Friday, November 5, 2010

Napoli, Ercolano, Vesuvius, Pompeii

My second day in Italy was Connie’s first, so I had to wake up and find my way back to the airport from Ostia Antica.  I had a cab called for me, and made it to the airport with enough time to grab a cappuccino and croissant before Connie made it through passport control and got her bags.  The Rome airport is not actually in Rome, but about 30 minutes outside of the city, so we had to take a train to the main Rome train station, and then take another train down to Naples for the beginning of our journey.  Once in Naples, we had to take the Metro another stop to get to Giovanni’s Home, the first hostel we were staying in.  This is the part of the journey where we met the other American girls.  Once we made it to Giovanni’s, he had us all sit down and gave us a run-through of the city and the things we should see and do while in Naples.  The hostel was really just your typical European hostel, but Giovanni really made it something special.  He was such a character, and he had such passion for his hometown.  His information session and map drawing really helped us a lot during our stay too, because we had so much we wanted to do and not very much time to do it in.
After talking with Giovanni and putting our bags down, we headed straight back out for the Napoli Sotterranea, a tour of the Naples “underworld.”  Giovanni recommended it, so all 7 of us took his recommendation and went on the tour.  The tour is literally, underground, and takes you through underground quarries from the Roman period, a Greco-Roman theater, cisterns, aqueducts, and caves that were used as bomb shelters during World War II.  The underground theater was actually built inside of and on top of when the Naples population was booming and there was a law that prohibited building outside the city walls.  Part of the theater was later discovered as someone’s apartment storage, so the tour takes you through the old apartment and down the cellar where it was first discovered.  The cisterns were massive, and we were able to see the cuts in the rock where the “little monk” would put his feet to clean debris out of the water with his nets.  Once the cisterns were abandoned, Naples started depositing garbage in the underground caves, and then at the start of World War II, they covered the garbage with rock, and used the area as bomb shelters.  There was one well that didn’t get covered when turning the cisterns into shelters, and that was because the well was located inside a church.  The Italians didn’t think that churches would get bombed, so they didn’t cover the well.  One day the church got bombed, and everyone inside the shelters died.

The underground tour was interesting and cool to see, but for all the history and culture in Naples, I wish we would have saved our time and money and seen something else.  If you’re ever in Naples, I would skip the underground tour and spend your time eating lots and lots of pizza instead.

Which is precisely what we did next.  The best pizza place in the world is just a block or 2 away from where the underground tour started, so we headed over to Gino Sorbillos for some grub.  Being Americans and having travelled all day, we were ready for dinner by 7 pm, which is just when the restaurants are opening for dinner.  By the time we left, the entire upstairs and downstairs was packed with locals and tourists alike, and there was a crowd of people waiting outside.  You know it’s a good restaurant in Italy when there’s a crowd waiting to eat.

There are lots of factors that play into a good Italian pizza/calzone, but a thin, doughy crust, fresh cheese and produce, not a lot of added spices to the tomato sauce, and not tons and tons of cheese are a few of the obvious differences.

Our second day in Naples we took Giovanni’s advice and made a triangle of the 3 historic sites that the Naples area is most famous for.  Giovanni said that if we started in Ercolano, then went to Mt. Vesuvius, and then on to Pompeii, we’d be able to fit all 3 sites in in one day, BUT, if we switched the order, we would only get through 2 of the 3 sites.  He said it doesn’t work the other way around, and we had to take either the 8:08 of the 8:15 train in order to fit them all in.  So we took his advice and jumped on the train to Ercolano, aka, Herculaneum.  When Mt. Vesuvius erupted, the wind blew the ashes and heat in the direction of Pompeii, killing and perfectly preserving the entire town.  Ashes mixed with water in the air, and, as the saying goes, “what goes up must come down,” all of this mud landed on Herculaneum, preserving it in much the way Pompeii is.  The mud was so thick and heavy that it killed everything in the city, but it also caked itself to organic materials, then dried and preserved them as well.  You can find preserved wooded doors and clothing in Herculaneum, which you won’t even find in Pompeii.  Pompeii gets such a high volume of visitors that the area and city of Naples is trying to get tourists to visit the much more well preserved Ercolano in order to limit the impact on Pompeii.  We talked to a girl in our room the day before, and she suggested we save our money on the ticket, and just walk around the outskirts of the city instead, which is free.  We took her advice, took some pictures, and then paid for the bus ride up to Mount Vesuvius.

If you’ve never ridden in a vehicle in Italy, driven by an Italian, you must.  It’s a ‘hold onto the handlebars and pray for your life’ type of experience, and the bus ride up the side of the mountain proved no different.  The bus wasn’t your full-sized tour bus, but a smaller, more compact bus that seated about 12 people.  The twists and turns up the side of the mountain were sickening, and the view from the window to a 500 meter drop down was enough to make your stomach flip; passing people on the 1 1/2 lane road was just sheer insanity.  Don’t believe me?  See for yourself.  I took this picture out the window when we were passing/trying to pass someone on the road up the mountain, and then there’s another picture of the gridlock once we got to the parking lot.  Needless to say, we were glad to be off the bus and on solid ground for a bit. 

Just take a minute to really look at the cars and the directions they're facing.  And remember that I took these pictures out of the front window of our van.

Mount Vesuvius was absolutely beautiful, and a serious workout as well.  We had to hike the rest of the way up, and our legs were hurting before we were even halfway there.  Once we got to the top, the views of the coastline and the volcano were equally breathtaking, and we wished we had more time to take in the sites.  Our bus driver gave us an allotted time to meet back for the ride down, and once we hiked up the side, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore.  Either way, it was very beautiful, and super cool to see inside my first volcano.  After pictures and sightseeing, we met up with our driver and clan, and headed down the mountain, which seemed to be 3 times as bad as the drive up the mountain.  I have never gotten car-sick in my life, and I was feeling a bit queasy towards the end of the ride.  Poor Connie got off the bus looking paler than a ghost, and immediately had to sit on the sidewalk.  She drank some water and was able to get going after about 5 minutes, but she said she was feeling it for at least an hour afterwards.

From Ercolano we took the train to Pompeii, which was the whole point in even going to Naples when we were initlally planning our trip.  Pompeii was so beautiful and unique, and truly one of the most unusual and rare places in the world.  I will try to post the Pompeii trip adventures and pictures tomorrow.

Top 5 moments of the day:

-Seeing Sergio again in Venice
-Playing Rummy at the train station in the sun
-Running full speed with our 30 pound backpacks from one side of the train station, down 2 flights of stairs, all the way to the other side of the station and back up 2 flights of stairs only to have the train doors LITERALLY slam in our faces.  1 second to late...what can you do but laugh?
-Hearing Connie recite the memorized, yes, memorized JFK inaugural address speech, complete with JFK voice and inflections.
-Walking through the Piazza San Marco in the evening again.

1 comment:

  1. cisterns would be alittle scary for me, being girls are so adventerous! love the pictures, seeing your faces having fun -- yummy looking pizza! enjoy ;-) be safe.