Amalfi’s Fountain in the Main Square
We felt comfortable knowing that the ferry from Amalfi to Salerno ran regularly. There was some discrepancy in the scheduled times we saw, but not enough to cause concern. We slept a bit late and packed. To turn in the key, we walked to the owner’s flat, rang, and were buzzed into her patio. She came out moments later, “Buongiorno, Come stai?” We chatted for a while, mentioning again that Romeo messed up in not arranging to have our bags (and us) whisked up to the apartment. Would we like a ride down? “No, downhill is not a problem.” With mille grazie on both sides, we parted and hiked down to a coffee shop near the ferry bigletteria.
Ellen waited at the coffee shop entrance while I purchased tickets. The next ferry was at 10:20, roughly an hour away. We ordered cappuccino and a doppio macchiato enjoying the sun. Ellen mentioned she wished she had photographed a narrow street when we walked down. “Go do it. We have lots of time before the ferry arrives” She came back well ahead of the ferry. We moved to the dock to wait. It was a glorious morning with some high clouds in the sky. Not enough to threaten rain.
The ferry for Positano arrived first and it was packed on departure. Fifteen minutes later we were on the ferry to Salerno, which was half full. We sat close to a couple with a baby girl. She was gorgeous. Part way through the trip, we commented on how beautiful their daughter was. They were on vacation from Sidney for two weeks visiting relatives in Campania. Their parents live in Sidney with them. He is a firefighter, she a teacher (If I remember correctly). I have great respect for firefighters. California is just coming out of a drought and has had four years of severe fires. The 40 minute ferry to Salerno went by quickly. As we left I joked, “Can we take your daughter for just a few weeks?” I’m not sure they heard me, probably for the better. We landed at a familiar port, unloaded and walked to the car rental (europcar) with the help of my Italian Smart Phone (thank you TIM). It was a short walk away, made longer by heading in the wrong direction for a while before the GPS corrected itself (err, me).
We bantered with the rental host in broken English and Italian. Had our passports photocopies, signed here, there, everywhere on a form, and were walked to a pristine, white, Alfa Romeo Guilet sitting practically on the sidewalk. I was shown how to open the trunk (not obvious) how to open the gas lid (would have got that one) and , “Should I show you how to find reverse?” “No, I think I’ve got that. Thanks.”. He walked off, while another europcar fellow stood nearby watching closely. I think there was a bet going, “how far will I get before causing a crash or could I even drive off the curb?” It took my time settling in, adjusting the mirrors, figuring out how to shift into reverse (lift a ring under the shifter and move the lever into reverse), setup our Garmin Nav with a Fodor’s map of Italy. It took some time. The attendant patiently stood by waiting. Into first gear and a soft push of the throttle and the car lurched forward. I think I scared the fellow who made room for me as much as I frightened Ellen. I was too busy to be concerned. I was free and driving in Salerno.
There are two GPS maps of Italy available for the Garmin Numi today. The Fodor’s is the best of the two. It is very good at getting close to your destination, but very bad at locating it. We use our Italian masterpiece and Google maps for the last 20 km. I had wanted to see Bacoli, a small town on a peninsula west of Naples, but we thought it best to avoid Naples and went directly to Torre del Greco. The surface roads getting to the autostrade are hit and miss, some good others not so much. The autostrada was great. Smooth except where marked, and fast. I did not see one polizia the entire drive.
I chose Torre del Greco because it is close to Pompeii. I wanted to visit the ruins and they were just off the autostrade. Arriving at Pompeii, I parked in the first place I found after some difficulty (fun) crossing cross traffic. We parked and were told that parking was free if we had lunch there. We were starving and not thinking very straight. Sure. We sat, ordered, then were told that we had to spend 40 euros for free parking. Our order was less. But you could get the mozzarella and a water and be ok. Humm, 3 euro per hour, we could stay overnight for 40 euros, but we were starving. Ok. The pizza was good, not great. The mozzarella was not buffalo. The beer was good! We felt like we had been had, and we had been. With a shrug, we were off to the ruins.
Free Parking with Lunch, Do Not Eat Here
I have been to a number of ancient archeological sites, some very well preserved. Nothing I have ever seen prepared me for Pompeii. It is massive. It is an entire Roman city that was destroyed when Mt Vesuvius erupted. Think about that: an entire city. destroyed, volcanic eruption. I’ll post a photo showing Mt Vesuvius today. If you run a line up both sides of the volcano, they intersect well above the saddle in the current mountain. The area below that intersection is the amount of the mountain that was blown into the air along with probably an equal mass of molten lava from the earth’s core. This is astounding in its magnitude.
The Nine Regions of Pompeii, Pompeii is Vast!
Modern Sculpture Abound on Site, Beautiful but do not be fooled.
Equally astounding is the extent of the city the Romans had build by 79 AD, the year the city was destroyed. You have to see it to believe the size. And not just the size, but the quality of life shown in the layout and decorative skills of the artists and artisans of the period. The mind runs in several directions when confronted with Pompeii.
A Human Body Encased in Ash and Turned To Stone
More of the Same
Destruction, annihilation, extinction. When randomness in the universe was first proposed, the church opposed the theory on the basis that God would never allow the earth to be destroyed by some random act of “nature” (or God). That a massive asteroid ended the dinosaur’s evolutionary path is well accepted. Ours, mankind’s, could end just as abruptly.
I hope this video gives you a sense of the size of Pompeii. This is a video of one small part of one of the nine sections of the ruins of Pompeii.
Quality of Life. What defines quality of life. Nearly 2000 years ago, these people had a very good and relatively advanced culture. Arguably, from a literary or philosophical point of view, as advanced as our own today. Scientifically and gadgetarily there is no comparison of course. But does having more “stuff” imply a better life?
Classic Tile Floor from 79AD, Pompeii
Mosaic 79AD, Pompeii
Empathy. Why did I feel such abject sadness that an entire city was wiped out. I have no immediate connection to these people who perished 1,938 years ago. Yet I felt sorrow, tearful at the event and what remains now.
It felt strange walking the paths that these long gone people once walked, embraced on, and even were immolated on. There are ash encased remains on display here and there, with clothes and muscles as detailed as in life as if clinging to life. Hands held to mouths to shelter one more breath from the heat or ash.
The mosaics, the two amphitheaters, that must have played a role in entertainment. Making the mundane more bearable, like our jaunts to the big screen for some escape.
The Lesser Amphitheater
Expanse of ruins
We got lost finding our way out. Who knew there were three entrances and therefore three exits. Which entrance did you come in? Well, we don’t know. Let me check our ticket. With that and some help from a docent, we found our way out. In the process we saw much more of the ruins that we expected. At some point anything as large as this becomes overwhelming. I cannot take more than a few hours, three at the most, in the Louvre. Saturation sets in, I get “punchy” and have to leave. Pompeii is huge, far too big in size, scope, and implication for more than three hours.
Painting On Stone, Pompeii
Steam Heated Walls in 79AD, Pompeii
A Courtyard, Pompeii
Another Stone Body, Note Clothing and Hair Detail
Mt Vesuvius In the Distance
Look at Mt Vesuvius in the background of the photo above. If you continue a line along the right slope and left slop they intersect at a point high above a little below and left of the left cloud. The part of the mountain that is missing was blown away. Probably an equal amount of molten core material exploded into the air, rising up into a column of super-heated rock probably miles high. When that column collapsed back to earth, it engulfed Pompeii destroying parts of the city while covering other parts in ash leaving Pompeii largely intact but buried.
“Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, and systematic excavation began there in 1738. Work did not begin at Pompeii until 1748, and in 1763 an inscription (“Rei publicae Pompeianorum”) was found that identified the site as Pompeii.Sep 13, 2016”
Leaving Pompeii, our Garmin Numi got us close to Hotel Poseidon, Google Maps took us to the doorstep.
At reception we met Germano, who was very accommodating. Room Keys, Breakfast downstairs 7:30 to 10:30, park out back, take the elevator to your room, this is a seafood town all the restaurants serve very fresh seafood. Enjoy. We tried to speak our limited Italian, but Germano was having none of it.
Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco
Hotel Poseidon is modern and decorated as if you were staying at the bottom of the sea. It is so modern, I could not figure out how to use the elevator! Seriously. I’ve seen electronic panels with touch sensitive regions that spring to life when you press them. I pressed away to no avail. Lights came on, but nothing happened. Germano,, at the desk said (as if he’s done this many times), “Slide your thumb, don’t press! Like this” He slid his thumb across the panel, the up/down indicators glowed red, and after some whirring the elevator doors opened.
Looking Down to the Lobby, Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco
The apartment was new and clean. All the fixtures in the bath room were bright shiny new. The shower had a wand and overhead rain head with plenty of hot water. The bed was firm and comfortable.
Taverna a Mare viewed from the Lido
Settled in, we left to explore the town. We walked down to the wharf/marina which clearly is a working marina. We walked until we could walk no further and had to turn back. At that point on the 2nd floor was a restaurant that looked inviting, but wasn’t open. “Let’s go check it out”. It was not obvious how to get there and in the process we passed an interesting café/bar with enclosed street side seating. Cool. We continued on trying a few dead end streets and eventually came upon the front entrance to Taverna a Mare.
They were setting up for dinner. At the entrance was an ice lined display case of seafood that one fellow was setting up. It was enormous. Scusi, then I said in English that I’d like to make reservations for this evening. He spoke with another fellow who scurried off to find someone. I followed close on his heals. Moments later I was face to face with the manager, a tall big hulk of a man in his late 30’s, imposing with jet black hair and a full beard. We do not open until 8pm. We can seat you then if you like. Yes, that would be fine. Then he did something strange. He paced his right index finger just under his right eye with the finger running down his cheek, lowered his head, and glared at me for too long. It was unnerving. What is this guy doing? I had the sense not to react at all. After probably 30 seconds of this he relaxed and showed us out. Strange. The gesture is called occhio, and it means, “I’m watching you and I am not a fool”.. Check these Italian gestures out: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/29/travel/experts-guide-to-italian-hand-gestures/
To kill close to an hour we went back to that bar we had seen, Bar da Ciccio. This was a fun place to stop for a while. I ordered a birra della spina and Ellen a limoncello. Where are you from and we were off. We used google translator to talk to each other. First the gal then a guy. We went back and forth. Later I ordered another round and the conversation grew. Ellen took photos of the group, who said, No let’s all be in the photo. The time came to go to Taverna and we parted with many Arrivederci’s, salves, and ciaos.
Da Ciccio Crew
We were seated at Taverna a Mare beside another couple. The Italians do this. They are a gregarious lot and expect cross table conversation to flourish. I had seen scorfano on ice when we entered, and ordered scorfano. Ellen had coveted my spaghetti vongole the last time I ordered it. We had house wine by the glass. Ellen asked if she could have extra clams on her order. “Si, madam”. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the vongole, clams, are very small and very tasty. They’re smaller than little neck clams of New England. Ellen’s vongole was excellent, but my fish was amazing. The first bite was firm, mild, and very flavorful. It was like a bit of perfectly cooked Main lobster, but tender. I was ecstatic.
Video of Taverna a Mare, just for the audio.
The couple beside us each had spaghetti vongole for their first course and salt encrusted fish for their second. This reminded me of the time Markus and Axlexandra visited in Venice. The four of us wanted to share salt encrusted fish at a restaurant, but a Russian party ordered the last one. That started a conversation about fish with the couple, Jonathan and Anna. Anna joked that her name is an anagram, demonstrating a thorough grasp of English. They had driven down from Switzerland on a two week vacation. They would go as far as the Amalfi coast. I recommended Da Gemma in Amalfi and we raved about Ravello. Anna is a PhD candidate in biochemistry. She is striking, poised, and very quick witted. It would be fun to get to know them better.
Some of Torre del Greco’s Fishing Fleet
A word about Torre del Greco. For fresh seafood, this is the best place we have visited thus far. The ice bar, to your right as you enter Taverna a Mare, is at least thirty feet long and five feet deep. It is filled with whole fish and shellfish, fresh caught that day. There is more seafood on display in that restaurant than most seafood mongers have in their entire shop. The variety as well as the extent of the display was staggering. Yes, they had scorfano and clams and muscles, and lobster, and fish I’ve never seen before. Use Torre del Greco as a stopover to see Erculano, Pompeii, and perhaps Bacoli. Walk the beach, check out the working marina and fishing boats. Enjoy a drink or two Bar da Cicco. Talk with the staff, they’re really happy friendly people. Iif you’re really lucky (or unlucky) you’ll get “the occhio” at taverna a Mare. There is a “there, there” at Torre del Greco, but it is not on the surface.
We walked back to Hotel Poseidon happy, sated, and ready for bed.