I have no religion, but that does not mean I don't have very strong values and beliefs. In fact, my values and beliefs are just as solid, just as strong, and, at times, just as dogmatic, as those of any fundamentalist: at the sight of what I consider sins, I cry, I feel outrage, and I feel like my guts are being wrenched out. And I open this travelogue to say that there is no way a fundamentalist Christian feels more outrage at a porn shop or gay marriage, and no way that a fundamentalist Muslim feels more outrage at uncovered women and cartoons of Mohammed, than I did in Italy, over the horrendous treatment of dogs there.
I cried as I wrote this originally in my room, just a rock throw from the ruins of Pompeii. I trembled and had to put down my pen to recover enough to continue writing -- and my writing was barely legible. I struggled not to make noises as I sobbed, not wanting others in the house to hear me.
I judge entire cultures, as well as individuals, based on how they treat dogs. Yes, I judge. I'm not saying that I write off a person who doesn't have a dog (or a cat for that matter), or who doesn't want to be around such like I do, but I cannot respect a person who is cruel or neglectful of animals, or just has no reaction whatsoever to any of them at all.
Dogs were created because of humans. Prehistoric canine figured out that prehistoric human was a messy eater and left food behind, and prehistoric humans fed the prehistoric canines they found to exhibit what they considered desireable traits. And so dogs and humans evolved together, with dogs shedding many of their wolf instincts, and thereby becoming completely reliant on humans for survival. The caring and well-being dogs is the responsibility of humankind, a legacy left to us by our ancestors.
In Pompeii and other cities surrounding Naples, I've seen more stray dogs than I have seen in my whole life -- and coming from Kentucky, that's saying something. Some suffer from painful skin conditions, many obviously have some other chronic illness, and many are in agony as they walk, per injuries from being hit by a car or scooter. They hunger and thirst and suffer in silence. And so many so obviously once had a home, and were turned out when they got too big, shed too much, became inconvenient, or weren't cute enough anymore. And, yes, I've seen similar conditions in the Middle East, but while it broke my heart there, I did not experience the incredible outrage in those countries that I did in Italy. Why? Because Italy isn't some poor, developing country -- it's a primary member of the European Union, and its people have enough money to have designer hair, designer glasses, designer shoes, cell phones, MP3 players, cars (often the very best) and scooters. Italy has all the power and resources it needs to be humane to dogs (and cats, for that matter). But it willfully chooses to ignore its obligation. It flaunts its responsibility. And, therefore, it's not worthy of my respect.
Don't tell me, "Oh, that's just how people are there, that's how they were raised." I heard that all my life in defense of racists in Kentucky and the rest of the South -- even of slavery back in the 1880s. Well, I was raised in Kentucky, and I still was able to realize that racism was evil, and that slavery was a crime against humanity, period. Just because a horrific practice has historical roots does not somehow make it okay.
The night I wrote this, I was followed by a sweet, gentle mutt as I walked down a narrow road filled with speeding drivers, a road that runs alongside the ruins of Pompeii. There was no side walk. I kept asking the dog to walk behind me. Sometimes he did. Sometimes, he walked out into the road, with cars barely dodging him. At last, I got him to go down a pedestrian walkway, away from me. I fought back tears and went to a restaurant, Il Greco, to eat on the patio. Another dog, a small, equally-gentle black and white dog -- a dog that should have been chasing frisbees, not begging for food -- walked around the table slowing, not meeting my eye, sniffing the ground. I filled the clean, empty ashtray with water and placed it on the ground. The dog drank as though it was his first drink in days. I kept filling the ashtray again and again. He finished at last and looked at me, and in those eyes I saw such weariness and gratitude. I began dropping food from my plate -- those of you who know me know that I never feed my dogs from the table, not ever. But I couldn't turn away. I couldn't pretend he wasn't there. He waited patiently for each drop, never demanding or anxious. Just grateful. And each time I looked into his eyes, I saw a light of possibilities, of a personality waiting to be set free from constant vigilance and quest for simple survival. I went inside to pay, and heard a waiter yell at the dog. The dog whimpered and cried out -- the waiter must have thrown something. I threw down my money and stormed out, fighting back tears, finally giving up when I had crossed the busy street. I cried all the way back to the bed and breakfast, all during while I wrote this originally, and now, again, as I type it into my computer.
For those of you who call yourself Christians in Italy -- this is for you:
'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink'...Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?...'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'Shame on Italy. Shame, shame on you. I can never respect you until you wake up and change this horrific behavior, until you spay and neuter your dogs and keep your dogs FOR LIFE, until you give them safe spaces to run and play and live, and until you create humane, nurturing shelters for dogs, getting them off the street, and working to get them into loving homes. Germany does it -- why not you? You have NO excuse not to. And if you think I sound harsh and mean, I'm not being nearly so harsh and mean as the way you treat your dogs.
Matthew 25:35, 37, 40
And, Kentucky, don't think you are so humane either and that I don't want to let you have it as well over this issue.
I promised that little black dog that I would open this travelogue in this way, in case it would change the mind of even just one person in Italy and help make a better life for even just one dog.
I just wish I could have brought that little dog home with me.
Ente Nazionale Protezione Animali helps stray cats in Italy (catching and spaying and neutering them), but I haven't been able to find an organization that helps dogs there.
So, yes, I went on vacation to Italy, for the first time, at long last. I always thought I would go to Rome first once I finally went to Italy, but when Stefan announced his Adriatic Sea motorbike trip to visit 11 countries and mentioned he'd try to tour Pompeii during the trek, I suggested that I fly down to meet him and tour with him. Luckily, a German budget airline, Hapag-Lloyd, flies from Köln/Bonn Airport to Naples, so I got a good deal for the trip.
I had really liked the Rough Guide for Egypt and for Dublin, using them for trips a few years back, and I decided to try it again, for Italy, instead of Lonely Planet. It was a mistake. Rough Guide is now focused on a slightly different audience -- and that audience isn't me. It has a lot of information about sites to visit, and some good background information, but not the specific information that I often needed, particularly regarding the best way, or the specifics, to get from point A to point B, or advice like, "If you have only half a day, do this for sure." It's lack of helpful information about Capri (see later in this essay) was the last straw for me. The lack of accommodation information was my first indication that I was in trouble, as I looked for a place to stay in and around Naples weeks before the trip (I ended up using the Internet instead). I guess I'm now a complete Lonely Planet convert. I know it's not the guidebook for everyone, but it's most definitely the one for me. I'm not saying the Rough Guide travel books are awful -- not at all. They just aren't for me anymore.
Stefan left our home on a Sunday, heading South on his motorcycle, and I flew down to Naples on a Thursday. I got to the Köln/Bonn airport from Sinzig on the cab-train-express combo no problem, and survived the usual utter chaos of the budget airline check-in and boarding. I was carrying my motorcycle helmet with me, and checked a huge suitcase, because I had to take my motorcycle jacket, hiking boots, and a few things for Stefan so he wouldn't have to wear his bike gear while we toured. I arrived at the Naples airport and my first reaction was, am I still in Western Europe? Ofcourse, this was also my reaction at the Paris airport... I got one of the six women at the information desk to pay attention to me (the other five were busy talking amongst themselves) and she told me where the bus to the main train station was. As the bus headed away from the airport (check out the old prison right next to the airport if you ever go -- at least I hope it's old and no longer used...), all I could think of was Cairo. Naples just like chaotic Cairo: the architecture, the crazy driving, the way young men looked, the trash, the grime, the crowds of people... it wasn't what I was expecting at all. We arrived at the Piazza Garibaldi, and as I weaved through traffic and walked along the long line of taxis, it felt even more like Cairo.
Once in the train station, it was easy to find the ticket office for the Circumvesuviana, a special train that runs round the Bay of Naples, circling Vesuvius. But what wasn't easy was finding the train itself. I almost went the wrong way, but a kindly Italian train station worker getting off shift directed me the right way. It was a long walk to get to the right place, and ofcourse, all of the escalators and mobile walkways were broken -- ALL of them, and it looked as though they had been broken for quite a while. I found the right train, no problem, and ended up standing with a foursome from New Zealand. We had a great chat all the way to my stop in Pompeii. It turned out they were on two different backpacking trips -- the two couples hadn't known each other until shortly before I met them all. They were heading to Sorrento, at the end of the line, to find a hotel.
Seeing the volcano at long last was jaw-dropping. Vesuvius. Out of stories and movies and now right in front of me. My eyes must have been the size of half dollar coins. The surrounding landscape just kept me thinking of Egypt -- the houses, while better kept, are of similar architecture. Ofcourse, the abounding vegetation is a huge contrast. I arrived at the Pompeii Villa dei Misteri stop, exchanged best wishes with the New Zealanders, left the train, put on my rain jacket, and followed the directions up the narrow, crazy-busy street, also called the Villa dei Misteri (because it runs along the outer wall of the ruins of Pompeii and ends just a few yards away from the Villa itself), turning onto another narrow crazy-busy street to get to the Bed & Breakfast Pompeii, which is in a lovely large Italian villa surrounded by fruit trees. I had drug my huge suitcase, carrying my helmet, much longer than I had intended (why I didn't take a cab, I don't know). I pushed the button, the gate opened, and an older Italian gentleman greeted me, with a dog barking badly behind him. And then I got my surprise -- Stefan had arrived a day early and was already there! The weather had been awful for him since he left, and he wasn't enjoying riding through Italy at all, so he had decided to jump on the highway and get to me quicker. I was so happy!
By the time we reached the room, I knew that, once again, our accommodation karma had held out. I had debated and searched for weeks before on where to stay. I'm not sure why, but something told me NOT to stay in Naples. And there was one part of the description of Sorrento in the Rough Guide that made me think it might not be the place for us. The guidebook listed no places to stay in Pompeii, but mentioned that such did exist, so I used the net. Trip Advisor is proving to be a great site for us to research accommodations all over the world (I've been typing in recommendations as well as reading them), and using the site, I had found another place under "Pompeii accommodations" that looked good, but in clicking around on the Net and using Google to find more info, I found the Bed & Breakfast Pompeii instead. It was one of three candidate places I had e-mailed, and the only one that wrote back. We had the place to ourselves the first night, and then just two other couples later. And we also got the best room -- we had a balcony, and our room just felt a bit "lighter" than the others (ofcourse I peeked into any of the other rooms that I could, while they were being cleaned). We almost stayed at the Hotel Forum, as it seems to be the most reviewed on the Net, but I'm glad we didn't -- it's in a rotten location in terms of the Circumvesuviana station, and the entrance is surrounded by souvenir stands, although it's in a much better location in terms of food access than the Bed & Breakfast Pompeii.
After eating a huge meal at a restaurant downtown, we stood on the balcony, me enjoying the kittens playing next door and us both taking in the lovely scenery. Yahoo Weather had said it wasn't going to rain anymore, and it looked like, for once, they were going to be right. But we crashed early, before the sun set -- I could not keep my eyes open, and I was so exhausted that, at midnight, when there were fireworks exploding immediately over our villa (only night that happened), I couldn't even get out of bed to go look at them (I only know what time it was because Stefan looked at his watch -- I couldn't even find the strength to look at my own).
The next day, we had a wonderful breakfast of Nutella-filled croissants, donuts, bread, all sorts of spreads, fabulous coffee (and I don't even really like coffee), and a large, cold bottle of water -- something I then looked forward to every morning we were there. We took the bottle of water and the leftover bread and croissants for our lunch later, adding in the homemade brownies I'd brought from Germany. Then we walked the way I came, to the Porta Marina entrance of the ruins of Pompeii, almost directly across from the Circumvesuviana station. There were tourists everywhere, but I could tell we were beating the real crowds by getting there before 10. And who was standing right in front of me at the audio guide booth? The New Zealanders! We made plans to meet for lunch, and then all set off at our own pace within the ruins.
There are two-hour, four-hour and six-hour self-guided tours of the ruins, with each longer tour incorporating the shorter one and adding more. We did our own NINE HOUR tour. See, that's one of the reasons we never take any of the guides out front offering their services -- they would just be really frustrated by us. We loved the audio guides (we ran the batteries down, in fact). And we were staggered by the size of Pompeii. It's beyond massive, and was such an unbelievably sophisticated place. There are more wall paintings and mosaics than I was expecting -- but, then again, we saw a lot more of everything than most people who visit the site. I was disappointed at the beginning to hear a wonderful description of erotic frescos in the public baths that at the time of the recordings were open to the public, but now, you just get to hear about them. Why do they think I came for this visit?!?!? We toured towards the two theaters, and were heading slowing up a street to meet the New Zealanders for lunch when we met them on their way towards us -- our original meeting point had no trees and no where to sit and picnic. So we stopped and got water from one of the ancient still-working fountains and then gathered behind one of the theaters to eat. At one point, I said to the women, "I don't mean to be catty... but have you had a look at some of the shoes women are wearing?" And then we proceeded to be completely catty about what we had seen -- and what we were seeing passing by. I just couldn't believe it how many women wore skimpy high heels! They looked like they were going out clubbing -- and there's no way they were comfortable walking on those thick, hard slabs that make up the old Roman roads, or the pebbles and rocks that make up most floors now. They looked ridiculous. Meeeeooooooow.
I was very sorry not to have had even MORE time, and more strength, to see more things, and to listen to the audio play excerpts while sitting in either of the theaters. My other favorite parts of Pompeii: the main commercial street, the Via dell'Abbondanza (you could really see and feel how it was once upon a time); the arena (what they did with animals depresses me, but it's such a massive, wonderful structure); the House of Octavia Quartio (my dream villa; I loved the wall paintings in particular), the Garden of the Fugitives (the plaster casts of the people in dieing made me cry, and I thought the surrounding grape vines were very fitting), the Stabian baths (saunas in Germany still pretty much follow this model), the House of Faun (my other dream villa), and, ofcourse, the Villa dei Misteri (absolutely my dream villa). We saw the Villa di Misteri last, and my entire body was in pain, but I was determined to go. It was outstanding -- the dining room with the paintings in their bright red outlines -- stunning. Stefan was able to explain to me what various structural designs were for (mostly because he just figured them out on his own -- smarty), and I explained the myth behind a lot of the paintings (because I was obsessed with Greek, Roman and Arthurian legends when I was a pre-teen, and still remember a lot of them); we have fun impressing each other. And we so want our own Pompeii-style villa (but with electricity and running water, please). I also kept doing quotes from Life of Brian, one of our favorite movies, and always fitting for tours of ancient Roman sites.
Jerash, in Jordan, so deserves similar treatment. It deserves much more excavation, much better protection from the modern surroundings, and much more celebration.
And, yes, there were dogs everywhere. Completely tame. Some receiving much-deserved belly rubs from tourists. One playing fetch with a school boy on a group tour. All suffering from neglect, and lack of food and water.
If you go, here's some advice that really should have been in the guidebook: bathrooms can only be found at the entrances. And if you hit them at the same time as a school group, you are in trouble. Plus, this means you have to watch your step in some of the lesser-traveled ruined villas and shops.
And I have to compliment the tour guides I was overhearing -- they were all sooo knowledgeable. And the New Zealanders said they overhead an American teacher asking her students about what they were seeing, and they were listing all sorts of details and dates -- I'd like to know what school they were from because, in the USA, you're lucky to find school students who can find Italy on a map, let alone to know so much about Pompeii.
My big learning on the visit was just how much the Greeks influenced this area. This learning was reinforced almost every day, at every place we visited -- many sites were much more Greek than Roman. We stopped at the gift shop on the way out and Stefan found a great little book on both Pompeii and Herculaneum, which has plastic covers that go over pictures of sites, to give you an idea of how they looked in the day, something I had really been wondering about. It also has a DVD in the back that we haven't checked out yet.
As we left the site, we headed down the street, hoping to find food. Seeing most of the restaurants closed, we allowed ourselves to be "fished", sat into a big outdoor restaurant and given two options to eat -- pizza Napoli or pizza Margharita. We ate, drank beer, and then bought a bottle of wine to take back to our room. It was still light outside, but we really needed time to talk and reflect on what we had seen.
Before we left the restaurant, I noticed a woman walking along the street that lead to the high way. She was, to me, obviously a hooker. And I'd seen a couple of women earlier that I also just had this feeling were hookers (no makeup or high heels, no made up hair -- I just had a sensation when I passed them). Little did I know what I would discover later...
The next day, we went by motorbike to Vesuvius, after a quick stop at a nearby grocery to supplement the leftovers from breakfast we brought for lunch. The ride up the volcano was STUNNING. I almost cried -- I was on Vesuvius!! The winding road takes you through massive lava flows from 1944, and past numerous closed tourist sites -- is Vesuvius not as popular as it once was? On the way up, we also passed through a modern art exhibit: each hairpin turn had a big, sometimes huge, modern art sculpture. Now, I'm not so into modern art, but this -- it just worked on every level. We loved them. My favorite was a giant head, and under the nose, a real dog was sleeping (it provided perfect shade), creating a kind of moustache. I would have taken a picture, but I'm sure that by the time we stopped the bike and got the camera out and what not, the dog would have moved. We got near the top, and were directed to park near the restaurant in the parking lot. We seemed to have arrived just as the big tour groups were leaving on their buses for lunch.
Rough Guide Italy said the steep walk from the parking lot to the crater takes just 30 minutes, but it's at least 45. It's a huge drop off to your right as you go up on the wide trail, but there's a rickety wooden fence that, while it wouldn't hold much, did give me some visual security. I was so happy that I'd worn my hiking boots, which provided more sure footing and better arch support than my nearly-wornout Tevas from the previous day. Once we finally reached the crater, I was stunned at how much steam is pouring out of various points. There are some large obvious points, but if you stared long enough at just about any section of the deep, massive crater, particularly along the sheer walls, you could see steam floating up. The view, even on the hazy day, was spectacular, and the sun was behind a cloud for most of the way up. I kept thinking about having read Journey to the Center of the Earth just a couple of years ago, and joked with Stefan that, based on the book, he could have gone to Iceland again and then met me here in Italy via Vesuvius. It's so amazing that he's been to both volcanos (although he didn't get nearly as close to the one in Iceland).
We couldn't see Pompeii from the summit, unfortunately, because the crater trail stops before you get to that side. We sat with others on large concrete slaps at the top -- I have no idea how they got there, or why they are there -- eating our lunch and fighting with various very unusual volcano bugs. As we finished, I heard a rumble. I stared at Stefan, my eyes wide. "What was that?" I asked in my scared voice. "A rock slide in the crater" he replied. We both looked to see it, but we were on the wrong side to see. Vesuvius is overdue for an eruption by about 20 years... I checked the USGS EarthQuake Map when I returned to see if there had been a measurable earthquake in the area, but there wasn't -- it had just been enough to cause the rock slide in the crater, although we had only heard the result (I didn't feel anything). Still, at the time, I was way nervous. We even saw a tiny, tiny, tiny rock slide on our way down (I thought Stefan had caused it some how, actually, to freak me out).
We got back to the parking lot, and tried to get information on how to get down to the ruins of Herculaneum. No one was exactly sure -- they implied that we just needed to go down and towards the ocean. So, that's what we did, stopping to look at a massive lava tube opening on the way down. And to our surprise, there was a little sign to Herculaneum, then another, then another -- always a little sign somewhere, all the way down to the ruins. And as luck would have it, we found a staffed city parking lot right next to a police station, and parked the motorcycle right next to a window filled with uniform policemen. As a result, we felt like there was a very good chance the bike, nor our jackets and helmet that we locked to the bike, would be stolen, and we were right. Not sure that would have been the case anywhere else in town.
The ruins of Herculaneum are much smaller than Pompeii. The former was a seaside residential and resort town, while the latter was a major commercial site. There's a road next to the Villa di Misteri, which is outside the city walls of Pompeii, that is thought to have gone all the way to Herculaneum once upon a time. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was entombed for posterity by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Because it was closer to the volcano, it was buried even deeper (under 20 metres of volcanic rock) -- and preserved even better. The eruption changed the coastline as well (Herculaneum used to be more or less on the waterfront). According to an article I found online, the discovery at Herculaneum of "a sprawling Roman villa with an incomparable library of 2,000-year-old papyrus scrolls -- have led some scholars to conclude that Herculaneum could be classical archeology's Holy Grail, the subterranean home to lost masterpieces by the likes of Euripides or Aristotle."
Herculaneum is also having quite a bit of its buildings restored, which in some ways, is really nice -- you can get a much better idea of what things looked like back in the day. But in other ways, it's a little much -- it's hard to tell what's restored and what's original ruin. The ruins are also incredibly pristine -- so pristine that it almost looks like DisneyWorld Presents Herculaneum. It's a great half-day visit and definitely worth your time. And hats off to David Packard, whose family helped to found the Hewlett-Packard computer company; a former classics scholar, he runs the Packard Humanities Institute, which supports archeological work in Bosnia, Albania and other countries, and is funding some of the excavation and preservation work at Herculaneum.
As for the surrounding modern town -- it's rather awful, and kinda trashy. It felt like there was some anger running through the town, especially among the young people -- I felt out-of-place and even a bit scared. Within a three-block radius of the site, there was ONE restaurant, and it looked like a total tourist rip off. We walked down the street towards the train station, thinking there would be plenty of places to eat on the way -- we finally gave up and went back to the bike and headed back to Pompeii. If you go, you'll be fine by taking the train, but be prepared for a long walk down to the ruins, and definitely don't stay too late.
All of the stereotypes I've heard of Italy were proving to be true, for good and bad: lovely architecture and scenery, all littered with garbage; great food, but only if you can find it, and if you do, expect to wait a long while for it, as the waiter or waitress will get to you when he or she feels like it; public bathrooms have upgraded from holes in the floor, but there's no toilet seats, and they are still pretty dirty; and people drove like maniacs: guys drove on mopeds directly into oncoming traffic, and dared drivers to hit them, and every car seemed to be covered in nicks, dents and scratches. Outside of the B & B and historic sites, I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a developing country, somewhere between Amman and Cairo. It was really jolting for me -- I just wasn't expecting it, not in Western Europe.
We road back to Pompeii and stopped at a restaurant called El Greco -- for pizza, ofcourse. As usual, it was a real struggle to find an open restaurant for supper. That was true in Spain as well, actually. Service was incredibly slow, and at one point, the employees started bringing in tall stacks of boxes. Stefan joked, "Look, here comes their frozen pizza." He was kidding when he said it. But then we saw the picture on the front of one of the boxes, and the words "Pizza Margharita." Indeed, it was stacks and stacks of frozen pizza. We couldn't believe they were walking them right in the front door, instead of sneaking them through the back. Back at the B & B, we finished off our wine from the previous night and spread out all our various maps, trying to find out how to get to Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground), a tour Stefan had seen a report about on TV. After about 30 minutes, we found the Piazza San Gaetano on the map at last, and figured out it was near the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. So we decided we'd try to make the noon tour the next day, and then spend the rest of the day at the museum, where the majority of mosaics and paintings from Pompeii and Herculaneum are now housed.
One of the nice things about this trip was that we didn't have to get up at dawn and be out the door by 8 to get to what we wanted to see. We were able to sleep "late", have a leisurely breakfast at 8:30, and then get to wherever we were going whenever we got there. After breakfast on that Sunday, we wandered over to the Circumvesuviana station and headed into Naples. We switched over to the Metro with relative ease, and headed to the Piazza Carvour and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, then walked down to find Piazza San Gaetano and Napoli Sotterranea. THIS was the part of Naples I liked -- the old part of town, bristling with little shops and restaurants, windy and tiny cobblestone streets... in some ways, it reminded me of Toledo (except for... well, the trash). I was loving this part of town very much, particularly walking down the Via Dei Tribunali. Stefan navigated, and after just a few minutes, there we were, at the entrance to Napoli Sotterranea. Forty meters below historic Naples is an amazing, HUGE labyrinth of ancient aqueducts, built originally by the Greeks, later improved by the Romans. For the tour, parts have been lovingly restored to show you how the aqueducts were used not only in ancient times, but also in WWII. And nearby, you also get to go underground and see parts of an ancient theater where Nero performed, and that has been completely covered by the modern cities of Naples. It's an unusual, wonderful little tour, and our tour guide rocked -- she did the tour in English, but chatted away with me in Spanish, and with another person in Italian. She had as much fun as we did. There were six of us on our tour, but there were a few other tour groups going on as well, divided by language. One thing -- the web site advised to bring a sweater, because of the cold and damp. We were never cold, and carried our long-sleeve shirts rather than wearing them over our t-shirts.
Afterwards, we got fished again into a nearby restaurant and I had the best gnocchi I've had in my life. It turned out to be a great restaurant, in fact, and I'm sorry I didn't write the name down. Then we walked back up the Via S. Maria Di Constantinopoli to the Archeological Museum. It's in a wonderful old building, but I have to say I was let down, for several reasons: Firstly, because they were out of maps of the museum, and out of English and German "quick guide" books, so we had to buy some other book -- not very good -- just to know somewhat where to go. Secondly, because two MAJOR permanent exhibits were closed: the room of paintings from Pompeii, and the prehistoric and protohistoric collections, together which made up half the reasons we were visiting the museum at all. Thirdly, because a large part of the sculpture hall was closed by the time we got there, for a concert. What I resented was that we weren't told when we went in that these major exhibits were closed, and got no discount because more than a quarter of the museum was inaccessible. If you go, definitely ask if any exhibits are closed.
The mosaics were nice, and I appreciated them much more having been to Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Cabinet of Secrets was as interesting as you would think a room filled with ancient erotic imagery would be, but the best part was this message board out front, in Italian and English, that is part of a special children's tour of the museum. It answers the question, "Why can't I go into the Cabinet of Secrets", but in a way that totally slams the fact that this exhibit is segregated, given what kids see on MTV and in fashion magazines. The scale model of Pompeii from the 1800s was also a major highlight -- we walked around it twice, I think, taking several minutes trying to find various points we'd been to and marveling at the representating of paintings on the tiny walls. And what's stunning is that so much has been excavated from the site since this model was made.
We finished up at the museum and walked back to the Piazza Diante, finding the only restaurant that was open on the square. The food was okay -- our lunch had been so outstanding that it kind of ruined any meal we might have later. Stefan got to check his email while there, and retrieve some information he needed for later in his trip. Then we walked back to the metro station, and then to the train station to catch the Circumvesuviana back to Pompeii. We had a full-fledged moment of panic when Stefan misread the schedule and said we'd missed the last train, but all was okay. We got back to the B & B after 10, the latest we'd ever been back to the room, and practically collapsed into bed.
The next day, we took lots of time to eat, and for Stefan to pack and think about how he would go to the port of Bari on the other side of the country. He packed up and left around the 11, and I headed downtown to find a bank -- I needed money. First, I stopped at the Pompeii entrance for a quick pee (I'm the queen of finding public bathrooms) and then bought a lemonade to drink on the very, very long walk downtown. The bank had the strictest security I have ever seen in my life: I had to step into a bullet proof chamber, which closed me up, and then rejected me -- the young woman wanting to come in behind me said I would have to leave my bag in one of the barely-lockable cabinets just outside before I would be allowed in. I finally got in and got some money, then took the long, long walk back to the Circumvesuviana. What I wanted to do was go to the Museo Nazionale di Cpodimonte, which is supposed to have an outstanding painting collection, but it was Monday, so it was closed. What I should have done was go towards Napoli and taken the Torre Annunziata stop and walked to the Villa Oplontis, one of the best preserved Roman villas anywhere (they think it belonged to Poppaea, the second wife of Nero). But instead, I decided to go to Sorrento, the last stop on the Circumvesuviana, since it seemed to be where everyone who visited Napoli was staying. While standing in the station, I noticed a sign announcing a train strike on May 19 -- very glad to have missed that. And there's also a sign telling travelers they must "obliterate" their ticket before boarding the train -- they meant "cancel." I also had to almost knock a Japanese tourist down to prevent her from knocking me away from getting on the train -- they are some aggressive tourists when it comes to getting on a train.
Sorrento is a city sitting very high on sheer cliffs overlooking the sea. I guess it's what most people want Italy to look like, but I didn't like it. It's pretty, but it's also completely over-run with tourists. I stopped at a little deli and got a very tasty sandwich, then sat on some stone steps overlooking the sea, wondering what to do next. Then I took a winding road down to the shoreline, and decided I'd check out the famous (infamous) island of Capri. I got the last state-run ferry that would allow me to return, and the ride was pleasant -- there weren't even 50 people on board. It was nice to see the famous Italian coast and all of the very rich estates and villages along the way. I went outside as we approached Capri, and it was, indeed, lovely. There were lots of people diving, and the water had a color and a clarity I've never seen in my life. But all in all, Capri, for me, was a bust. I'm glad I went, because now I know I do NOT ever want to go to Cannes or Monaco. Unless you dive (I don't), book a boat tour around the island weeks in advance (they were all booked when I got there), like to shop at designer stores, or have the money to pay for an open-air taxi to drive you around the island, Capri is not the place for you. Plus, I found the number of tourists overwhelming -- and supposedly, it's twice as bad in July and August. I just can't imagine. I took the funicular up to Capri town, and my highlight, other than the ride, was getting lost as I walked and ending up on one of the unbelievably narrow residential streets, getting peeks into tiny courtyards and finding out where the local dentist lives. I did not, however, see anyone wearing, nor selling, Capri pants. I spent my time waiting for the ferry back at the rocky coast, dipping my feet into the Mediterranean a few times, making notes, reading my guidebook, and just thinking. I could see Vesuvius sometimes in the hazy distance, and the clouds above it made it look like smoke coming out of the volcano. The ferry ride back was also nice, but absolutely packed -- I was very glad I'd bought my ticket in advance, and that I'd rushed on and got a window seat.
Then it was the long walk back up the winding road to the top of the cliff, and more walking to the Circumvesuviana station. I was going to eat in Sorrento before I went back to Pompeii, but the restaurants were slammed with tourists, and none looked appealing. The train pulled out of the station about five minutes after I sat down -- lucky me. I got back to Pompeii and decided to head back to the El Greco, figuring it would be open. And as I walked, I saw what I knew to be a couple more hookers. After dinner (which I've already written about above), I walked back to the hotel, and had two different guys stop and say something to me. I kept walking as fast as I could. I wasn't really scared -- I was too upset about the dog to be scared, and plus, I've vowed to kill anyone who ever tries to mess with me while walking down a strange street. And I'm not kidding. The next day, the manager of the B & B told me that, indeed, Pompeii is renowned in Italy as a place to pick up hookers after the ruins close. So, if you go, and have to walk alone on the street any time after 7 in the evening, take care...
Just a few pictures are posted on my Yahoo group.
In summary -- the greater Naples area of Italy was one of the most visually-stunning places I've ever been to. I can close my eyes and still see the villas, the clothes hanging out to dry, the fruit trees everywhere, the volcano, the ruins, the sea... and there is a ton to do -- I'd need another two days to do all that I would have liked to have done. But, given the negatives of the area, I feel sorry for anyone from the USA who makes it their first European trip, or their only one, as it's not really representative of Western Europe. And it was obvious to me that the package tours keep you completely away from most locals, and I always think that's such a shame, no matter what country you are in.
I just can't stop thinking about the dogs...
And now... my legs and feet are still killing me, even three days after returning from the trip. My knees, my legs, the bottom of my feet -- they hurt so much. I overdid it, most definitely. Next time, I take my new Tevas with the better arch support, I take more times to rest, and I pay Stefan to give me a massage.
What I was reading on this trip: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, and lots of brochures.Return to the broads abroad home page
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