Walking Through History

Location: Naples, Italy

The body casts impressed me the most. Everyone knows the story of Pompeii: how Mt. Vesuvius erupted early one morning in 79 AD and buried the city under 20 feet of volcanic ash. Almost 20,000 people suffocated from volcanic gases, and many of the victims’ skeletons remained intact under all that ash. Archeologists have since added plaster to the bones to make casts of the people who died. We saw a dog, a young boy, a pregnant woman…all frozen in time. More than anything else about the site, the body casts made it all real.

Pompeii is larger than you might think. The site covers 125 acres, and although we walked around for two hours, we barely scratched the surface. We saw entire streets lined with the remains of old shops, including a bakery with its original oven. We saw the gladiator barracks, the forum and city hall, the law courts…and let us not forget the red-light district with its 25 brothels. The buildings in that area actually had carvings of penises on them to lead prospective patrons to the right place. Classy.

There are sites here in Naples I wouldn’t mind seeing, but I have vacation fatigue and all I really want to do this afternoon is relax by the pool. Tomorrow morning we dock back in Civitavecchia and are scheduled to fly out of the Rome airport just after lunch. I hear volcanic ash is causing problems in the Atlantic, but I’m crossing my fingers that our flight to Toronto won’t be affected. Wish us luck!

Under the Sicilian Sun

Location: Trapani, Italy

Rival groups have fought over control of Sicily for centuries, and I can see why. Aside from its strategic location in the centre of the Mediterranean, Sicily boasts some amazing natural beauty. Rolling hills and small mountains covered in lush greenery…vineyards everywhere…lemon, orange and olive trees dotting the landscape…medieval towns perched on mountain tops…this is the Sicily of everyone’s imagination. To see it spread before you defies description. Scenic drives normally leave me cold, but even I was captivated by the countryside here.

Our destination today was the Valley of the Temples, a collection of ancient Greek temples strung out on a ridge near Agrigento in southern Sicily. The Greeks founded Agrigento in the 6th century BC, long before the Romans ever came to the island. They then defeated an invading Carthaginian force in 586 BC and decided to build some temples in celebration. Not all have survived, of course; many were plundered for their building material or destroyed by new groups who conquered the area. But some, particularly the Temple of Concord, are very well preserved, largely because they were converted to Christian churches when the Byzantines arrived in the 5th century AD. We walked through the area (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) admiring the remains of four major temples, the ancient city walls that once surrounded Agrigento, and a necropolis that once contained the tombs of local citizens. I’m not much for scenery, but looking at 3,000-year-old rocks is my idea of a good day. Awesome.

The four of us have agreed that we’d like to see the eastern Mediterranean sometime, but we also agreed that we’re glad we’re not doing it all in one trip. This cruise has been great, but we’re getting to the point of being ready to go home. After days of eating too much, drinking too much and sitting on our asses too much, we’ll be lucky to fit into the airplane seats. I’m exhausted from all this leisure.

Naples tomorrow!

Ciao, Everybody!

Location: Florence, Italy

Medical science would have us believe that no one ever dies of jet lag. I think it just might be possible. I thought I had it beat cause I had a great day yesterday, and I fell asleep promptly at 10 p.m., and I slept great…for 45 minutes. Then I stayed awake until almost 4 a.m. Naturally I fell into a stupor shortly before it was time to get up so we could catch our bus to Florence. At least we had (free!) room service for breakfast.

It’s been interesting to break free from tour groups for a bit to see how we fare as tourists in Italy. Our “tour” to Florence was really just a ride from the ship to the city, leaving us free to discover on our own. We muddled our way through some basic Italian and I was surprised at how much of it was familiar — “pollo” for chicken, “uscita” for exit, and of course “grazie” and “por favore.” We had three different maps of Florence, two of which were essentially useless, but the third one was a lifesaver as we managed to get lost on our way to (Palazzo
Vecchia/Ponte Vecchio/the Medici Chapels/the Pitti Palace). We easily walked three times as far as we needed to, but hey, the exercise kept us from falling asleep. (Now if only there was some way to keep from staying awake at night!)

I thought we’d have trouble filling the six hours of free time, cause I remembered Florence as being all about art (which doesn’t interest me), but there were plenty of historic sites I appreciated this time around that would’ve been lost on me on my last trip 12 years ago. So we really enjoyed our day, despite the fatigue and navigation challenges.

We’re certainly enjoying the ship, too. I’ve fallen in love with the observation deck, which has sweeping windows, a bar, a coffee shop, an incredibly extensive library and some kick-ass computer stations. There are board games available, too, so Chris and I played some ’80s Trivial Pursuit after dinner last night while Dave and Tanya went to the casino.

It’s neat travelling with other people. We met up with Dave and Tanya shortly before dinner last night and shared our travel tales while checking out the view from their verandah. At dinner, the four of us were seated together at a table of eight, but both of the other couples have since transferred to other tables (are we that bad?) so now we’re on our own. Chris’s tuxedo arrived in our stateroom today, so we’re all ready for our first formal night tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s hoping for a decent sleep tonight…on to Monaco!

Welcome Aboard

Location: Civitavecchia, Italy

We probably should’ve expected the fireworks. When we arrived in Civitavecchia last night (after a very smooth albeit very long journey), we discovered there was some sort of street festival going on and mobs of people were clogging the street right in front of our hotel — our driver (who didn’t speak English) had to drop us off a couple blocks away and indicate with hand gestures and slow Italian pronounciation where we needed to go. Apparently he didn’t speak slowly enough, cause it took us half an hour to fight our way through the crowds to the hotel’s front door.

I was surprised to see that we had a loft-style room where the bed was up a flight of stairs but everything else was downstairs. Not super convenient. Plus, despite an abundance of switches on the walls we could not figure out how to turn on the bedside lamps, so I couldn’t really read in bed, but oh, well. Anyway, we found a Subway for supper and crashed around 8:30 p.m. (It was a full 24 hours from the time we left our house to when we finally got to go to sleep.) We both woke up to what sounded like artillery fire at 10:00 — naturally there were fireworks for the festival.

We did eventually get a good night’s sleep and had no trouble boarding our ship this morning. The fact that we only packed one carry-on suitcase each has been a blessing — no waiting around for luggage to come off the carousel at the airport, no leaving our luggage out for the cruise line to bring to us later. Very nice.

As Justin would say: adventure is out there!