04 June 2008

Napoli, Amalfi, Pompeii...

Last week I visited lots of places ending with the letter a, and this week it's i. Monday, I woke up unreasonably early to go to the train station, where I embarked on a cramped, though pleasant, eight hour train journey. Surprisingly, there was a direct train from little Chiavari to big Napoli! Naples is in the south, on the Western side of the boot... about at ankle height. I came here knowing very little about the city except that Anjou (the empire that Angers was the heart of) took it over for a while and that it's close to Pompeii-- I'd wanted to visit Pompeii since I was very little! Two good reasons to decided to visit a city, I suppose... an obscure historical fact and proximity to another city.

Honestly, Naples isn't the most beautiful of cities... most people go through it rather than to it. It has a lot of monstrous cement buildings, and most could use a coat of paint. It has a gigantic port, and ports aren't too pretty. There has been a big influx of immigrants, and there's a more obvious level of poverty than in a lot of other cities. But, there are several palaces and castles, a big historic district, a beautiful view of the sea and surrounding volcanoes and mountains, and the food is great. Neapolitans seem to be very welcoming, and there's a lot of fascinating history in the area.

Monday night I was lucky to meet Julia, who is a Canadian with a fascinating job and travel history... she's lived and traveled all over the world, but this is her first trip to Europe. Since both of us are traveling alone, we decided to join forces for the next two days to visit the Amalfi coast and Pompeii. Which brings us to...

Tuesday morning we left bright and early for the port, to get tickets for a ferry to Amalfi. I don't have sea legs (or a sea stomach) so this was an interesting voyage... not the most comfortable way to travel, but certainly beautiful! Rocky islands, sparkling sea, Mount Vesuvius... the views were great. We got to go out onto the back deck of the boat for a while, which was an experience. Incredibly windy, because of how fast the ferry moves, and very salty. Good thing I like salt, because if you spend time near the Mediterranean you taste it in the air and on your lips! Here's a picture of the boat's wake and the mountains:

And here are some more views from the boat:

One of my favorite insignificant things about Europe are the lizards! They're everywhere, although they're very quick and hard to spot. This guy paused long enough for me to get a picture. Lizards are so cute.

We took a bus up the mountain from Amalfi to Ravello, which is another cute town in the area. There is a bright white basilica in the square, which had a lot of these dragon-like creatures in its art... we saw them in several places in the area, but they remain a mystery.

We got pizza in Ravello, since it's close enough to Naples, which is the home of pizza. I got a pizza that had mushrooms, proscuitto, and artichokes. It was so delicious! Apparently, the region grows thornless artichokes, which sounds like a brilliant idea. After lunch, we wanted to hike back down to Amalfi, but it was so hard to find the beginning of the trail! We asked about six people for directions to the top of the trail indicated with the black line on our map, and everyone told us something different. Two people pointed out the top of the red trail, which isn't supposed to be as picturesque... but since we could tell that it existed, we took it. Still great views of the coastal villages, though!

Since Amalfi had a beach and it was hot, we took a few minutes to dip into the sea. It's unbelievably salty! Once you put your head under, you even seem to be breathing salt. But the water was beautifully cold, and once you cool down, the sun is a lot more bearable.
After our swim, we got gelato and tickets for the bus back to Sorrento, which is a beautiful drive all along the coast. It rivals Cinque Terre as the most beautiful place I've been. Such a peaceful place, with a mixture of natural beauty and man-made charm. From Sorrento a short train trip brought us back to Naples... a trip by ferry, bus, feet and train!

Wednesday I had another of those days where I got to visit something I had always dreamed of seeing, but never thought I would see: Pompeii. Pompeii is the most well-known of a handful of cities buried in the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the local volcano. It was buried in pumice stone and ash, trapping plenty of the 20,000 citizens inside the villas, marketplaces, and temples of the city for more than a millenium. Thanks to the ash, the city was still in remarkably good condition once it was discovered and excavated. There are intact frescoes and mosaics, statues, and trinkets that have been discovered, and walking around the gigantic ghost town is fascinating. After you've walked through a few houses, the atriums and gardens and frescoes become a bit of a blur, but the scale and grandeur is amazing. For a city that was destroyed, it's in great shape! Here's a picture of a typical block.

Most of the statues and art have been moved to the archeological museum in Naples, so there are lots of empty plinths. Every so often though, you see something charming:

Looks a lot like me :) Here's the big theater: there's a big one, a small one, and an amphitheater. The public areas in Pompeii are as interesting as the private houses.

But the villas are just as neat! Most have an atrium, which usually had a downward sloping ceiling with a hole in the middle, which filled the little pool with rainwater. Bedrooms and the kitchen would be off to the sides, and a large courtyard was past the atrium. The houses usually were flanked by two stores, which provided the family income and a "day job" for the slaves.

Many of the frescoes are in remarkably good condition:

Here's the forum. The temple of Jupiter was in the middle, which was the most important, if not the biggest, temple.

And here's the view from Pompeii. It's such a beautiful area, as long as nothing's erupting!

Back in Naples, we found some lunch (I got prosciutto and melon, which is a delicious, classic combination) and then went to the archaeological museum. A lot of the frescoes and mosaics at Pompeii are replicas, and the originals are preserved in the museum, along with lots of smaller things that were found on the site. Among these discoveries are a lot of graphic NC-17 type art, which is housed in the "Secret Room," apparently because it used to literally be secret, and you had to apply to the emperor owner if you wanted to see it. The art from Pompeii's brothels made it here, among other things.
This mosaic reminds me of the Nightmare Before Christmas sector of pop culture.

My favorite thing in the museum was a statue of a lion, whose face is just so cheerful looking. It looks like he's grinning, and I find it charming.

This is the museum's 1/100 scale model of Pompeii as it is now: it's accurate even down to tiny frescoes on the minuscule walls! This will perhaps give you an impression of the size of the place... we walked around for four hours, and didn't see all of the places of interest, let alone everything there is!

This fresco may look familiar... it's one of the most famous from Pompeii.

The building that houses the museum is quite impressive. The ceiling of this room is all painted, none of what looks to be sculpted actually is. It makes you do a double take, but then you realize the perspective is a bit off. From the exact center of the room, it looks most convincing.

This pig statue is really cool. I assume that the head and body must be hollow with all of the weight in the back legs, but unfortunately you're only allowed to examine with your eyes in museums.

And here are five (or seven?) statues.

Last week I was glad to have solitude and time/space to think, and this week I'm thrilled to be surrounded by lots of interesting people in the hostel. Traveling alone isn't bad, since you meet people to travel with, like Julia. Everyone's been to interesting places and has stories and recommendations to share, which is so much fun. Last night, an Australian couple who are retired and travel five months out of every year invited me to share their dinner (they'd made a massive pot of pasta and sauce and had more than they would eat) and we chatted for a long time. When I meet people my age, I get ideas for things to do, and when I meet people who have accomplished those things, I get ideas for the kind of person I want to grow into. Active, intelligent, and globe-trotting as much as possible! I have a good start, I think :)


Anonymous said...

What is the black line that bisects your photo of Pompeii? an electrical extension cord? a garden hose standing in for an aqueduct?

Kel said...

One of the above :) I believe it's an extension cord, although it could be some other sort of wiring.