Sunday, May 24, 2015

Naples, Mount Vesuvius and The Ancient City of Pompei......

In the distance we could see the massive volcano surrounded by vapors that looked like smoke.  As our bus headed up the hill our tour guide Margot began to tell us about Vesuvius.  "Considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in all the world because it's still active, experts believe it's due for an eruption within the next few years," she said. "Really," I thought as our tour bus drove us to the base of 3,000 feet and then we'd be hiking up to the summit. Well let's hope that eruption doesn't happen today! 

The Trail We Hiked All The Way Up

The bus made the treacherous climb complete with sharp turns that opened up to lovely views of the valleys below.  Margot explained that the hike up would take only half as long as the hike down due to slippery and wet conditions.  Her warning was so we'd allow ourselves enough time to make it back to the bus on time before it left without us. A few days prior as we sat through the "port talks" on the ship the staff member scared us too.  He said, "while this tour is said to be a level 3, for me it was a level 6 or more since it's a steep, hard climb." I was beginning to doubt my fitness level and not sure what was ahead for us on the climb.

Going Up

As we passed through the entrance to the trail we picked up walking sticks and headed up to the summit of the volcano. The very steep path was wide and covered with loose, black volcanic rock and lava that our feet sunk into.  It was almost like walking on beach sand but much coarser and steeper.  I could hear the heavy breathing of those around us as I kept climbing, sometimes hoping that Clyde would want to stop to take a picture so I could rest.  After about 30 minutes we reached the first part of the summit.  It was a gorgeous sunny day with temperatures in the 50's yet still we were sweating from exertion and took off our jackets. Of course the view from the top was breathtaking as we looked down into the "caldera" or pot of the volcano in awe. Surrounding Vesuvius are some 3 million people living in the shadow of this explosive giant. But experts keep a close watch on it's activity and evacuation plans are in effect for the next time an eruption is predicted.

Looking Down Into The Crater

The trails at the summit were vast and seemed to go on forever, encircling the entire, smoky ridge.  But we had to keep an eye on time and allow ourselves enough time to make it back down to the base and meet our group. The trek down was a bit slippery and slow-going and the walking stick certainly came in handy now. But we safely made it down and stopped for a drink and bathroom break in the little base store before finding our bus.

View From The Summit

Lava Rock

On our way up the mountain prior to the hike we stopped for a short demonstration at a cameo and coral factory.  We were amazed to discover that cameo's are carved from seashells and we watched in amazement at a female master carver. I recall thinking that cameos were an old fashioned thing of the past and not made or worn anymore, but apparently not the case.

Coral and Cameo Factory

A Master Carver

One Of Many Pretty Cameos

Before visiting Pompei our bus stopped at a café in a tiny town where we were offered a free drink or ice cream.  Since these jam-packed tours rarely allowed time for lunch we took this opportunity to grab a slice of pizza that we shared during a quick break.

The Columns In The Background Are What
They Found Sticking Up Out Of The Ground
Which Led To The Discovery Of  Pompei

From there we walked to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompei.  In 79 AD, Pompei along with the city of Herculaneum were buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Pompei was lost for nearly 1,500 years before it's initial discovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery 150 years later by a Spanish engineer in 1748. The objects found in the city remained well preserved due to the lack of air and moisture. During the excavation plaster was used to fill in the voids that once held human bodies.  This allowed researchers to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. Our guide explained that bodies were also filled with plaster to preserve them which also allowed for future research.  Unlike previously thought, people did not die instantly but some lingered on for up to three days before perishing. 

An Amphitheater

Preserved Political Advertisement
One Of The Bodies Found

Wonder If These People Realize How Famous They Are,
Even After A Tragic Death

People And Things Excavated From The Ruins

 A Dog With Head Down To Left And Legs Up

Amazingly some of the homes were so well preserved that the frescos on the wall were still vibrant and full of color. Something I'd learned is that a "fresco" is done with paint on wet cement.  The color is absorbed into the cement or plaster keeping the color and graphics alive forever. The brothel was decorated with pornographic paintings above the cement and rock beds where clients were entertained.

Which Way To The Brothel?  Just Follow The Penis' On The Ground
Ancient Porno Frescos In The Whorehouse

A Cement Bed To Entertain Guests

By the time Pompei was destroyed it was said to have some 11,000 inhabitants. Once inside our guide took us through some of the many structures that were uncovered.  There were houses, shops, brothels, public baths, a gymnasium, amphitheater, a complex water system that still functions today along with a port. For over 250 years now Pompei has been a tourist destination and is listed with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  With some 2.5 million visitors each year it is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions. How amazing to be able to visit Pompei and get a glimpse of what life was like in ancient Roman times.
Pompei With The Vesuvius Volcano That Destroyed It In The Distance

Our bus dropped us off at the port of Naples around 3:30 giving us time to explore a bit before getting back onto the ship. Margot our tour guide who lives in Naples assured us that the city is safe to explore with plenty of things to see. This large port is home to some 3 million people, shopping, castles, museums, parks and more. 

Overlooking the port sits the majestic "Castel Nuovo," or new castle in Italian. Erected in 1279 it's imposing size and prime location serves as a major architectural landmark that lured us into the city center. Between two of the castles towers stands the white marble triumphal arch built in 1470.  The south wing of the castle is now a museum. 

My Castle Awaits!

White Marble Arc de Triomphe In Between Towers

Once again we dodged the touristy parts of the city by heading down small, cobblestoned alleyways.  We came upon a park with lots of green space, several other museums, scooters and plenty of shopping.  Stumbling upon a public shopping mall housed inside what appeared to be several high rise apartment buildings we went inside.  This strange conglomeration of shops featured ornate chandeliers handing down, mosaic tiled flooring with beautiful designs and decorative balconies overlooking the plaza.  Known to the locals as Galleria Umberto I it was built between 1887 and 1891.  Named for Umberto I who reined as King of Italy at the time of construction the mall serves many purposes.  With businesses, shops, cafes and social life for the public it also features apartments on the third floor.

Lovely Naples, Italy

 Tiny Cobblestoned Streets, Scooters And The Italian Flag Waving High

No Sidewalks, Lots of Balconies And Laundry

Galleries Umberto I
 Mosaic Tiled Floors

Street Musicians

After strolling the shops, taking photos and people watching we sat down for a gelato and watched the pigeons fly around the domed ceiling. After some additional walking around Naples we headed back our ship passing rows of vendors trying to steal every last dollar from cruise passengers.

Throughout Europe are these trees called "umbrella pines," also known as Mediterranean Pines. These tall, stately trees appear umbrella like reaching up to the sky with their tall branches.  Gas around Naples ran about 1.69 euros a liter, so multiply that by four for a gallon price of just under 7 euros or dollars.  No wonder many of the locals either walk, use public  transport, drive scooters or very tiny cars.

Umbrella Pines In Italy

Tonight before drifting off to sleep we'll set our clocks ahead another hour, a 7-hour time difference from Panama time.  Tomorrow is a well deserved day at sea for resting, chillaxing and getting ready for the second half of this cruise. Our next stops include the countries of Greece and Turkey as we sail onward......along the gringo trail.

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