Sunday, November 9, 2014

The bucket list and other tales.

This may or may not be my last post regarding our trip to to Europe.
I suppose it depends on whether or not you would like me to keep prattling on so please let me know if you would like me to continue.
All suggestions will be gratefully received regardless of the outcome!

Our final bucket list completion was to visit a place I learned about in primary school.
Now, some of you may recall if you are as old as me (the original Methuselah) and will have in your memory banks, pictures of deceased humans and puppy dogs who suffered horrible deaths some 2000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano close to the village of Naples , from your Victorian Education Reader Grade 4 or 5.
The village was Pompeii and this eruption occurred approximately 79 years AD and destroyed a whole village, not with lava flow or fire, but with volcanic ash which suffocated the inhabitants of this once thriving village.
Please forgive my lack of knowledge regarding accurate dates etc. but the village was covered and left to solidify for many hundreds of years as there was neither the interest or the expertise to uncover it until approx 1599 when it was initially rediscovered. There was further archaelogical diggings there from 1748 and in recent years the village has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site with nowadays approximately 2.5 million visitors each year.
I suppose people knew it was there as a whole life form once existed where there was now solid mass, but, life goes on in other villages and there was living to be done. Consequently the reality became rumour for sometime until someone decided to dig and uncover what was left of this once thriving village with its amphitheatre, gymnasium and port.

So, getting back to the here and now, Murray and I decided on our second last full day in Rome to take a bus trip to Pompeii to check out what was once and what is current.
We had to get up bright and early and be ready for our pick up at 6:30 in the morning as the collector was coming by the hotel around 7. So, like good children we were ready and waiting for him.
We hopped on a mini van and I was pleasantly surprised for there were only 5 other people on board. My initial thought was what a great trip this will be...quiet, collective and a focused tour guide.
Alas, my expectations were somewhat thwarted when we pulled up at the tour company depot and had to hop onto a large bus which already had approximately 30 other people already waiting for us.
Down to the back of the bus for us...well half way down the bus at least, we went and waited for one other deposit of tourists and off we travelled for a three hour bus ride to encompass the city of Naples, a 'cameo factory' ( warning warning), lunch in Pompei, then our walking tour of the original Pompeii.
Now just to confuse you, there is Pompeii, the ancient city, and there is Pompei, the current town, adjacent to one another. These are differentiated by the spelling... two i's as opposed to one I!!!
So, on we went with my other half having a quiet snooze within half an hour of being on the bus. We stopped somewhere for a quick coffee and toilet stop as you do in rural Italy and back in the bus till we got to Naples. Naples is a pretty complex city....amazing views from afar which stretch from one side to the other of my photographic capabilities and down by the stormy seas it was quite pretty, but the town itself was dirty with litter and graffiti everywhere. Although there is plenty of graffiti whenever you go in Italy and France, I had not seen the volume of litter and accumulated rubbish I saw lying about in parks and streets of Naples anywhere else.
The place had the feeling of being very unkempt and neglected which is kind of sad as Naples is supposedly a wonderful holiday destination in summer with large marinas and is a port for major cruising holiday vessels. We drove past slums...tent like buildings with people appearing to live in them and not far from their residence what looked to be a rubbish tip with people searching through for whatever they could find.
Fortunately our stay there was short and merely a drive through with our now acquired local guide giving us a quick lowdown on Naples with the great Mount Vesuvius in the background.
We drove up part of the way to Pompeii then, only to stop on the side of the mountain at yet another village which specialises in cameos and such matters.
Now, some of you may know me as being a very impulsive buyer and fortunately I have a level headed husband who is my rock and my sensibility. 
I have been known, when in other countries, to be easily pressured into purchasing items in factories we are encouraged to doonas and their covers in China, pearl earrings in Vietnam to cite just a couple of examples.
You may be pleased to read my friends that this factory visit was no different to previous expeditions as I walked out of there with an exquisite hand carved cameo brooch which can be worn as a necklace featuring the three sisters...'Faith, Hope and Charity'- guaranteed hand carved and gold background carved from blue shell.
Some things are just unchangeable!
Anyways, onwards and upwards we go after this pit stop for another half hour to the quaint now inland village of Pompei (one i) for this is the current village and we disembark from our bust for lunch.
I had thought in my cynical brain that this lunch would probably be one slice of pizza ma'am and that's all but as usual I was incorrect in my assumption and  lunch was a delightful combination of:
Appetizer: a slice of Margherita pizza (tick),
Entree: a plate of two types of pasta, hand made fettuccine and macaroni with bolognese sauce (another tick)
Main: either chicken or veal roasted with sautéed potatoes and spinach (tick number three)
Dessert: fruit salad (fourth tick in a row).
What a pleasant delight this was turning out to be, with the best yet to come.

Pompei City, compared to Naples was clean and tidy. There was a sign in the centre of the town requesting silence as this was a quiet zone with cathedral and square and that people needed to pray.
I might add though as we were returning to our bus, a young woman with baby in tow was begging as was a little child of about 8 so perhaps all is not quite as it seems in this town of contrasts.

So, getting back to why we were here...

The bus took us some half a kilometre back to the entrance to the old city of Pompeii, and before you could say "tickets please", I was there.
It was a real Ripleys Believe It Or Not sensation having wanted to be there for so many years. A bit like walking out onto my first street in Gay Paree not so long ago.... Unbelievable!
So, we walked, and walked and walked for the next two and a half hours, up streets, into houses, into market squares along rutted cobblestone pathways, into bath areas, hot and cold. We entered into Pompeii's version of the colosseum and their amphitheatre.
It was an amazing place, so meticulously restored and well worth the visit. All of this and more with the evil Mt. Vesuvius in the background, just biding it's time and waiting.
There were tourists every which way whilst we were there. Occasionally our local tour guide could shake them off and it was just we 40 odd from the bus but everyone is entitled to see what we saw, so you just have to wear it don't you?
There were friezes on some of the walls that had been meticulously restored, beautiful art work of early roman times. There is, as presumed, an apothecary shop which dealt with penile infections. On a large stone out the front of the shop a penis and testicles are engraved so locals knew what it was for.

We walked through what was known to be a brothel, so indicated because of the karma sutra type pictures on the walls inside that were preserved.
We walked through a wealthy persons abode, with their house fully equipped with hot and cold baths, not to mention their summer and winter gardens.
It was an incredible place and when quiet all you could hear were chirping birds who don't have to pay an entry fee.
We wandered throughout the once thriving village with our tour-guide mostly on our own. Occasionally we would pick up a stranger or two who were reminded we were on a 'private' tour and they were quickly discouraged from continuing with us.
There were market places and meeting places, shopping areas and even a doctor's clinic.
You could almost sense the presence of people here in a former life and I now wonder if perhaps they too wondered about future generations that might visit after their existence on the planet had ceased.

There were families enjoying the sights, mostly Italian speaking. How fascinating to be able to visit such a place for a day trip.
We were very fortunate to have our guide who ensured we all stayed together and every so often as we were walking up a hill or down a hill, he would say..."Slowly, slowly", to ensure nobody fell or got left behind.
I have to admit too, that given my recent ability to connect with cobblestones and pavements, my husband was very protective of me also. I had no desire to further my falling ability in such a place either, so, between all three of us, I made sure I remained unscathed during this little adventure.
Our two and a half hour walking tour all ended too soon and before we knew it, we had returned to the start of the walk, looking out towards the Port of Naples with the beautiful blue sea in the distance.
By the time the tour of Pompeii ended, it seemed most in the group were somewhat tired.
We had a brief rest back at the depot with a toilet stop and a quick drink before boarding our bus again to begin the three and a half hour journey back home to Rome.
Most on the bus dozed off from time to time on the return journey. It was very quiet with the occasional sound of gentle snoring heard above the drone of the bus engine and soft murmuring from the odd person thinking over the day's events.
I watched the sun set over the Isle of Capri as we returned through Naples and it was well and truly past dusk by the time we entered the outer walls of Rome.
Our trip to Pompeii and her surrounds was soon over.
It was a day of lessons, magical sights and one of fulfilment.
Another 'never to be forgotten' day, one of many we have been fortunate enough to experience on this our trip to Europe.
Our return to Rome was relatively uneventful and so dinner was at yet another close by restaurant, adjacent to our hotel. There are so many to choose from in this area we are staying. 
All sell similar foods, but each has their own special touch and flavour we have realised. Bruschetta is different in each restaurant. Some have the crusty ciabatta bread with seasoned tomatoes only. Some have the bread, tomatoes and cheese. Some add onion and garlic to the mix. It just depends on your preferences and your tastes as to what you have. Pizzas are the same here, with different toppings yet similar toppings if that makes sense. Often the difference is merely the seasonings and the cheese and it can make such a profound difference to the flavour as a whole. I have found, the simpler the pizza, the better it is and must apply this theory when I return home.
Even the Gelaterias are different in taste and quality. In the short time we have been in Rome, I have developed a distinct preference for Pistachio gelato, whereas once it used to be lemon and orange.
It now has to be pistachio and a vanilla type flavour, all rather delicious, all rather fattening and all too tempting to deny.
There will be time enough on our return home to return back to a more strict regime of foods, so, whilst there is walking and tasting and savouring to be done, one must enjoy what there is on offer.

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