Our last day in Rome and we were booked in to a bus tour of Pomeii and Naples. Here’s how it went:
- Our friendly tour guide picked us up at 6.45am. We had been able to make short work of the breakfast buffet earlier so we climbed aboard the bus with pockets full of rolls and Nutella sachets (they’re mad about that stuff here – no vegemite, no peanut butter). We were then taken back to the tour guide’s office, a couple of blocks away where we waited a full hour for the other tourists to arrive from the various other hotels. Finally we climbed aboard our actual tour bus and made the long journey out to the cities. Arriving in Naples, we did a couple of laps of the more interesting bits before heading to Pompeii. Arriving slightly before lunch we were shown through a factory that made fairly awful trinkets out of shells or something, and then sat down to a warm lunch before finally being directed towards the region that once was the city of Pompeii.
- Mount Vesuvius, overlooking much of the region, is an active volcano. We knew that and were prepared to take the risk of being under it. So were the citizens of Pompeii. They were less fortunate than we were however because one day in the year 79 AD, Vesuvius errupted and covered Pompeii completely. Well, what with one thing or another the rest of the world forgot that Pompeii even existed. Years later, in the year 1748, the city was rediscovered remarkably preserved under its blanket of volcanic rock. It has since been largely unearthed and the public of today can roam about the streets of 79 AD.
- The first thing that impressed me was the sheer size of the place. Normally when visiting ruins you might expect to see a few buildings, or maybe a street of crumbling remains, but the excavated portion of Pompeii is vast. You could easily become lost in the streets and alleys of the place. Fortunately, our guide knew his way around.
- The second thing that impressed me was how much of the old Pompeii still remains. It was quite an experience to stand on a street corner and look right along the streets at lines of houses and shops. It was not difficult to picture it in its prime. You could still see the markings on the stone streets made by ancient feet and chariot wheels. Inside the houses, baths, shops and market places you could still see the signs of ancient life.
- Pompeii was fascinating and well worth the trip if you ever get the chance.
- The next day we caught the train back northwards to the city of Venice.
- Venice was amazing, and easily ranks as my favourite city so far this trip. From the moment we walked out from the train station, it did not fail to disappoint. When they say Venice is built entirely on canals instead of streets, they’re not exaggerating to get you to go there, they really mean it. There are no cars, buses, roads, bicycles or traffic lights in the city. City blocks are defined by canals and you get around by walking along the squares, alleys and bridges, or by taking a water bus to different parts of the city. Most other cities we visited are full of various points of interest to see. Venice is unique in that it IS the point of interest you go to see.
- We managed to figure out the complex water bus system and arrived at our stop. From there we navigated the labyrinthian alleys and bridges and found our hotel. We explored some of the city squares and churches and had tea at a place selling individual (but huge) slices of Pizza.
- The following day we decided to visit the Island of Murano, famous for its glass-blowing industry. We were warned that this was an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to take serious advantage of unwitting tourists. Not wishing to be unwitting we turned down our hotel receptionist’s offer of 70 Euros to go out to the island. The island of Murano is one of the stops on the water bus system, so an ordinary ticket will get you out there (€6.50 – or free if you already have a 24 hour pass). We wandered around for a while and eventually rocked up at a factory and watched a couple of the local glass blowers giving it their best. The visit out to the glass-making room cost €5 each. Here two blokes in t-shirt worked as a team to produce the various Murano glass products. Out of the furnaces, a blob of molten glass on the end of a long pole looks like fairly firm (slightly glowing) honey. They spent about fifteen minutes on each piece (vases on our visit), adding bits of colour, re-furnacing, blowing them out a bit, reshaping, re-furnacing, adding more colour, and so forth until they had an impressive looking vase. This they put into a cooler furnace, or else the rapid temperature change would cause it too explode, or so said our guide.
- On our final day in Venice, we found something I thought was quite cool. It was the church used in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the exterior (that’s film-talk for “outside bits”) of the Venetian library where Indy and that Austrian lady find the subterranean crypt and the coffin containing the directions, inscribed on a shield, of where to find the Holy grail. Unfortunately they were followed by members of a secret brotherhood and almost incinerated. They manage to escape, which leads to an exciting boat chase through the canals and out into the open water. The boat chase, the catacombs and the library were all filmed in the UK, but the exterior of the church was right there in Venice.
- The church, proving its versatility once more, was hosting a hands-on exhibition of some of the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, constructed from his original designs. This was an added bonus to the day.
- That afternoon, we boarded the train again for the seven and a half hour journey to Vienna. I’ve mentioned earlier about how enjoyable these train rides are. This one was no exception. This train was arranged in compartments – think “Murder on the Orient Express” (without the homicide or quirky Belgian detective). Traveling northwards we enjoyed the sights of snow-capped mountains in the distance, and eventually snow on the ground outside. A little before midnight we arrived in Vienna and negotiated the underground, or “U-Bahn” to our hotel.
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