We had 3 stops in Italy, and used the company Rome In Limo for all 3. We were very pleased with their tours, and would highly recommend them. Today’s tour is of Positano, Sorrento and Pompeii; a very full day of touring!
We had a great group of people to hang out with today, which always makes things more enjoyable.
When we got into the van, the driver warned us about driving in Naples, and the surrounding countryside. Lanes mean nothing! He explained traffic lights as follows: green means go, yellow means go, and red means go. A walk signal to cross the street means “run or die”. He was 100% correct. We were very impressed with his driving skills. It was really best to just close your eyes and pray, but then you would have missed the beautiful scenery!
Naples itself is the third largest city in Italy, with a population of 1.2 million people. The roads around Naples are very bumpy; they were originally from Roman times. We passed Mt. Vesuvius, which erupted last in 1944, during World War II. Due to the volcanic eruptions, everything has been built on lava, therefore the soil is very rich. One can take a ferry to the Isle of Capri or Sorrento directly from Naples. We did not get a chance to see Capri on this trip, and drove to Sorrento. The temperature here never gets below 13-14 degrees Celsius (55-57 degrees Fahrenheit), so never freezes. During the summer, it gets up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), with 85% humidity. I am very glad we came during the cooler weather during the fall! 70% of employment is tourism related, and there is very little tourism during the summers. Our tour guide told us that people typically work only 7 months per year. All food is local and organic.
We passed through groves of lemon and olive trees. There are nets under the olive trees. To harvest the olives, they just shake the trees! Due to the temperate climate, lemons are harvested year round. The water temperature is always at about 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).
We drove along the Sorrento Coast through windy roads. The tour guide claimed that there is 0% crime in Sorrento and Positano. Since there is only one road (and it is a crazy one), it would be very difficult to escape unnoticed. Not only is the road windy and narrow, but cars park on both sides of it, even though there is virtually no shoulder. You will come around a curve, and find that there is another car going the other direction that you are about to hit head on! Or, you round a bend, and there is a group of hardy bicyclists taking up the lane. It is amazing that there are not many accidents!!!
We were dropped off in the town of Sorrento. What a charming town! Limoncello is the primary draw here; not only the drink, but every variation you can think of: candy, soap, candles; you name it! Apparently, there is a different festival every week. We wandered through the narrow streets, looking at all of the delicious goodies, as well as leather goods, and other souvenirs. Weaving through the alleyways gave Clayton a chance to use his favorite phrase: scusi. We never did hear an Italian say excuse me!
We found a bakery, and decided to buy some goodies so that we could use their restroom. I don’t remember what Clayton got, but I do remember that I purchased a “Baba au Limoncello”. It was one of the most delicious treats I have ever eaten; a spongy cake literally drenched in limoncello! I can still taste it. . .We wandered back through town, and ran into Zahra and Amin. She had purchased a leather tote bag because she needed something to haul her souvenirs home in! They pointed us to a limoncello factory that they had found. We tasted limoncello, limoncello candy and limoncello cookies. I bought some candy, which was filled with limoncello and most delicious!
We loaded up the van, and headed through more windy, scary roads to the town of Positano. We parked at the top of the hill (there was a beautiful Italian sportscar parked there; how appropriate!), and walked down through the town to the beach. This is a very popular tourist town; the cheapest hotel rooms go for 650 Euros per night (about $720). There were lots of trendy shops on the way down. The road ended at the beach, where a lovely little church was located. Unfortunately, the walk back to the car was all uphill (of course, since the walk to town was all downhill!).
The next stop was for lunch. The road to the restaurant was so windy that the van driver had to stop and back up a couple of times in order to make the curve. I believe that the tour company had a sweetheart deal with the restaurant proprietor; all of the people in the restaurant were fellow cruisers. We were directed to a table, and were told that we would be getting the 25 Euro all-inclusive, family-style lunch (including wine). The people in our group did not want that meal (too much food), so we asked for menus. The proprietor went off in a huff, but did return with menus for us. He brought us some bruschetta as an appetizer. We all had pizza, and some limoncello to top off the meal. Supposedly, there was free wi-fi at the restaurant. I had taken a picture of the view from our table, and wanted to upload it to Facebook. There was a wi-fi signal, but it was so weak that I had to wander around the restaurant to find the one spot that had enough signal strength to actually function!
Our final stop of the day was Pompeii. We had a tour guide for Pompeii, a different person than our tour guide that we had for the rest of the day. Originally, Pompeii was one of the most important ports in the region, due to its strategic geographic position. Now, due to Mt. Vesuvius’s eruptions, it is now 10 km inland (6 miles). Although the Greeks originally settled Pompeii, the Romans made it important. 20,000 lived here, and they were unaware of the volcano. Interestingly enough, the volcanic eruption that killed everyone did not do so due to lava flow. On the first day of the eruption, there was an earthquake. On day two, poisonous gas was released into the atmosphere; that is what killed many people. Those that survived thought that the eruption was over, and that they were safe. There was one final explosion on day 2-3, which is the one that produced the pyroclastic flow. The stones from the eruption buried everything under 20-25 feet of layers. Pompeii was rediscovered 1000 years later in 1748, and is now 70% unearthed.
Ron and Phyllis, who were an older couple in our group, opted to sit out the Pompeii tour, due the strenuous nature. There is quite a bit of walking on cobblestones and rough surfaces, and to enter the site, you must walk a distance uphill. The entrance is through “Porta Marina”. Outside of the main city is where the brothels were found. Since this was a port, people from all over the world would come here, and they all spoke different languages. Therefore, the “menu” for the brothel was pictorial. Literally, a patron could enter the brothel, and simply point to show what he was interested in! I wasn’t able to get any great pictures of the menu because flash photography was not allowed, and my camera (and picture-taking skills) was not great.
We next went through the bath area. Just like in Ephesus, I was very impressed with the technology that existed so long ago. There were thermal baths, pools and saunas of varying temperatures. Unlike Ephesus, these were free for locals. There was a whole system of pipes that brought the water to the bath area. Unfortunately, the pipes were made of lead, and so there many experienced lead poisoning. The average person was only 4-5 feet tall; the lead stunted their growth.
After leaving the bath area, we entered Pompeii proper. The walkways were made of marble. The marble reflected the moonlight, lighting peoples’ paths at night. Shops lined both sides of the street. The shops had wooden pocket doors. Who knew such a thing existed so long ago? We passed by Apollo’s Temple on the left, and Diana’s Temple on the right. Back in the day, only the priest was allowed up the steps of these temples.
There was so much to see, it was hard to keep it all straight, so I will instead share some of the things I found interesting. Many of you may have seen the plaster casts of bodies of the victims of the volcanic eruption. These were created using a process developed by Giuseppi Fiorelli during the 1800’s. Over time, the bodies of the deceased decomposed, leaving holes around their skeletons. Fiorelli poured cement into these holes, creating the plaster casts.
Urine was used to wash clothes; women also used it to bleach their hair. The streets were full of sewage; due to the rocky soil, it was impossible to build underground sewage, so the sewage flowed through the streets. Stones were built into the streets for people to step over the sewage. The sewage would flow downhill to the ocean. You could see the chariot tracks in the streets as well.
We passed through a part of town where the restaurants were located. Marble counters were used to serve food. Terracotta kept hot food hot and cold food cold. A fountain was located there for people to was the waste off. There were ovens built into the brick walls (pizzeria and bakery!).
We walked through the “cave canem” house (so called because of the “beware of dog” mosaic in the entryway). The house was open in the back for ventilation and comfort during the hot summers. The kitchen and toilet were located in the same room. The rich homeowners would eat lying down (slaves fed them), and then they would puke. Therefore the name vomitorium. They would repeat the eat/puke cycle repeatedly. The home was decorated in greens and blues, which were the colors of the wealthy. Slaves lived upstairs.
Although prostitution was supposedly only allowed outside the gates of the city, a phallic symbol outside a building denoted that there was a back room with prostitutes. There were also gambling rooms round; 5 pairs of loaded dice were unearthed during the excavation.
Outside the gates of the city is where the necropolis was located. Cremation was used to dispose of the bodies. There was a gladiator school located in the city as well.
We exited through the Temple of Venus (goddess that protected sailors), and returned to the van. We were all pretty exhausted by now, so many slept on the ride back to the port of Naples.