Travelling in the 90s: Naples and Pompeii

It must be time for an actual trip, right? Well, not today… Today I’m knocking off the penultimate post of my Travelling in the 90s series, which features extracts from my 1993-1994 travel journal — complete with bad photos.

I’ve enjoyed reliving this trip, which was my first overseas adventure. (It also remains the longest, at a length of around 12 weeks.)

The previous post took us to our final major destination — Rome. It’s been over a year since I posted that, as I’ve been focusing on the Mongolia trip, but it’s now time to wrap it up. Today’s post is mostly about our side trip to Naples and Pompeii.

[Friday 18 February, 1994] Today was dead, dull and boring. A real dud. It began with rain – that incessant kind you can’t hear until you open your window to witness the endless silver stream, and only then do you hear the gentle patter on the road or the roof top. The kind of rain that makes you slump inside.

Nevertheless, to Naples we were headed, so we shouldered packs – both large and small – and set off to the station. Large packs were deposited into the luggage store at the station, and we set off to find the train.

We missed one by about 10 minutes, and had to wait another 1.5 hours for the next (at 12:05). Not good. How do you fill in time at a train station? We went to Burgy’s for breakfast (King Chicken Burger) and sat around there for about half an hour, then we went and played with train times on the digital machines. We also browsed an Italian bookshop – most unsatisfying! When we finally got on the train, it was a two-hour, uneventful journey, save for the fact that the ticket man tried to tell us that our kilometrico ticket was invalid. It was valid, of course, but I’m not sure we convinced him. In any case he let us stay on the train!

It was, unfortunately, raining in Naples too. We wanted a coffee from our thermos, but there was nowhere to drink it (out of the rain). The tourist office provided a map, and we caught the metro to Mergellina, which is close to the shore, and near the youth hostel. We had a pasta lunch in a small restaurant – yummy.

Then it stopped raining! By this time, though, it was 4:00, the day nearly over, wasted. Oh well. We wandered down to the shore and walked along the beach front. From here, the view of Mt Vesuvius is astounding. Traffic whizzed past – much of it very liberal with the horn. (We had been warned this might happen in the south.)

The traffic in Naples is, in fact, extraordinary. Our LP guide book says that in Naples red means “go” and green means “go slow and carefully”. The amazing thing is that this is TRUE. Even for pedestrian crossings, which we attempted to use. The little green man is positively DANGEROUS if you believe him. I just had to laugh it was so incredible.

Aside from this, Naples apparently has its own guild of thieves, but we have not seen any yet.

[Sunday 20 February, 1994] First I must obviously write about yesterday. Yesterday was Pompeii.

We were up and out of the hostel early, and made it via train to Pompeii by 10:00am (a good thing too, because we needed the whole day). Armed with a guide book, we entered the vast site.

Pompeii is simply amazing.

It is literally an entire city – shops, houses, theatres, stadium, temples – the whole lot. Of course there is no way possible that you could carefully examine each building, so the guide books pick out the ones with interesting architecture, or well-preserved mosaics, statues, paintings etc. With almost no exception the buildings are all without ceilings. World War II caused some damage to walls and paintings, but an incredible proportion of the city still stands.


Amazing Pompeii

It is almost too difficult to comprehend it all. The paintings seem to be very much Greek oriented, as does a lot of the architecture. However, since Pompeii was Roman for the last 160 years, there are obviously signs of their influence as well.

I simply cannot begin to describe anything, and will have to refer back to the guide book when I desperately want to remember. But I loved it!

It was slightly disappointing that so many of the houses were locked up – very little sign of the so-called ubiquitous guards who could let us in. And even though it was the “off-season” the number of tourists was large. But I suppose nobody who visited Pompeii could fail to comprehend its uniqueness, and respect it.

The completeness of the city is so incredible! Every single shop and house there for us to see. I was very pleased to see a Temple to Apollo – and a quite substantial one at that, including statues of both Apollo and Artemis/Diana. All the council buildings, two theatres, stadium, and numerous baths were also there.

I shall cease writing about Pompeii now, as I fear I shall gush merely to describe what is indescribable. Pompeii is somewhere not to be missed by anybody within Europe!

[I have left this passage about Pompeii largely unedited, because I find my youthful exuberance amusing…]


Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii

After Pompeii we were quite exhausted. We caught the train back to Naples, and then back to Rome.

Today was Sunday. I’ve decided that Sundays in Italy are generally bad. Museums seem to close at 1:00pm every day, but on Sundays everything else seems to close early too. And the shops are closed! All this left us with a rather vacant afternoon.

But I’d better describe the morning first. Our first stop was the Baths of Caracella. Alas, it was impossible not to compare them with Pompeii, and they just didn’t live up to scratch. The mosaics were very nice though – covering the floors of the palaestra, changing rooms, and swimming pool area.

After the baths we wanted to find the Old Appian Way (via appia antica), which was one of the first Roman roads built. In this we failed. [I am so damned sad we couldn’t find it, because the pics online I’ve seen since look amazing…]


Rambling past the Palatine Hill (Rome)

Afterwards, we were fairly tired and dispirited, so killed time in Burgy’s for a while, recuperating, trying to decide what to do for the rest of the day. Eventually, we summoned up enough afternoon energy to visit Villa Borghese, which is not a house, but a grassy parkland.

Perched on the top of a hill, Villa Borghese must be the place to go on a Sunday afternoon, for it seemed the entire population of Rome (and their dogs) were there. There were kids on roller skates, bicycles, merry-go-rounds, row boats, Shetland ponies… the list goes on. The view from the top of the hill was pretty good too.

[now] It’s amazing how many people we met travelling who didn’t get to Pompeii, simply because of the extra effort it took to get there. They really missed something amazing. Pompeii was a definite highlight of this entire trip and is yet another place I would love to revisit.

As usual, terrible photo reproduction… When looking through the photos I’m frustrated by a) the poor quality of the prints, b) the small number of photos, because we were frugal with our film, and c) the fact we felt the need to be PRESENT in just about every photo! (Times have certainly changed…)

The next post in this series will cover our last couple of days in Rome and the journey home.

See Travelling in the 90s for more posts.

Travelling in the 90s: Venerable Rome

It’s been a year since I posted the last extract from my 1993-1994 travel journal for the Travelling in the 90s series. I’ve been distracted. But there’s only a couple of weeks of Italy to go on the entire trip, so I’m going to focus on getting to the end.

Our last stop was Florence — a bit of a disappointment in gloomy February. Will Rome be an improvement? (Oh, yes, I think it will!)

[Thursday 15 February, 1994] We took a train to Siena this afternoon, but upon arriving discovered that the train station was at the bottom of the hill (mountain) upon which the town perched. We tried to ring a hotel and got someone who only spoke Italian. Then we tried to catch a bus (up the mountain) but couldn’t work out how to get tickets.

Then we both had a tantrum, and in a fit of pique decided to trash Siena and Go Rome!

So we jumped back on the next train to Rome. When we got there we didn’t see any pickpockets (I have to admit to being paranoid) and were taken by a scout to Soggiorno “Vichi”, which is where we are now. However, there are not many blankets on the beds, and the shower is only so-so, so I’m not sure whether we’ll stay for the nine nights we have left. In the meantime, Rome awaits — I can’t wait to see some of it tomorrow!

[Wednesday 16 February, 1994] Today, we basically explored Rome. Our LP guide book gave a suggested route, which we more or less followed, and which included many of the major piazzas and monuments. Rome has so many of these that there is no possible way to see them all in one day.

We’re staying in a not-so-interesting area near the train station, but it’s certainly convenient as far as carrying packs goes. It means that we have to walk somewhere to get into the atmosphere of Rome. Initial impressions include smog, crazy driving, enormous, and the incredible number of piazzas — small or large squares, often with fountains in them.

There is the fountain in the piazza del Spagna (near the Spanish Steps, which are all uneven and higgledy piggledy); the famous and beautiful Trevvi Fountain (which was by far the cleanest thing we saw today — sparkling white); the fountains in the piazza del Navona (the central and main one is called “The Four Rivers” and in fun we named them Tiber, Arno, Rubicon and Grand Canal); and fountains in the piazza Farnese (two old bath tubs). We threw coins in the Trevvi Fountain (as one must) and also I believe in some others along the way.

Another feature of Rome is obelisks!

It was a great day. I really enjoy wandering around a city and just soaking up the atmosphere — Rome doesn’t hit you the way Paris or Venice do, but respect and wonder kind of seep in. It’s a GRAND old city and reminds me (in a literary fling) of a crusty old grandfather, who has seen so much of life that now everything is taken in his stride. Age and position command respect!

Our route today included the major sights of the Spanish Steps, Trevvi Fountain and the Pantheon. This last is an amazing piece of architecture — a huge dome with a hole in the top. The inside is mostly Christian, having been consecrated to the faith in 609BC. It was originally dedicated to all the Roman gods.


Pantheon, Rome

The Campo de Fiori was very un-bustling — I guess you have to catch it in the morning. And the via Vittorio Veneto is absolutely DEAD in the morning! We went through a pedestrian subway between via Veneto and piazza del Spagna which must have been half a kilometre long. We also walked for quite a while along the Tiber — it’s pretty, but seems almost forgotten. The grass is overgrown, and I got the impression that traffic zips over the bridges without even noticing that there’s a river there at all. Poor river.

Tiber River, Rome

Tiber River, Rome

There is so much more of Rome to see! More piazzas, heaps of churches, ruins, museums, not to mention the Vatican. Rome has so many layers. Venerable City!

Tonight we solved the dilemma of whether or not we should use our kettle (which MUST BE EARTHED) on the Italian sockets. For the operation we donned rubber-soled shoes and flicked the switch with a plastic spoon. It worked and boiled water twice without electrocuting us! But we shall continue to be careful…

[Thursday 17 February, 1994] It’s incredible to think that it’s only a week until we leave for home. Today I amazingly woke up with the 8:30 alarm, and actually got out of bed into the freezing cold morning. H was about half an hour behind me.

We went to the ancient sector of Rome today — the Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine hill. The Colosseum turned out to be free for the first level, which suited us. A ruined stadium looks much the same from all levels.

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Next we went to the Forum which reminded me a bit of Ancient Corinth. It was a mess of ruined temples and basilicas — we were taken aback at how disorganised it was. We were forced to buy a guide book in order to discover what everything was. However, the book proved to be really good value with lots of interesting and useful facts.

There is not much left standing in the Forum. The Temple of Saturn has about six pillars, Castor and Pollux three, and Vesta three. The Temple of Antoninius and Faustina has about eight as well as a Christian basilica built in the centre. There were also temples to Julius Caesar, Venus and Rome, Romulus, and an interesting one to Apollo on the top of the Palatine Hill.

Ancient Forum, Rome

Ancient Forum, Rome

The guide book also covered the ruins on the Palatine hill, which consisted mainly of palaces and houses. The architecture of these buildings is really amazing. The Romans seemed to mainly build with flat bricks, so as a result the ruins look less ancient than ruins in Greece. They also tend to be covered in green vines, blending into the side of the hill. It was a very enjoyable day. We had a picnic lunch beside the temple of Venus and Rome with a view of the Colosseum.

I really really must go back to Rome. It was one of my favourite cities on this trip. There’s still more to come from Rome, but next post will be a side trip to Naples and Pompeii. More amazement!

(As usual, terrible photo reproduction… adds to the experience!)

If anyone has memorable travel experiences of Rome I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Travelling in the 90s: Florence is freezing

Meanwhile, at the tail end of my 1993-1994 adventures, we’re in Italy. Having just experienced the Carnival of Venice, we’re now en route to Firenze.

Welcome to Travelling in the 90s

[Saturday 12 February, 1994] It took over three hours on the train to reach Florence, through lovely rolling hills with villages nestled in the valleys. An accommodation scout brought us to the funniest little place — the kitchen and bathroom appear to be those also used by the family (or whoever lives here), but at the same time there are seven or eight rooms. It’s on the top of a four storey building with three other similar hotels in it. Our room is very comfortable with two beds, heater that works, table and two chairs, with lots of space.

[Sunday 13 February, 1994] Today was our introduction to Florence, and it was not a particularly auspicious beginning. Personally I find Florence rather dull and depressing. This may have something to do with the fact that, being Sunday, all the shops were closed. But what city’s museums are only open until 1:00pm? Just what is one supposed to do after that time?

Of course Florence has other attractions (such as the Uffizi Gallery) that are open until later during the week (just not Sundays)… HOWEVER, absolutely nothing is open on Mondays.

We didn’t pick very good days to come to Florence, I’m afraid.

Admittedly we started off badly, missing the 8:30 alarm and surfacing at around 10:00. This resulted in a hasty departure by 10:30 without breakfast and coffee. We went to the Pitti Palace, which houses about 8 museums and adjoins the Renaissance Boboli Gardens.

florence rooftopsWe chose to see the galleria del costume, which proved to be extremely interesting, as apart from various dresses of different periods, it exhibited reconstructed garments of the Medicci family. This included an account (in English) of how they reconstructed all the pieces — fascinating. We then wandered around (up and down) the Boboli Gardens for a while, viewing the red rooftops of Florence from a number of vantage points.

After the Boboli Gardens it was 1:00pm, so of course nothing more was open except for the Duomo (free). So while on the south side of the Arno River we checked out the “piazza de Michaelangelo”, named for the huge copy of David in the midst of a carpark on top of a hill (which we felt compelled to climb) offering a lovely view of Florence.

florence country wallBy this time we were starving and it was at about at this point (2:00pm) that disgust with Florence seeped in. Surely there must be a market for relatively cheap food in Florence? All we could find were heaps of cafes with table service etc… We wandered around for about an hour, until we finally found a snack bar just around the corner from our lodging, and ate heartily and wholesomely within the warm cocoon of the cafe.

I should mention here that today was FREEZING. The wind was bitter.

florence duomoAfter lunch we of course came across three other snack bars — that’s how it goes. We then wandered into the Duomo — all rather impressive on the outside with its pink/white/green marble facade, but typically churchy and almost dull on the inside.

Thoroughly freezing, tired, grumpy and bored, we got lost on the way back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with books. Our “home”-cooked dinner of spag-bol was delish, and there’s enough for tomorrow night as well. yum yum.

[Tuesday 15 February, 1994] Yesterday we had lots of fun. Since Florence is dead on Mondays we went shopping — although it turned out that the only reason the market itself was open on a Monday was because it happened to be Valentines Day. In any case, we wandered around in the freezing cold, trying on leather jackets. I was after a brown-ish suede blazer-style jacket — and the first one was gorgeous! But I could hardly buy the first I tried on. Even though the man seemed very concerned that we understood he had NOT doubled the price of the jackets just so that he could halve them. Hmmm.

One guy at one of the stalls said: “Australian? You’re looking for something in brown suede.” I stared at him blankly until he said that all Australians wanted brown suede. Very amusing.

Eventually H tried on one she liked, then they finally brought out one I liked, and offered us a good deal for two. I checked the seams and the leather and the button-holes and the way it hung, and was satisfied. It’s impossible to say whether we got a good deal or not, but I don’t think we were ripped off. We are both feeling very pleased with ourselves.

florence fountainThis morning we went to the Uffizi Gallery. I had been especially looking forward to this because Florence is supposed to be the art capital of the world. When we got there at about 10:00am we waited in a 20 minute queue and it cost about aus$10.

We were disappointed to discover that owing to the bombing a while ago, only the top floor of the gallery was open. This took all of an hour and a half to see. They showed us some of the paintings that had been restored after the bomb, but most of what we saw were marble busts and statues, and paintings of the Madonna and Bambino or the holy family — too much of the latter gets rather tedious.

Nevertheless, we DID see the Botticelli room which was fantastic, brilliant, marvellous. I’ve decided I’m a big Botticelli fan. I crashed an English art history class and learnt about the “style” of his “Annunciation” compared with Leonardo’s — fascinating. I also saw “Birth of Venus”, “Allegory to Spring” and various others — a whole room devoted to him! Unfortunately only one Titian and a Michelangelo. Very sad.

Ah yes, methinks I need to go back to Florence in nicer weather, because I know so many people who love it and I just… didn’t.

Please share your Florence stories in the comments, happy or sad.

(Always apologies about the crummy photos from back then.)

Travelling in the 90s: The Carnival of Venice

We’re into the final two weeks of our 1993-1994 (Travelling in the 90s) adventure (back when I was a true natural blond — check out the photo). Venice was our first stop in Italy and undoubtedly one of the highlights. I can’t tell you how many exclamation marks I had to remove from the following extract from my original travel diary.

By complete serendipitous coincidence, we landed in Venice smack bang in the middle of Carnival. Oh. My. God.

[Friday 11 February, 1994] Well, today was Venice. There is simply no other way — no way at all — to describe it. Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

The overnight train from Nice got in just after 9:00am. A guy in our cabin informed us that Venice was in carnival and that all the rooms would be booked… Naturally we became rather apprehensive about accommodation, because we’d had no idea. Thus when we jumped off the train and were offered a double room for one night only in a small pension for 70,000 lira (~$70) we took it straight away.

Thank heavens we did too, for I’d not have missed the Venice carnival for the world — and it transpired that the pension was quite close to Piazza San Marco and the very hub of the carnival.

There are so many things to describe about today. The man at the station put us on a vaporetto with directions, and we sat in the very front of the boat. Thus Venice was first introduced to us as we glided down the Grand Canal on a sunny blue morning.

Venice - Grand Canal

Venice – Grand Canal

It is one of the most magical things I have ever experienced — my heart was singing.

Now that sounds so corny, but I was so uplifted that I cannot describe it any better. The city is beautiful (I repeat myself!). The buildings are very old and often in severe disrepair, but there is something about water which makes everything beautiful. I can only hope that some of the many photos taken today can do the place justice. Today, Paris fades into nothing.

We found our hotel easily enough and deposited our bags, then we went out to explore. How lucky we are to have chosen now to come to Venice, because the carnival is the most amazing thing!

The basis of it appears to be costume — and in fact one of the first things that struck us about Venice was that every second shop was entirely devoted to masks. There are thousands of them, literally. And of all sorts: painted porcelain, leather, papier mache, sequin-covered, all sorts of interesting fabrics etc. Any possible conceivable mask could be found in Venice somewhere.

Venice - Masks

Venice – Masks

The costumes worn by people throughout the city (but mainly around the Piazza San Marco) were also extremely elaborate. Many of them appeared to be concoctions of tulle, rich fabrics, sequins — set off with plain white masks. But there were also Renaissance figures, medieval figures, young D’Artagnons, richly-dressed ladies of the past etc. Anything was conceivable.

The Piazza SM was very crowded, consisting mainly of huddles of people frantically taking photos of costumed figures, who seemed to spend all day walking a few paces and then stopping to pose serenely for at least ten minutes.

Venice costumes

Venice – Carnival costumes

Aside from those glorious costumes, there was street entertainment — mainly music by bands from all over Europe (it seemed). One German band played medieval-style music while dancing around and being generally silly. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the crowds, admiring costumes, listening to music and absorbing atmosphere.

Venice gondolaWe also wandered around the ‘streets’ of Venice, which consisted entirely of pedestrians and bridges over the canals. We were waylaid by a Gondolier at one stage, and succumbed to a 40 minute gondola ride. (Well, it has to be done doesn’t it?) We also had the privilege of training a new gondolier — he needs a bit more practice! In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed our gondola ride — the near-silent lapping of the waters against the side and the dip of the oar in the water, as we glided through some of the smaller canals.

Afterwards, we found and photographed the Bridge of Sighs. By this time we were so starving that we blew our food budget on dinner. I had pizza, H pasta — with bread and water. Hmmm. Tomorrow it will be bread and cheese again!

Venice canal[Saturday 12 February, 1994] We got up at 8:30am (how funny that now we’re on the road we can do so easily!) and packed and left. For breakfast we had yoghurt and banana on the banks of the Grand Canal, while further costumed merrymakers passed us by. It was all rather lovely.

We then caught the number one vaporetto to the train station, where we booked a train ride to Firenze (Florence) and deposited our packs in the luggage store. We then set about finding souvenirs — for Venice hit us hard and we will never be the same again. Venice has DEFINED the word ‘masquerade’ for me, and that is how I will always remember it.

We were distracted from our battle with the scores of Saturday tourists who had flocked to the carnival, by a group of four English actors performing in comic style a version of Richard III in four (4) languages (English, German, French and Italian). They really were hysterical and very clever. Lunch took place on the steps of the station, and then we took the train to Florence.

Okaaay, so I was just a little bit excited… Next stop in 1994 is Florence, where we are considerably more subdued.