Wednesday, March 25, 2009


7:00PM March 21

Similar to my Rome voyage, I asked several people if they were interested in going to Napoli with me this weekend. Unlike last time though, I was not disappointed when nobody accepted, as it would give me a better opportunity to check out all of the sights I wanted to see. My sixth grade studies of ancient Rome sparked a particular interest of mine in Vesuvius and the ruins it left behind at Pompei and Herculaneum. In traveling to Italy, I made a visit to the Bay of Naples a top priority. Next weekend I'll be off to Paris, and Antonio has booked us performances for us every other weekend, so I knew this was my last opportunity to get down there.

I set my alarm for 6:20 in advance of my 7:45 train, but I did not hear it go off Friday morning, waking up, instead, at 7:55. Panicked, I scrambled to take a shower and get out the door, hoping TrenItalia would grant me a ticket for the next train an hour later. Fortunately, their policy is not to charge extra for switching trains, and the woman at the ticket office simply printed me out a new boarding pass.

I opted to take the Eurostar again, which takes a little over three hours to reach Naples, with a single stop in Rome. On the local trains, it would have taken well over six hours. By this time, I knew the Tuscan countryside quite well, but the second half of the journey, south of Rome through Lazio and Campania, was something new. I got on the east side of the train, giving me a great view of the southern snow-capped Apennines and the cute towns that lay below them.

As soon as I reached Naples I hopped aboard one of the local Circumvesuviana trains heading towards Sorrento. Thirty minutes later I got off in Pompei. It was quite a cold and dreary day, hovering the forties, briefly drizzling, and later snowing. The weather did not get in the way of my experience though, nor did my still slightly-pained Achilles, which I’d given a bit of a rest in the past week by taking the bus to and from school when possible. The ruins lived up to all of my expectations, giving me an overwhelming sense of happiness. Unlike most tourists, I declined to get the audioguide (a handheld recorded guide found at most museums and historic sites), as I find them annoying, getting in the way of the true experience of being there and appreciating the sights for what is left. As a consequence, I didn’t pick up lots of stories about the remains, but I found my own beauty in what I saw. It became almost a game for me, trying to discern the original intent of each structure, just as the archeologist do. With that in mind, I’d like to let my pictures do the rest of the talking about Pompei.

Overlooking the ruins and the modern towns beyond

A preserved tile floor

One of a few amphiteaters

The Anfiteatro, where the town's big events were held.

Vesuvius, hidden in the clouds.

A wonderful cloister with paintings still preserved on the surrounding wallsLooking down on the city from the north, just beyond the city wall, seen in the foreground.

With all of the green growing over the decaying stone ruins on a damp and cloudy day, I thought I must have been in Britain or Ireland.

An old snack bar

The gates at the northwest corner of the city

After watching so many Discovery Channel documentaries, I thought that Pompei was filled with these people covered in ash, but only two were on display. Of course, they were stored in glass cases, in a plaza that I nearly passed over.

A temple for Apollo

On the train back to Naples I met several other Americans heading back to the same hostel. There were two girls from UMass at the end of their spring break, which they’d spent in Germany briefly, as one of them was from German family, and then four days in Florence, and another two in Rome. They were concluding their trip in Naples, visiting the ruins, and then the island of Capri, which sits at the edge of the Bay of Naples. Another guy was from Windsor, Ontario, but he’d been working abroad before recently getting laid off, and he was trying to enjoy his next two weeks in Europe before heading back to America/Canada to figure out what to do. The other guy was from Allentown, Pennsylvania and in his fifth year at Drexel. He’d been working in Izmir, Turkey for the last few months, and he was making his way through Europe for another week or two before heading home. With the exception of the two girls, none of us knew each other before hand, but we hit it off really well and talked the whole way back to Naples.

Walking through Naples

The obelisk in front of the Montecitorio Palace

I decided to walk back to the hostel, getting a chance to discover the different neighborhoods of Napoli, while the other four took the subway. We met up at the hostel though, and we all went out to dinner together. This was great because my biggest problem with traveling alone is eating alone. The girls had a tour book full of recommendations for places off the beaten path, and we were clearly the only tourists at the local dive we went to. The place had a cheap three course fixed menu, which began with a spectacular antipasto. It included a piece each of prosciutto, salami, fresh mozzarella, fried mozzarella, a fried mashed potato concoction, and three great green olives. The whole dish was awesome, but the mozzarella really stood out. I’d say it was the best mozzarella I’ve ever had.

For our second course we had pasta in a tomato sauce. It was all right, but the pasta was pretty al dente, which is more traditional here, but I don’t enjoy it so much. While waiting for our third course, the servers brought out some tapas. We had two different types of cooked eggplant, mushrooms, a really great garlic spinach dish—which reminded me a lot of Chinese cuisine—and the best roasted peppers I’ve ever eaten. They were pretty sweet bell peppers complimented by some great spices, which I couldn’t particularly discern. Unfortunately, the third course was a disappointment. I ordered a roasted pork dish which was about half fat, and even the non-fatty portions tasted fatty. At a multi-course meal, it is great when each dish tops the one before it, but we got the best part of the dinner at the beginning. The antipasto was enough to make me love the meal though and it was great to have company at the table.

After dinner we went in search of good gelato, but by that time of the night, around 10:30, most of the quality places are closed, and we had to settle for a more touristy alternative. We then went back to the hostel, where I watched Ricky Gervais’ show “Extras,” with several of the other amiable people around before heading to bed.

Eating gelato with the girls, Stephanie and Michaela.

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