OR… L’inizio della storia d’amore con l’Italia!
Not only have I been to Italy numerous times – it has become my “go-to” place when I need a guaranteed great experience. In fact, as you may know if you are a steady reader of my blog – I will be returning to the country, albeit a new locale – the Northern Lake Region in September for hiking, sightseeing, drinking and spa activities (not bad, huh)?
But you might ask, how did the stars align so that I could fall head over heels in love with this magical country? It all began many many years ago. In anticipation of the major event of my daughter turning 16, we discussed celebration options: 1) my daughter could have the traditional Sweet Sixteen Party at a local party venue or 2) take a trip (with me of course) anywhere in the world. My daughter is extremely smart and chose number two.
Since my daughter was born in the summer and also taking into account school vacation, August was our month of departure. We decided to take a cruise that would take us to various European ports of call including Genoa, Naples, Capri, Tunis, Mallorca, Barcelona, Marseilles, Pompeii and Rome. Note: although this sounds a bit like “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” kind of itinerary, it was actually nicely paced and we had plenty of time in each port of call. In fact, in Tunis I recall thinking we were there WAY TOO LONG (one day). Perhaps in another post I will write about why this city was the only place I have ever visited in which I felt so uncomfortable and unsafe that I couldn’t leave fast enough.
The cruise line was Costa Romantica and soon we discovered that we were in the minority – there were only a handful of Americans on board with the majority being Italian – so announcements etc were spoken in Italian first. Fortunately we almost immediately made the acquaintance of a young couple – wife American, husband Italian so translations, when needed were readily available. Still it made for a bit more exciting trip – particularly when we were held at port in Sicily, as the polizia searched the boat for some local mafioso on the lam. The only issue we had was the fact that everyone except us seemed to be majorly addicted to smoking and so everywhere – restaurants, elevators, pool area stank of tobacco. We ended up taking the stairs up and down the decks to avoid the close quarters of the elevators – my calves were in magnificent shape by the end of our trip!
The voyage went “swimmingly” except for some rough weather that prevented us from visiting Marseille (and the Chateau d’If where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned) . Every port of call was amazing – I may have to revisit this trip in another post to talk about the caves of Mallorca, the beauty of Capri and the overall wonderfulness of Barcelona. But for now let’s explore the two places that caught my imagination and heart. First up: Pompeii
Pompeii – A few years after having been damaged by a violent earthquake, this ancient city was completely buried under a layer of lava and ashes during the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D. – fortunately when we arrived, the mountain was peaceful:
Excavations and restorations, which began in the 18th century and continue today have uncovered a city and its citizens frozen in time – one could almost hear the clatter of a Roman chariot coming across the stone streets with grooves hewn by the chariots’ wheels:
Only in Egypt have I experienced this otherworldly feeling of being transported back into another time where I could actually sense – hearing, smelling etc – activities that took place eons ago. More on that Egyptian experience in another post.
Or here I could hear the merchants offering up their hot tasties from “thermopoliums” (snack bars) built in front of their homes – only the most wealthy could afford to do this – oh my, times have changed:
Sadly there were tragic physical reminders of the many people who were caught unawares by the pyroclastic flows that raced down Mt Vesuvius at speeds up to 450 mph, instantly immolating the victims with gases as hot as 1850 degrees Farenheit. Bones that were discovered during excavations were preserved in plaster in the positions they were found:
After paying our respects to the those who died, we continued our journey through Pompeii’s streets.
Ancient sites such the Temple of Jupiter were striking. Built in the 2nd Century B.C, this was the main centre of religious life in Pompeii. Situated on the northern side of the Forum, it is dedicated to the highest divinity of ancient times and towers above a wide staircase with two large arches either side have remained virtually intact.
A small “street sign” pointing the way to a local establishment caused my daughter much consternation and embarrassment – especially when we arrived at the site and saw the frescoes in each room, each offering a different “delight.” This was “Lupinar” – the most famous brothel in the city. Lupinar is Latin for
“brother” (not touching that one – no pun intended). My daughter waited outside while I explored each room.
How could you not love a place that put it all out there?
Next up – the city that closed the deal: ROME!