Mayhem in the Med: Day 5, Naples (Italy)

Posted: June 21, 2011 in Mediterranean Cruise, Paris

Tour = Value Package: Sorrento & Pompeii (Adults Only)

I can’t remember what I had for breakfast on the morning of the Naples visit. I’m pretty sure I was only about 5% awake, and I didn’t have any coffee (the only reason I remember this fact is because I only had coffee on the last two days of the cruise), so by the time we got on the bus and left the port somewhere around 9am in the morning I was only able to collect some vague impressions of us leaving Naples – there was a fort beside the entrance to the port, a really shiny gilded rooftop of a church somewhere along the front of the city, and a police station shaped like the front of a boat. Then we were on the motorway and the guide was introducing himself as Giuseppi, and the driver as Luigi – yes, I laughed a little at the last one as the Mario Bros reference made its way into my brain despite the haziness. He mentioned something about the petrol tanks that we were driving past, made a joke about the actual petrol of Neopolitans being wine and then told us we had an hour and a half before we would hit Sorrento.

… Sorrento?

See, the thing is, I’d completely forgotten that this tour was going to be a day long one. I thought I was doing the half day tour to Pompeii and I’d be able to explore Naples a little bit afterwards. Ehhhh… wrong! Turns out I’d be spending half a day in Sorrento on the beautiful (gorgeous, stunning) Amalfi coast before returning back the way we came and stopping at Pompeii.

As time moved on the day cleared up to reveal a beautiful clear sky and I could easily make out Vesuvius, the sleeping giant, looming to the left hand side of the bus, and then the Isle of Capri sitting in the distance, at the end of the peninsula we’d soon be driving along. Looking at the map I’ve given you, we basically followed the green train line until we reached Sorrento at the tip, passing through Vico Equenso and the Piano di Sorrento (the planes of Sorrento) on the way.
The drive itself I found was somewhat like driving between Clyde and Cromwell, except you were beside the sea instead of a lake. The road was somewhat like the Kawarau Gorge in places, and of course the architecture was Mediterranean, but it reminded me of home for some reason. I think it might’ve been the orchards, olive groves and vineyards that were transposed all about the place, in between buildings, in fields and perched on the edge of cliffs and running down the hills. It was all very green and quite pleasing after the concrete jungles of Paris and Orlando, and the green was all the more emphasized by the stunning azure blue of the sea that ran beside us.

We stopped at a lookout along the way for a couple of snapshots, and there was the coast stretching out in front of us under an almost clear blue sky. It really, really was beautiful, and I was so glad to be there in that moment.

We continued down the coast until we finally hit Sorrento itself, where we took a small tour of the town itself and were then given an hour and a half to wander around by ourselves and get lunch. Honestly, I wasn’t that hungry and so I just wandered for a while until a gelato shop pulled me in and I somehow convinced myself that it would be fine if I just had gelato for lunch. I mean, I was in Italy. It was either going to be that or pizza, but it was a hot day, so logically gelato won out..
Following lunch I trolled around a little more and bought presents for a couple of friends and my mother, before we met up again for the short walk back to the bus. The main thing I took from Sorrento was the impression of a little seaside village that had been hit by a whirlwind of tourism. It really is a beautiful little place, definitely well worth seeing, but for some reason I felt a little guilty for helping clog its streets with tour groups. I really enjoyed the view from beside the church, and the quiet calm of the little courtyard nearby.

We drove back along the peninsula, and I took photos the whole way along it. Some turned out, some didn’t – but that’s what you get when you take photos through a moving bus window, I guess! I think I might’ve snoozed a little bit towards the end, because before I knew it we were in Pompeii and getting off the bus again, leaving that glorious air conditioning for the afternoon heat that rolled over me in waves as soon as I was away from the shelter of the bus. I’ve become entirely wimpy about heat since leaving Orlando, I’ll be the first one to admit it.
However, I was entirely happy about being in Pompeii – I’d wanted to go there since my High School Classics classes and the competitions I used to do – and I was determined that I wasn’t going to let the heat get to me or ruin the visit. Once we had a little time to look around the souvenir shop and stands that littered the front of the excavations, our tour guide gathered us up once more and we headed into the ruins themselves, starting by the gate that was used as an entrance for people and animals, but not carts or chariots – this was evidenced by the fact that there were no wheel ruts on the ground leading up to the gate, and the fact that the ramp leading into the city and through the gate is rather steep.
Once into the city itself, you really get how big the place is – that it actually was a city, and a big one at that – and I was instantly impressed by just how much had been preserved. Of course the preservation of certain objects was much different to that of Herculaneum, which was covered by mud, whereas Pompeii was covered by a thick layer of ash.  No wood remains in Pompeii, but a great many frescos, amphoras and masonry etc remain, as well as plaster casts of the people that died there (I’ll explain how this was managed later along with pictures). Herculaneum on the other hand had wooden objects preserved due to the mud, but there were no people in the town as they’d had time to try and flee. They found quite a few remains of the town’s citizens by the port, where people had tried to flee by boat or were waiting for people from down the coast to pick them up.

Giuseppi pointed out several wine shops, easy to note once you knew what to look for, with their counters and inbuilt amphoras, as well as the alcoves for either statues of Bacchus or small wine displays behind the counters. From there we moved on over the rough cobblestones to the forum itself, where we appreciated the view of Vesuvius in the background and I made a mental note to never buy or build a house near an active volcano – especially one such as the sleeping giant that was looming over Pompeii. I’d hate to think of insurance prices and policies in the Neopolitan area..!
From the forum we headed along the left side of the temple dedicated to Zeus, where the casts, amphoras and other objects are kept behind cages where you can look but not touch. The guide explained that the plastercasts were made by first finding the bodies, or the cavities where the bodies had been. The ash itself hardened, and left the space where the body decayed. Excavators, upon discovering such holes, filled them with plaster and voila, plastercast of a dead person from Pompeii! In Herculaneum, only the skeletons survived.

 Most people also know about the dog plaster cast. The dog couldn’t get away as it was chained up, and you can still see the collar about its’ neck. Right next to it is the plaster cast of a pregnant woman, which is kind of depressing to be honest.

From the plastercasts we moved on to the market, which had frescos of fish and market stalls on the walls, then from there we headed to the hot and cold men’s baths (the women’s baths were turned into a restaurant and toilet complex..) which were really well preserved. It was interesting to note the little runnels on the roof of the hot baths, which channeled the condensation and stopped it from dripping on people’s heads!
Stepping over the stray dogs loitering in the area we continued on to see an upper middle class family home, complete with fountain in the foyer, garden in the back, dining room and vomitarium, so you could eat, vomit when you were full, then go back to the table and eat more to show how rich you were. The frescos on the walls around the house were really vivid and well preserved – you could really get the feel for how the room used to be when it was completely intact. We also managed to see the famous ‘Cave Canem’ (beware of the dog) mosaic, which is one of the only remaining mosaics at Pompeii – the others have been taken to museums.
Winding our way through the streets once more we were shown ‘the pizza hut of Pompeii’ with its massive pizza oven and seating, before we took a turn into the red light district and found ourselves standing outside the Pompeii Lupanar – also known as a brothel. Lupanar, meaning ‘den of she-wolves’, was home to the ‘lupas’ of the city – the prostitutes – who used to lean out of the windows and howl to attract attention and er.. clients.
Inside the brothel are a series of frescos depicting pictures of various positions (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re too young and you should stop reading now), which foreigners could point to if they didn’t speak the common language. Pompeii itself was a port town, so many foreigners passed through.. to help these foreigners find the red light district itself, you can also find many phallus symbols etched into the paving stones around Pompeii, which point the way. Inside the brothel itself on the first floor are five chambers with rock beds, as well as a bathroom. The upper level houses five more chambers, but is inaccessible.

The brothel was our last stop on the tour before we wandered back to the forum, took a couple more photos and then headed out of Pompeii for good. It may sound like a short time in the city, but it was really informative and our guide was animated and obviously knowledgeable about the subject matter.  Another brief opportunity to purchase souvenirs was given at the exit to Pompeii before we once more got back on the bus and headed back to the port.
It was around 17h45 by the time we arrived back at the Magic and I was beyond tired, but I forced myself to keep going and I took a quick walk around the upper deck, snapping a couple of photos of Naples – the closest I was going to get to actually seeing the city on this trip, at least! As I was taking a couple of photos of the fort in front of the ship, a ship’s horn went off somewhere near us, and the Magic replied with a couple of blasts in kind. Pretty weird, but I kept taking photos. The horns were repeated again, and the other ship put in another blast before the Magic replied with its’ traditional ‘when you wish upon a star’ riff. A horn battle had just been had, and the Magic had clearly won.  The only other ship that could top the ‘WYWUAS’ horn is the Disney Dream with its’ plethora of tunes. A couple of minutes later a cargo ship tried to join in, and most people up on deck laughed at it’s attempt. Poor things.. you’ll never beat Disney in a horn battle.
Dinner that night was at Lumiere’s and I was looking forward to it. L’s is what I would consider to be the more formal, or swankier, restaurants of the three on the dining rotation, and that particular night we were treated to an appearance of Beauty and the Beast, who danced their way between the tables and wished us bon appetit! That night the menu included an absolutely amazing wild mushroom and mushroom tart for my entree, which I accompanied by a salad for my main and then a creme brulee for dessert. Unfortunately we’d been a little late in arriving back in port to enjoy the screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 4, but I promised myself I’d see it before I left the boat.

We also got to take a close up look at an American Warship and an American Aircraft Carrier on our way out of the Port of Naples, which was really great. The Magic sounded its horn as we sailed past, and you could see a couple of the soldiers on board waving to us!

Facebook Status: “Remind me never to live near an active volcano. Bad idea.”
Photo Count: 385
Total: 1,096

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