Monday, November 27
Today we would be going to Pompeii. I had arranged for a driver and a van through Scala Reale for $60 per person. Yes, I know you can go on the train for cheaper, but I had my reasons for doing it this way: 1) convenience; 2) we were on a tight time schedule and I didn't want something like a train strike from stopping us; 3) cheaper than a "tour" bus.
Our driver arrived at the hotel a few minutes after 8 a.m. Monday morning. The skies were a brilliant blue and it promised to be a great day. We slowly made our way out of Rome - the traffic coming into the city was bumper to bumper.
The road we traveled on (at times over 100 mph) was a very modern highway. We were travelling in a very nice van with two seats in the front, three bucket seats in the middle, and two bucket seats in the back. Our driver was named Max, a young twenty-something. Going and returning Max stopped at a truck stop so we could get snacks, walk around, and use the toilets. He even purchased a bag of candy for us to snack on. Max knew the way to a good tip is through chocolate.
The drive to Pompeii gave us a chance to see some of the country outside of Rome - limited to what you could see from the highway. Most of the way seemed to be in a valley between two mountain ranges. Scattered on the sides of these hills were small villages.
Actually, our plan was to first go to the Archeological Museum in Naples. This museum contains many artifacts (especially frescos) from Pompeii. We saw very little of Naples but what we did see is not encouraging. It seems to be just an extremely large town with little character.
Max dropped us off right in front of the museum at 11 p.m. The museum is housed in a very large building. The entrance fee was about $8 and you could rent a cd-guide for an extra fee. We just used the RSB. It seemed that nearly half of the museum was closed for renovation. This proved Richard right when he said you could never tell what you would be able to see. Even with parts of the museum closed, it was definitely worth seeing.
The frescos are amazingly bright and detailed. It was interesting to note on a painting of a man riding a horse that the harnesses of two millennium ago are exactly the same as today. I also noticed that the Romans had mastered perspective and depth in painting, an art lost until the 14th century (if I remember my art appreciation correctly). My favorite item in the museum was a small metal statue of a leaping pig.
We finished the museum in an hour and were soon on the 30 minute journey across town to Pompeii. Looming over Pompeii and Naples is Mount Vesuvius. If the mountain blew today millions of people would die. With that lovely thought we had to decide where to eat lunch. Max suggested a restaurant just down the hill from the entrance to Pompeii. This sounded fine to us and we asked Max to join us.
The restaurant was large and nice, but empty. This mainly had to do with the fact that we were there during the off-season. I imagine during the summer that the place is packed. We let Max order and had a very interesting lunch. We started with a wide variety of dishes as starters. These included: bread, brushetta (tomato on bread), anchovies, octopus with tomato sauce and bread, crab, squid, shrimp, potato balls, seaweed balls, ham and mozzarella cheese. Our main course was spaghetti with sauce and parmesian cheese.
Now, I don't think any of us would have ordered some of these dishes, but it was an interesting cultural experience. This also turned out to be the most expensive meal on our trip costing about $22 each. As I had been wanting to go out somewhere and try a variety of "Italian" dishes this worked out well.
I mentioned to Max that this was the most expensive meal yet on the trip - and he was shocked. I believe he thought all "tourist" were rich and that most of the places the people he chauffeured wanted to go to were much more expensive. It was interesting talking with Max about the different customs between Italy and America. I did learn that you don't eat bread with pasta!
After lunch we went to Pompeii. We purchased our tickets - there is an ATM machine right beside the ticket booth. We also decided to hire a guide to show us around. I wanted a guide because we only had about 2.5 hours and I didn't want to get lost. Don't laugh, Pompeii is four square miles.
Our guide did a great job of showing us the most interesting areas of Pompeii. I would like to return one day and spend more time thoroughly exploring the site. I would also like to be able to go to the top of Vesuvius and see the crater.
What a great day to visit Pompeii. The temperature was in the mid-sixties and the sky was cloudless. There were very few people and many parts of the city we had to ourselves. We did pass, but didn't enter, a large snack shop / gift shop that has been built inside the city.
The city itself is incredible. The people in Pompeii had running water, flush toilets, sliding doors, one-way streets, fast food, and ways to heat and cool their houses. And while I had heard that the city was preserved - it is hard to believe just how well it is preserved. Probably the most famous, and deservedly so, part of Pompeii, are the people of Pompeii.
When the volcano erupted, ash covered the city to a depth of 30 feet. "No Lava in Pompeii, just ash" as our Guide told us 40 to 50 times. The people of Pompeii actually died of asphyxiation. The explosion sucked the oxygen out of the air. They were then buried so quickly that some were still in a sitting position when found. The ash hardened around their bodies. After their bodies decayed it left a cavity. As the site was excavated plaster would be poured into these cavities resulting in a perfect cast of the victims. Many of these cast reveal the people covering their eyes and mouth with their hands to protect themselves from the ash.
Our time in Pompeii went by quickly and the Sun was going down as we left. Outside the gates we stopped at a souvenir stand. I purchased a lava necklace for Beth, some postcards, and a "Then and Now" book of Pompeii.
Max was waiting for us in the van across the street. It was dark as we left Naples behind and headed back to Rome. I think everyone (except Max) fell asleep on the way back. We stopped once at the truck stop. We were back at the hotel a little after seven.
Alan and I wanted to do some shopping but I first had to go to the ATM. Afterwards, we stopped at a hat store. Alan and I each purchased a hat. I also bought a hat for a friend back home. As we were entering the hotel Pat came out and ask me to go shopping with her. There are many stores around the square and just a few doors down from the hotel we found a large department store. Pat purchased a little girls outfit for Sheila's collection. I bought a small stuffed moose to give to a friend at work.
Back at the hotel I spent some time packing my bags. I put all of my clothes in a large bag and used my carry-on to hold all the gifts I had purchased. This was the most I have ever purchased on any trip.
Later, we walked down to the small pizza place at the end of the block and purchased dinner. We carried the food back to the hotel to eat. Afterwards, Sallie, Margaret, Jody, and I played Spades for a couple of hours before going to bed.