you first see it. It’s a “vertical city,” built on a hillside sloping down to the Mediterranean, so most of the streets are windy and not-at-all handicap-friendly. But everywhere you turn there’s a new amazing view to behold, so it’s worth schlepping around. However, the best view in the city is from our hotel, the Buca di Bacco, as we were in the deluxe triple room with an enormous terrace (my aunt is a travel agent, did I mention? I suggest you find yourself a travel-agent-aunt as well). And we also had the best shower in Italy. I never thought I would love Italian showers so much, but going from a shower overlooking the Pantheon to a shower in a SEPARATE TOWER, overlooking the Mediterranean, is about as wonderful as showers go. We were there for three days, and Aunt Dana and I must have taken six showers each. The first time I showered, I couldn’t help but giggle like a schoolgirl every time I opened my eyes and remembered where I was.
That white, pointy tower near the middle of the picture? That’s our shower.
The shower. Overlooking the sea.
The hotel offered us free drinks on their terrace bar, which is my favorite way to be welcomed to a new location. We enjoyed the free champagne immensely, while NOT enjoying the too-detailed stories about our grandma’s sexual past. I’ll spare you. For dinner, we had some of the freshest seafood imaginable, and enjoyed some equally fresh limoncello until the bars closed. Turns out I don’t like limoncello! I don’t know, I guess I’m not a lemon guy. I’m sure for people who do like limoncello, having local, authentic Italian coastal limoncello is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be treasured forever. I, however, choked the stuff down. Sorry.
The next morning, we woke up and boarded the ferry to Capri. Sitting behind us were two large families, with five teenaged kids, who were making extremely obnoxious dolphin noises most of the ferry ride. We did not like these kids. This information will come into play later.
Disembarking at Capri, we were thrust into tourist MADNESS. As quickly as possible, we jumped in a funicular and rode up to the city of Capri, to try to escape the lunacy of the harbor. We wandered for a bit through the streets of Capri, which are tiny and winding, as all the best European streets are. But these streets were compact versions of Rodeo Drive, packed with some of the most expensive luxury stores in the world. It was not what I expected at all. Naturally, no shopping was done here.
We wanted to walk up to Tiberius’s Palace, but seeing as it was a 40-minute hike uphill, Grandma decided to sit this one out. (For those who are concerned Grandma is missing out on too much on this trip: She’s been to Italy many times before, so she felt no real need to see dead bodies or hike for an hour and a half again.) The walk up to the palace was pretty awesome, though, as it led through residential “streets,” which are more like very thin alleyways, that every once in a while gave way to stunning panoramas and views of expensive houses. It was hardly a hike.
At the top, we reached Tiberius’s Palace. Begun by Caesar Augustus and finished by Tiberius, it was where the second emperor spent the last 10 years of his life (to much controversy). It has been said that all sorts of delightfully awful things went on up there: orgies, of course, but more famously, Tiberius reportedly made people jump to their deaths from the enormously steep cliffs. But who knows if that’s true.
What IS true is that the palace is pretty amazing. It’s huge and complicated and must have been an incredible place back in Tiberius’s day. The views alone are stunning — possibly the best view of mainland Italy in the world, as well as a 360-degree view of the entire island of Capri. The views are also terrifying, as you stand mere inches from the edges of cliffs that plunge several hundred feet to the rough water. There are railings to protect you, but that didn’t make us feel any safer as we came across an area that showed just how unsafe it is to trust 2,000-year-old ruins for support:
Uhhhh. Signs would be helpful.
If you fall, you’ve got a ways to go.
But look! There’s Italy!
And some of the palace!
On the way back down, we stopped at a small, family-run bar with a nice view of the island. We would talk about this place for the next week, as it would serve us the best bruschetta any of us had ever had in our lives. There is no doubt in my mind that the tomatoes came from, like, behind the bar. The tomatoes and garlic were so fresh, and the bread was so perfectly toasted, that we all tried to talk Sara into marrying the owners’ young son. We’re still trying to get her to do it.
Unfortunately, we eventually had to leave the bar, and I was loathe to depart from the happiest place of my life. But we trudged back down the hill, retrieved Grandma, rode the crammed funicular down the hill, and decided, upon one glance at the overstuffed boats departing for tours of the famous Blue Grotto, that we would rather spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach. Sorry, Blue Grotto. Guess I’ll have to come back to Capri to see you!
We caught the last ferry back to Positano (lining up absurdly early to ensure we could sit on the top, outside deck, rather than cramming into the air-conditioned indoors like we had to on the Capri-bound ferry. For dinner, we trekked a little further away from the heavily tourist-fied area of Positano to a small restaurant that served me the best mussels of my life, as well as some excellent wine that came in ceramic jugs. Clearly, it was a great day for food.
Now, before we left for Italy, my sister Nikki did some research on restaurants and bars we need to see in each city. She had read about this place in Positano called “Music on the Rocks,” which was described as a dance club in a cave that doesn’t open until midnight. It sounded awesome, so we were excited to try it out. And then we got to Positano, and we saw the advertisements for the place, and we quickly realized how wrong we were. Our visions of dancing with Italians in a dark, cleverly lit cave to European club music faded and were replaced by visions of sterile lighting, fat tourists doing the Macarena, and a DJ who only knows the Black Eyed Peas and Britney Spears. Obviously, we began looking forward to visiting the club in a completely different, more ironic sense. We had no idea how much fun it would actually turn out to be.
While waiting for Music on the Rocks (and really, the terrible name should already be a warning sign), we sat and had drinks at a bar all the locals tend to hang out at, reportedly. Which begs the question: What locals? Positano is 90% tourists this time of year. But there were people speaking Italian, so I’m assuming they were locals. Also drinking at the bar were the five teenagers from our ferry to Capri. You know, the dolphin impersonators. One of them looked to be no older than 13, and yet here they were, tossing back shots of some nasty-looking creme liqueur. They would take a shot, scream, run away, and return 10 minutes later to take another shot. It was highly, highly entertaining to watch, and we realized immediately that we had to make sure these kids went to Music on the Rocks, as they would surely liven the place up.
So, the third time the kids returned for some shots, Nikki and Aunt Dana approached the bar to get more drinks and chat them up. Next thing we know, we’re joined at our table by 5 drunk teenagers (okay, one was 20) babbling away at us with their adorable Louisiana accents. Between all their “y’all”s and “yes ma’am”s, they were so charming we immediately forgave them for the dolphin noises.
The star of the show — as the kids themselves would all agree, I’m sure — was Carter, a mere 15 years old. He was a lanky, goofy man-child with the wingspan of a condor, who clearly hadn’t grown accustomed to his recently enlarged skeleton, causing him to shatter a glass of champagne all over Grandma’s lap as he gesticulated wildly. “Oh my gosh, y’all, I am so sorry,” gushed Sally, the oldest of the group and Carter’s big sister, as she dabbed napkins on my grandma’s soaked lap. “Oh, gosh, I’m touching y’all’s grandma!” she laughed, as her friends snapped pictures. Grandma was flustered, but the rest of us were too doubled over with laughter to be of much use. By this point, we loved these kids, of course. Maybe not so much Grandma.
They bought us a round of limoncello shots to make up for the spill, and we told them they HAD to keep Carter awake until Music on the Rocks opened, because it wouldn’t be the same without him. We parted ways for the time being, and we just hoped they would be at the club when we got there. Not too much longer, Sally and Carter returned in a panic, as they had lost Sally’s credit card. However, we found it (it was on our table, covered by limoncello shot glasses), and Sally said everyone was already at Music on the Rocks. So we took Grandma up to bed and walked down the beach toward the club, unsure of what to expect. Along the way, Carter entertained us with many Borat quotes (dude LOVES Borat), while simultaneously knocking over everything in his path with his giant, pinwheeling arms.
The bouncer at Music on the Rocks immediately told Carter he couldn’t come in. There was a second bouncer there who didn’t speak English and who, to the best of my fuzzy recollection, was nine feet tall, had biceps like Christmas hams, and a face that could break a sledgehammer. He also clearly did NOT like Carter.
“But I’ve already been in there twice!” Carter protested, which was actually true.
Aunt Dana pushed to the front of the group, to give our cause some legitimacy, and my family found ourselves in the strange position of trying to convince a foreign bouncer to allow an underaged kid we just met into a shitty club. The bouncer explained they had already kicked someone out tonight and that they didn’t want to have to do it again. We said Carter was fine, and the bouncer asked his age. “18,” we all lied. We said we were staying just down the block at Buca di Bocco, and with that we were immediately let in. The power of our hotel opens magical doors.
Or, tacky, retro nightmare doors.
Inside the club, we quickly learned “club in a cave,” means “fake-looking rock ceiling.” The rest of the club was made up of white leather couches, disco lights, and a dance floor that looks straight out of a cruise ship, filled with overweight middle-aged Americans, all decked out in their recently purchased white linen shirts and pants. The whole thing felt like a time portal to 1995. And, to top it all off, within 5 minutes a dance train was started. You know, that thing your drunk aunt starts at a wedding or bar mitzvah, where you all put your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you and everyone, like, hustles around in a circle? That happened.
But we joined the rest of our new teenaged friends on some white leather couches (VIP section!), and some drinks were procured. Us cynical adults sat and mocked everything, while the much happier, less-phased kids tore up the dance floor. I, however, needed more drinks before I was going to join any dance trains. At one point, while talking to Carter, I realized I was a DECADE older than him, which I told him.
“We can still be bros, though, right?” he asked.
(In a Borat voice:) “Very niiiiiice,” he replied, holding his fist out for a bump. Love this kid.
Someone who didn’t love Carter, however, was the rock-jawed bouncer, who stood in the corner, his arms crossed, eyes never leaving Carter. With good reason, too, because within a few minutes, Carter had already knocked over two more glasses with his huge arms.
This whole situation begs a couple questions (probably more than just a couple, but this is what I was thinking at the time): 1) The bouncer said they already kicked someone out of the club that night. What did that guy do to warrant kicking out that Carter hadn’t already done? And, 2) Why was this club kicking ANYONE out? There were maybe 15 people in the place, including staff, at any given moment, and we were by far the liveliest, youngest group. They should have been paying us to be there! Hell, they should have filmed us and put us in the commercials!
Anyway, dancing eventually happened, and within a few minutes, Carter accidentally slapped a drink out of my aunt’s hands and shattered the glass on the dance floor (he can’t help it — his arms honestly reach across entire rooms). This brought the Frankenstein security guard racing over, ready to drag Carter out. But Nikki took the blame, because one thing we know for sure is that beautiful women are infallible in Italy. She acted like it was her ditzy fault, and Carter was allowed to stay. Ah, stereotypical Italian men.
At some point, Carter shattered a second drink on the dance floor (that’s FIVE, if you’re keeping count), and Nikki again took the blame, which prompted the bouncer to issue a warning — one more strike and you’re out. VERY strict place when it comes to women, obviously.
By this point, we were “buying” Carter “shots” of water and telling him it was vodka. If he questioned it, we simply gave him an empty shot glass that had vodka in it, made him smell it, and told him that was what he just drank. I think this inadvertently caused Carter to question his ability to taste. Meanwhile, William — the middle child between Carter and Sally, and only one year older than Carter — was vomiting somewhere, so Sally took him home and returned shortly by herself. Sally is quite the big sister, let me tell you. I would have told Sara to call a cab.
I should note that, by this point, we were the only ones in the club. And then the Beautiful People walked in.
Annie and her brothers were also on our ferry to Capri, and even though they weren’t making dolphin noises, I definitely noticed them. I don’t know what I said to any of them in the club — not because I was drunk, per se, but because I black out when I’m around Beautiful People. I just start babbling and trying to impress them, and my brain forces me to forget it all, to save myself the embarrassment later. I don’t even know what the brothers’ names were, I was so preoccupied with staring at them all.
Eventually everyone left, even though the club was supposed to be open for at least another hour. So then it became me and my two sisters, dancing alone on the dance floor, in the saddest and funniest club in the world.
We couldn’t find Carter or his family at all the next day, but we knew he and William had to be hating life at that moment. (We have since connected on Facebook, and don’t worry, they all made it home alive.)
For us, the next day consisted of beach time and wandering Positano. It was extremely relaxing, and exactly what we needed after a wild night out with teenagers. For dinner, we went to Al Palazzo, a fucking fantastic restaurant in a really nice little courtyard. It was probably the best meal the entire time we were in Italy. The stuffed zucchini flowers were outrageously good, as was the bluefin carpaccio, the sauteed scallops with julienned green apples, linguini with prawns and zucchini flowers, seared sesame-crusted tuna steak with onion rings and spinach, and, of course, delicious wine. I can still picture the entire menu. It was so good, I’m envious of myself in the past.
Positano, while a bit touristy, was beautiful and relaxing and the perfect way to decompress between the madness of Rome and Venice. And even though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was also the last time I would have full faculty of all of my limbs for the indefinite future.
Part III to come soon! Make sure you stay tuned. I’m doing my best to get these up as quickly as possible, so you’re not still reading about Italy in a month, long after anyone gives a shit anymore. The good news is Moving Week is almost finished and I will soon be able to finally, finally relax, after we obsessively clean the old house until midnight tonight. Ugh. Anyway, things are about to go crazy in Italy when I get to Venice, what with the trip to the emergency room. How’s THAT for a teaser?