Thursday, July 23, 2009

Time to go Home

Oh, the joys of sitting on airplanes!

21 Hours, from hotel to front door, including 15.5 hours on planes.

We changed at JFK, getting thru customs, immigrations, and security in time to walk up to the gate for the next flight, sit down on plane and have them close the door behind us.

Got home to an overgrown lawn, a kitchen counter covered with mail and two cats frantic for attention.

I'll try to add a few more pics this weekend so check back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday, July 21

Today is a travel day. We take a cab to the train station in Sorrento.
Then a slow local train from Sorrento to Naples - 1:15.
Then a fast direct EuroStar from Naples to Rome - 1.45.
Then a slow direct from Rome to the airport - 0.45.

We are now at the airport Hilton, resting before our flight home tomorrow.
Enjoying AC and inexpensive broadband.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Today we took the ferry to Capri. Lots of transport as usual. Taxi to ferry which was quite late to Capri. Then funicular up to top where the Capri town is. Beautiful views but jam packed with tourists. We wandered a bit, took some pictures and stopped for a light lunch. Then Michael deposited me in one of the 4 outdoor bars in the square and he went off in search of the Villa of Tiberius, where he (Tiberius, not Michael) tortured people and threw them off the cliff if they displeased him. Not a nice guy.

I was pleasantly surprised to look up from my kindle in the shade of the bar to see our friend Libby who was with us in Pompeii and gave us a ride to Sorrento on her way to Positano. Turns our she ran into Michael on her way down from T's villa and he sent her to the cafe. We chatted for a while and watched a wedding go by and then a worker trundling a coffin. The two groups passed in the square!

Ultimately Michael returned and we waited for the funicular and then hot footed it to the dock which turned out to be wrong one to take the ferry home to Sorrento. We had to retrace our steps and walk fast then push and shove our way on to the boat. We arrived back at our hotel about 8 hours after we left exhausted.

Capri is beautiful but too crowded and touristy for my taste!

Michael's walk to the villa of Tiberius.

What started out as an easy walk changed quickly. The slope increased to 12 to 15 degrees! It took about 45 minutes to walk out to the villa, which is on the very eastern tip of the island. I finally made it, a little short of breath.
The view is absolutely stunning. You can see the entire Bay of Naples to the north and the beginning of the Amfali coast to the south. Although it is warm, there is a nice breeze blowing.
Some time after Tiberius became emperor, he visited Capri and never left. I can see why. He probably felt that for the first time in decades he had finally found a place where he could live in peace. It was not to be.
The first thing he needed was someone in Rome to keep an eye on things. He chose the commander of his guard, Sejanus. Tiberius delegated significant authority to Sejanus while he began to indulge his inner demons on Capri.
The story of the rise and fall of Sejanus is one of the most interesting in imperial history. Sejanus ruled almost as a co-equal. Unfortunately, it was not enough and soon he wanted it all. He then embarked a a murderous spree, killing senators, generals, the wealthy and even members of the imperial family. Sejanus did such a good job of isolating Tiberius on Capri that Tibierius had no idea what was going on. Sejanus was months away from being able to strike at Tiberius himself when word finally got thru to Tiberius and Sejanus was overthrown.
Tiberius was so bitter he initiated a blood bath in Rome and thousands died. He then began to look for a successor and chose his young nephew Caligua. In choosing Caligua, he said he planned to "nurse a viper for the bosom of Rome". Into this young man he poured all his hatred, bitterness and paranoia. Living with the emperor on Capri, Caligua was permanently warped and would ultimately, after becoming emperor, succumbed to his own inner demons.
For the last five years of his reign, Tiberius allowed his inner demons to run wild, turning his villa on Capri into a chamber of horrors and debauchery. One of his favorite activities was to have anyone who displeased him thrown of the cliff of the villa, straight down 300 meters to the sea. It is all still visible even today.
Eventually Tiberius died of old age on Capri, having not returned to Rome for 10 years. Upon his death Caligua became emperor.
Tiberius' death was devastating for the island of Capri. Caligua immediately returned to Rome, taking the imperial family and administration with him, never to return. The island was forgotten and all the beautiful imperial buildings left to fall into ruin. It would be centuries before Capri would play any role in the history of Italy.
Sitting up here with the stunning views its hard to believe that it could turn into such a horror, but it did. And poor Tiberius never did find the peace he was seeking.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday in Sorrento

We awake to a beautiful morning, the breeze having died down. We had brunch overlooking the sea. The staff is busy repairing the wooden deck planks of the sun deck, which have taken a good pounding from yesterday’s surf. I have spent the better part of the afternoon working on this and now am going to have a look at some of the pictures I have taken.

On to Sorrento

The next morning, a little worse for wear, (me, at least), we pack and check out. One member of our group is taking a car down the Amalfi coast and we hitch a ride as far as Sorrento. The drive is very pretty as it winds along the coast of the Bay of Naples, looking back to Naples and Vesuvius. After about 40 minutes we arrive at our hotel, which is positively awesome. It sits atop the cliff directly on the Bay. We learn we have been upgraded to a suite with a great view of the Bay and Vesuvius. When we arrive the wind is howling and the sea crashing into the sun deck. However, this is most welcome as it is 15 degrees cooler than in Pompeii and the sea breeze feels wonderful.

We were upgraded to a Suite overlooking the ocean with a large terrace - simply beautiful!

In the evening we venture into town for dinner. Sorrento is a maze of pretty, narrow streets filled with shops and people, both locals and tourists. It’s Saturday night and everyone is out. We go to restaurant suggested by Gary, a fellow vegetarian. It is good and we have a nice meal which ends well, as we do not have to spend 30 minutes trying to figure out how to divide up the bill between 15 people.
Of course, we finish the meal with Limoncello, in honor of Lance! This seems to be the biggest export of Sorrento.

The last day in Pompeii

The weather today will be the same as the others. Our group is getting smaller. Some folks have to return to Rome to catch flights home or trains to other destinations. Some are exhausted and just wish to be tourists. We are now down to the hardcore.

But first things first. One place I really want to see is the Villa of the Mysteries, a villa just outside the city that was the home of the members of the cult of Dionysius (or Bacchus). There are some stunning frescos in this villa and as I have just finished a course in the mystery religions of the Greek and Roman world I want to see these frescos for myself.

Using the site map I go off with one other person to find the villa. After a while the road dead ends directly into a villa. I look at the map, but can not figure out how this has happened. We back track but are unable to find a place where we could have made a wrong turn. As we stand there, a group of women (of course) come by, hauling what looks like architectural gear. I ask for directions and they tell us the villa we were in was the one we were looking for! That will teach me to interpret a tourist map literally. Back to the villa, it takes a good 10 minutes of wandering around to find the frescos but eventually they are found and are as awesome as I had hoped.
We walk back to the site. There we find the grad students have moved in and are beginning to lay out the grid that will be used to map the site. I get to use the survey gear and am beginning to feel like a real archeologist! In addition, the group has begun to dig several large pits that should take us down to the natural stone level the city was first built on.

I am assigned to work on the triclinium. I am to clear off the top and sides to give us a clearer picture of how it was made. In short order I find that the top layer of stones is sitting on at least 6 inches of dirt instead of another layer of stones as it should be. Gary and I discuss this, with me telling him that if I remove that upper layer of stone I am going to end up destroying the whole thing. He says to go forward and so I do, slowly pulling the whole thing apart. And that is where the day ends.

Two members of today’s group have found a small item of interest. This is cool as the items go into plastic bags for examination later. (It turns out that plastic bags are a badge of honor.) “My” marble door frame support is to be left in situ. One item is part of a small vessel. The other is an item for personnel use carved out of bone. It has two holes carved in it. No one is sure what is for.

Every Friday the group as a whole tours the entire site, with each supervisor discussing the weeks work and what has been learned. We join them and our site is included in the tour, with a mention going to “my” marble door frame support. I got a powerful feeling of really being part of this team, even if it was only for a short while.


The entire staff has been staying in a 6 story house. One group is ending their work and leaving tomorrow and a party is being held in their honor. We are invited.

We arrive late in the evening to discover that Gary is revealing a new side of his personality – as a DJ. Much drinking and carrying on continues into the night. Although they are graduate students, they still carry on like undergrads. I guess I would too if I had been working that hard in those conditions for that long.

I wander thru the house to see what their living conditions are like and suddenly find myself face to face with an important part of my past. They live just like I did at the Co-op back at Michigan. Several people to a room on small beds, personal belongings everywhere. I swear I can see my 20 year old self sitting amongst the mess in the room saying “Hi, remember me?” It is something of a shock.

Thursday in Pompeii

This will be our first full day of digging. Will we survive or wilt in the heat? Like yesterday, it is in high 80’s before we even start, going for the mid-90’s before we are done.
While we are waiting to start I go back to look at my marble door support. I find chicken tracks around it that have knocked some dirt back on to it. I go to clear it off, when I notice a second depression in the stone that somehow I had over looked yesterday. (The stone is in full sun this morning, where it was fully shaded yesterday.) I grab TT and go to work on it, finding a perfectly square hole, the same depth of the circle, about 3 inches across. A new find!

We are formed into new teams and moved to different parts of the site than we worked in yesterday. There is disappointment, as we have become somewhat possessive of what we found yesterday. I spend of few minutes with the person who will be working on “my” floor so he knows my thinking.

Mike and I find ourselves on the same team again, assigned to the most difficult section of the whole site. (Are you picking up a pattern here?!?!) Our blessed shade trees have produced many off shoots which have become as dense as grass only with much bigger roots. They have grown over and into what should be the back wall of a room that holds the smaller water feature. Our task – clear them away. We struggle all morning with this growth, work made all the more difficult by the fact that we don’t have the tools we need and the ones we do have are as dull as can be. It is more like tearing at branches than cutting. At one point Mike says, “This isn’t archeology, its gardening!” We both have a grim laugh over that.

By lunch, we have found what could be parts of the expected wall. It is very fragile as the roots have gotten into it. (It turns out that roots are the great evil in destroying remains. They burrow thru the mortar and break up the structure of the features, causing them to fall apart when the now supporting dirt is removed.)

While we are resting, I take a look at how “my” floor is coming. As expected, it runs all the way back to the large wall. In some places a bit of the plaster remains, but for the most part it is just the rough concrete surface. The triclinium is now clearly defined. The large “water feature’s” outside dimensions have been established and work is beginning on the inside to see how deep it will go and to see if we can decide if it is a well or a cistern. (One woman will spend the next day and half on this task, getting down about 3 ½ feet. In it she will find a piece of cut marble about a foot long and a foot tall. It has been shaped to fit with other pieces to make up a fa├žade for something. However, the experts are undecided if this is ancient or something far more recent.)
During the day a film crew from Nat Geo has been onsite, taping interviews with our other site director and some of the dig supervisors. At one point, they stage a scene of folks cleaning little bits of pottery. When I ask Gary what Nat Geo hopes to get out of this particular bit, he says, “Women with large breasts.”
This is a good point to talk about gender in archeology today. When we first walked the site yesterday, meeting the grad students I immediately noticed that at least 75% of them were women. During a break we discuss this and Gary says that enrollment at the undergraduate level in archeology these days is 90% women. However, there is still a serious “glass ceiling” in the upper levels of academia. Gary says part of this is due to the fact that “the old guard is not dying off fast enough”.

Anyway, perhaps some day our site will be in the background of a Nat Geo TV special on Pompeii!
After lunch, we tell Gary that without the proper tools going any further into “the jungle” will due more harm than good. He agrees and assigns us to begin digging deeper into the “room” the walls seem to define. We still have not found one of the walls and it might be deeper than where we have gotten to so far. This is far easier work and we make great progress. After an hour or so TT goes clunk again and I quickly begin to uncover what I assume to be the missing wall. Everyone is happy until after exposing 3 feet of said wall it ends. More disappointment and puzzlement. A good place to stop before we keel over.

Across the site in general we have reached the 79 CE level. Gary says tomorrow we will begin the real purpose of the dig in this area – to remove the 79 CE level and see what we can learn about the area’s development over the centuries prior to 79 CE. What takes a little while to sink in is the fact that in order to do that we have to destroy everything we have worked to bring out to this point. Horrors!!! As this is our last night together as a full group, we organize a thank you dinner for Gary and Elana at the best restaurant in town. This turns out to be great fun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pompeii Dig - Day 1

The big day finally arrived - the tour of the ruins of Pompeii followed by the first day's dig. Michael was so excited he awoke before 6 am in anticipation. We gathered for breakfast and then suited up with extra water, hats, sunscreen and cameras - yes, we looked like American tourists!

It was beastly hot so we started at 8:30 am hoping to avoid the worst of the mass tours. We started at the road of tombs on the outskirts of the ancient town. Gary explained the lay of the land and showed us things to look out for.

As we entered the town itself it became immediately apparent how big the town is and how although all the buildings are in ruins, the layout is basically intact. It is a small city with shops, houses, hotels, restaurants, gambling powers and brothels, basically frozen in time when it was covered with pumice from the eruption of Vesuvius. The city is laid out in an organized fashion with large stoned roads and raised sidewalks. The roads most traveled contain deep ruts, almost like train tracks, where they were worn by the carts.

The preservation was so complete that even some paintings remain on internal walls and political slogans painted on the outside of buildings. Note to expert photographers - these are Alex's pictures, not Michael's. His will be uploaded later.

POMPEII - Michael's side of things

At last, the day we have been waiting for – into the ancient city. As we walked the half mile or so to the entrance we noticed that even though it was only 8.30 in the morning, the day was already warm – 85 degrees. We entered thru a less used gate and began our tour. Roman law stated that burials were not allowed within the city walls, so along the roads leading to towns it was common place to find tombs lining the roads and Pompeii was no exception. (Romans engaged in cremation, so no bodies were placed inside tombs, just jars with ashes. Burials of intact bodies did not begin until the spread of Christianity.) Some of the tombs were quite elaborate.
We then entered the town’s gates. One of the first places we went was a small villa where a number of bodies we found. You have probably seen pictures of the plaster casts, so I won’t go into how the people actually died and how we know what their finally moments looked like. We continued on our tour, peeking into buildings with wonderful mosaic floors or frescos. As I said earlier, the upper floors were completely destroyed; some any houses we saw that had roofs were because they had been rebuilt.

Along one street we came upon a house whose front had been excavated, but the inside was still full of volcanic material, with more towering over it from behind. Nearly one third of the city that was within the ancient walls remains unexcavated. The primary reason for this is due to a lack of government funds, to maintain what has already been unearthed and to provide adequate staffing. Leaving the rest in situ means the treasures are better protected than they would be if unearthed and left to decay in the weather.
As we worked our way to the forum, we began to encounter the hoards. Like many popular tourist sites, people come on buses and walked around in large groups with lecturing guides. After a while this became a problem, as when you went to look at something only to find 40 people standing around it 5 deep so it was impossible to see the thing!
There continues to be great debate about why the buildings in the forum were found in the condition they were. In 62 CE, Pompeii was struck by a large earthquake – and presumably many after shocks. Some people think the forums buildings were badly damaged in the quake and were still under going restoration 17 years later when Vesuvius erupted. Others think that Nero was putting a lot of money into the town to upgrade early simple buildings to nicer facilities (Nero’s second wife was from the region). We will probably never know.
I’ll add an aside here. It is probable that the earthquake broke a cap deep underneath the volcano that had kept the magma in place for centuries. This began a process of the magma working its way to the surface, eventually reaching a weak point and blasting thru. It seems to me that Pompeii was doomed from the moment of the earthquake, but they didn’t know it. Although the Romans knew what volcanoes were, they did not have a science to study volcanoes. And thus they went about daily life not knowing of the time bomb building under their feet every day.

After the forum we went to a small shaded area and lunch was brought in. We were grateful for the shade as the temp was now in the low 90’s.
After lunch we made our way to the area where we were going TO DIG!

The project was created to explore the city below its 79 CE surface as a way of learning about how the city evolved since its founding. (Pompeii was ~ 500 years old when destroyed.) A site was chosen just inside the Stabi gate. This area had been undergoing s transformation from an “industrial” area to a commercial one of shops and residences at the time of the eruption. It was a modest neighborhood and little of interest had been found in the initial excavation so the authorities gave permission to excavate below the 79 CE floors.
The site had been cleared of the volcanic debris in the early 20th century. Those folks left some sketchy notes about what they found, but since they were still little better than treasure hunters they moved on. The Stanford project has been working for 5 years to dig in 5 insulas (a multistory residential building) and see what they could find. Our area was in one of those buildings, all the way in the back, where the previous work had found a triclinium (a U shaped dining coach) and some unknown “water features”. (For those interested, the back wall of our building backed on the area now know as the gladiator barracks, a nice open space used by gladiators for training.)
Our work would progress in phases. The first was to remove 100 years of build up to get back to the 79 CE level. The second would be to remove the 79 CE level and see if we could learn the developmental history of the buildings prior to that. Trowels at the ready, we prepared to get dirty!
We were broken into teams and assigned various areas. I was to be part of a team of 5 assigned to start at the wall and work our way to the front of this back room. Myself and another fellow named Mike started digging with shovels while the others formed a bucket brigade to carry away the debris we generated. In a matter of minutes, Mike and I made a grim discovery. In the early 20th century, the corner against the wall had been used as a dump for construction debris, probably from work done to improve the appearance of the barracks next door. We were soon digging up large pieces of tiling, stray rocks and just trash. I found at least a half dozen intact small glass bottles that had to be 100 years old.
It took an hour of hard work to clear out the trash before we hit enough dirt to get out our trusty trowels (TT). We worked from the wall to a still standing column that appeared might be at the intersection of a couple of (now) low standing walls.
Working away, my TT went clunk against something different than the rest. Working slower, I began to clear away a different kind of stone. Gary happened to be standing over me and told me stop and ran to get a brush. Handing it to me he told me to clear away the rest of the dirt. And there was a piece of marble about 10 inches long with a clear depression in it. Clearing out the depression it turned into a perfectly carved hole, about ¾” deep and 3 inches in diameter. Gary got very excited and called everyone over to see what I had found – The anchor for a post that supported a door. The first important find! WOO HOO. I’m a star!! – for about 10 minutes.
As my stone was directly across from the column, Gary said that I should be able to find a threshold that would have run between the walls and the column. Digging out several inches down between the two I find – nothing. Disappointment. Gary wanders off to see how the others were doing. Has my moment in the sun had passed?
The space I was working in was about a foot and a half away from the outer rim of one of our “water features” so I moved over there and began to clear away the space between the rim and the column, while the rest of the group cleared the other side of the outer rim and began to dig out the feature itself. Digging deeper I moved slowly back to the column and the space where the threshold should have been. After about ½ hour I was back at the threshold about 8 inches deep than my first try. TT goes clunk. Slowly but surely a stone wall begins to emerge, my missing threshold! I bring Gary back and we puzzle over why the remains of the threshold are so much lower than the marble support for the door post, without reaching a conclusion.
Continuing away from the column, moving toward the tall back wall, I quickly find a rough surface of badly deteriorated concrete – the underlying base of a floor that would have probably had a plaster surface. I clear out 4 or 5 square feet of this floor before Gary calls an end to our first day of digging. The other groups have also had some success. The triclinium is clearly taking shape, another smaller “water feature” has been confirmed at the other end of our space and the remains of walls for several rooms have begun to emerge.
Over the course of the afternoon, some of the graduate students wander over in curiosity to see how the amateurs are doing. They are impressed with our progress, to which I remark to one of my fellow companions, “Yes, it’s amazing what a bunch of over eager amateurs can accomplish when they don’t know how to pace themselves in this heat.” (I guess I should note here that for the most part our site is in the shade of two large trees. Trees that will be both a blessing and a curse over the next couple of days.)
We walk back to the hotel, my digging companion Mike and I talking. When we reach the hotel we find both of our wives sitting in the lobby talking. They take one look at us and horror spreads across both their faces – we are really and truly disgustingly dirty! (You should have seen the looks on the faces of the hotel staff as well; all the furniture in the lobby is covered in fine white linen!) DO NOT touch anything the wives say, not even the room key. Go straight to the shower, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

After dinner, we retire, very tired.

Oplontis and Herculeum

Today we went to two places – Oplontis and Herculaneum. Both sites are very close to stops on the graffiti encrusted local train, so off we went. AHB note: Michael went - I decided to stay in and relax as the area is now officially suffering a heat wave.

OPLANTIS – This is not a town but a VERY large private villa that belonged to the richest patron of the area. Legend has it that the villa belonged to the family of Nero’s second wife, who he kicked to death when she was pregnant with his child. The villa lies amidst the urban squalor of metropolitan Naples, home to gangs, drug dealers, mafia want-a-be’s and other riff raff. It was found in the early 1980s when a developed wanted to add yet another dreary multi-story apartment building to the squalor. In digging the foundations for the building the ruins were found. The government immediately stepped in and took over the site. This site is the most significant find in area in a century or more. We are blessed that it was found when it was, as archeologists were able to apply modern excavation techniques for the first time to a significant find in the area. (For much of the first century after the other sites were found, the activity was closer to looting (or grave robbing) than archeology.

The result is absolutely stunning. Room after room of frescos mostly intact, mosaic floors still in place. The owners were obliviously very wealthy. They had a private swimming people that is at least 200 meters long, 40 wide and about 2 deep. And that is just the part that has been uncovered. (The resources necessary just to bring enough water to the site to keep it full of fresh water boggle the mind.) The site is still surrounded on all 4 sides by the modern city and excavation had to stop when it reached the property lines so we still don’t know the true extent of the estate. WOW!!!

We hopped back on the train and went somewhat closer to Naples to visit Herculaneum. After getting off the train, all 19 of us trooped into a restaurant for lunch. The staff must have been used to that kind of a crowd; they handled the situation with aplomb. We then walked down hill (this will become important later) to the site, which once you enter required more downhill walking to get to the actual buildings. Herc was a small, perhaps upscale, town that was right on the water. It had (and has) a strong slope down to the sea and Vesuvius looms menacingly just a few miles away. The town was built on the slope resulting in multiple levels of buildings. Herc was buried by a wall of mud and thus did not suffer the kind of damage that Pompeii did, which was leveled by multiple pyroclastic (sp?) flows. When the mud hit the city it flowed thru it and around it and into the sea. When the mud stopped the new coast line was at least a mile into the sea from where it had been the day before. (Today the coast line is nearly two miles from the ancient coast line.) This is stunningly demonstrated by the fact that where the coast line used to be is a wall of dried mud at least 100 feet tall, with an additional 30 feet (or so) on top of soil that has accumulated over the last 1900 years.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Naples revisited - the museum

Although we met some of the members of our group on Sunday night, Monday started the formal trip. We met for breakfast in the hotel, the Hotel Palma, which is very nice and has the rare Pompeii asset of air conditioning.


There are 19 travelers, our Stanford coordinator and fearless leader, Dr. Gary DeVore. We will be 12 diggers and the rest will be off on various other site seeing activities. We are lucky in that 2 of our group speak good italian. This will come in very hadny. We are pretty evenly split between men and women and all age groups. We got our train tickets (back to Naples), our pick-pocket warnings and instructions from Elana, the coordinator from Stanford, and Gary,. We then proceeded to join the commuters on the train to Naples. Our destination was the museum of Naples where most of the art and artifacts recovered from Pompeii were taken.

After a brief incident in Naples where 4 of our members who failed to validate their train tickets were each fined 30 Euros, we got on the Metro and rode one stop to the train station where we climbed 8 floors of stairs to exit (ugh).

The museum was right by the Metro and we entered into a long hallway filled with large statues. The statues were in incredible shape and all colors of marble. White and black were the most popular and the most popular emperors and gods scored at least one version in each color. Augustus and Claudius seemed to be among the most popular. We moved on the hall of emporers to see other assorted emperors.We learned that noses, fingers, and penises were the most vulnerable parts of statues and while noses were usually restored, and penises occassionally, fingers often weren't.

We also visited the famous erotic collection in the museum. I'm not sure why it was called erotic as it seems to focus solely on men. I'd call it a penus worship collection. Hats, lamps, trays, every thing you can think of in the shape of a penis.

I'm going to let Michael write more about the museum including the mosiacs and frescoes, but from my standpoint it's absolutely amazing how everything was basically intact and incredibly detailed. A lot of talent from a long time ago.

I could go into a long harangue about the quality of Italian museums but it would take pages. Short version is I am not impressed and does not lend credibility to their demands to get "looted" artifacts back.

Michael spent breakfast running around telling all the women to leave their jewelry at the hotel and how to hide other valuables. The trip was declared a victory as no one in our party was a victim of petty theft!

After our time in the museum, we undertook the ardous journey on public transit back to Pompeii. We even helped some lost German tourists who spoke English, who managed to get on the wrong Pompeii train (wrong for them, right for us). Hey, we've been here for 24 hours and we are already experts! We arrived to a town completely shuttered and headed for a quick bite at 3:30 pm. Since that is definitely not the Italian lunch hour we went to a near-by tourist place for a salad. We were amused by the menu which had a Salade di polips translated as "salad of polyps" - not an appetizing thought. However, since we have our little translator we realized it was actually octopus.

We then cooled off with showers and the blessed air conditioning prior to our group dinner at Poppinos, chosen by Gary, for a vegetarian meal. It was quite nice, particular an assortment of fresh vegetables which seems somewhat rare here, where pizza, pasta and fish rule the menu. Much water and wine was consumed - our only group dinner for the trip.

From Rome to Pompeii - the adventure continues

We left Rome on the Eurostar for a short, pleasant trip to Naples. Naples is anything but pleasant and the train station is no exception. We were warned that it is a city of crime and the signs in the train station, when not covered by graffiti, reminded us of that. We needed to switch to a local train, Circumvensia, which involved a long walk to the other part of the train station. Everyone was smoking, ugh, and we walked behind a local who threw trash to either side as he walked. Not a good introduction to Naples.

We found the Circumvensia, and bought our tickets after studying the map and looking at our directions. There are two Pompeii stops and we needed the non-typical one. We schlepped our luggage up and down stairs and boarded what we thought was the right train. As the doors were preparing to close, people started shouting "Pompeii -no!" We decided they must be talking about the other Pompeii as the train pulled out of the station. However, a nice older gentleman, showing us the other side of Naples, came to me and said "wrong train" I showed him on the map where we were going and he showed me the train we were on. He was right! He told us we needed to get off the train before it veered off the route where we could switch. Then a conductor came over and gave us more detailed instructions telling us to get off at next stop to avoid going up and down stairs with our luggage to switch. He told us which train to get and Michael and I both promptly forget what he said, but he did say "five Zero minutes". So we exited the train at a deserted stop.

10 minutes passed without seeing a living soul or another train. The first sign of life came when a small dog appeared on the opposite platform. Then a few minutes later the station master appeared apparently shocked at the sight of American Tourists with luggage sitting in the middle of his station. He shouted across the tracks "why are you here?" We said "wrong train" and "Pompeii". He shouted "no" and went back inside. We decided to send Michael over with the instructions we had received from Stanford and he went up the stairs, over the tracks and down to join the little dog and the station master.

After much discussion and no mutual language, Michael and the station master determined which train we needed, and the time, which was in fact 50 minutes from when we'd been dropped off.

In due course the train arrived and we boarded with our baggage. I have never seen so much graffitti on a train line as this. Some the the station signs were so covered as to make them unreadable. The clientele on the train was interesting including a mother dog and a box of her puppies who proceeded to whimper for the next 40 minutes of the train ride. But we arrived in due course, carried our bags down, under and up stairs to emerge facing the hotel - yeah!

While the modern city has a somewhat larger population than the ancient city (~50,000), it is spread out over a much larger area. The modern city has two “claims to fame”. The first is the ancient city and the second is a large cathedral. The cathedral sits on the site where legend has it a young woman was cured of epilepsy in 1876 by the Virgin Mary. The cathedral was built in the early 20th century and is gaudy in the extreme. There does not appear to be a single square inch of the inside not covered with religious decoration, overwhelming in quantity and underwhelming in originality. Today, you bring your new car to the priests and they will bless it for a fee. The income from the pilgrims and other activities has resulted in a modern multi story administration building being stuck on the side.

In front of the cathedral is a nice square that is obliviously the center of city’s cultural life. Like most of southern Europe, the commercial areas shut promptly at 2 and do not open again until 5 or 6, aside from a tourist restaurant or two. After dinner, the square is full of people enjoying the cool of the evening after the hot afternoon, sitting and gossiping with friends and people watching.

On the road running between the cathedral and one of the entrances to the ancient city are a number of small stalls selling junk to the tourists and pilgrims. I have to say that the religiously oriented junk is the worst trash I have ever seen. What was really stunning though was to see nuns on a pilgrimage actually buying the stuff.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Post from Rome, part 2

Morning came too soon, and Michael insisted I had set my alarm for the middle of the night. He had used the dream time to decide to liberate the rubber ducky in our hotel bathroom. We named it Lance Limencello in honor of Lance Armstrong and Michael's favorite liquer, which if not drunk in moderation, produces a dreadful hangover. Lance is to become our trip "thing" - the Mavericks will understand!

We checked on the strike situation and were advised that it's usually local trains and not the eurostar but that we had to go to the train station to find out. We had our breakfast and re-packed, now including the rubber ducky, and headed out early for the train station. The journey was much better this time with my directions and in the shade. Many trains were cancelled, but not ours! We're now hanging out in the Eurostar lounge taking advantage of the wireless.

We had some trouble finding the door in, but nearly as much as one of the passengers had trying to get out. He looked at the door, looked for some way to get out, not realizing it was a motion sensor from right in front of the door. He first pushed the fire alarm and then pressed and broke the little glass cover to the fire alarm. Police now investigating. Passenger left. Michael and I can only laugh.

Post from Rome, part 1

We arrived Saturday to a hot, sunny day in Rome. After waiting forever for our luggage, we navigated customs and made our way to the train station in the airport. We just missed the train while we were trying to figure out how to validate our tickets, but given the early hour we just hung out on the platform and tried to adjust for lack of sleep. Along with all the other tourists we hauled our luggage up the train steps and relaxed for the half hour trip to Rome Termini. Michael was bummed that he missed Sanchez's no-hitter for the Giants.

Once there, we realized we had arrived at the exact opposite end from where they sold the tickets for the Eurostar we needed to take Sunday (today). We schlepped our luggage with me sneezing (from cigarette smoke) and whining (yes I admit it) the whole way, only to arrive to a huge line and no where to sit. But Michael cleverly figured (or so we thought at the time) how to circumvent the lines and go to a machine. Mission accomplished we set up for the hotel in the heat of the day via a very meandering and un-necessarily lengthy pass on bricked streets. It wasn't a pretty picture. I'll confess to calling Michael bad names under my breath as I doubted his navigational abilities and dodged pedestrian-kiling busses.

We ultimately arrived at the Hotel Brittania, which of course necessitated carrying our luggage down a steep flight of stairs! Although our room wasn't ready they offered to store our bags and insisted on giving me some ice tea. I used the restroom to discover that my face was bright red (from both sun and exertion) so no doubt they feared an immnent stroke.

Somewhat renewed and freed of luggage we set off for some exploration. First stop, coffee and croissant. Next we went to a local church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, designed by Michaelango in the middle of the runis of the Roman baths of Diocletian. Very unusual for a Roman church it was light and airy. An organist was playing and the sound reverberated throughout - a most enjoyable experience. Michael noted that the floor was designed to mark the Zodiacs and the spring equinox which pinpoints the date of easter. Picture to follow once I figure out how to do it.

From the church, we went to the nearby Piazza Republic where I read my kindle in the shade at a ritzy hotel bar with non-existant service and Michael set off for the Museum de Ara Picis, which contains the temple to Pax Augustus. He then went to the Castle S. Angelo which contains Hadrian's masoleum topped with a fortress to protect the popes of the middle ages. A check box activity from a sightseeing perspective, but Michael tells me this Hadrian was an interesting guy.

In retrospect, he goes down as one of the best emporers, but during his reign, he had 3 strikes against him: 1) he was the first emporer not to engage in expansion 2) he was too enamored of greek culture and 3) he basically abandoned his wife for his gay lover and publicly pined for his lover years after his mysterious drowning in the Nile. Today we view him favorably as being the first emporer to understand the limits of the empire.

From there, Michael went to Plaza Navona, and is happy to report that Bernini's fountain of the four rivers is now restored with scaffolding removed. However, they are now tearing up adjoining area resulting in bad picture backgrounds. Michael went on to revisit the Pantheon which was glorious with the sun pouring through the oculus (a favorite) and we'll post some of his pictures once we figure that out.

Michael then gave in to the fatigue that had already claimed me, and a spreading of his poison ivy which resulted in much pain and suffering, and joined me at the hotel. He found a local pharmacy to give him some ointment, and we both took a short nap, prior to heading out to dinner at the unfashionably early hour of 8 pm.

Good dinner (gazpacho which made Michael happy and really fresh Mozzarella which made me happy), good wine, interrupted by a call from Michael's fellow Stanford diggers that the Italian trains were going on strike! This could explain the long line at the train station when we arrived.

But we determined there was nothing we could do that night and collapsed into our beds.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The adventure begins...

We left Saratoga at 4:45 am, thankfully in a limo. We yawned our way to SFO, and checked in with American only to find out that Michael's bag was overweight. He claims it was the special trowel for his dig, but I think it was all the books he brought (hardback history of course). We had to readjust at the ticket counter (so embarassing) but then proceeded to the Admiral's club where I met someone I knew who was on our flight. We were upgraded on our flight which was marred only by a baby in first class who cried most of the flight! Michael slept and I watched "Inkheart". We're having a brief stop in JFK and are about to board for Rome. Ciao!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Getting ready for the trip

Less than 24 hours before we leave. It seems like I'm trying to cram 2 weeks of work into the next 8 hours. Meanwhile Michael is packing and the cats are freaking out. They know what it means when the suitcases appear. We have a great catsitter, but they want us to be always home always imobile and ready to give scritches.