Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day 7 – Pompeii & Naples: Hot rocks and pizza

My itinerary for today looked something like this:
8:15am - 12:15pm –    Pompeii excursion:  “Your tour departs from Naples where you'll board a motorcoach to Pompeii. Upon arriving at Pompeii, your knowledgeable guide will escort you on a tour of the excavations that were once buried beneath the ashes when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.”
12:30 – 6:30 p.m –       Naples: eat pizza

All four of us headed out bright and early on a bus to Pompeii this morning.  So did a whole lot of other people – the parking lot was full of buses and groups of stickered people.  We started out with a tour of a cameo factory attached to the archeological site, where we watched an artisan who was hard at work on a nearly completed cameo – he’d been at it for five days! No wonder the cameos are so expensive. With the obligatory cameo tour completed, we turned to the main event – Pompeii. 
Pompeii was founded around the 7th-6th c. BC by the Oscans, a people of central Italy.  Over the years it was captured by the Etruscans, the Greek colony of Cumae and the Samnites.  In 80BC it became a Roman colony and a port for goods that arrived by sea and had to be sent toward Rome or Southern Italy. Pompeii was destroyed when it was buried under 4 to 6 meters of ash and pumice from the volcano Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.  At the time of the eruption, it’s estimated the population was around 20,000. The city was lost for nearly 1700 years before being discovered in 1749.

Our guide took us past the remains of homes, storefronts, a theatre and a brothel.  It’s amazing that so much of the site remains in such good condition. It wasn’t hard to picture it as it once was. To think that they had running water and baths! An aqueduct provided water for street fountains, public baths, and a large number of private houses and businesses.





Theatre

Our guide pointing out drawings on the wall -- ancient graffiti.

A road in Pompeii


Stone bed, in brothel
Wall art, in brothel





Fresco, still in great condition

Urns and other finds in storage.




Storefronts on the left side of the street


After Pompeii, the bus dropped us off at the ship dock.  Sara was off to join another tour – this one to Herculaneum, another ancient site that was even better preserved than Pompeii.  Carolina decided to return to the ship for the afternoon.  Roisin and I headed into Naples.

Naples is a crazy city.  Within minutes, I’d had a handful of near death experiences thanks to the Vespas and other motorized vehicles whipping along with complete disregard for pedestrian crossings.  It took a while in Rome to get comfortable with the pedestrian crossings, which are just lines on a road – the idea being that when you step out onto those lines, traffic is supposed to stop. There at least the cars would slow down and sometimes stop if you ventured out.  In Naples, I swear the drivers sped up!  And cursed and made ugly hand gestures to us to boot! We quickly developed a survival strategy – we’d wait on the sidewalk until someone else crossed and then if the traffic seemed inclined to stop, we’d follow them.


Our first order of business was to find pizza, and not just any pizza. After a fair bit of internet research, I had narrowed my list to two options: di Mateo and da Michele.   Since da Michele seemed to be the closest to us, according to the map, we headed in that direction to the old historic center of Naples. 

Finding it would have been much easier if Naples were inclined to install street signs, hand-scrawled directions, picture drawings … anything.  I was able to get my bearings when we reached Via dei Tribunali -- the main decumanus or east-west street of ancient Neapolis.
The other thing that threw me off is that these “main streets” were more like alleys… narrow cobble-stoned lanes just wide enough for a small vehicle.


Walking down the decumanus was an experience in itself – shopkeepers and locals lined up along the storefronts, talking and shouting to each other, vehicles honking at pedestrians or oncoming vehicles as they tried to manoeuver down a space barely wide enough for one car. Laundry hanging overhead. It was a sensory overload, mid-day chaos; it was fabulous.  
Fresh fish for sale


Eventually we turned down an even narrower alley that my map said would take us to da Michele; however, this alley seemed purely residential. An old man, sitting on his stoop sees us with our maps, and asks “Look for pizza?” and pointed us further down the road.  So, we followed his directions, came around a bend and saw a crowd of people milling around outside a shop – da Michele! 

My research instructed to take a number before queuing outside so I elbowed my way into a bright and crowded restaurant. When given the option to skip the wait for a table and order to go, I went with that option and ordered a margherita pizza (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) and a coke, for only 6€!
While waiting for my order I was able to watch the cooks at work in the open kitchen.  It was like a perfectly choreographed ballet – I guess with being in business for more than 130 years, they’ve had time to perfect their craft. One man would work the dough and put it on a paddle being held by another.   Another man then stretched out the dough and layered on the toppings.  The man holding the paddle would pirouette to the massive brick oven, putting the long paddle into the open front just as another man finished pulling out a pizza and slid it into a waiting box or on a plate being held ready by another man.  Watching them work was amazing.  Perfect timing as they turned pizzas in the oven, moved them around, pulled one out as another was smoothly slid in.  They never stopped – it was like one fluid motion performed by four or five men. 
And the pizza! It was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. The dough was a thin, jagged shape, light and airy, and both chewy and crispy at the same time. The dough was good enough to eat on its own.  But then, when you add in the flavours of fresh tomatoes, melted buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil … unbelievable.  I sat on a window ledge on the street, box open on my lap, happily revelling in my traditional Naples pizza.




After lunch, we headed back through ancient streets, to explore old Naples, wandering into a few shops, lingering over fruit stands whose produce was so full of colour it didn’t seem real, and finding beautiful churches and monuments among run-down apartments.


























Eventually we made our way to San Lorenzo Maggiore church, which dates back to the Franciscan order in Naples during the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi, and where we could explore Naples underground.
Courtyard, and a well, in the church


Under the church are the remains of a Roman market, with storefronts with walls and ceilings still intact. About half of the original Roman market has been excavated. Not only was the cool and quiet interior a nice break from the hot and noisy streets of Naples, but it was a surreal experience to walk through a church, down some steps, and be transported back 2,000 years.



Down these steps, and into a Roman market.

Looking down at a Roman road; storefronts on the left.


Terracotta water pipe, embedded in the wall

Roisin, taking a breather by a set of stairs
Designs on the wall still clearly visible



Remnants of wall paintings



After touring underground, we explored the church’s museum showing the history of the area from classical archaeology to a display of historical shipping routes from Naples throughout Magna Grecia and the Roman Empire.




We emerged once again into present day Naples, and wandered the maze of streets some more on our way back to the ship, past markets and bakeries with the sweet smell of Sfogliatelle -- Naples’signature sweet pastry with light layers of flaky pastry dough on the outside and a filling of sweetened ricotta cheese on the inside – and stopping to see to the Piazza Bellini, a square surrounded by cafes and interesting architecture, Piazza del Gesu Nuovo , and the Fontana di Neptuna.











Back on the ship that evening, I entered our cabin to find that Julie, our steward, had been more creative than usual in preparing our room for the night. 
Ruby Princess

In addition to laying out our nightgowns, he'd made some towel art. I think the rabbit was supposed to be cute, but it landed more on the side of disturbing for me. Then again, I think all rabbits are evil.   
Wow! I have a waist!
Towel art




Dinner tonight: seafood appetizer, salad, and broiled fish





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