Italy:: Pompeii and Rome

The success of any trip lies in the research and planning preceding it. For those of you who don’t know the back-drop of this trip, it was an aunts and nieces trip planned months ago. We missed our other cousins who couldn’t make it because of schedule conflicts, so it ended up just being a group of five. Depending on where you want to visit, I would caution against a much bigger group. The bigger the group, the more it plays into lodging accommodations, vehicle sizes, and just the overall logistics of keeping everyone together in crowded places.

The behind-the-scenes parts of planning involved several meetings where we all got together, bringing our must-sees and preferences to the drawing board, where we then mapped out a general itinerary and time frame. Things we considered in the planning:

  • Weather. Optimal weather in Italy is late spring/early fall. Doing our  research helped us figure out the best time for us to be there.
  • Crowds. We chose October for the weather and also because it’s at the tail end of peak tourist season. There were masses of tourists in many of the places we toured and I can’t even begin to imagine peak tourists season!
  • Expense. Researching everything from lodging accommodations to transportation costs to attraction tickets gave us an idea of how much to budget and how long a trip we could afford 🙂
  • Lodging. A whole post could be written about how to choose lodging and Marylou could very capably write it but how to choose lodging is key to to the enjoyment of a trip. Finding places near public transportation costs more up front, but gave us easy and cheap access to going nearly anywhere we desired. Your time is a valuable commodity and so being smart about transportation keeps you from spending precious time walking when you could be traveling faster and seeing more sights. Also, we spent less than two nights at very few locations and we highly recommend that. You lose precious time trying to orient yourself in new places/connect with the new VRBO person, etc, so doing it as few times as possible was important to us. We also would suggest one person getting an international phone plan to make contacting new people easier. We spent precious time trying to find wifi to get a hold of contacts about lodging because none of us were able to make in-country calls. Also, offline maps are hit or miss and we would have used phone maps many times if we would have had access to them.
  • Luggage. We took everything we needed for 2.5 weeks in a carry-on suitcase and day bag. If that seems like unusual and cruel punishment, think again. Keep in mind that you have to take everything everywhere you go and that means up and down stairs and hills and everything in between. Packing smartly allowed us to easily take what we needed and still left room for souvenirs to bring back.

I could write much more about planning and if you’re interested in those details, contact me and I’ll happily give much more information.

But now, on to Rome. There’s nothing quite like landing in a new country all bleary-eyed and sleep deprived from a sleepless night on a plane. We landed around lunchtime and finally found our Flavio who took us in his van back to our apartment in Rome. Tiredness was quickly forgotten as we took in all the ancient sites and ruins on our way in. After some confusion, we finally found our lodging, situated just down the street from the Coliseum. rome1The view from our apartment. You can see the Coliseum at the end of the road. We were tired and jet-lagged but we reckoned we hadn’t come to Rome to sleep so we hit the town immediately. I was rather picture happy at the beginning: trying to document every set of ruins I saw, but I soon realized they were as plentiful as Dollar Generals in GA and so I slowed down 🙂

We ended our day with dinner in the Jewish Ghetto where we enjoyed our first pasta and yummy pastries.

The following day all of us except Marylou did a bus day trip to Pompeii, which is about 3.5 hours south of Rome. Our tour guide from City Tours did a wonderful job of explaining not only Pompeii and Vesuvius history, but also Rome’s long and complicated history of conquests, invasions, and finally unification and peace.

P O M P E I I:

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Ancient Pompeii with Vesuvius looming behind.
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For those who need a history brush-up, like I did, here’s a bit of what you are looking at. Pompeii was a medium to upper class city back in AD 79. Situated right along the coast, it played vacation destination for the rich Romans. Teeming with life and industry, it was a happening kind of place. One afternoon, Vesuvius, blew her top in an intense and catastrophic eruption. These people had no idea they were living under an active volcano and there had been no volcanic activity in their lifetime. Vesuvius blew rocks and debris 21 miles in the air, for 12 hours, burying the city in 13-20 feet of ash and pumice. The city was completely destroyed and forgotten until the 1500s when building excavations unearthed the city, frozen in time and perfectly preserved.

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Original frescoes from 80 years after Christ.

p3Ancient mosaic floors

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The ancient bathrooms and laundromat, conveniently located side by side. Apparently  the ancients believed the ammonia content of urine was good for washing so they’d collect the urine from the bathroom to wash the clothes in the laundromat.

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Prior to the eruption, the sea came up and covered this area. The eruption completely rearranged the shoreline, pushing it back and re-situating it.

In the excavations, they uncovered many pieces of pottery and other pieces of a normal ancient city. They also discovered cavities where the remains of the people were at one point, and by filling in the cavities with plaster, were able to show the positions of the people as they died from the intense heat. Seeing these plasters made it very real.

After touring Pompeii and enjoying our first Napoleon margarita pizzas, we then drove part ways up Vesuvius before hiking the last little bit. I gotta say, hiking an active volcano was a bit freaky but we were assured that there will be plenty of warning before she blows again. When the animals and birds act erratically and start leaving the area, it is time to evacuate. Modern day Pompeii has its evacuation plan ready to go, with cruise ships coming in to move many residents away. It is also believed that when she blew in 79, she sealed her top or crater, and the next eruption will likely be out the side. Here is looking down into her crater:

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We arrived back to our apartment late that night, and a bit sore from a strenuous hike in still -swollen- from flying feet 🙂 We averaged 5 or 6 miles of walking on many of our days and so our feet needed a bit of time to recover.

The following day we conquered Rome, and by that I mean we successfully navigated and toured it along with approximately 33.9 billion other people 🙂 It was a rainy day and we thought with great optimism that we might not deal with crowds in the Vatican Museums. It was a cute idea but it looked more like this:

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Thankfully we pre-bought our tickets so we didn’t have to stand in the long lines in the rain, waiting to get in, but we should have been there when it opened. Basically, this sea of humanity was throughout all the gorgeous rooms in the Museums. We were pushed and pulled along, and really couldn’t even enjoy the stunning art, tapestries and maps. I highly recommend getting there at opening time and purchasing the earpiece tour guide which tells you about everything in the rooms.

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We visited the Sistine Chapel but were too tired of fighting crowds to visit St. Peters so maybe that’s a stop for next time 🙂

We trained back to the apartment in time for our ancient Rome tour.

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The Arch Of Titus celebrating the Fall of Jerusalem. We are accustomed to thinking of Jersualem’s fall as a very sad time in history but to the Romans this was yet another successful conquest and the Arch was built to celebrate Titus’ victory. The Jewish slaves he brought back would eventually help finish building the Coliseum where some of them would give their lives.  r6r5

There are so many emotions to feel in the Coliseum. From an engineering and architectural standpoint, it is a marvel. The Romans were good at engineering but not so good with design so they borrowed ideas from the Greeks for its decorations. But then its hard to ignore the horror and the incredible sadness of a civilization whose sport was human fighting and death. The bloodshed was so great that the sand in the arena was frequently changed out. Walking those shadowy corridors and halls was really an unforgettable experience. r7

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The Pantheon- formerly a temple to all the gods of Rome’s polytheistic system, but later becoming a temple to the one true God after Constantine made Christianity the state religion. Interestingly, there was a group of young people outside protesting Kavanaugh’s confirmation when we were there. It was a transport from the ancient to the here and now like none other 🙂

We ended our time in Rome with attending Mass at a nearby cathedral. Prior to St. Peters becoming the Pope’s official church, the church we attended was his. We had to go through metal detectors before entering. The opulence and grandeur was fun to look at, but left us all with a deep sadness of how Christianity was more about magnificent, amazing buildings and less about following Jesus’ teachings of self-denial and loving the less fortunate.

So much more could be written about the Eternal City and if anyone is interested in visiting or wants more details, please contact me, as we certainly learned some tips and tricks.

Rome was good but exhausting and so we were glad to exchange the crowds and walls for the sea breezes and crowds of the Riviera in the beautiful Cinque Terre, which I will write about next.

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