Pompeii was simply stunning; so much more than I’d expected. For a 2000 year old town it’s in excellent condition: in some places, it’s even possible to make out painting on the walls of the villas and pretty much whole buildings, as well as mosaics, statues, fountains and the like are perfectly preserved. It’s simply mind-blowing to walk in the grooves made by carts thousands of years ago as if it were last week.
It’s bigger than I expected, too – much bigger. While of course I knew that it was a whole town that was buried in volcanic ash and mud in 79AD, I’d never really stopped to think about quite how big a town can be. There are paved roads with pavements and crossing points and street name signs cris-crossing between homes, workshops, temples, markets, stables, wells, plaza, stadia, theatres, monuments, and they’re still uncovering more after years of work. It’s still very much a working archeological dig, and on a couple of occassions I watched teams of researchers – behind their barriers of tape of wooden gates – retrieving and cleaning tools and fragments of pottery, storing each in it’s own numbered bag for later analysis. There’s a warehouse on one side of the town where hundreds of retrieved artefacts are shelved, and thousands more are stored off-site.
Here and there, plaster casts of the bodies retrieved have been made and returned to the buildings where they were found: huddled up or bent double, often clutching at their eyes or faces, often with a look of terror. At the time of the disaster, the people of the town really had little warning of their impending doom. It’s a stark contrast to the burial mounds and castles that have dominated British archeology.
Later, back in Napoli, we went out to eat at one of the pizzarias that’s participating in September’s annual Pizza Fest: a city-wide competition of pizza-making skill. We ordered – in our best Italian, as our waiter spoke no English at all – a couple of interesting starters and a bottle of white wine while they prepared our pizzas – a Quattro Formaggio for Claire and a Diavolo for me.
I’ve no problem with admitting that my pizza is the single best pizza I have ever had. I took the time to find an English-speaking waiter at the end of the meal to tell him so. Evidently the restaurant is proud of it’s history in winning awards, as they’ve covered the walls with prizes and related newspaper cuttings. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Hollywood Pizza in Aberystwyth the same light again.
We stayed for cake, and then for a few glasses of Limoncello, which I was in the process of trying to persuade Claire we should have when the waiter, impressed by our efforts to speak his native tongue (rather than just pointing-and-shouting like the Americans on the next table along), brought us a small chilled bottle of it on the house. Which was nice.
And then, painfully full and already quite drunk, we stumbled back to our hotel to find that the owner – having heard that it was our “honeymoon” – had given us a bottle of champagne, which he’d left in an ice bucket in our room.
Now we’re on the train back to Venice (about half-way through our 6-and-a-half hour train ride), where we’ll spend our final night in Italy before we fly back to the UK on Sunday morning. I can’t promise another blog post before we get back to Aberystwyth (and then, I’ll probably be writing a much-delayed post about QParty), so I’ll say now: this has been a fantastic and exciting trip. I’ve loved exploring three quite distinct parts of Italy, diving into the culture and language (badly) and, above all, spending an extended period of time of “just Claire and I,” something our lifestyles mean that we don’t get to do a lot of these days. Thanks again, dad, for this surprise trip.
Right, next time we come out of a tunnel (how long and how frequent are these Italian railway tunnels?) I’m going to post this! 3… 2… 1…