To Pompeii and beyond

Let me start this post by saying that when I was 12 or so, I remember reading a National Geographic article about Pompeii and was horrified/amazed/astounded about the events of the morning of August 24th, 79 AD.   

As the information board told us….. “a sudden terror abruptly interrupted the daily routine of the inhabitants of Pompeii.  This was followed shortly afterwards by a tremendous blast signaling the beginning of a violent eruption with a column of debris rising over 20,000 meters into the sky.  Carried by the wind, this cloud of debris hailed down upon Pompeii, submerging the city in just a few hours in some three meters of material.  The roofs of many houses caved in under the weight, often crushing and killing those who had taken refuge within.  But the worst was yet to come.  At dawn of the following day, the first pyroclastic flow, composed of hot gas and fine ash hit Pompeii and sealed the fate of every person and animal it encountered.  The burning ash clogged the lungs and caused death by suffocation.  In the end, Pompeii was left buried under 5-6 meters of ash and debris in a desolate grey landscape whose only features were a few protruding walls.”

With this terror in mind, we did what any good tourist would do….. we climbed to the top of Mount Vesuvius, which is still an active volcano!!!! 

We took a train from the Naples station to Pompeii and then hopped onto a bus that took us up onto the side of the Volcano.  After that, we hiked up to the top and looked into the cause of the disaster.

On one side of the trail, we had wonderful views of Naples….._A060265

while on the other we had amazing images of the volcano cone….

_A060277 All along the way there were monitoring devices (aptly named a “blind crew”) and there are lots of scientists studying the area…..

_A060317 There was definite evidence that the volcano is still active as you could smell the acrid Sulfur odor and see the steam rising from some of the vents…..

_A060280 We met a wonderful couple from Hungary and walked a part of the trail with them.  Most walkers kept to the trails, however as usual, there was one errant soul……

_A060310 This was also a reminder that they dont have “personal injury lawyers” in Italy!!!!

The weather was wonderful, but a few clouds moved in as we were starting down the mountain.  It was fun to realize that you are up among the clouds…..

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While walking down, we could see one area where the lava would have flowed out of the crater and then we could find the lava field on the other side of the trail….

_A060318This lava flow would have been from the last eruption in 1944.  By the way, it erupts about every 50 years so they are waiting for it to blow again!!!

This walk was a wonderful start to our day…..

_A060267We took the bus back to Pompeii and entered the excavation site.  Here was our first view of this magnificent city…..

_A060335  We walked along the roads that were composed of HUGE blocks of rock.  Every so often there were three larger boulders in the middle of the road.  One of the tour guides commented that these were the equivalent of “speed bumps” for the chariots!!!

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As we were in this first piazza, it was ironic to look up and see Vesuvius just behind the ruins….

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We noticed that many of the houses had bricks that were made of lava…..
_A060380…one would think that it would have twigged that there was a volcano close by!!!  Having said that, they are even now building towns on the slopes of Vesuvius….even a new Pompeii. 

It was so interesting to walk along the streets and see the houses, shops and villas that were part of the city….

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_A060386 _A060374 _A060520_A060409 I was expecting the above sights, but was surprised to see some of the villas that had beautiful (but faded)frescoes on the walls……
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….Note….in tomorrow’s post I will show more artifacts that are housed in the Archaeological museum in Napes…..

I loved seeing these artifacts as well….

_A060455 I loved the shape of these urns….cant wait to put them into a quilt!!!!  With my quilter hat on, I also found various patterns that I loved…..

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_A060344 _A060364 _A060398  In these areas they stored some of the artifacts that were excavated from the site.  The “people” are actually plaster casts that were made from the impressions that were found in the ash…..ie, the person died, his body rotted leaving the impression….

_A060561 _A060555 _A060557 _A060560 All in all, it was a wonderful trip!!!!!

We returned to Naples and were picked up at 8pm by Salvatore and taken for dinner.  The restaurant that he chose was having a special night of Funghi (mushrooms) so we had numerous courses of nothing but mushrooms.  The first part was a raw mushroom with olive oil and salt.  Next came a plate with 5 different kinds of mushroom dishes, a spicy stuffed cap, a grilled cap, one wrapped with bacon, one deep fried and a square of a mushroom casserole.  That was the Starter Course!!!!

Next was a mushroom soup made with all different shapes and sizes of mushrooms, followed by a fresh pasta dish with a mushroom sauce….that was Primi Course.

Next was a roast beef with a mushroom and spinach sauce on it.

Finally, for sweets, we had a chocolate filled pastry that was SHAPED like a mushroom!!!!  The chocolate filling was also infused with Truffles.

There were two wonderful musicians trolling the room.  It was fun to watch how they”danced” with the waiters to get out of their way while still continuing to play.  When they found out we were from the US, they played “What A Wonderful World”, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a medley of other typical US tunes….

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We fell into bed tired, full and happy!!!!

Second verse…same as the first

As I write about Saturday and Sunday, you will note that they are almost identical days….Saturday was so wonderful that we decided to repeat it in its entirety on Sunday.

Both mornings started out with an excellent breakfast…”Mama” is in charge of this aspect of the hotel and she does a wonderful job…

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I am especially enjoying the huge Croissants that have a hint of lemon and are dusted with powdered sugar.  Also the fresh fruit each morning is spectacular!!!  Each day we have been entertained by their cat, Billba. 

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He stays outside but runs across the window ledge, digs in the plants and peers longingly in the window at the diners.    We feel sure that he has deemed himself the morning  entertainment!!!

Each morning, we put on our swimsuits, grabbed beach towels from the Hotel and descended 340 steps to the beach.  We paid “Fabio” (our name for him, but more about that later) 20 Euros to rent two beach chairs and an umbrella for the day and took our pick of the now empty chairs. 

I LOVE the beach chairs…..they have a cool ledge that you can put up over your face so that it is not in the sun.  It certainly makes reading easier!!!

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After we got good and hot, we would stumble over the stony beach and dive into the water and boy was it cold at first.  But once we would  get warmed up it was fun to enjoy the views of the city from the water.  I wish that I could get a camera out there to take photos, but that is not going to happen.

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After the first dip, it was a matter of dry off, heat up, take a dip and repeat!!!!

Now, about Fabio…..he is muscled, super tanned,  has sun streaked hair and he LOVES to wait on people, but only if you are an unaccompanied woman!!!  On the first day Michael asked him for an Espresso and he waved us off and said he was busy and it would have to wait for a while.  He never returned to us, but did serve the lady next to us 2 drinks and a pizza!!!!  We watched with amusement as he worked the crowd of single women.  Oh, and Michael NEVER got his coffee!!

This is the first time that I have been around a European beach and I am amazed at some of the sights.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, most of the women wear Bikinis, however today there were some that were only wearing HALF of a bikini.  I believe that one girl was happily showing off her new acquisitions…clearly they were not original equipment!!!!    There was also one girl who had on a string bikini but unfortunately you couldn’t see the strings for the fat rolls, and one gentleman whose Speedo was hidden by similar appendages!!  Michael and I both felt pretty good about how we looked!!!!

In the afternoon we took a stroll around the town.  As with Capri, it is mostly hotels, restaurants and shops to buy things to bring home with you!!!  I bought a cute shirt and we bought some wonderful pottery that is going to be shipped to our house.

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As we walked, we passed  two parking garages just down the road from us…I hadn’t really stopped to think where everybody staying here would park!!!

On Sunday there was a meeting of the “Positano 500”, a group of small Fiat’s.  There were some cool cars…..

_A030174 I had a moment’s consternation that they were actually going to race around the winding road, but apparently it is only a meeting to show off their cars.  As I write this I can hear them leaving the city, all tooting their little horns  and sounding as if they are having a wonderful time. 

We walked along the dock and saw this wonderful jelly fish floating in the water.  As we started taking photos a crowd gathered to view one of God’s truly amazing creatures…..

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On both days, we split a Panini from the local grocery store and enjoyed a bag of M&Ms too.  Now about M&M’s here….in the US, they are all pretty much the same size and the colors are vibrant primary colors.  In Italy, they are all different sizes and the colors are much more muted.  They taste the same, but look entirely different!!

On Saturday night we walked across the street and had an excellent dinner……._A040208 ….that consisted of a super thin grilled steak, fried potatoes, salad with oil and Balsamic vinegar, appetizer and dessert.  We started talking to our waiter and he gave us a free glass of Limon Cello to end our meal.  We enjoyed it so much that we went back again on Sunday and had basically the same meal again, but we split it so that we weren’t quite as full at the end of the day.

So, thus ends our time in Positano.    We loved our stay in Palazzo Talamo and would suggest it to anyone traveling to Positano…

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Tomorrow we travel to Naples to experience yet another wonderful part of Italy!!!

La Scala Insanity!!!!

The day started in the usual way with a wonderful breakfast.  This morning, she added a very tasty spinach pie that had a super flakey crust.  It was excellent!!

We had walked about 1/2 way down the stairs to the beach when I realized that I had on my flip-flops rather than my Chaco sandals so I had to run BACK UP the 150 stairs to change shoes.  But, in the long run, it was a good decision.

This morning we decided to take the ferry to the Isle of Capri.  By the way, it is pronounced CAP-ree and not Cap-REE.     Our original plan was to take a boat to see the Blue Grotto, but we realized that ALL of the tour boats and most of the people on our ferry were planning to do the same thing.  Since only a few people are allowed inside at one time, we decided that we didn’t want to spend our day waiting so we started reading the guidebook to find other things to do.

The ferry ride was great and we passed some beautiful sights.  This is the private island that was once owned by Nureyev……

_A010008 and I loved these outcroppings….._A010013 Our first views of Capri showed us an area similar to Positano, but not nearly as pretty…..

_A010016The town was completely full of tourists and I cant imagine what it would look like during the “high” tourist season.   We decided to get off of the beaten path and try to find a place with fewer people. 

We momentarily thought about renting a scooter, but decided that it was just a traumatic head injury waiting for a place to happen, so we looked elsewhere for out day’s fun.   We had read that there were a set of stairs that led from Capri to Anacapri, the other town on the island so we started looking for it.  We asked one of the scooter rental guys where the stairs (scala) were and he just shook his head and said “no….too far”.  Not to be deterred, we went looking and found the entrance and started upward.  There are 880 stairs to reach the top and we climbed every single one of them. 

The lower ones were well kept and obviously traveled a lot, but they got wilder and less  standardized as they progressed upward.  It was interesting to see houses built along these paths as well and are still amazed at what they would have to do to bring home groceries…..

We passed a much younger British couple who also had the idea of climbing and had a fun discussion about how everyone at the bottom tried to discourage us from this endeavor.

Here is a photo that shows the route that we took….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         When we looked at it from this angle, we were amazed to see exactly how far we had climbed.

Here are numerous photos showing the ascent…..I used the need to take photos as my reason to stop.  And really, it had NOTHING to do with the fact that my chest was heaving and my legs were cramping!!!!!

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We reached the town of Anacapri and found it to be pretty much more of the same as Capri….simply another tourist town with tons of shops and eating establishments. 

We went into one church that had this interesting Majorca tile floor….

_A010069 We decided that we had worked hard enough for one day so we caught a taxi back to the Marina Grande.  But, this was no ordinary taxi……it was a open air vehicle and we had an enjoyable trip to back down to the beach.

_A010076 However, it is always interesting when you meet a bus going the other direction…..

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After that, we pretty much just ate our way thru Capri, stopping first for pizza, then again for gelato and finally for coffee and tea.  While we were sipping our drinks we witnessed a “dust up” between two Italian drivers.  We are guessing that there had been some sort of collision, but we really just enjoyed watching them both gesture as they yelled…..

_A010091 We caught the 3:30 ferry back to Positano and enjoyed talking to two Australian women who were sitting next to us.

The bottom line is that I would not return to Capri…..it is just for tourists, but at least I can say that I have been there!!!

Oh, by the way, we have changed our itinerary so that we can stay an extra day here in Positano and will not move to Naples until Monday.  This was the original suggestion of Salvatore (Michael’s colleague in Naples), but today we saw the wisdom of the idea……why should you leave paradise before you absolutely have to!!!!

A Little Bit of Heaven

On Wednesday, we left Rome, lugging our 50 pound suitcases down the stairs (well actually Michael did the lugging), and up the street to the Metro station.  We decided that the Metro would be too busy at this time of morning so instead we grabbed a taxi to take us to the train station. 

As usual we were WAY early for our train so we found a couple of chairs to sit and wait.  Michael got up to get a cup of coffee and a little woman asked if she could sit in the seat while he was gone.  The other woman with her asked if I knew how to catch the trains and I started explaining it to her.  When Michael arrived he walked her over to the necessary spot and told her exactly what to do.  While they were gone, I started talking to the woman sitting with me.  She told me that she and her sister were from Brooklyn and that they had been in Rome for several days and were now traveling to spend time with distant relatives.  They were both a hoot and Michael and I are still laughing about some of their comments. 

They were talking about trying to sell the house that their parents had lived in and that they had included a “P.S” on one of the mass requests that the house sell quickly.  Our favorite comment was….and read this out loud in your best Brooklyn accent…..”straight from my lips to God’s ears”!!!!!   As we said goodbye and walked away from them I heard one say…(again with the accent)….”I cant believe all of the angels  that we meet while traveling”.  They were such fun and a great start to our journey!!!  . 

The train trip was uneventful and the 70 minutes passed quickly.  When trying to figure out how to get from the train station to Positano we had read about taking buses and ferries and both had nightmares about transferring our large suitcases between vehicles.  SO, we decided to splurge and hire a driver to take us from point to point.

Thus, our driver met us at the platform and, of course, his name was Giovani.  He was a typical Italian 20-something…..coiffed hair, shiny fabric grey suit, matching shoes, and lives with his parents!!!  It is very hard for kids this age to move away from home because it is so expensive to live here so many of them live with their parents until they get married.   Many also work in family businesses and it is fun to see parents and children working side by side. 

Giovani was from Sorrento and knew lots of information about the area.  As we drove, he would point out things that we should see.  We drove around several sides of Mt. Vesuvius and it was interesting to see that people are starting to build houses on the slopes again.  It erupted last in 1944 but is now considered dormant.

As we climbed into the mountains we passed many groves of Olive trees that were getting ready to be picked.  Large nets are stretched under the trees  and a machine is used to shake the olives out of the trees.  The nets were already in place to catch any olives that might fall due to wind.

The views all along the road were magnificent and we arrived in Positano in about 1-1/2 hours.

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Now let me talk about Positano……it is a small town that is built into the side of a mountain that runs right into the Mediterranean Sea.  There is one road that switch-backs thru the town with traffic only allowed to move in one direction….from top to bottom.   Fortunately, our hotel is directly on the road so we dont have to navigate a set of steps with our suitcases.  The hotel is the Palazzo Talamo and it is quaint, clean and absolutely wonderful!!!  The room is small, but opens onto a terrace that looks out over the water which is dotted with all varieties of boats.

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Since we hadn’t been sleeping all that well, my first act was to lay down on the bed for a two hour nap while Michael donned his bathing suit, ordered a bottle of wine and lounged on the terrace…..we each have our own way of relaxing.

That night we walked all the way across the street to a restaurant for dinner.  I had a Gnocchi dish that had sautéed zucchini

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…and Michael  had a fried fish platter that included Shrimp, Sardines, Calamari, Octopus and this unknown, but tasty morsel…..

_9299925  After dessert and coffee we carefully made our way across the street back to our room…..thus the end of our first day in Paradise.

Now, on to day 2…… after a wonderful sleep with the doors open to the Sea, we arose, showered and headed down to breakfast.  The hotel is run by a brother and sister and their mother, and Mama is in charge of breakfast.  She doesn’t speak a lot of English but her cooking (and her gracious smile) speaks volumes!!!!   Everything that we had was wonderful and the fresh fruit was amazing.

After breakfast we headed down to the beach for some time in the sun.   There are two ways to get to the beach….you can follow the switchbacks or you can trot down 342 stairs…..we chose the faster stairs.  They follow along narrow passages and are dotted with openings to hotels and residences.  I cant imagine living someplace where I had to climb 50+ stairs to get to the street!!!

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This is my favorite view along the way…..

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We arrived at the beach, rented our chairs and umbrella and set up camp for the morning.  The beach is made up of volcanic rock that has been smoothed by years of crashing waves so it is a dark grey color and is VERY hard to walk on.

_9309945 I did not ever get into the surf, but did put my toes in, however, Michael dipped in several times. 

I spent my time drawing and then painting this church….

_9309936  It was by no means a masterpiece, but at least I got to try something different!!!

We returned to the hotel about 1:00, climbing all 342 steps to the top and spent a few hours relaxing.  Dinner consisted of a magnificent Panini prepared at a local deli (it had two 1/4 inch slices of Mozzarella cheese, 2 slices of ham, 3 tomato slices, 4 or 5 basil leaves and a healthy drizzling of Olive Oil).  We then waddled back down the stairs to the beach for Gelato and to see the beach later in the day…..

_9309963Upon returning to the hotel we sat outside and had espresso and hot tea to end our day…..

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Final thoughts on Rome

As we head to our next destination, I have been thinking a bit about our time in Rome.  It is a beautiful city and I was always amazed to turn a corner and see some wonderful fountain, statue or ancient ruin!!

In my opinion, the city is overrun with tourists.  This belief is partly because our apartment was located smack dab in the middle of prime tourist ground, but I found it really hard to get to a place where there were no souvenir shops or people selling city tours in double deck open topped busses.

Our apartment was wonderfully located as it was walking distance to Trevi, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trajan’s Forum, the Coliseum and Roman Forum and countless museums and churches.  Basically, the only sight that we had to use a metro for was to visit the Vatican and St. Peters. 

However, this close proximity meant that everything was LOUD!!!!!   The apartment sat on a cobblestone street which magnifies every sound so that we could easily hear it in our third floor home.   AND, the city NEVER sleeps.  There were people walking and talking and motorcycles racing down the street until the late hours of the morning.  About the only quiet time was between 5 and 6am.  This meant that sleeping was a bit hard, but what the heck…we ARE in Rome!!!

We had the most fun with the bathroom in our apartment.  As I mentioned early on, the shower was TINY…..here is a picture of BIG David showing his entering technique (fully clothed of course)….

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….he said that he had to soap up first so he could slide in!!!!   However, he had the best description of it.  On one HOT, SWEATY day, he dubbed it “4 square feet of heaven”!!!

One of the funniest things about the bathroom was the door…in particular, the noise that it made when opening or closing.  Have a listen for yourself…..

We each had our own special technique….some moved it slowly, some fast, and Roy shushed it each time made a noise.  But the  bottom line was that everyone in the building knew when we went to the bathroom!!!!

We perfected the means of crossing the street.   When we were here in 1998, we dubbed it “the Roman stare” and it goes like this……step out into the street and glare at the driver until he stops for you to cross.    There were numerous cross walks, both at corners and in the middles of the  blocks, but the driver’s would not always stop.  I had one motorcycle driver glare at me as I crossed (in the crosswalk), and I just glared back….the eyes say it all.   Another one came racing up as I was already in the crosswalk.  I hesitated and he smiled and nodded for me to continue. 

The hawkers and sellers of “original” products are everywhere looking for an innocent buyer who will believe that this Gucci bag only costs 15 Euros!!  Most of the souvenirs were the same from shop to shop but prices would vary greatly depending on how close you were to a tourist site.

Driving is harrowing….the lanes are fairly fluid and people just fit in wherever they can.  When cars stop at a light, all of the scooters and motorcycles weave between the cars to the front of the line and rev up and take off when the light changes.  And, people park EVERYWHERE, sometimes on the sidewalk!!!  Also, I have never seen people so adept at parallel parking.  There were cars pulling into spots that were only 18 inches longer than their car!!!

There was one thing that I had planned to do in Rome that simply did not ever happen.  I had images in my head of sitting in an area and playing with sketching, painting etc.  The problem with that dream was that there were TOO many people around and not enough places to sit.  Also, once I had climbed the stairs back into the apartment, I really did not want to go out again!!   I am happy with the work that I did on the underwater piece, but am sorry that I didn’t get around to the other.

The bottom line here is that we had a WONDERFUL time in Rome and have truly enjoyed our Roman experience.  But, now it is time to move on to another form of paradise…..more to come!!!!