Ah yes, as opposed to the fake Romans…

It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to create a well preserved, historic experience…but it works out well for us as tourists! Just as we were able to visit towns throughout Europe that remained stuck in the medieval ages because of economic crisis, today we viewed a preserved Roman civilization because of a volcano eruption. That’s right, today we went to Pompeii!

The Circumvesuviana train took us almost right to the archelogical site. We could have gotten to Pompeii using regular trains & our rail passes, but the main train station is on the other side of town, versus the metro stop that is about 20 steps away. We were there nice and early, so it was pretty dead when we got in. In general, the crowds all day were small for such a major attraction…but it is November. We imagine this place is swimming with people in July & August. Upon entering you are overwhelmed with just how many ruins there are. You hear about this place & how it is a city buried, but we had never thought about how it was an entire city…in other words, it is big!

Alright, who wants a bit of background info on Pompeii? Even if you normally skip our educational parts you should read this one…we swear it’s super interesting! In 79AD Pompeii was a middle class, working Roman town who didn’t understand why the nearby mountain had been rumbling for a week straight. Finally on August 24, Mt. Vesuvius casatrophically erupted over the course of 2 days and covered the city in up to 4-6m of pumice and ash. 2000 people died from the heat or suffocated and for nearly 1700 years the city was lost. Since it’s rediscovery the site has been extensively excavated to provide detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with Mt. Vesuvius lingering in the shadows, it’s easy to understand why over 2.5 million people visit this site every year.

Rick Steves acted as our tour guide through the ruins. His informative audio tour saved us some money when we were able to completely bypass the audioguides & people trying to sell you guided tours. Neither of us had remembered our head phones, but it wasn’t busy so we were able to just play it out loud on Justine’s phone without bugging others. The first cool thing you come upon is the Forum. This is the traditional center of a Roman city. It was then that it hits you that this was actually a real, working city. It had a market square, with the city hall, temples and basilica. Because these important buildings usually ring the forum the ruins here were most impressive.
20111110-172156.jpg 20111110-172208.jpg
On the North end of the forum is the Temple of Jupiter (who is the Roman equivalent of the Greeks Zeus…as more people seem to know Greek gods than Roman ones…could it be because of Disney’s Hercules?). It looks like an impressive cluster of columns with a white marble Jupiter in the center. And yes, when you look at the photo that is Mt. Vesuvius in the background! The crazy-ass volcano that blew it’s top & buried this city. Fun Fact: Vesuvius literally blew it’s top…connect the 2 peaks in the photo up to a single peak and you would have the size it used to be prior to it’s Pompeii covering eruption.

A cool thing about Romans (according to Kristin…but lets remember she’s a little obsessed with them) is their incredible city planning. Pompeii is laid out on a perfect grid with perfectly parallel/perpendicular roads. You can figure out the importance of any road by the number of stepping stones you find on it. These stones were placed there to allow people to cross the street without getting their feet wet when water was rushed down them to wash away the collection of dirt & grime. One stone is a one way street, two stones is a normal two way road and three is a main transit route. There were also roads with giant beaver tooth blocks at the ends; these were purely pedestrian walkways. A super cool things to see (that Rick thankfully pointed out to us) were the chariot grooves in the road stones. Those were made by real Roman chariots thousands of years ago!!!
20111110-172224.jpg 20111110-172234.jpg

The House of the Faun is the largest house in Pompeii. It was the size of a city block. We saw the original dancing faun statue, which gave the building it’s name, and the the large Alexander the Great mosaic at the Archeological Museum yesterday but seeing replicas in their original location helped solidify the image that these Romans really were not only technically but also artistically advanced for their time. We may not be fans of art but art that is 2000 years old and has survived a volcano is pretty cool. These paintings and their bright vibrant colors have remained on these walls for longer than we can wrap our heads around.

And check out these crazy displays!
Those are plaster people. When the city was buried people were trapped under the rubble. Over time their flesh decayed, leaving empty holes in the ground. Scientists discovered these while digging. By pouring plaster into them they were able to recreate the positions people were in during their last moments.

To continue to experience Pompeii as a working city, we entered the perfectly preserved bath house. You could follow the path one might have taken all those years ago. We enjoyed the statues separating lockers above the seats and the grooves etched into the ceilings to prevent condensed steam from falling off the roof onto the bathers. Outside the baths along the main roads we found Roman “fast food restaurants”. These were marble counters set up with holes on the top to store food. In a middle class working city like Pompeii these counters were a quick popular way to catch a snack or a decent meal.
20111110-172352.jpg 20111110-172400.jpg

We made a quick stop off at the Brothel. Yup, even the ancient Roman’s had prostitutes. We just couldn’t imagine how those stone beds would be comfortable for sleeping, let alone anything else.
20111110-180714.jpg 20111110-180722.jpg

After we finished with Rick we wandered through the vast expanse of city still left. Eventually we came across a grassy area surrounded by small sleeping quarters. This was the gladiator training ground. We could imagine burly men running about, battling for their lives. And behind that was the theater. It is incredibly well kept. You can still make out the different seating sections, as the Romans also had both box & cheap seats. This theater is still used for concerts today.
20111110-180756.jpg 20111110-180803.jpg
And if you think that theater is cool, check out the Amphitheater. Bigger, although less well preserved. The best part was that we were the only ones in there and able to explore at our leisure.
20111110-180813.jpg 20111110-180823.jpg

After leaving the site we went for another delicious Naples pizza. It was a little soupy on top (like the one from the other day) so that seems to be the style here in pizza’s birthplace. It doesn’t make them any less yummy, just a little more difficult to eat…especially for a couple of knife & fork strugglers like us! Justine’s was an Apollo pizza, aka mozza+salami+tomato, and Kristin’s was a Volcano pizza, aka an Apollo pizza+spicyness.

We returned to Naples for an easy evening. We got one of the hostel employees to point us towards a laundromat. We walked over there in mish-mash outfits of the only clean articles of clothing we own while carrying bulging bags of everything else. People possibly thought we were homeless…. While waiting for our washing Justine fixed Kristin’s shoes (which were looking rather worse-for-wear) and Kristin worked on this post! As a snack we treated ourselves to gelato! Yum! Yum! Yum! Those flavor combos are berry+lemon and strawberry+coconut.

Love, Luck & Lava…it’s a comin’ for ya!

If you don’t get pneumonia I’ll buy you some sugared nuts.

Want to know some interesting facts about Naples?!?
– Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world
– Naples has 466 churches!
– Naples has the worlds largest UNESCO-ed historical centre
– Naples in the 96th richest city in the world
– People from Naples are called Neapolitans…like the ice cream…

Our big stop of the day was to be a museum, but we charted a course there that took us past a lovely church. The Naples Cathedral is the main church in the city. The cathedral was completed in the 14th century and is the seat of the Archbishop of Naples. The exterior was very nice, although nothing to write home about in comparison to many we have seen. The interior however was worth the visit. The walls were marble, although not the bright colored stone we have seen in other churches. They were simple & understated and allowed your attention to be drawn elsewhere, such as to the roof. The ceiling was covered in incredibly bright paintings, surrounded by intricately carved frames. It looked like the walls of a palace. The high altar was the most mesmerizing part. Many huge churches create these bulky, intimidating or forceful altars that awe you but are not always as beautiful to just sit & gaze at. This was the complete opposite…the altar itself was simple with many rounded lines and the windows behind it were plain, frosted glass. What really got you though was the yellow tinge to the light coming through them and the one highest, stained glass window. It created a very “holy” effect and seemed to put you at peace by just looking at it. We spend a good amount of time just sitting in the pews enjoying it.
20111109-175920.jpg 20111109-175912.jpg

Our main stop for the day was the National Archeological Museum, definitely our type of museum. It was filled with artifacts from the Roman Empire as well as finds from the nearby ruined cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There were many sculptures, mostly of the gods but some of random people who are long dead. They were incredible considering how long ago they were carved. You know what, we would still consider it incredible if someone created them today since we don’t understand how a person can just take a large marble block and turn it into a fully realistic sculpture of a person. It’s amazing how real they look…the folds of the cloth look as of you could just pick them up and rearrange them. After the scuptures we came to the paintings, but if you have been reading us since the beginning you know about how long paintings hold our attention. We were more interested in the gorgeous, gigantic hall they were housed in. The ceiling had a beautiful fresco in the center…now that’s the kind of painting we like! One room housed many intense and perfectly made mosaics. There are soooo many tiny pieces in each of these creations…the one photographed below is estimated to have over 2 million!
20111109-180010.jpg 20111109-180017.jpg 20111109-180025.jpg
We also got to visit the secret chamber. A man on the train from Venice had told us about it, so we made sure to scope it out. Turns out it is secret so that kids dont happen across offensive material. Inside was an interesting erotic exhibit full of forbidden paintings and sculptures from many ancient places. There was an “interesting” ornamental lawn sculpture of Pan (a satyr god of Greek origin) doing a goat….?

After leaving the museum we found a place for lunch. It was conveniently located, with this nice view:
The prices were cheap so we weren’t sure how big our pasta dishes would be. We both ordered the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, because, as we have stated in the past, everyone needs more potato pasta in their lives! The plates ended up being massive…like to an unfinishable degree…and incredibly delicious! The sauce was a pleasantly seasoned tomato, with exorbitant amounts of cheese melted in. Sometimes you went to stab a gnocchi and instead ended up with a huge chunk of cheese on your fork. Yum!

We followed our meal up with some more random wandering, this time through the historic center. We saw many more nice (if not slightly run down) buildings. We were going to go up to a look-out point, but we couldn’t find the funicular and climbing the big hill didn’t seem like the best of ideas with Kristin’s currently decreased lung capacity. We turned in early at the hostel and spent some time chilling out…relaxation & recovery time so that we are ready for the excitement of Rome. Justine made us grilled cheese sandwiches for supper. You might think this is a waste of a meal when in Italy, but (1) we didn’t want to go out after dark to anywhere further than the grocery store a quarter of a block away and (2) if you’ve ever had Justine’s grilled cheese you would know it is the best grilled cheese ever and could never be considered a wasted meal!

Things We Learned Today:
– No matter where it is & what you do with it phlegm is gross.

Love, Luck & Laine…which is Blaine without the B (we may have spent our chillaxing time catching up on Glee)

He’s just chillin’ like a villain…I can just picture Jafar like that!

Let’s all wish Justine a big Happy Birthday! There are some of you out there who just did, but most of you (who know us well) are like, “um, her birthday isn’t for another 3-1/2 months.” that is true, but apparently no one told Telus. Yesterday she received 3 separate text messages from them telling her she has free calls tomorrow because it’s her birthday! Weird…

We were off to Sorrento today. Sorrento is a coastal city which survives today on tourism. The city began with the Romans who built many small villas in the area. Very little of ancient Sorrento remains. The area does remain an inspiration for poets and artists around the world. Sorrento had its period of economic and cultural growth during the 18th century after centuries of influence from Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine, French and Spanish cultures.

We hopped on the Circumvesuviana, which is a metro-like train, and rode for a little over an hour. There were 34 stops between Naples and Sorrento. The proper reaction to that should have been: Wow that’s a lot of stops! On our trip we got some nice views. On one side was the coast and ocean. Lovely! On the other was the one-and-only Mount Vesuvius, an actual active volcano. There will be more info on this in the coming days.

Once we made it to Sorrento we had planned on riding the scenic bus from Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast. Apparently this wasn’t possible. The rains and floods that wiped out parts of the Cinque Terre forced the bus route to be closed. Too bad! But we made the best of things and entertained ourselves walking around Sorrento. The town sits up high right along the coast. There were many nice views of the nearby islands and surrounding coastline. It is so cool how these Italian coastal cities sit there on those scenic cliffs, just hanging out over the water. It makes for great photos (and devistating floods apparently).
20111108-202642.jpg 20111108-202650.jpg

After walking through town & down to the port, it had started to rain slightly. We had no other plans for Sorrento so we headed back to the train station and hopped back on the train to Naples. We then took to the streets, walking down some of the best paths of the city. The hostel owner had went crazy labeling everywhere that we should go in the city, especially what streets to take past dark…this city is a little sketchier than most. The city has an interesting character. It is grimy & dirty, with graffiti everywhere, but you forgive it because there is still a charm hidden underneath.

We stopped for lunch down by the first castle. The restaurant was called Nene and actually had other customers…not that we haven’t eaten alone before. We munched on pizzas, as that is what everyone says you are to do in Napoli. Pizza originated here and they take it very seriously. The ingredients of their margharita pizza have been regulated by law since 2004. Justine had messicana pizza (pomodoro, salame, olive & peperoncino…although she picked off the olives). Kristin had a caprese pizza (mozzarella, pomodorini, parmigiano & basilico, plus Justine’s olives). They were huge (we couldn’t even finish them) and just tasted fresh. Man it’s great to be back to Italian food!
20111108-202916.jpg 20111108-202924.jpg
And here is that first castle we mentioned, Castle Nuovo or New Castle because it was built in 1279…we don’t know much else about it, but doesn’t it look exactly like what you always wanted your sand castles to be?:

Our afternoon was filled with the pretty buildings of Naples. The more you see of the city, the more you love it. You start totally overlooking the grime (& construction everywhere!) and only see the old architecture & gorgeous ocean views. Here are some of the incredible buildings we saw today:
20111108-204806.jpg 20111108-204814.jpg
20111108-204827.jpg 20111108-204838.jpg

We took a break and sat on some steps in the Piazza del Plebiscito. Loitering is fun. This is the old central square of the city. One can imagine it must be packed on hot summer days…full of hot, sweaty tourists jostling each other & having their pockets picked. There was hardly anyone around in the beginning of November, except us and some crazy circus performers… Ok, maybe they weren’t part of the circus, but they had to at least be a group of gymnasts (if not ninjas). They stood in the center of the square taking photos of each other doing crazy stunts. They first caught our notice with a pic of 7 of them all doing perfect, toes-pointed, hand stands. It progressed from there until one guy was just standing up straight while another guy balanced in a one-handed handstand on the top of his head…insanity!

We walked all the way out to the city’s point to see the larger castle, Castel dell’Ovo. This castle dates from the 12th century but the Romans had villas on the site since the first century BC. Its significance declined when the New Castle was built. This one sits out onto the water with a great view surrounding it. It was free to enter and explore so we climbed up the stairs and found a perch. Our timing was perfect to watch the sun set behind the housed hill of the city’s cove. Pretty much a picture perfect moment…and luckily Kristin’s camera had just enough battery life to capture it!
20111108-204952.jpg 20111108-205010.jpg

Things We Learned Today:
– Kristin needs to tone it down. She never realized how animated she is as a person until it became painful for her to laugh, gasp & get overly excited.

Love, Luck & Limone Gelato,