Monthly Archives: June 2018

Beautiful Ruins/Pompeii

After a rainy night in Sorrento, we woke early the next morning and walked to the train station. Although the streets were dry, I threw my umbrella in my backpack-just in case. We arrived in plenty of time to buy our tickets for the trip to Pompeii and have a cappuccino at the station.

O Sole Mio! (note the tambourine  for tips to the left.)

As we waited for the train to depart, an accordion busker stepped aboard. He placed a portable karaoke machine down by the door and began playing Italian greatest hits. He did not get a good reception from the commuters (too early for accordion music?) and left the train just before it departed with not many euros in his tip jar. I thought about the young boy from the day before ( see my previous post) and the life cycles of a Sorrento street busker. O Sole Mio, Volare, That’s Amore…The man may age, but the songs remain the same.

Pompeii Scavi

The train stops at Pompei Scavi. Right near the station is a place to buy tickets to the ruins, from there it’s a short walk to the site.

What is Pompeii?

Pompeii was once a  thriving city in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius. It had theaters, public forums, bathhouses, brothels, food producers, laundries and more. The population, estimated to be about 15,000, included all socioeconomic levels, from landowners to slaves. Despite the huge differences in lifestyle and social class, all inhabitants were equally defenseless on an October day in 79 A.D. when Vesuvius suddenly erupted. Rich or poor, there was no escaping the torrent of hot ash and pumice that rained from the sky, smothering all life equally.  After that, the city slept for over one thousand years under the ashes.

 

Plaster cast made of a child’s body at the moment of death.

The House of the Golden Bracelet

This golden bracelet (weighing 0.6 kg) was found on the body of a woman inside their richly decorated villa.

We walked down a path that led to the Antiquarium, a combination visitors center and  small museum (rebuilt in 1947 after being bombed in WW2.)  While most of the treasures recovered from Pompeii are housed in the Museo di Archeologico in Naples,  there are some exquisite pieces displayed here, including glassware, furniture, paintings, jewelry, and coins. In sobering juxtaposition to the luxury of these items are the casts of a family who perished during the eruption. Archaeologists dubbed their home the House of the Golden Bracelet, because of the precious piece of jewelry found during excavation.

During excavation at the House of the Golden Bracelet archaeologists found the bodies of a family killed by a staircase that collapsed as they tried to leave their home. Casts were made of the child, man, and baby seated on its mother’s lap in the final moments of their life.

Villa Dei Misteries

After looking at the displays in the gallery, we headed out with the small printed maps received with our paid admission to explore, forgoing the guided tour that was heavily suggested. Pompeii is vast, and there is a lot to see-too much for one day. I wanted to start at the one place that was highest on my personal list-the Villa of the Mysteries.

My friend Dennis had no real tourist agenda and was happy to accompany me to the Villa. Located on the outskirts of the city, we walked along a road where chariots once rolled.  We passed by the Stabian baths, a brothel, the House of the Faun, the House of the Tragic Poet and more, saving these to explore on the way back. Along the way, I did pause to shoot a few jewelry photographs in the of the cemetery of Porto Ercolano, the crumbling tombs, and monuments providing the perfect context for the ancient coin rings.

Larrisa ring, ancient Greek coin, silver, with coral.

Dionysus ring-ancient Greek bronze coin depicting grape cluster, gold, silver, ruby.

 

Along the road that once led from Naples to Rome.

Villa of the Mysteries

There were few tourists around as we neared the entrance to the Villa. The air was fresh with the smell of flowers and the sweet singing of birds. The season of spring infused life and vitality to the sleeping city, a reminder that everything is part of a cycle.

Villa Dei Misteries, frieze depicitng Dioyisian rite.

The walls inside contain one of the largest and most beautiful of all ancient paintings, depicting the stages of an initiation into the mystery religion of Dionysus (The God of Wine). Archaeologists have not been able to come to a complete agreement or understanding about the full meaning of the scenes. Little is known from written sources as the initiates, mostly women were sworn to secrecy. In 186 B.C., the Roman senate banned the mysteries linked to Dionysus-Bacchus, alleging that they encouraged depravity. (Hmm…sounds like a witch hunt to me.)

 

The colors are unbelievably vivid, the photos  I took with the dim available light give an idea of how bright the pigments have remained, even after about two thousand years. Elsewhere in the villa are beautiful examples of the ornamental style painting popular in the time, including a lot of Egypt-influenced imagery. These were beyond the capabilities of my camera to capture, so I am showing just one details here, for the color.

ornamental wall detail

I could not resist placing my jewelry on the beautiful mosaic floor and taking a few photographs.

Ancient Greek coin pendant, with gold, silver and sea glass.

Copper cuff with Roman coin depicting the god Sol (sun).

Ancient Greek nymph coin, with silver, gold, diamonds.

The Walk Back

There were only a few other visitors at the Villa when we got there around 10:00. I felt that nothing else I would see this day could possibly top this experience, and was glad to have been among the first there that morning. We met a lot of people heading to the Villa as we walked back down the road. We stopped to explore to see the previously mentioned sights we passed earlier, ending up at the civic forum.

Pausing at a funerary monument, on the way back to the center.

 

We had a lunch of pizza in the busy cafe, which was now bustling with tourists from all over the world. I really needed the food to get re-grounded after that visit. It was also a good thing we brought umbrellas as the sky began to pour.

The moody lighting and lack of tourists (taking shelter inside) provided more opportunities to shoot jewelry in what would usually be the crowded civic forum.

 

Ancient Greek silver coin, with silver and gold.

Sea glass ring in the civic forum.

Demeter, ancient Roman coin, gold, and silver.

In Closing, a few more shots

In the large theater

Before the rain

By later afternoon, seeing as much as we could absorb for the day, we walked back toward the exit. I will definitely return to see what I missed another time. I will also see Herculaneum on another visit-and Paestum. We still had another adventure in store that day, getting back on the train and heading to Torre Del Greco, to visit a friend, which will be the topic of the next post. Ciao!

Final view of Pompeii dotted with red poppies and wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is a Banquet~Sorrento

Sorrento, the land of Limoncello

From Naples, we took the Circumvesuviana to Sorrento, squeezing onto the standing-room-only train, suitcases at our feet.  The ride from Naples to Sorrento took an hour. I was glad we were there before the hot summer season approached!

 

The Circumvesuviana, Naples.

When my friend and I were planning this trip, we reserved four days in Sorrento. Both of us had been to Italy before, but never in the South. There is so much to see and do in this area! Of course, four days is not nearly enough. Our wishlists included: hiring a cute driver to take us sightseeing along the Amalfi coast, taking a boat to Capri, going to  Pompeii and Herculaneum, perhaps hiking Mt Vesuvius, seeing the ruins at Paestum, and, oh yes, I hoped to meet in person an online friend and sea glass collector, Rebecca Di Donna, who lives in Torre Del Greco.

When I was a kid, my grandmother often used the cautionary expression  “your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”  This adage relates not only to food but to everything, really-especially time.  While I have always slanted toward  Auntie’s Mame’s “Life is a banquet” outlook, sometimes less really is more. My advice to those planning a trip; don’t overfill your dance card. Slow down and savor the details, leave room for the unexpected.

Sorrento

 

Torna a Surriento

When the train reached Sorrento, a young boy with an accordion came aboard and started playing Italian folk songs. There was a plastic cup for tips attached to his battered accordion. I made sure to leave some euros in it as we departed. I would discover on subsequent train rides that Sorrento was a regular haunt of accordion playing buskers, (but more on that later.)

Home Sweet Home

As arranged, In the town square we met Max, who was sent by our air b&b host to guide us through the maze of streets to our destination. After Naples, this resort town felt a bit like Disneyland, filled with tourist shops and higher priced restaurants.  As we followed Max, I eyed the goods displayed in front of stores-leather purses, ceramics, lemon-based gifts, resort fashions, jewelry and more. We turned at a gelato stand and went back from the street to our air B&B. Casa Torino was located above a florist shop in the heart of old Sorrento. It was airy and comfortably equipped, with a full-size kitchen, fold out couch on the lower level and an upper sleeping loft. We had a view down to the street below and could watch the interplay of tourists until a heavy rain started to pour, bringing an abrupt end to the activity below us.

The view from our apartment, rain emptied streets.

Max offered the services of a private driver for an Amalfi coast tour, and to put us on the passenger list for a small boat to Capri if we were interested. We decided to make reservations for both at the end of the week when hopefully the weather would be better. We settled into our new place and then decided to go out and explore in the rain.

We ventured out with those umbrellas bought in Vasto. The late afternoon streets were empty,  many outside displays were covered with tarps. Hungry, we shopped for cibo e vino at the local deli and fruit stands, and yes, my eyes were bigger than my stomach!

Life really is a banquet!

 

We returned to our cozy apartment with wine, fresh baked pane, salami and cheese. Tomorrow we would spend the day exploring the ancient ruins of Pompeii-rain or shine.

Next Post: Pompeii

 

Two Nights in Napoli

After Vasto, we hopped on a bus and rode across the country from the Adriatic coast to the Bay of Naples. It was a rainy, three-hour ride. I was glad we’d cancelled the car rental and could relax and take in the scenery with no concerns. It was a nice way to transition from the peace of Vasto to the chaos of Naples.

In this post, I will share my experience in Napoli, and highlight a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.  So if you love ancient art, gritty cities, and pizza-stay with me!

This Is The City

Naples has a reputation for crime, especially pickpockets. I tried not to let the warnings I read on travel blogs make me feel uneasy or paranoid. Well-meaning friends also primed me about various scams perpetrated on tourists, especially in train and bus stations. The day before I left  an acquaintance who had lived in Italy for a few years urged me to buy a money belt, “at least for Rome and Naples.” I chose to forgo the security belts and go with what I was planning to wear-my new Rebecca Minkoff crossbody bag. I feel that once you give into the fear of what might happen, its a slippery slope from there. The anxiety vibes you send out might actually attract the very thing you are afraid of.

Room with a View

We felt a tad uneasy when our freelance taxi driver, (who had assured us he knew the address to our accommodations when we engaged him) stopped to ask directions various times from street vendors in L’Antica part of town. Our uneasiness grew when he suddenly stopped the car, saying “sei arrivato”  in a no-nonsense tone of voice. He got our bags out of the trunk and gestured toward an alley, telling us the place was only a few blocks away, then hurried off.

We rolled our suitcases along the bumpy pavement, feeling very conspicuous as we looked for address numbers on the graffiti-sprayed walls of a dark alley. Vespa scooters wove around us as we walked and the heavy air was filled with the sound and smell of traffic. Children shouted up to laundry-strewn balconies and were answered by adults who peered down at us from above. It did not seem possible to me that we were ever going to find the address, and for a moment I silently wished we had kept it simple and stayed in a centrally located hotel. But we had wanted something “more authentic” and were getting exactly that.

We eventually found it and rang a bell on the outside of an iron security gate. My enthusiasm returned as Marco, our host, promptly answered. Siamo arrivati!  The small apartment where we would spend the next two nights was windowless and sparsely decorated on the lower level but had all the necessities. Upstairs was a sleeping loft with two beds separated by a folding screen and french doors that opened onto a balcony.  Marco gave us some tips on exploring Naples, (warning us not to go back the way we came at night).

First Things First

We headed out onto the Corso Umberto, the main thoroughfare which our small alley opened onto. To celebrate our arrival in Naples, we stopped at a nearby bar for an Aperol Spritz.

Later for dinner, we decided to try Michelle’s, the most famous pizzeria in Naples, which was a short walk from our alley. It’s a tiny place, nothing fancy. Just pizza. Many of the customers order takeaway and sit out on the street curb eating their pizza out of the box. The entire street was swarming with customers, waiting to get close to the entrance. This went on for hours. We decided to try the restaurant across the road and were not disappointed. The pizza had fresh yellow tomatoes and basil leaves with mozzarella di bufala and a great crust. While in Italy we had pizza in every city we passed through, but the memory of this one stays with me the longest.

The National Archaeological Museum

The next day, we visited the Museo di Archaeologico. An incredible museum offering four floors of sculpture, painting, mosaics and other objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the Farnese collection of antiquities. On the day we visited,  a contingent of Star Wars cosplayers were there for a Star Wars memorabilia exhibit on the lower floor, near the Egyptian collection. I wondered what Joesph Campbell would say to that!

Artemeis of Ephesus is a copy made in the Imperial period. She is made from alabaster and bronze. Her hands would have held a ribbon.

Detail of her richly ornamented dress, alabaster.

Mosaics

The collection includes all the exceptional finds from the Vesuvian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Later in the week, when we visited Pompeii I had a greater appreciation, after seeing these treasures, for the way of life that had suddenly ended when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

Memento Mori, representing life and death as the leveler of human fortunes.

More

 

Detail The Farnese Gems, collected during the Renaissance. Many were made from glass.

Ancient glass vessels

Artist pigments and mixing bowls.

From the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Room), displaying erotica collected from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Villa Farnese. The Secret Room has been opened or closed to the public depending upon the political climate and morals of the time.

Where Did the Time go?

View from the Museo di Archaeologico.

I did not attempt to photograph much of what I saw, preferring to hold the impressions in my mind, but hope what I have shared here is of interest and inspiring. After the museum visit, we walked around the streets, grounding ourselves by taking in some sights of everyday life.

The dogs of street buskers.

Door knockers are one of my favorite things to “collect” with a camera.

Gambrinus desserts and more!

We took the advice of Ornella and had a caffè and dessert at Gambrinus. It was the perfect way to refresh and get a second wind for more sightseeing.

Next Post: Sorrento

Thanks for staying with me for this many words and images- see you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

A Traveler in Italy: Vasto

The dictionary says “when you savor something, you enjoy it to the fullest.”  More than any other single word I can think of, Savor describes the way I feel about my recent trip to Italy. I’m savoring the memories, the sights, the food, the great people, and already thinking about my return. Until then, I will share some of the highlights in a series of posts, beginning with this one, about Vasto, the town of my paternal grandfather’s family. Even if I had no ancestral connection to this place, I would have fallen in love with this “ancient Roman  town in the heart of Italy” and perhaps you will too!

Fishing trabucco, Vasto

As I shared in my previous post, it was through the sea glass world that I met Ornella Di Filippo, who lives in Vasto and operates a very comfortable Air B&B, where we stayed. She and her husband, Marco, were wonderful hosts-even loaning my friend Dennis and me clothing to wear (did I mention our luggage was lost in Rome?) until our bags were sent to us by the airline a few days later. I had packed for the sunny warm days that were predicted, but found myself buying an umbrella and rain slicker, because of the heavy rain the greeted us! That, of course, did not keep us from hitting the beach in search of sea glass on our first morning there.

Thunder, lightning, rain and wind-note the inside-out umbrella of Dennis!

When you live in Washington State, it takes more than a little rain to keep you off the beach!

Salsedine

We walked down a path to the beach, serenaded by birds, passing by giant fig trees and eucalyptus, which made me feel like I was back in Southern California. The air was perfumed by the sweet blooms of flowering acacia trees mixed with the smell of the sea, which Italians call Salsedine.  We were the only people on the beach that morning, save for a couple of fishermen who brought their skiff in later. There were many shells scattered amongst the rocks and lots of sea glass too!

I found a beautiful marble in the shingle!

Even with all the rain, the air temperature was warm, and we spent the entire morning going to a few individual beaches, known to Ornella and Marco for their sea glass.

Ornella Di Filippo, now flying the flag of Tokeland in Italy!

Catch of the Day

Before our three days in Vasto were up, the sun did come out, and Ornella and Marco made sure we went back to the beach to see it’s “true colors” of vivid green and blue water. Again, we were the only people out there, except for the two fishermen.

This fisherman showed me a live seahorse that was part of the catch. After I took this photo, he returned it to the sea.

Vasto is known for its fresh seafood, and we enjoyed clams, mussels, prawns, octopus, scallops in one form or another, every day. Served with local wine, Montepulciano DÁbruzzo, these were meals to savor.

La Bagnante

Vasto is in the Abruzzo region of Italy, located in the south, with beautiful views of the Adriatic. It has recieved the Blue Banner mark for its clean water and eco friendly practices. Overlooking  a long sandy beach,  La Bagnante, a modernistic sculpture perched on a rock, beckons all visitors. Her name translates to “the bathing beauty.”

Ancient Roman Roots

I was surprised to learn that Vasto has a population of about 40,000. It really didn’t seem that large to me. There was none of the heavy traffic or crowds, but plenty of shops, restaurants and other businesses. We could walk into the heart of town from Ornella’s place, following the road that paralleled the sea.

Using the photos in my grandad’s old album as a guide, Ornella and Marco took me to the places in Vasto where my family had lived, and where they are buried.

My grandfather’s handwritten caption says “The place where I was born.”

The Palazzo Palmieri-what a thrill it was for me to see the place of my grandfather’s birth!

There are some lovely churches and the relics of ancient Roman baths, so many charming sights that I feel they deserve a seperate blog post of their own. So I will stick here to my personal sightseeing, and hope to revisit this topic in a future post.

 

Note the Venetian style architecture of the building to the left-I love the color!

 

La Mia Famiglia

Ornella arranged for me to see the inside of the house where my family lived until the 1980’s. It is now used as a kindergarten/day care center.

Villa Altruda

My grandfather with his siblings, circa 1905, Vasto. What a lovely place to grow up!

 

Thie picture below was taken in 1925, in Vasto. My grandfather (on the left) , stands beside the bust he modeled of his friend  (right.)

Me and Melania, who operates the Mary Poppins childcare center. at the front door of our former family home.

Full Circle

On my last day, we visited the cemetary. This too, deserves a post of its, own, but I will say briefly, that the cimetario is it’s own little villiage, filled with family mausoleums and graves, well tended and at the same time, overgrown in places. Individualistic touches and personal remembrances are everywhere.

 

Remembering my grandfather with fresh flowers.

Salute!

I’m going to end this post here, as I savor the connection to family. It was a great privilege to recognize and honor my grandfather, Giuseppe Altruda in the town of his birth. I must say a thousand thanks, Grazie Mille, to Ornella and Marco, and family, for their kindness in helping me to locate these special places, for the wonderful meals and the sea glassing.  Ci vediamo lánno prossimo-see you next year!

 

My grandfather and me in 1981, when I visited him in Bologna.

Dottore Giuseppe Altruda, 1980, Bologna