Monday, August 5, 2013

Italy - Pompeii Ruins, Riding Towards Vesuvius

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Mount Vesuvius looms in the distance, always a reminder of what befell the old city.
 A few miles - Saturday, October 22

With hazy Mount Vesuvius as a reminder, always within view, it's an interesting if somewhat eerie walk among Pompeii's 160 excavated acres, all exposed within the last 150 years. When the volcano erupted in 79 A.D. 20,000 inhabitants were covered in ash and cinders. That we can walk among the ruins today, is truly magical, and despite the crowds, feels like a step back in time.

Andy and I use a guide book to help identify Pompeii's main features and historical significance. Most of the
Journal drawings.
large paving stones still line the narrow streets. It's awkward footing – definitely not for bikes – and we move slowly, taking care on the rounded rock. Walking on cobblestones is easy in comparison. Elevated larger oval stones are spaced at cross streets because when streets turned into rivers; they act as stepping stones between sidewalks.

A basilica's columns still stand, the forum (central Roman square), multiple houses (wealthy and poor) and public baths. Amazingly, a 2,000 year old tub bears it's donor's inscriptions engraved in brass. The more we absorb the more Andy and I are in awe that so much was preserved beneath 20 feet of ash.

Column construction. Journal drawings.
Journal drawings.
Interesting paintings...
Gorgeous mosaics. Some originals reside in Naples National Museum,
however it's nice to view them in context.
There are replicas of statues – originals in Naples National Museum – impressive in size. I've always loved Roman features: curly hair, wide set eyes, and long noses. Some paintings remain, however, on-site, faded, mostly protected from sunlight. Intricate mosaic floors are intact, vibrant and beautiful. One building housed countless pieces of pottery: clay jugs, bowls, and sculpture, tagged and crowded upon shelves like forgotten dolls.

Examples of casting.
Among the antiquities – thanks to a casting technique that filled empty cavities – are life-sized replicas of human suffering. As the ash and gasses poured through Pompeii, people huddled with loved ones, some crawling, some shielding their faces. The re-creation is horrific and frightening, yet strangely compelling. I study these human forms, struggling in the last moments of their lives.

I loved the coliseum.
Our legs are sore from uneven walking. We opt to explore a well-preserved 20,000 seat coliseum far from the crowds. The first level tunnel is unearthed. We walk underground, able to emerge into daylight seating anywhere on the circuit. Andy and I sit on the top-most seat, imagining what it was like to experience gladiator events from this height, with a thriving city and snowy capped Mount Vesuvius within sight. Then, for the opposite point of view, we descend a hundred steps and cross the grassy arena, wondering what it felt like to be hunted by tigers, all eyes upon one's own suffering.

By mid-afternoon, we've reached historical overload and long for a sunshine-filled ride. If one had time, a visit to Naples Nation Museum would be worthwhile, but as with any interesting place on our trip, we are thankful for what time we spend anywhere, while trip momentum pulls us perpetually onward.

Our impetus for the ride: to locate a closed road up Mount Vesuvius's south side. Volcanoes pique our interest, especially since living in Oregon, climbing and skiing Northwest mountains. If we could hike this famous mountain on our own, bypassing the north side tourist route, which required a train ride, bus, and a guide – not to mention the time involved setting up the adventure – it would feel like a spectacular accomplishment.

We set out snaking up a busy, traffic snarled road. After several miles, it was apparent that one town fused with another without signs or any delineation. Automobiles honked. Piles of refuse and dumpsters burned, filling the air with acrid smoke. Homeless dogs roamed garbage heaps. After Andy mentioned a canine curled on a mattress, I thought of Whitey back at the campsite. Then, I lost my cool with a too close driver. I stamped my shoe against the car's door and swore. I was fortunate that nothing came of my outburst.

It was time to give up our quest.

We got back to the campground in the evening. I ruffled Whitey's fur, scratching him until he eventually lay by our tent. I stayed up late, reading by candlelight.

As had been happening since we arrived two days ago, a profusion of cars arrived after dark, parking in neighboring vacant sites. Nicely dressed couples disappeared inside bungalows, then left in shifts, the last as late as mid-morning. When we were rudely awakened by a car alarm, I vowed to investigate the following day.

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