Monday, April 11, 2016


Pompeii completely exceeded all of my expectations. 

I've always been fascinated by ruins, trying to imagine what the stones that have been preserved for a thousands of been a part of, and the lives that surround them. It's often been very abstract though; seeing columns or the outline of a building and trying to mentally fill in the rest. Pompeii brought back all the hours spent in high school and college history classes, learning about the ancient Romans and their incredible civilization. In Pompeii, you can see it and understand that it really was there. 

I'm starting to love tours. 

Walking around with a guide who fills you in on the ins and outs brings it to life. Words of advice should you ever visit the ancient buried city: Take a tour. While it is impressive to see the how well preserved the city is, without a tour you miss out on the history, the details, and some really interesting stories. It would also be hard to tell exactly what was what. My tour led me and about 30 other people through a day in the life of a Pompeii citizen, starting with a fast-food stand. Ok, not an ancient McDonalds, but there were ancient "restaurants" where the owner would have a few pre-made stews or dishes ready to spoon out and be taken away. It really was almost like a drive through, but instead you'd walk up to the front of the building, pick from the few options, and be sent off with a delicious meal. In the corner, you can see a stair; the proprietor of this shop lived upstairs. The guide mentioned that the people were smaller back then so I guess they needed less space, but the room was incredibly small and it made me so appreciative of my little apartment!

Look carefully for those wheel-tracks!

The structure of the city was well thought-out down to the stones in the street. 

When the streets were cleaned (and gross sewage washed down them), the people needed a way to cross to the other side without getting their feet covered in grossness. So these stones were put in along the streets every few yards. Because they were up higher, you could cross the street safely and cleanly by stepping on them. It was crazy to see how each was placed so that a cart and horse could still maneuver between them; I could see deep gouges in the rock that had been worn down by hundreds of carts passing in the same spot over the years.

Lead Pipes: The Downfall of the Roman Empire?

Even things as simple as the pipes running through the city blew me away. These have been here for thousands of years! They say that the lead pipes carried water to the homes of the ancient roman elite. The craziness of some of the emperors (Caligula, anyone?) could have been due to a concentration of lead in the pipes being 100 times greater than water from local springs. Crazy!

Look at that tiny little bed!
Take your pick ;)
The brothel was fascinating as well! As a port-city, the city was full of brothels (called Lupanar for the She-Wolves who resided there) which catered to an international crowd. The wolf-dens were small with few rooms, each of which was outfitted with a tiny stone bed- yes, stone. Not only does that sound ridiculously uncomfortable, but the beds were so teeny-tiny! I'm a short little person, and those beds looked too small even for me! Anyway, the walls were covered in frescos depicting... ahem... a 'menu' of sorts for customers to choose from when requesting their services- pretty convenient for those travelers arriving in the port-city who may not have known the local Latin! There is also ancient graffiti that, much like reviews on TripAdvisor, gave opinions of previous customers. It was pretty fascinating stuff!

The art hidden amongst the ruins was a tribute to the people's appreciation for beauty. Celings and walls were covered in colorful, chipped-away frescos in shades of blue and red. Like the cobblestones and the remnants of buildings, these provided another snapshot into ancient life. All throughout the buried city were these incredible bronze statues. At first I thought they were just well preserved works of art, but as it turns out they were much more recent works by Igor Mitoraj. I have to say, I was obsessed with them. Set against the ruins and the volcano, they were a very dramatic addition to the views. Many of the huge states appeared broken, but perfect at the same time. Somehow this made them seem intensely sad, and enhanced the solemn and awed mood I felt while exploring the ancient city.  The dichotomy of the old and new, broken and flawless, the current tranquility and history of catastrophe was overwhelming and moving. 

As glad as I am to get to see such a frozen moment in history, it was also a humbling moment that like many of my favorite travel experiences made me feel very small. 

The reason we can still visit the old city and actually see so much of how they lived was because the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted on August 24th, 79 AD, burying the city in a hurricane of ash as a mixture of lava and mud flow cascaded toward the nearby towns. The people were completely taken by surprise, as it had been labeled an extinct volcano for decades. For hundreds of years the city lay buried in between 13-20 feet of ash, which preserved the city in its last tragic moments. When experiencing new cultures and being surrounded by history, I always have the intense desire to learn more, but I found in this case that I was avoiding learning more about the actual eruption. While the culture fascinates me, when we came to the courtyard where you can view three plaster casts of frozen victims of the eruption (a man, a dog, and a child), I found that I couldn't look and had to walk away, crying. Seeing them makes it too real and too horrifying, and maybe it's immature to avoid the reality of the tragedy, but I can't think about it. I loved visiting Pompeii and would 100% recommend it to anyone visiting Italy. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The One Where I Get Locked on a Train in Naples

Despite being alone for the majority of my time in Dubrovnik, I still look back at it as one of my favorite trips. I love traveling alone!

For Spring Break, after some plans that I hope still happen another time fell through, I wanted to recreate the peace and relaxation of my time in Croatia, and decided to pull another "Spontaneous-Take-the-First-Train-Out" trip! My last STTFTO to Torino was it's own experience, but because I hadn't been in Italy long, there were tons of trains heading to northern cities I had never seen. While I said that I wanted spontaneity from this trip, I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go: South. Salerno, Sorrento, Carpi, Amalfi, Positano... I wanted sunshine, cobblestones, and to see the sea. Not swim in it (my hopes weren't quite so high about the weather), but to be near it.

I headed for the train station late Friday morning, and was a little disappointed to see that there weren't any trains going as far south as I wanted to go. It was Easter weekend, though, and a school break for most kids in the area, so it made sense. And that's what I get for not booking ahead of time! The next available train in a southern direction was to Rome, so that's where I went. Rome was, of course, lovely and majestic and fabulous.

Ahh! So many people!

Because I was only there for a night as a stop-over, I won't get into that too much! 

Two things that did strike me as odd during this portion of the trip: 1) The Colosseum was closed. The streets leading to it were blocked off a few hundred  yards away, so you couldn't go see it... weird. 2) Crowds are never a joy to maneuver through, but near the Trevi Fountain, for some reason I got very panicky while walking through the crowd. I'm not sure if it was claustrophobia or everything going on in the world lately, but I completely freaked out and couldn't get away fast enough. Obviously I stayed long enough for a picture though.

The next morning was another early one; I left for Naples first thing. Before saying anything else, I just want to quickly share the advice I had recieved about Naples: When I mentioned to some friends that I'd be heading south on my own, I was adamantly told "DO NOT GO TO NAPLES ALONE." From what I hear, it's a beautiful place and I would love to visit with someone with a better handle on the language (and a place to drop my bags for the day). However, with visions of muggings dancing in my head, I intended on a quick switch over to a Sorrento-bound train the second I stepped into the Napoli train station. 

As the train came closer to our destination, a woman I had been speaking with told me that it would be best to just go straight to Pompeii, check my bag at the train station, and explore for a while before making my way further south to my final destination. That way I wouldn't have to double back. Perfect! I rushed through the station, proud of my travel-savvy-self that I was able to find the "Circumvesuviana" signs I had read would point me towards the local trains. At the ticket counter, the man implored me to hurry downstairs, as the next train to Pompeii would leave in just two minutes- it was right downstairs, hurry!

I did, hopped right on the train (very glad to have made it in time), pulled out my phone to continue reading Game of Thrones (maybe better than the show- I don't know why I waited so long to read it), and settled in to the next leg of my journey. At one point I noticed that while I was getting on the train, others were getting off, but that's the way of trains, right? They pull into the station and some people get off, some get on. I guess a minute or two later I noticed that everyone but me had gotten off, which didn't concern me too much. We were leaving in two minutes, and I had the train to myself! 

Maybe it was around this time that I noticed the lights were off. Also not too strange, I guess; it was a bright and sunny day! Although it was pretty dark... Hmm. This is when I started feeling uncomfortable and a little unsure. I thought, "I'll just get off and see what's going on. Maybe we're delayed or something." Well, the door wouldn't open. I pushed the button, still nothing. Went to the next door. Nothing. Tried prying the doors apart with the immense strength I clearly have... nothing. I wasn't quite panicking yet, but I was getting there!

I walked up to the front of the train and peeked into the conductor's little room, but unfortunately it was empty. Then I noticed the "Emergency Button." Now, being the center of attention is one of my least favorite things to be, so the idea of pressing a button that might make alarms go off or something was very worrisome, but I didn't know what else to do so I pressed it. It wasn't an alarm though, just a call button... It called the conductor in his conductor compartment, but of course he wasn't in there. Now I panicked. I wasn't seeing anyone walk by the window's to signal for help, and remember that I had not heard the most comforting, secure-feeling stories about Naples, so I was very worried. 

I ran up and down the main aisle a few times trying the doors again, until finally, maybe after being trapped for 5 minutes or so (which felt like 18 years in Azkaban), a man walked by. I knocked on the windows and tried to signal that I was trapped (shrugging with hands up and a scared face while pulling on door was my signal), and he motioned to me to wait (I did). He came in and brought me out through the special conductor's door and sent me on my way. It took me a good 20 minutes to calm my nerves and stop sweating profusely, but eventually I made it to the correct train (it was down the stairs, but not to the very first train... oops!) and on to Pompeii. While it wasn't my favorite half hour of my life, it's actually really funny looking back at it and I sincerely wish I had the security tape of me running around the train in a panic.