Posts Tagged With: Amphitheatre

Naples Part 3 – Pompeii & Herculaneum

Buongiorno,

Here’s Part 3 of the Naples trilogy 🙂 Although this blog post isn’t about the city itself, rather the surrounding areas. Naples is a great base for seeing lots of things – you can climb Vesuvius and visit a number of archaeological sites. If I had more time, I’d have done all of that and then worked my way down the Amalfi coast but alas, that’ll have to keep for another occasion. So limited on time, I decided to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. I did both of these in one day which is just about doable, but exhausting both physically and emotionally (I have a heightened sense of sympathy for those in natural disasters these days!)! As ever this is my personal opinion – there are obviously many more comprehensive guides to check out before you go.

Everybody has heard of Pompeii. Fewer have heard of Herculaneum though it’s arguably more preserved. Both were ‘frozen’ in time when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. Those that have seen both tend to recommend Herculaneum if you had to chose one or the other. I’m undecided. I’ll tell you about both and you can make your mind up.

Firstly, I’d just like to say how much I like the Romans! Wandering around Pompeii, you really get the feeling that the Romans knew how to live. Admittedly slavery probably wasn’t their greatest idea but generally I think they had it nailed back then. The lives of the elite seemed to revolve around lounging about all day on their chaise lounges being fed all manner of foods before relaxing in their saunas and pool, marveling all the while at the intricate mosaics  and murals surrounding them – and then having orgies! Homosexuality was so acceptable they even depicted it in pictures on some of their walls. How did such a liberal hedonistic ‘anything-goes’ society end up so… well, catholic?!

These pictures were in the “suburban baths” in Pompeii.

I can’t get over how advanced they were.  Vesuvius erupted 1938 years ago which seems an awfully long time ago but really, their lives back then seem remarkably similar (I’m tempted to say, perhaps better!). They had aqueducts and sewers. They ate similar foods, they had similar jobs, they had bakeries with brick ovens that look like the ones the Italians still use today for pizza, they had surgeries, launderettes and they had fantastic artists, sculptors and builders. They had sports halls (well, amphitheatres – much more glamorous than anything we manage today), takeaway restaurants serving an array of heated food (people didn’t have their own kitchens generally, eating out everyday instead), theatres, and brothels. It’s not hard to identify with the people of those times at all. Apart from all the infrastructure, they left their mark in other ways like graffiti and even in terms of leaving grooves in the roads where their carts travelled.

Pompeii

Pompeii is absolutely vast and that’s only the parts that have been excavated! The parts that are still buried really give you an idea of how much work is involved digging up meters of hardened ash without damaging the ruins underneath. The archaeologists must have endless patience; including sieving the contents of their sewers to work out what they used to eat.

I love the design of the well-to-do houses. Most had a large central area, partly covered with a roof angling into a hole in the middle where rain water would drip into a central pool which must have seemed like you had your very own waterfall.

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Here’s an example…

I would definitely recommend going on a guided tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t!  I got an audio guide but in my opinion, it’s almost impossible to use. It required you looking at a giant map trying to figure out which place was which and then putting in the appropriate two-part code. Some codes didn’t work. Many other codes worked but the rooms were physically closed off for visitors. The map had road names but the actual site doesn’t so pinpointing where you are is difficult. All rooms are physically numbered on the site itself, but these numbers differ from the numbers you need to press on the audio guide to hear the recording. Very rarely did an area have an information board, and even rarer still did it have an actual audio guide number on it.  I was left with a lot of questions that I would like to have posed to someone (though there were some excellent staff in some of the ‘special’ rooms who were able to answer questions).

In the main larger areas there are a number of sculptures (of recent times I might add!) that given the surroundings are thought-provoking and poignant.

In some areas you can see plaster casts of the people that were buried by the ash. The ash hardened around them and the archaeologists were able to inject plaster into the cavities where the bodies had decomposed to create a cast. You can see their expressions when they died, even the creases in their clothes. There are lots of toddlers. Even dogs. It’s very sad.

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I felt a bit disrespectful taking these pictures  – I spent a few moments apologising for the intrusion first!

 

Herculaneum

Herculaneum is Pompeii’s less famous sister site.  I’ve heard a few people that say that Herculaneum is “better” than Pompeii. It’s not at all, they’re just a bit different. Both were destroyed by the 79 AD eruption  but whereas Pompeii was covered in ash, Herculaneum was covered in 16 meters of lava. This difference resulted in the preservation of wood, fabric, plants etc. and interestingly, the upper floors of houses which you don’t see in Pompeii.

 

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This is a good example of a takeaway restaurant! There used to be food in these vats and if I got the right idea from the recordings, they were kept hot by a fire below (somewhere by that pile of bricks perhaps?!)

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And that little cubicle on the right hand side was a toilet! They didn’t have indoor plumbing but they had a seat with a chamber pot they could take out to the sewers outside.

Instead of plaster casts of bodies, there are skeletons; over 300 of them all crammed together in awful poses in the boat warehouses where they were presumably trying to escape. These boat warehouses which back then would have been on the shoreline, are now 400 meters away from the shore as the expanse of lava extended it. The Herculaneans couldn’t have escaped anyway even if they had got out to sea – there was a subsequent tsunami.  I feel so sorry for them – it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end and I guess, it was for them.

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Poor people 😦

There are still parts of Herculaneum buried under the town that towers above it but it is much smaller than Pompeii. It’s a much more compact and manageable site to view in a couple of hours. However, with Pompeii, you get a feeling of grandeur than you don’t get in Herculaneum (there are fewer columns and no massive forums and amphitheatres) so I think it would be a shame to miss out on that too. There are tickets that include both sites and another 3 archaeological sites in the area. If you’re there for longer than I was it would be quite nice to see all of them.

Something I would love to have done would have been to visit the underwater roman ruins in the Phlegraean Fields but I didn’t have the time or the diving qualification! If you’ve been, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

To get to both Pompeii and Herculaneum from Naples, the quickest and probably cheapest way is to take the Circumvesuviana train from the station at Piazza Garibaldi and go to the Pompeii Scavi Villa Misteri station for Pompeii and the Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum.

After a day of viewing the destruction caused by Vesuvius, I must say, I really worry about Naples and its neighbouring towns and villages. Vesuvius isn’t the only volcano to worry about, there’s also the Phlegraean Fields ‘super-volcano’  which lies to the west of Naples. Hopefully though, Italy has had its fill of natural-disasters for now but still, I think it’s worth visiting this lovely part of the country sooner rather than later just in case, eh?!

If you’ve got any questions on Naples and the surrounding areas, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂

Happy visiting!

 

x

 

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Verona, Verona and more Verona…

Buongiorno!

Well it’s about time to update on my trip to Verona last weekend – the girls and myself had a great time. In true, not very “blog” like fashion, I’ve rambled below so apologies – at some point I’ll work out the best way of updating on my Italian adventures that doesn’t require my blog followers to allocate an afternoon to it.

Getting there

Verona airport is fairly small so it’s quick to get out. There’s a bus that leaves from just outside the airport exit (there’s a ticket machine by the bus – tickets are €6) and takes you to Porta Nouva bus/railway station in Verona. From there it’s only a 10 minute walk to the centre. To get to the centre, have the bus station so that it’s behind you – cross over the road (there’s no footpath on the other side) and turn right past the petrol station for 5 minutes or so down that road. You need to cross over a busy-ish road and go straight ahead until you get to a largish roundabout/junction past some ruins on the left hand side. Turn left up Corso Porta Nuova for another 5 minutes or so.  When you get to a large amphitheatre, you’re in the centre!

Staying there

We stayed at Hotel Mastino – if you follow the above route, you’ll walk past it on the way – it’s a minute from the Amphitheatre so very well positioned.  And particular well positioned if you’re into fast food as it’s next to (and above) a McDonalds. The Hotel was very nice – quite plush inside, marble floors and things. There were 4 of us so we booked a family room which was very cosy/compact!

Hotel Mastino

There’s a spa attached to the main hotel but it’s expensive – the cheapest treatment was €45 for a head, back and leg massage for 30 minutes. Lisa actually had one of these and can confirm that they also do glutes. I think the general feeling was that the massage was very professional, but if you don’t speak much Italian, there’s a risk it can come across as a hostage experience as you’re taken away in a mystery vehicle to what turns out to be the sister hotel, given some paper pants and left to it for a bit. However, the massage should help with any hostage-related tenseness and you should have confidence that you will be delivered back. Your family need never know.

Sites:

Amphitheatre, otherwise known as “The Arena” in Piazza Bra: It’s a fabulous building – very grand. Lovely smooth rose coloured marble on the inside, crumbly on the outside (armadillo!). It costs €6 to get in. They still have concerts and operas here in the summer. I can imagine that being quite a spectacle. It’s quite crumbly in places but on the whole, very well preserved. You can go right to the top and get a good view of Piazza Bra. If you’re going when it’s icy, then be prepared to break a limb or two.

Arena

Piazza Bra (it does have a number of lingerie shops just off it up Vicola Tre Marchetti and Via Mazzini but er, otherwise there’s no connection): It’s packed with sweet stalls that open early and close late selling every sweet imaginable. Crepes with nutella are quite the rage here but they also had Fritellas – a sort of bubbly thicker crepe. Alas, because they make it with some kind of rose water it tastes disappointingly like old lady. Carla liked them.

View over Piazza Bra

Piazza Erbe: Has a little market in the middle selling clothes and fruit (and in particular, a mysterious orange fruit / vegetable I really wish I’d bought called Cacchi – or Cachio perhaps in the singular). I think there’s a tower here that you can pay to go up for a good view point but we didn’t, we found a free “view point” (keep reading for that).

Il Duomo: The cathedral was only €2.50 to get in. There’s lots of fresco’s inside – very impressive.

Il Duomo

Castelvecchio: We didn’t explore in here but the city art museum is inside. We walked through it and across Ponte Scaligero (Ponte is bridge) which is a footbridge across Fiume Adige (Fiume is river) to the northern part of the city.  It’s quite a nice building and if we had more time, it might have been good to take a look inside.

Castelvecchio and Ponte Scaligero

Castel San Pietro: This isn’t much of a castle from what I could see but it does have a fabulous viewpoint. It’s just across from Ponte Pietra on the Northern side of the river. I think this might have been my favourite place in Verona – there are spectacular views of the city and the river up here and it’s quiet and relaxing. Go up as far as you can up the steps close to the bridge, they’re a bit hidden away.

View over the city from Castel San Pietro

Casa di Guiletta (Juliet’s house – of Romeo & Juliet fame): It’s a bit of a mystery this house – Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was made up so this is not Juliet’s house. It has been randomly selected. The balcony was put in a few decades ago. However, if you want to be crushed by the crowds in a chewing gum encrusted alleyway, then this is your place.

Casa di Guiletta

Casa di Romeo – is simply nowhere to be seen. It exists. It’s on the map. But the writing was so big on the map and the roads are so small I think it could have been anywhere within a 100 metre radius and there’s only a small plaque to mark it. I think it’s the Italian real life equivalent of “where’s Wally?” ; “Where’s Romeo?”. Indeed.

Pam Supermarket (on Via Adigetto I think, very close to Piazza Bra): I’ve added this to “sites” because a) I think it might be the only supermarket in Verona and under the auspices of rarity, I think it qualifies as a site for that reason alone and b) I do like a good foreign supermarket. Ours are so mundane in comparison with not nearly as much variety in teeth-rotting sweets and cakes.

Restaurants & Cafes

Firstly, a word of warning on food in Verona:  One can never have too much horse/donkey meat here. There are not a lot of places that don’t serve it so if you’re not at one with eating donkeys, then go to the pizzerias.

Loacker Moccaria off Cso. S. Anastasia: On the first morning we found this little cafe for lunch and had some toasties/Paninis and a drink. Not that impressed with the paninis but this was our first experience of the Italian hot chocolate. Unfortunately, indirectly through staring at the hot chocolate of the girl next to us. It’s so thick – you could almost stand your spoon up in it. The general consensus from the group over the couple of days is that the teas were nice too (though I didn’t have any). Having said that, I’m not sure they DO tea in Italy, not the way the English do at least. They generally bring out a little pot of hot milk to put in your tea. Perhaps that’s what makes the tea nice. You get a little biscuit thing with your drinks too – Fondante Dark-Noir. Delicious. By the way, “latte” in Italian is “milk” so if you want an actual latte, ask for “cafe latte” otherwise you’ll just get milk.

Cafe Al’duomo – Via Duomo: Having been consumed with hot chocolate envy at the last cafe, we had hot chocolate here with cream (“panna”, not the squirty bottle kind but the genuine article) and cakes. The hot chocolate was everything we’d hoped and dreamed for (though not for Lucy – I think for her, there is such a thing as too much chocolate). The cakes were lovely and there was a nice young man who spoke Italian to me – woohoo! Admittedly I understood only every 10th word (he was describing the cakes and well, it turns out my lexical knowledge of cake ingredients in Italian requires work) but still, success!

Ristorante Pizzeria in Piazza Dei Signori (Piazza of the people): Is a very good value place to eat. It’s always a bit more comforting going to a restaurant where the Italians themselves go to eat and there were lots of them here. There are 3 floors – if you go to the top – you might get a window seat overlooking the piazza and at Christmas time, the Christmas Market is there. We had a lovely meal watching the snow fall down over the stalls.  For 4 pizzas, a litre of Valpolicella wine (Veronese wine) and a bottle of water it came to €61. The wine, well, don’t get me wrong, it was very nice (my wine descriptions are poor I’m afraid – the most I can do is “winey”, “grapey” and “red”) but, it was curiously and unexpectedly a little fizzy. Nice, but if you’re not expecting fizzy red wine, then er, a tad off-putting. I suspect this isn’t the case with all Valpolicella (though a swift look around the other tables at the restaurant confirmed a fizzyish top to their carafes as well).

Cafe Ebrius on Via Ponte Pietra: This was a cute little bar/cafe. The guy behind the bar spoke excellent English (annoying ;-)) and was very friendly. He served a couple of guys there some very interesting whiskey drink with whipped cream on top of it. Alas, the cafe’s/bars don’t really open late in Italy and they were going to be closed at the point where we might have actually wanted to drink whiskey with whipped cream.

Expensive place in Piazza Erbe:  Don’t go here. Admittedly you’d find it easier to follow these instructions if I gave you the name but I’m afraid I didn’t make a note of it. There’s a friendly enticing woman outside but don’t be allured in; it’s a trap. The cheapest thing is soup at €9.50 and the food isn’t great.

Bosari, C.SO Cavour: This was a lovely restaurant. However, we selected it based on its tasty looking, donkeyless menu. It turns out this was the lunch menu. The dinner menu was not as tasty looking and could well have been donkeyfull if we’d looked closely. In fact, for a vegetarian like myself, they seemed only to have some kind of olive potato starter. However, the waiter said they’d make some pasta for me and Lucy (claiming fraudulently she was a vegetarian too – meat eaters – do they have ANY morals? ) which was good of them – points to them for that. Those points were subsequently knocked back off as he kept replying to my Italian in English. I added some again because they gave us a little starter as an extra which was nice of them. And then took them away because it was fish eggs… It’s fair to say, we have mixed feelings of the Bosari restaurant.

For anyone visiting Italy and wondering what the mysterious ”Coperto” is, it’s cover charge. They don’t often charge it for drinks/cake but they do with food.

Miscellaneous

The Italians will never, under any circumstances, hand you your change. Ever.  I think this is the sole reason for queues in Italy. You hold out your hand for the change, and then they drop it onto a flat surface right next to your still waiting hand so that you have to push your change to an edge somewhere. Perhaps there’s a niche in the market for change collecting magnets in Italy.

Verona does have a slight sewage smell in parts. I wonder whether it gets worse in the summer? It wasn’t overwhelming, just in some places.

There are no “pubs”! It’s odd – people clearly want to have a sociable drink– the mulled wine stalls at the Christmas market were by far the busiest.

Dogs. Well, let me tell you… I had heard that Italians didn’t do pets, that my cunning money making kennels/cattery plan would fall flat because of it. Oh my word – dogs are everywhere in Verona. They’re allowed in shops, they stay in hotel rooms (with people… it’s not THAT extravagant). I’ve never seen so many pampered pooches. They don’t do medium sized dogs either – in Verona, your dog must either be the size of a large rat, or a small horse. And not your general mongrel either – it must be pedigree. And it must be adorned in only the most fashionable of garments.  So, I’m definitely still considering the kennel ideal though I’m thinking now to rebrand it as a Hooch Hotel.

On Sunday, women wear fur. Fur coats, fur collars, fur hats. Fur is the thing to do on a Sunday. I think it’s a religious “Sunday best” thing. And what better way to showing your appreciation to God than by wearing the skin of his creations? 🙂 And there are so many people in Verona on a Sunday, or at least, the Sunday we were there. We were walking around easily enough on Friday and Saturday and then on Sunday, it was like trying to wade through an overpopulated mink farm.

So in summary, Verona’s great. It’s not as grand as Rome, and not as romantic as Venice, but it’s got a charm of it’s own – there’s lots to see and do and well worth a visit!

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