Monday, July 28, 2008

Weekend at Vesuvius

We left Rome via air-conditioned coach early Saturday morning. Three hours later we arrived at Pompeii and began our march through the ruins. The first stop was the Villa of the Mysteries which is decorated with gorgeous frescoes depicting a young girl being initiated into a mystery cult. It's called a mystery cult because we don't know much about it, but the leading theory is that it is the night before her wedding and she's basically getting the "sex talk." We then walked up the road of tombs known as the necropolis and headed toward the forum and the forum baths. We visited some of the well-known houses, such as the House of Menander and the House of the Gilded Cupids, as well as the theater district, where we sat in the Odeon and listened as one of the group recited a poem in Latin. We were allowed into a live dig in a section cut off to the public and one of the graduate students told us about some of the things they were finding, including grape seeds in a drainage ditch. It looked like a bunch of rocks, lolol. Finally we ended the long and tiring day at the Amphitheater. The bus met us and brought us to the Hotel Vittorio. What a great spot! It's right at the entrance to the excavations. I had my very own room and bathroom with a double bed all to myself, air-conditioning and access to the roof. Dinner was included and was the typical student fare - pasta, mystery meat, potatoes and fruit. A bunch of us headed "into town" to sit at an outdoor cafe and get some gelato (I had lemon this time). I got so many great pictures and am very excited to fix them up and start posting them.

Sunday we began the day by climbing Mount Vesuvius, which is not an easy undertaking, but I survived. At one point, rocks started falling from above me like an avalanche and for a second I thought we were all going to die. But we didn't. We took the requisite shots of the crater, us in front of the crater, the Bay of Naples from the volcano, etc. I have to say that I'm always amazed that people live there (right there, and lots of people!!) beneath one of the most volatile volcanoes in the world. I guess that's why they are so passionate about everything in a "carpe diem" sort of way. When we had finished, we enjoyed some lemon granita (aka slushy) and had an hour and a half bus ride down the mountain and to Oplontis. While riding through the city, I noticed that many of the shops and restaurants were closed because it was Sunday, but there were men selling mussels and clams from coolers on the sidewalk. I wished I could have had some! The site we were visiting (Oplontis) is a large villa that was likely the summer getaway for a rich Roman family. It has been fully excavated and is most known for its beautiful frescoes. We spent an hour there and headed to Herculaneum. Kathy, Ramona, Chris and I decided that we were sick of pizza and panini, and we really wanted to SIT, so we walked to a Neapolitan trattoria called Tubba Catubba (haven't found out what that means yet) for a great lunch. We weren't given menus, just a choice of pasta or meat. We chose pasta and hoped for the best, which is what we got - freshly made pasta tossed with cherry tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese. Delicious! But about Herculaneum...Herculaneum is smaller but more fully excavated than Pompeii. Also, many people were able to escape from Herculaneum because of how the volcano lava, ash and mud flowed. However, recently they are finding bodies in caverns on the edge of town. The caverns would have been close to the bay back then and it was believed that these people died while waiting for boats to take them to safety. One of bodies they found was a woman who was protecting her two small childen with her bent knees. It gives a real human face to the whole thing that is very moving. Three hours back to Rome and we all got a good nap in on the bus. Finally, our dinner gang went to Station again since it was close and we were completely exhausted. I had my fried zucchini flowers, shared some crawfish tossed in lemon juice with Kathy, shared some wine with Karl, and had spaghetti cacio e pepe for dinner (again). We then went for gelato and I had stracciatella (chocolate chip) and fiori di latte (not sure what that flavor would be at home, but it's basically just ice milk). Got home and basically passed out from complete exhaustion, but since I had started the day by climbing up a volcano, I think I'm allowed. Ciao!

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