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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pompeii and Naples

While most of the entries so far were written while we were actually on the trip, the next two were written now, a couple of weeks after they happened. The reason is simple: we were having far too much fun to stop long enough to write anything down.

We pulled into Naples a little tardy, but still had plenty of time. We got off the boat and on to a bus. Our tour of Italy started with a Half-Day Pompeii tour. This was the first time that I truly questioned the sanity of some of our fellow guests. While America is good at being ADA compliant by and large, ancient Pompeii is not a place for a double-wide stroller. Our guide Francesco was awesome, full of anecdotes, and gently pointing out the special "arrow" pointing to the houses where ladies were for hire. He did it in a level of gentle language that was at once inoffensive and blew right over the heads of the kids on the tour, but that was abundantly clear to the adults. (Note: the special arrow was distinctly penis shaped.)

He also went over the religious practices of Rome, discussing how the sacrificial animal was referred to as the host, and how that was translated into the wafers in Christianity. I do so always love it when sacred traditions are really just descendants of the pagan religion that preceded Christianity.

Francesco asked if anyone had some water to pour on a mosaic in the entry to a house. A little water brightened all the callers to reveal a "Beware of Dog" mosaic. The more things change, the more the stay the same.

One of the things I fell in love with in Pompeii is the dog population. Throughout Pompeii, they found dogs that had died from being changed up at the time of the eruption, so the law now is that dogs cannot be tethered in Pompeii. There's a decent sized feral dog population wandering around Pompeii, most of them very friendly and all of them completely familiar with wandering tourists. Near the cafe, there was a sign about the history of dogs in Pompeii, how they're cared for by the local humane society, and a note that if you met a dog you liked in Pompeii, they're available for adoption, because though they have it pretty good here, they'd be better off in a good home. How cool would it be to adopt a dog from Pompeii!?

We also toured a Roman bath with it's cold room, tepid room, and hot room. In the hot room, a dog lay napping behind the brazier where the coals kept the room warmed. He mentioned that the dog "was not original."

In Pompeii, they made plaster casts of the bodies where they fell as they excavated, keeping the figures in their original positions. The flesh decayed away, but left space in the rock where the person had been, and generally their bones were still intact. It's a bit creepy, but truly an amazing window on the past. You get to see the real size of these people, and how they exited the world.

While on the tour, couple number 1 from the Match Game asked what else we planned to do in Naples. I was quite certain I wanted to go to the Naples Archeological Museum. Another chap overheard us and asked if we wanted to share a cab as that was his plan too.

We planned to meet up with him about an hour after we got back to the ship, giving time to freshen up, have a bite of lunch, and head back to the port. We approached the first cab. Our new companion (also named Dave) had heard you shouldn't pay more than 10 Euro for a cab to the museum. Armed with this Knowledge, we asked how much to the first cab driver. His answer was "20 Euro apiece, and I'll wait for an hour while you tour the museum." Um, no, thanks. The second cab driver said, "20 Euro, for all three." Still, we passed. We crossed the street and up a block where we found another line of cabs. We asked that driver and he said, "15 Euro." We said, "Ten." He waffled and said 15 again, so we started to back away. He said, "Okay okay, 10, but I want a tip." Um, okay, sure. We hopped in the cab and off we went, the driver turning right from the far left hand land across four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic. Yeehaw! A few minutes later, we hopped out, and gave him an extra Euro in tip, and were into the museum.

My impression of Italian museums is that they have a lot of incredibly valuable pieces that aren't especially well cared for. The first floor had a fabulous collection of Greek and Roman statues including the Farnese collection. Gorgeous stuff. Unfortunately, the Mosaics of Pompeii and the Secret Cabinet were both closed due to some sort of structural failure in the building. The Mezzanine had a sort of history of the Roman Empire via the coins. The size and values changed over time and became more important as things went along. The second floor had a fabulous collection of daily objects - mirrors, flatware, vases, plates, etc. from Pompeii and Herculaneum. It never ceases to amaze me that I can see my face reflected in a mirror that was held by someone 2000 years ago. There were bits of fresco and other paintings and generally just more than you could possibly absorb in a day.

The final room that totally grabbed our attention was the 1/100th scale model of Pompeii, one on the floor, and one on the wall. We could retrace our steps from earlier in the day, and correlate that to where various pieces we'd seen came from in Pompeii. Also in the same room was a display on the foods of Pompeii, with preserves and seeds rescued from the beneath the ashes.

We thought about taking a taxi back to port, but after discussing with one driver, we decided to just walk it. Naples is a dirty, poorly maintained city, but it felt good to stretch the legs at full speed, passing gelato shops and pizzerias along the way. My only regret is being too full of lunch to sample pizza from its birthplace.

Back aboard, we took a few minutes to decide if we wanted to do "Who Wants to Be a Mouseketeer" or see the Euphonia String Quartet, on board from Naples, both happening at 7:45 before dinner. We decided to start with the game, and go see the quartet nearer the end of their set. Turns out, our seats for the game were called just after we left to see the quartet, but they were lovely to listen to for 20 minutes before dinner.

We enjoyed dinner thoroughly, but decided to skip making Flubber and call it a night early. Rome beckoned at 7:45 a.m. and we were bushed.


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