The bad news: I hurt my back before this trip and it got worse on the trip (but is getting better now).
The good news: I have learned about traveling with a cane (bastone in Italian).
We left Santa Fe on Monday, December 15. The flight went well and I made sure to walk on the plane during the flight from Albuquerque to Atlanta. On the Atlanta to Rome flight I thought I would just recline the Business Elite seat and that would be good enough. It wasn't.
The plane hit bad turbulance over the Atlantic (which I think is typical this time of year) and neither of us slept much. It was really bouncing around. We both have those BOSE headphones which make flying much easier - they cut out that loud rumbling background noise. On other flights, these headphones have enabled us to sleep more than usual. Not this flight.
Got into Rome and my back was hurting. Took a taxi to the Hotel Del Senato. I had booked one night, but paid 50% for the night before so we would be able to go to our room immediately. My reward for this extra payment was one of the best rooms in the hotel - a double on the sixth floor, the one at the end of the hall (603), with big french doors to a small balcony and a perfect view of the Pantheon. You could almost touch it.
All the rooms on the sixth floor have small balconies and look out to the Pantheon, but this room is furthest away and gives you the best view. The room was very small (especially after out very large room in September at Hotel Farnese) but after an hour you were used to it. Wood floors, fabric covered walls, nice bathroom, comfortable bedroom. As everyone on SlowTrav says, it is a 3 star price with 4 star quality and a great location.
As we always do, we slept most of the day from 11am to 4pm. I have never met anyone except Steve who agrees with this approach to jetlag, but it works for us. It had been a nice sunny day, but was turning cold and dark when we got up. Went for a walk - my back was hurting.
Met our friends who are giving us their apartment, took most of our luggage and left it there, got our instructions, went out for a lovely dinner (Ditarambo near Campo dei Fiori - we were there once before in September - excellent). Back to the hotel and slept through the night.
Up the next morning and to the breakfast room, out for a walk, coffee at Tazzo d'Oro, checked out and took a train and one suitcase to the train station. We met Stephanie and Cesare (our friends who live in Rome - I met Stephanie through the message board) to take the 12:45 Eurostar to Naples. It was delayed until 1:15. We had second class seats - comfortable - 44 Euro each return. About a two hour ride. I spent part of the ride standing the bar car to give my back a rest from sitting (sitting is the worst thing for it).
Arrived in Naples!! Taxi to Stephanie and Cesare's hotel and then to ours (we booked at different times, so were not able to coordinate to stay in the same hotel, but theirs was only a 10 minute walk from ours). The taxi driver must have figured we got rid of the Italians and now he just had the Americans to deal with and even though the meter said 8 Euro and the charge is 50 cents per bag (there were 3), he told Steve the fare was 15 and when Steve gave him a 20 Euro note, would not give change. He was furious with Steve for asking for change - but did give it eventually. Welcome to Naples!! This was our only bad experience (except for my back).
I had booked the Grand Hotel Parkers (5 stars!! only our second 5 star hotel in Europe). I got a very good rate of 205 Euro per night. It is not listed on Venere (I always use the SlowTrav clickthru for Venere to book hotels :) ), so I looked it up on Orbitx and Expedia, then wrote to the hotel quoting the price I could get that way (the hotel web site had much higher prices) and they offered me the same price booking with them. I faxed them my credit card number and was booked.
The hotel sits on a busy street, half way up the hill from the sea to the Vomare neighborhood. The lobby is all marble and fabulous. The breakfast room is on the sixth floor with huge windows and sweeping views over the Bay of Naples to Capri, the Sorrento Penninsula, Vesuvius and to the main part of Naples. Our room was on the second floor with a small balcony and a beautiful view.
We rested (to allow my back to recover), then met S and C and walked along very crowded streets to the city center. Everyone was out Christmas shopping. On Via Toledo the crowds were shoulder to shoulder. We walked around, Cesare asked some local guy for a restaurant recommendation, we check it out and then a couple from the guidebook (Eyewitness) but settled on the one the local guy recommended. Had a simple dinner of pasta and contorni (vegetable sidedish). I was going to take a taxi back to the hotel, but we decided to walk. Mistake number 235 in this whole back thing.
We knew we had to cut back our Naples plans because of my back (no trip to Sorrento for the webcam) but the main thing I wanted to see was the Archeological Museum so we went there Thursday. We met S and C at their hotel then took the subway to the museum. Spent two hours doing the museum shuffle (mistake number 236). The Ancient Rome things were wonderful - statues, mosaics, frescoes from Pompei and Herculeneum. Okay, the frescoes have not been available for two years (being restored) but should be available for viewing in 6 more months. But the mosaics were worth the trip. Incredible color and detail. Astonishing that we humans were creating this type of art over 2000 years ago. It seems like we lost something and did not recover it again until the 1500s.
The museum holds things found in the Pompei and Herculeneum ruins - frozen in time because of being covered in volcanic ash after the eruption of Vesuvius. It is too bad all these things could not be displayed in the actual places - but I guess that would not work.
C asked the people working at the museum about a place for lunch and we went to it (this is a great way of finding restaurants). It was a small place in a basement. We all had gnocchi and contorni. After lunch, C left us to visit a friend and Stephanie, Steve and I went out to explore the old neighborhood, see some churches and find the street where they make all the Christmas things. Mistake number 236 - and this was the big one - I tripped. Tripped on the uneven street and felt something really pull in my back.
The streets in Naples, in the old section, are narrow and the cars whiz by. There is a lot of garbage on the streets and piled along the curbs. The buildings are not renovated and look like chunks could fall off at any time. The streets are so narrow that it feels like sunshine has never hit them - you can feel the cold coming off the stone buildings. There are people everywhere. Not the beautiful well-to-do people that you see in Rome, but more "regular" folks. I loved Naples. I pronounced myself ready for Sicily. They say if you do not like Rome, then do not go south because you will really not like it. I say, if you like Naples, you will like Sicily, but this might not be true because I have not been to Sicily.
We walked along the street where they sell the Christmas stuff - packed with people and all junk for sale!! Looked like that cheap stuff you get from China (you know, the stuff no one needs). Little figures for your Christmas Crib or some Christmas scene - each shop selling the exact same stuff. Shop after shop. Ugh!
I have heard all about the pickpockets and theives in Naples, but we did not have any problems. I tried not to look like I had mobility problems - if they sensed weakness I thought they might strip me clean and leave me standing there naked. As it was, Stephanie pointed out how she could take my change purse without me noticing :) .
Back started seizing up. Really hurting. We headed for a taxi to get back to the hotel, leaving Stephanie on her own with the guidebook (she had a good time exploring). First we found a farmacia (pharmacy) and bought Celebrex - prescription in the US but over the counter in Italy. I am not really sure what it is for (need to look at their website) but our friend in Rome said I should take it for my back. Normally we take no drugs (legal or illegal) except maybe an aspirin in times of dire need (I had been taking Motrin for my back) and Steve was not happy that I was doing this, but he was not living with this pain. So we got them.
The traffic in Naples was very thick. The taxi driver said it was all the Christmas shoppers. We got back to the hotel and rested. Went for a lovely dinner with S and C at a place just a block from the hotel. One block and 80 steps down. Steps were starting to be something I noticed.
After dinner, I stood up but couldn't. I had to walk across the room sort of hunched over. I figured all the people were watching thinking "look at that fat American". They were probably thinking, "that poor woman has hurt her back." My smile was starting to feel forced. We cancelled all plans with S and C for Friday and decided to have a day off.
On Friday we had breakfast in the room (one of the great thing about 5 star hotels - room service) so I could stay lying down. We finally went out at about 1pm and took a taxi up to the top of the hill, to the neighborhood Vomare. I had big plans - churches, museums, the funicular back to town, walking. We got out of the cab, walked two blocks at a snails pace, had a fabulous pizza and barely made it back to a cab and the hotel. The rest of the day was one of the worst days I have had in a long time. Worse than any from my year of back pain when I first really screwed up my back when I was 25.
At the peak I was lying in bed, going into pain spasms if I even moved, and planning my evacuation by military helicopter. Here I was in horrible pain, not at home, but in Naples - oh yes. Steve was a saint, almost carrying me to the bathtub so I could soak in hot water, going tou to the pharmacy to try to get stronger pain killers and a heating pad (unsuccessful on both - they gave him these medicated strips for my back which started a rythemical intense spasm every 60 seconds). My backup plan was a car a driver to get us back to Rome.
The next morning I was still really bad but S and C appeared with a heating pad, a cane and appples (I had not been eating). Between them and Steve we got me into a cab (horrible - all the cabs in Naples are falling apart and have no suspension and the roads have many potholes), to the train station and onto the train. I stood for about half the ride. We got to Rome. C said "aren't you happy to be in Rome". "Yes" I said, but I whispered to Stephanie, "but I wish I were in Santa Fe."
We took at taxi to our lovely apartment, Steve went out for groceries and some deli food and we commenced the real resting to get my back better.
So now it is Tuesday. We have been in Italy for a week. I am walking, but with a cane. The pain is subsiding. I feel like the vacation is just starting.
Pauline's New Year's Resolutions:
1. Lose that 20 pounds that I gained in the mid-90s during our Seattle disaster.
2. Stretching exercises EVERY DAY!!
3. No more 16 hour days at the computer - speaking of which, I have been sitting too long and must sign off. But I am so happy that I am able to sit and use the computer and walk and put on my socks myself!!
I guess I will write about Cane Travel later - but just let me say - having a cane in Rome is excellent!!