Thursday, October 14, 2010

Exploring Campania

Sorrento has not been what I expected - very disappointing because I was really looking forward to this part of the trip.If I come this way again, I won't stay in Sorrento. By the time I leave I may teach a few people new English swear words.

We've decided to handle our extreme distaste for this town by heading out every day - which was our goal in the first place, so nothing lost there.

Our initial goal for day one was to relax and chill. After a walk to the town square about 1 1/2 kms away, we decided that was a ridiculous idea and headed to Capri. While it may only be 4 miles long by 2 miles wide, it rises to majestic heights from the sea.

As the hydrofoil approached, Dave pointed to the highest point of land we could see and said "I want to go up there." Well, he got his wish. Looking down we could see water that was a particular shade of turquoise and so clear that the boats almost look like they are floating on air.

The port was a little chaotic, but offered much better information and signs than the stupid Sorrento port (clearly, I'm still annoyed). Instead of taking the bus or getting ripped off by a cab driver (again, annoyed), we took the funicular - a cable car that rides up the side of the mountain. Dave went into James Bond mode. When he realized he didn't have to fight Jaws, we both enjoyed the spectacular view of the mainland and sea.

The five minute ride up the steep cliff takes you to the heart of the town of Capri. From there we escaped the crowds and, once again, the cars and headed straight up - I mean way up - towards Villa Jovis, the Emperor Tiberius' "Pleasure Palace" - 63,000 square feet of naughtiness. He spent the last ten years of his life pursuing illicit pleasures. The ruins that remain can barely begin to scratch the surface of what must have been. The views from that summit force you to stop in your tracks, they are that stunning.

Today the main inhabitant of this fantastic villa are these adorable little lizards. It's true, I'm a sucker for a lizard. Which explains some of the guys I've dated.

Thankfully, the way back was all downhill. We rewarded ourselves with gelato (of course) and then cruised the ridiculously high end stores. Actually, we window shopped and that was shocking enough. A Hermes bag that cost more than this trip. I will always take travelling over a purse.

Today, the weather looked like it might be a bit of gamble. Would it rain? Would it be cold? We decided it was likely perfect weather to hit Pompeii. The last time I set foot in the ruins, I was 10 years old. I was looking forward to seeing them as an adult.

The adventure began with the Circumvesuvian. It has taken me 3 days to learn how to say that. This extremely efficient train goes from Naples to Sorrento and is amazingly cheap. We had the good fortune to be entertained by a three piece band. Music is everywhere in Italy. I'll hold dear the memories of wandering through every city and hearing an accordion. Not that I love accordion music, but of course it just fits.

When we entered a man tried to talk us in to a guided tour. We thought "pfff, we don't need no guided tour." Wrong. We went in about 200 metres and promptly turned back and hooked up with a tour guide. It was great.

The site is overwhelming. It's basically a complete town preserved for centuries by the volcanic ash that killed the inhabitants. Of the estimated 20,000 citizens, 5,000 were killed, not by molten lava but by the poisonous gas of Mt. Vesuvius, which looms in the background. The eruption took place on August 24 in the year 79 BC and the events of the day were recorded by a man on the other side of the bay of Naples who watched the mountain explode. It actually was double the size it is today - the eruption ripped the top of the mountain right off.

I could go on and on because I find this fascinating, but instead I'll say that the last eruption happened in 1944. Ash drifted far south to where my parents lived in the arch of the boot (we're at the ankle).

The preservation is astounding given the centuries that have passed. Frescoes are still preserved, jars completely intact, statues - all protected by the ash. And then there are the bodies. They discovered hollows with bones inside. An archeologist came up with the idea of pouring liquid plaster in to the hollows. This perfectly reproduced the bodies - right down to the expressions of horror on people's faces.

One of the neatest things about the ruins are the dogs that call Pompeii home. These poor abandoned puppies are fed and taken care of by local volunteers. It's fitting as dogs were common pets in the town back in the day.

The overall experience can best be described as haunting, overwhelming and an excellent reminder that we shouldn't waste our time worrying about terrorists. It's the acts of nature that has the real power.

Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, we'll be doing the walk of the gods from Amalfi to Positano. What's one more hike.


  1. Great account of these places and I agree with comments on Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii (a guide is best and then you don't miss all the neat phallic symbols embedded in the streets). Hope you bought one of those DK books that show Pompeii now and then and it has a DVD at the back.

  2. hmmm travel writer career in your future?

  3. Lorra, that's my dream job. Thanks for the encouragement.