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Published: June 13th 2017
Geo: 40.7492, 14.5007DAY FOUR (8/5)—Pompei
Lost and Found!
After a farewell breakfast at our hotel in Sorrento, we sped north to the long forgotten city of Pompei. We had a live guide (Tatiana) who tried to use the "Whisper" headsets that allowed her to talk to us without shouting, and without interrupting others who were also touring. But technology being what it is, there was a buzz that sounded like a fly that was very annoying, so we stuck closely to Tatiana and toured the old-fashioned way.
Pompei was first occupied in the 8th century BC. The Etruscans conquered the region, then the Saminites. The Romans took control in 200 BC and continued their reign until the end... a fateful day in 79 AD when Mt Vesuvius blew, and the 20,000 inhabitants died, mostly from gas fumes; all were eventually smothered by mountains of ash.
However, the ash that buried the town saved the ancient town for eternity. Under the ash everything remained as it was at the time of the eruption … until the 1870s when the archeologists discovered the lost city.
Something a little unusual about our tour was that there were 5-6 stray dogs that “own” Pompei. Like the Etruscans,
the Romans and others, each tried to dominate the city. Several dog fights ensued, and many of our crowd got caught in the middle. It was unnerving, but an allegory for Italy's history.
We took a two-hour highlights tour with strolls through the public areas … the piazzas, the baths, the biggest mansion, some smaller homes, a bakery, retail shops, a “fast food” restaurant and, of course, one of the brothels. In the brothels, there are the original frescos which illustrated to sailors of all nationalities the variety of services available!
It was hot, but luckily we visited early so many of the walls cast giant shadows which proved to be 10 degrees cooler than the main thoroughfares. Many tourists wore hats and a significant number actually used umbrellas to protect them from the sun. If you're planning on going, be sure to take sun screen, sunglasses, head cover and water. Lots of water.
Next was lunch at a nice spot in New Pompei called Ristorante President. We had a pasta dish, veal in a cream sauce accompanied by diced potatoes, and a chocolate mousse dessert. Wine was served to celebrate Zach Coney's 28th birthday.
We then spent the afternoon driving to Rome. We
passed a few sights along the way, including the Abbey of Montecassino, established by St. Benedict. In Rome, we whisked by a variety of famous monuments and then checked into the Westin Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto.
We had two hours to relax. Hooray! The air conditioning is powerful, which is not anything I can say about the Tauck bus or the Excelsior Vittoria. It's delightfully chilly in the room.
For dinner, we crossed the River Tiber to Trastevere (the neighborhood of Rome on the “other” side of the Tiber). We visited the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere (Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere), one of the oldest churches in Rome and said to be the oldest Catholic church in the world. The church dates back to the 340s AD. There is graffiti that dates back that far, captured in the marble slabs where it was carved.
Trastevere is a party place -- winding streets, plenty of restaurants and nightspots, as well as retail shops that stay open well into the evening.
We dined at La Cisterna, the oldest known tavern in Rome, which was built and rebuilt over hundreds of years. There is the cistern which gives it its name
and a winding stone stairway that Disney used for Mickey's broom dance in “Fantasia”. There is a floor rebuilt for Rita Hayworth; and a long history of famous guests, including John Wayne and Grace Kelly.
The food was good but not great – perhaps it was the set menu that was served. We had a delicious antipasto of vegetables, then two pastas that were tasty and fresh. The main course was a braised lamb that was too fatty and only mildly flavorful. Dessert was a tiramisu – some of the best I've tasted. It arrived with a Roman candle in it to celebrate (again) Zach's big day.
A trio of instrumentalists turned the evening into a festive occasion, playing many Italian songs and insisting we sing along. The wine flowed freely and the group enjoyed the food, the music and themselves tremendously.
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