Trip date: March 28 – 29, 2003
My exciting and fast paced weekend in Southern Italy began bright and early Friday morning when I boarded the bus to Pompeii. To those of you who are scratching your heads and trying to remember where you’ve heard of this little town with a significant history, allow me to bring you back to sixth grade Social Studies (that’s where I first heard of it, anyway.) Pompeii, located just south of Naples was founded over three thousand years ago, probably originally by the Greeks. It became a part of the Roman Empire a couple of centuries later, like most of the Mediterranean at that time. Very little is known about Pompeii until August 24, 79AD when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the entire town in over twenty feet of volcanic ash and debris. (Can you tell I paid amazing attention to Dr. Nicholson, our tour guide?)
Excavation of Pompeii began in the 17th and 18th centuries and what was found is really remarkable: the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater (the most famous of which is the Colosseum in Rome), several bath houses, a palestra (gymnasium) complete with a dug out swimming pool, a stage theater, a forum, a handful of temples, cobble stone streets with surviving indentations from Roman chariots, several estates of wealthy families, homes, apartments, bars, brothels and many other buildings with original frescoes. And these frescoes are so beautifully preserved with bright colors and lots of detail. Kristin #2 said that these frescoes are some of the oldest known depictions of detailed human figures and are very famous in the art world.
Perhaps the most incredible part about Pompeii are the bodies. When archaeologists were excavating the site they continually came across hollow parts in the volcanic debris and would find evidence of human bones inside of them. Eventually someone figured out that these hollow places were actually where the citizens of Pompeii died and the volcanic ash preserved the exact shape they were in when they perished. So they started to fill these hollow bits with plaster in order to create a mold of the victims. Behind glass cases, they now have these plaster people on display. Men, women and children, huddled together or trying to run to escape this horrific natural disaster. There were even some animal molds, a couple of dogs and a horse. Incredible and eerie, all at the same time. It was like a scene from a movie frozen for centuries.
After a fantastic walking tour with Dr. Nicholson (my art history teacher in Rome) we went to the Pompeii cafeteria for lunch. This is where Kristin #1 (Barcelona Kristin) and I discovered the biggest rip off in all of Italy. Actually, it may be the biggest rip off in all of Europe. Poor Kristin paid 21 Euro for the most disgusting lunch – cold lasagna and watery mozzarella. As she poked at her food and we laughed at how completely inedible it was we looked around the cafeteria at similar reactions at the various tables. The tourist traps will get you every time, but I guess that’s the same everywhere.
We had some free time after lunch to explore the town and can you guess what all of the mature, intelligent and worldly college students wanted to see? The brothels, complete with pornographic frescoes on the wall and stone beds built into each little room. My goodness, those Pompeians were scandalous!
While the rest of the students boarded the bus late in the afternoon to go back to Rome the afore mentioned Kristin’s and I grabbed our bags and walked up what felt like Mount Vesuvius to catch the train to Sorrento. Less than an hour later we arrived int he adorable little seaport town of Sorrento and found our even more adorable family owned hotel. After freshening up and chatting with our hostess we took her advice and set out on some very dark, foggy and narrow roads on foot toward dinner. The death defying commute to and from the little pizzeria was well worth the amazing food we had there and the reasonable price more than made up for our lunch debacle. Tonino, the owner, even brought us free antipasti and a bottle of wine and chatted with us for a while. I love dining Italian style! Staying at the restaurant for hours, sipping wine, chatting and laughing – what a lovely time!
We got up bright and early on Saturday morning and enjoyed a complimentary breakfast provided by Claudia and the rest of our hotel family. Claudia then gave us directions to the docks and hugs goodbye. On the way, Kristin #2 who had been doing research on the area, informed us that the huge split in the earth along the road was the result of an earthquake. Earthquakes and volcanoes, it’s amazing anyone is still alive in that part of the world!
Eventually we found the right docks and boarded the ferry bound for Capri. Excuse me, I mean cApri. For a moment I had a flash back to Spring Break in that we were the only people there under the age of 70! Tourist season has officially started up in Italy and for someone who has been here since January, it’s a big change! The island was a huge tourist trap but, I’m not going to lie, I loved it! We walked around the harbor for a little while before finding someone to take us to see the grotto azzurra. The three of us piled into a tiny rowboat along with our guide and made our way into a cave. I guess the phenomenon is that the sand is so white and the water is so blue that when the sun shines in the water looks like it is glowing neon blue. It was beautiful. Though the experience was a little bizarre because each rowboat captain felt the need to add a soundtrack to the experience resulting in a dozen or so male voices echoing around the cave as the boats float about, above the blue.
Once we made it back on dry land we boarded a bus to the actual town of Capri, up on a hill. Capri town is so quaint and we met so many lovely people. There was also some sort of parade going on while we were there but we weren’t quite able to figure out what the occasion was. Every direction offered a view more beautiful than the last and getting lost on the little streets without a map was just an excuse to make more discoveries.
I don’t know if it was the excitement of Capri or that a cute guy in my Art History class mentioned that I have the perfect nose for it, but suddenly I found myself waiting in line at a piercing parlor. Capri apparently has everything. Kristin’s #1 and #2 had popped into a store to do a bit of shopping and when they came out and found me in line they completely freaked out. I really wanted to get my nose pierced* but they physically dragged me away from the parlor. Kristin #1 kept telling me that my parents would absolutely kill me and Kristin #2 kept saying that it was trendy now but would soon be trashy. I still wish I’d done it.
Late that afternoon we said one last goodbye to Capri and boarded a ferry to Naples and had about 13 minutes to make it on the next train to Rome. It was pretty hectic and I still don’t know how we managed to do it, but we jumped on as it was leaving the station. Five busses, three trains and two ferry rides and one metro trip in 48 hours and we finally found ourselves back at the Romecenter. We ate a pathetic late dinner of pretzels, yogurt and cookies, watched a movie and crashed.
*Not getting my nose pierced on the Island of Capri is probably my #1 travel regret, even almost a decade later… Sigh.