Thursday, November 12, 2015

Italy Day 8 - Erotic Pompeii & Super Sick in Sorrento.

I awoke this morning in a fuzzy sort of art hangover, bleary-eyed and sore from yesterday's Extreme Museuming™.

We trudged wearily through the breakfast buffet (more hot dogs and champagne!) and boarded the bus for a long, long ride to Pompeii and Sorrento.

The bus stopped for lunch at a spot that our tour guide assured us was a delightful restaurant with wonderful, fresh food. "When they know we're coming, they cook all fresh food," which does not bode well for the poor slobs who show up without us.

We were herded into the restaurant, a decrepit low-end hotel nestled in the corner of a highway off-ramp. Lunch was a depressing buffet of sad looking meals sitting under heating lamps in metal chafing dishes.

Kerri got a bowl of soup and a salad. Alex got lasagna (which was served with french fries) and a salad. Tori and I each got a sandwich. We split a bag of "Italian Flavor" chips (which, thankfully, did not taste of Italians).

Our bill for this mess of a meal was just north of 50 Euros. I enjoyed the trip very much and don't care to harp on any negative things, but this one scalded me. Our amazing, multi-course dinner the night before had been only about 80 Euros.

I was still grumbling as we were herded back onto the bus to continue our journey to Pompeii.

We arrived in Pompeii at about 2:30 and met Willy, our local guide for a tour through the ruins.

Pompeii is a city that was destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Rather than being swept away in a flood of lava (which would have left nothing in its wake) the city was buried under tons and tons of volcanic ash, preserving everything underneath for the benefit of tourists who wish to look at the ruins of a once great city.

We plowed our way through the vendors selling calendars with racy titles like "Erotic Pompeii" and entered the park.

Welcome to Pompeii. We invite you to please not interact with the feral dogs, who may want to kill you and eat you. Thank you for your cooperation.

Our first stop was a small field where gladiators held practice sessions.

A lovely spot to practice your deadly arts.

I assumed that this lady was a gladiator, but she refused to engage me in combat when I challenged her. I consider that a win for me.

I couldn't help but wonder what was in all of the little rooms that surrounded this field. I peeked in and was rewarded with a rare sight.

Banks and banks of computer hardware. I knew ancient Romans were advanced, but this is ridiculous.
I had read about Pompeii but I had no conception of how large it is or how much of it is already excavated. It's a huge park that visitors are allowed to walk around in freely. Many spots are gated off as they are under active excavation, but the rest of it is open for exploration.

The roads are long and paved with large stones.

When it rained, water would flood the sunken streets. Many of the street had large blocks of stone laid across them where pedestrians could cross. The stones probably also made a chariot ride a thrilling adventure.  Especially if they were texting and charioting. "Hey, Claudius! Watch out for those.... AHHHHHHHHHHRRRRRGHHHH!!"
Don't text and chariot, kids. It can wait.

Many of the stones had deep ruts in them from the chariot traffic that drove over them.
Alex was wildly impressed.
Alex did perk up a bit when Willy showed us an ancient fast food restaurant. His enthusiasm waned a bit when he discovered that they were no longer serving the traditional Roman meal of lasagna and french fries.

 Our first stop with Willy was the saunas, where ancient Romans would relax after a hard day of looting and pillaging and developing lead poisoning.
The saunas were an incredibly elaborate system of rooms with raised floors that allowed hot water to flow through. The water was piped in from a source over 60 miles away. It's an incredible feat of engineering. Unfortunately, the Romans didn't read the warning signs on their piping. They used lead pipes and as a result, they suffered from chronic lead poisoning, making them short, bald, and prone to drooling a bit, I'd imagine. Scientist figure that the water's high calcium content coated the inside of the pipes with scale, saving the Romans from the full force of the lead's ill effects.

Water, heated by slaves, flowed under the floor, heating the room above with sweet, lead-scented steam.
Willy was shocked when I pointed out a high-tech camera mounted on the wall. It seems that the Romans liked to view their neighbors in the baths! I'm awaiting my Nobel Prize in Archaeology for this discovery.

After the baths, Willy took us to the salacious red-light district of Pompeii and to the infamous She-Wolf Brothel. So named because of the cries that could be heard emanating from its rooms. True fact.

To find the She-Wolf Brothel, you simply follow the... um... descriptive carvings in the paving stones throughout the city. They point you in the right direction, as it were. I wonder if they had a song like they had in Munchkinland, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road"? 
Long lines at the She Wolf. I wondered if patrons could purchase "Skip the Line" passes like the Vatican offered. Willy had no answers to many of my questions.
Once at the She-Wolf, visitors were allowed to pick from a delightful menu of services, all illustrated in glorious color with vivid detail.

"Ummmm... yeah... Lemmie have a Number 3 Extra Value Package."

"Would you like fries with that?"

There were several small rooms with stone beds where service was provided.

And a luxurious toilet for any other personal needs. It is frowned upon to try this toilet. Don't ask me how I know that.
After the She Wolf, Willy brought us to the town's former central square and set us free for 15 exciting, untethered minutes where we were free to wander around the well-preserved square.

Mt. Vesuvius in the background. Waiting to strike again...

We're free to roam!

One of the vicious, slavering feral dogs that inhabit the site.

A giant room contains many of the objects that have been excavated. They're cleaned and cataloged and loaned out to museums.

A plaster cast of a dog that was killed in the eruption.

A heartbreaking figure crouched in terror as he died.

A plaster cast of a baby who was killed in the eruption.

It was a somber collection of artifacts until we got to one that really piqued Alex's interest:

An ancient LEGO!!

Alex went in search of more Legos. "I'll rebuild this place," he announced. 

Alex prowled the ancient streets, searching for more Legos.
Alex wound his way through tiny alleys and down ancient passages until he finally found himself at...

A pizza joint. Seriously. Right in the middle of Pompeii. Come on, Italy. I expected better of you. Who do you think you are? America?

Alex was disappointed and deeply dejected that he hadn't located any more ancient Legos, but our time in Pompeii was over. We bade farewell to Willy and were herded back onto the bus for our drive to Sorrento, the final stop on our tour.

Sorrento, as I imagined it, was a quiet resort town, nestled in the craggy hills along the Adriatic Sea. Sorrent, as it actually appears, is a busy, crowded resort town, crammed between towering jagged mountains.

The bus ride there was a butt-pucking twisting, turning nightmare that left me sweaty and panting. Out the windows, I was treated to a view of:
A. A stone wall, inches from the bus
B. A terrifying drop down a sheer, rocky cliff to the ocean, 75 miles below.
All the while, our bus was swarmed by suicidal scooter drivers, surrounding us, passing us, and enveloping us. I felt like a virus being attacked by white blood cells.
Everyone else found it picturesque and thrilling.
I was bathed in cold sweat and twitching slightly as we alighted at the Michelangelo Hotel and went up to our rooms to rest for a few moments before we were scheduled to meet with the group and walk to a local restaurant where we would be treated to a lavish "Celebration Dinner" of either chicken or fish.
It sounded suspiciously like wedding reception food to me and after the fresh and delicious lunch, I was skeptical.
Our hotel room was lovely and had a balcony that overlooked the scenic Sorrento public rail station and a vast lemon grove.

More scenic. The lemon grove is off to the right of the picture.
Kerri and the kids rested for a bit and I struck out on my own to explore a bit with the 45 minutes of freedom we had been allotted.

I pushed my way along the crowded streets and found myself on a narrow, winding pedestrian street lined with tiny shops selling all sorts of lemon-themed souvenirs.

I managed to find the strength on myself not to buy lemon-scented socks and was able to return to the hotel just in time to line up for the great herding to the restaurant, where dinner and an endless supply of wine awaited us. We wandered down the street as a unified herd of slack-jawed tourists and found ourselves at a restaurant with a huge balcony and captivating views of the coastline. We were allowed a few moments to revel in the beauty before we were herded into a banquet room that looked like every wedding reception ever.

Tables were arranged around the room and a pair of local musicians had been hired to serenade us with Karaoke versions of America's Greatest Soft Rock Hits of the 70's.

It was lovely.

Did I mention the endless supply of wine?

There were 2 pasta dishes followed by the main course. i chose the fish, a decision I would deeply regret in the coming hours.

During the meal a stray cat wandered into the reception area and provided at least as much entertainment as the singers, who were doing their best with Abba's "Dancing Queen".

After dinner, we wandered around town a bit and then, eventually went back to the hotel for some sleep. Alex remained in the hotel lobby to text some of his friends and at about 11:30, he knocked on our door.

I had just drifted off to sleep, lulled by the delicate scents of lemons and diesel fumes wafting through the window. I dragged myself from bed and opened the door.

"I don't have my key," Alex said. "I can't get in the room."
"Knock on the door," I answered. "Tori will let you in."
Alex turned and pointed to the door next to ours. "I've been knocking for, like, 5 minutes. She won't come to the door."
"You've been knocking on that door there?" I asked, pointing.
"Uhhh, yeah," he answered, rolling his eyes. "Duh."
"Your room is over there," I said, pointing to a door on the other side of the hall. "Duh."
It was with a delightful sense of smug satisfaction that I saw him enter his room and quietly closed my door.
A sharp pain erupted in my stomach, doubling me over.
I was then able to spend the rest of the night sweating, fevered, and moaning in agony with wave after wave of stomach cramps and all the thrilling projectile delights that accompany a really volcanic bout of fish dinner poisoning.

Tomorrow - boat rides on the choppy ocean!

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