May 06 2016
May 05 2016
The day really had a glorious beginning: my faithful Francesco the bus driver was back! Despite the half hour traffic jam, I arrived at Pompei without being sick, although a bit queasy once more. We started our trip by sitting down on a terrace and having a coffee (which I declined, my stomach was too upset) and then by queueing the entrance line. While Leon actually did that for us, we took a look at the… how can I respectfully describe this? These people were found in the ash layers, and the empty spaces in the ashes, left behind by their corpses, were filled with plaster, so we can actually make out their shapes around their skeletons. We were really stunned by this, and actually even aggravated by the children – too young to fully comprehend that these were once actual people – who were wooping and cheering at the sight.
And then we entered the site, and made our way passing by some graves, and finally entering the city.
So we wandered around, Daan holding the map, like you would wander around a modern city, deciding which places we definitely wanted to see. In the Fuller’s house we went, through the temple of Isis, climbing the steps of the theatre, and having our picknick in a shadowy grove.
After a short break we continued through the streets, marvelling at every corner, in every doorstep, at every view. I must admit, it was nothing like I expected. I was told about low structures that you could see through, only fundaments remaining, and here I was, in a complete city, the Roman spirit wafting through every doorway… I admired the baths with the hypocaustum and the bowling alley, took a long look at the mosaic of the boar…
And then, Fortuna struck…
As I was stepping down into the street, I turned around for a last look at that mosaic, not really minding my step, and… I heard a loud snap, a blinding pain, and I fell down, grasping my right ankle. I knew right away: this was a serious sprain, not just a mere twist, but nothing was broken. A guard summoned the medics, as I lay down on the pavement. And, much to my surprise, every passing guide asked how I was, if someone was alerted, if I needed anything. After a few minutes, I asked the rest of the group to continue, since this was going to take a while, and Leon stayed by my side.
The infirmiere arrived, took a quick assessment, and while I was filling out some papers, the guy took out a lot of bandages, and set to work, right there and then on the Pompei pavement. He sprayed the ankle, swaddled it in a thick layer of fluff cotton, and measured out a length of premade plaster. And yes, he made me a half cast right there on the spot. It took like a quarter of an hour to dry completely, and I was set. Alas, I couldn’t walk. So the lady fetched me a pair of crutches, and they escorted me to the exit, as neither they nor the crutches could leave the premises. And there, on the outside pavement, they left me standing, after a very good, swift and free treatment.
Luckily there still was Leon to take care of me, so he helped me cross the street and onto a terrace chair, and we ordered a coffee. I do admit, at that very moment I started crying. The pain, the exhaustion of having to walk that way and all those steps with crutches, and the mere misery of it all. No more Pompei for me, and probably a couple of weeks immobility. And I definitely need to go to work, this close to the exams. And I need to get home too, through the airport and all. Oh well…
Leon called Mina at the Villa, and she would go out and fetch me a pair of crutches; he also went to the ATM for me and got me some extra money, and the bus would come and pick me up on the spot.
So I sat there, being pretty miserable, on the terrace outside Pompei Scavi. There was this guy prancing about, dressed up like a praetorian, making money out of tourists who wanted a picture with him. He came up to me at one point, asking me what had happened. I explained, and he said that he was a gladiator. So I laughed, and said he was not, he was an officer in the army. He looked very alarmed, mockingly, and said that I should hush up! Of course he was a praetorian, but the people don’t know that, and they preferred a gladiator. Anyway, this guy really made me laugh, and I needed that. He even made me take a selfie ^^
Later on, he came back and attached a trinket to my big toe, “a good luck charm” he said. And then he was gone before I even could thank him. So sweet…
Anyway, we got home, I went to lie down, and gradually I did feel better. Everyone was so nice and so concerned…
May 04 2016
Day four of our visit at the Villa Vergiliana was a very relaxed one, to be honest. Alas for me, there was a different bus and an altogether different driver for the two hour trip to Paestum, all along the busy ringroad around Naples and quite a bit further into the direction of Sorrento. I was feeling rather queazy when I got of the bus, but the ever so beautiful landscape strewn with Greek temples and remains, made me quite well in no time. As usual, Leon provided us with very interesting information concerning the buildings and the surroundings, and we all enjoyed the peace thoroughly.
After the picknick we moved to the museum, where he gave us a short guided tour, and left us to explore on our own for a couple of hours.
I ventured into the precinct again, on my own, enjoying an icecream, and gave some Italian students a nice story to recount to their friends :-p Apparently they had an assignment, being seniors in high school, to explain in English to the tourists what their assigned building/monument was all about. So I let one of them explain to me all about the little amphitheatre, helped by his friends whenever he was stuck in English, up to the moment when he declared that it had been restored by the Flavians in the 2nd century before Christ. At which point I raised an eyebrow, and asked him if he was sure about that date. He was, he confirmed. So I went on to explain that it was definitely àfter Christ, and that I was a Latin teacher. He turned bright red, and said something about BC sounding the same as PC in Italian. So I switched: “Linguam Latinam loqui possimus, si velis”. They all started laughing, and said ever so quickly that it was okay, and that they would be fine the way it was! I’m pretty sure that, when I left, they were talking about the mere odds of having a Latin teacher as a tourist…
Anyway, I really didn’t feel like leaving the place, even though it wasn’t quite as peaceful anymore as in the morning, due to the massive amount of Italian teenagers who had arrived, and who were very good at what teenagers are best at, being laughing and making noise… So I went back on the bus, into the Neapolitan traffic, and alas, I wasn’t so lucky this time. By the time we hit Pompei to pick up two of ours who had visited the town instead, I was, as Adrian described it, violently ill. Another hour stuck in traffic really wore me out, and I went to lie down as soon as we hit the Villa. Half an hour of sound sleep worked wonders for me, and so I could easily participate in the wonderful activity that was planned before dinner. We all went up to the roof, and we in turn read out the poem we had been making about our trip. I must admit, I was seriously impressed by everything I heard. Especially Adrian’s poem about a slave being left behind on the shores of Pompei struck a nerve, and when Daan started to sing a song about a dad who is waiting in the vaults beneath Herculaneum for death to come, and says goodbye to his little daughter, both Dana and I were in tears.
I tried to write a sonnet, but I had to finish the last verse in a couple of minutes, after I had been woken up by the gong to indicate that it was time to go up on the roof.
In Virgil’s land the green hills lay,
and some are even mountains.
Beneath a veil of clouds of May
the sea, the lakes and fountains.
A Virgilian group of people came
to explore the Latin treasures
only to find the poet’s name
amidst so many more pleasures.
Now here we stand beneath the stars
and think of all the ancient wars
the Romans fought of old
And we will think back with a sigh
– our hearts will leap up really high –
of all the stories told.
It truly was a magical moment of bonding, there up on that roof of the villa… Thank you, Leon, for making that possible.
The rest of the evening was spent talking and having fun, just sitting around in the main room. Most of the participants were due to leave the next morning, hence the “last evening” feeling.
May 03 2016
Today was once more a wonderful day, and I enjoyed every last bit of it, not in the least due to Francesco, the amazing bus driver. He got me safely and without getting sick up the winding road to the summit of the Vesuvius, which is not a mean feat, believe me. But behind every turn there was another fantastic vista, and he was more often grinning than not, when he saw me taking in every single view of the Naples bay.
As for Mount Vesuvius, now there’s a pretty impressing volcano! It took me quite some time to get up the long and steep road from the parking to the actual rim of the crater, due to my lack of breath and overal fitness, I’m pretty ashamed to admit. But finally I made it, thanks to the verbal support and patiently waiting of Wietse and Juliana, and oh lemon (inside joke), what a view! And not only the very strong gusts of wind were responsible for the goose bumps I got up there: Wietse read out some lines in Latin from Plinius, where he describes the eruption of Vesuvius, and Leon provided us with a very liberal and exhilarating translation of them. You know, standing on the edge of the crater, at one side the actual crater with the fumaroles, at the other side the beautiful view over the Bay of Naples, while listening to Plinius being read out: it doesn’t get any better than that.
Slowly we made our way back down again, only to arrive in Herculaneum around midday. We had our picknick there and went inside. And yet once more, I was baffled. The city is actually in a pit, and I never even considered why. But when in 79 AD the Vesuvius erupted, the entire column of rocks, dirt and ashes collapsed onto the city, burying it in a layer of at least 25 metres of volcanic debris. The locked vaults which were situated at the coast line, were now quite some kilometers inland, and the whole excavation – taken litterally in this case – is indeed a pit. But what a pit!
We slowly made our way through the exquisite little coastal city, looked into the houses, at the frescos and mosaics, and did our photo assignment. Divided into three groups, we had to ‘die’ in Herculaneum: three pics, first about the very moment we discovered the eruption, then the fleeing, and at last the dying in the city. While our pictures might not have been the best, we really had fun making them. And I think the dying one is pretty neat, mostly thanks to Daan.
On the trip went, to Oplonti, the Villa Poppaea. My students in 6th grade now her by now all too well, Nero’s mistress and eventually second wife, who got kicked to death by her violent husband. He gave her (or so we think, at least) this villa, and it’s a beautiful specimen of a rustic villa. There we had another assignment: we paired up and took a ‘Grand Tour portrait’ like people used to have their portrait painted in the 17th century when travelling through Europe. I teamed up with Geert, we borrowed an ancient volume of Vergilius and used my coat (I especially brought it for this assignment) and we had great fun making the portrait.
Last but not least, we drove back to Cumae, only to visit another volcano, the Solfatara. It’s still quite active, with a bubbling pool, very hot spots, a Bocca Grande (a large fumarole) and an ancient kind of sauna devised for health reasons by the Romans. It was hot there, and very smelly due to the sulphur.
We drove home, had some nice spare time, went for delicious dinner,
and then did our frescoes. The first night – while I still was on a plane – everyone made a base structure for a fresco. Luckily they thought of making a spare one for me, as I was arriving late. Today we all got our moulds with a fresh layer of plaster, and got a lot different colours to work with. I thought I’d keep it easy, and went for the mount Vesuvius which had made a tremendous impression on me.
Anyway, this was another glorious day that I won’t forget easily. Lucky me!
May 02 2016
Waking up in the Villa Vergiliana was much more agreeable, I must admit. I have this really nice roommate for the stay, Juliana who lives in the UK but originally comes from Brazil, and has this typical Southern temperament and sense of humour. I like it!
We woke up at seven, and I really had to hurry to take a shower and make it to the nice breakfast at half past. And, with my warped sense of time, I had to hurry once more to get to the Sibylla Bus. For real, the bus company in Cumae is called Sybilla Bus, how cool is that!
Anyway, we drove off to the Piscina Mirabilis in Bacoli. Now that was really a sight to see, a hidden pearl and a truly amazing one! Since the Cape Misenum (Promunturium Misenum) was a naval basis in the Roman time, all those soldiers needed water. Fresh, clean, drinkable water, which was brought here from the mountains by the Aqua Augusta, a long aqueduct. But then, the water needed stored. So Agrippa let his architects and engineers divise a very clever and impressive Piscina, a water reservoir dug out in the mountain side, reinforced with columns and closed off. It’s huge, and you can walk around in it now. It’s, by the way, the starting point of Robert Harris’ Pompey (which I still need to read), and we could really imagine the boat on the water…
On our way back to the bus, we had a very nice view over the bay, a view which astounded me at the moment, but which – I’m sure – will definitely be improved the next couple of days. Oh, and I really had to take a picture of a pine tree to which, according to Plinius, the ash cloud of the Vesuvius bore a resemblance.
Next stop was the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Napoli, in which we only got to spend a mere two hours. Leon – our trusted leader, as one of the guides pointed out – had warned us about that: we wouldn’t have enough time to even cover like a quarter of the museum, and we would really want to come back. As indeed, happened. I won’t post all of my pictures here, just a selection, but I took many more. Leon took us to several spots where he presented us with a real fine bit of explanation, drawing our attention to little details we never saw before, or feeding us exquisite little scraps of information.
After that, we returned to the Villa for a decent, warmly welcomed meal, and passed by the Arco Felice, a remains of an ancient 2nd century AD viaduct constructed by the emperor Domitianus, with still a lovely intact Roman road.
After coffee/tea we left again, this time really close – we could have walked, actually, were it not for the next visit we needed the bus for – to the Acropolis of Cumae. I thought the Piscina and the Museum already had blown my mind, but the afternoon just proved me wrong: going up on that lovely site, reading out the lines from Vergilius’ Aeneis, one could really feel the steps of Aeneas going up there to worship the gods, and we were retracing them. Standing in the temple of Apollo, we saw the coastline, heard the Latin verses of the ships mooring there, and we all kind of feeled really solemn. I think I even had goosebumps at a certain moment. It was so quiet, so serene, so beautiful, and yet so unbelievably familiar. This truly is the land of Vergilius…
And then we stood eye to eye with the entrance to the famous grotto of the Sybilla – which is, Leon hastened to burst the bubble, actually the beginning of fortifications high above the Cumae harbour. Yet, the place did inspire some awe, I must admit.
From there, it went to the Amphitheatre of Pozzuole, passing the famous (and sorely missed on Sunday, while I was lounging in different airports) Lacus Avernus, which Vergilius also describes in his Georgica as being one of the entrances of the Underworld. It’s actually an ancient crater which has filled up into a very nice lake. In Vergilius’ time it still must have been pretty sulphuric and poisonous though.
The amphitheater in itself was pretty special because you could really go in the catacombs, and see the way the wild animals would have been released into the arena. Oh, and apparently they did the Augias thingy to clean it, and let all the water from the Aqua Augusta run through it ^^
On our way down to the bus, we passed by the temple of Serapis, which is an excellent example of the height differences due to the volcanic activity: in the middle there’s a column that is full of shellfish holes, so at one point in history it must have been under water…
After a real nice stroll through the harbour and an icecream, we went back to the Villa for a really elaborate meal – think pasta, another dish of pasta, schnitzel and tiramisu – and a presentation by Merel about our assignments for the next day. Hey, it’s a study trip, not a holiday, so there are assignments! But I’ll tell you about those tomorrow, when we have completed them.
Anyway, this has been a very elaborate report of the first day, and my god, what a beautiful day it was!
May 01 2016
Disclaimer: the next few posts will be in English, as today I left on a study trip to Napels, the land of Vergilius, and I want to share all my experiences with my fellow travellers, who are not only from Belgium and the Netherlands, but also from the UK, and even from Brazil.
But today was hell. Seriously. There indeed was a warning about the security checks at the airport, with the request to be there at least 3 hours beforehand. I must admit, it wasn’t the entire three hours, as on other occasions we never really do the two hour thing either.
But… as soon as I came down the elevator from the kiss-and-ride, there was a queue. A BIG queue. As in: two hours with the suitcases, all through an empty parking lot, down a ramp in that parking lot, through a lot more doors and corridors, into the open air, onto a big white tent. Two hours. I saw the hours ticking away, and I’m not proud of it, but I jumped the queue a bit. Until I heard there were more people queueing there for a flight as close as mine.
I still had some hope, as I went through the passport check and the security check. But then came another big white tent, and another queue. Down plummeted my hopes for catching my flight. And then this girl came calling all passengers for Naples. Out of the queue I went, in search for the next spot. Which I couldn’t pinpoint right away, in the chaotic mass of discontented passengers. And then I came to the door to the check in tent. “Miss, I need to go through, I’m on the flight to Naples.” “Brussels Airlines? Then please wait in this queue to your right, ma’am.” “Euhm, are you sure? You were calling for Naples?” “Yes I’m sure, please wait here.” “But why did you come calling then?” “No idea, ma’am, please wait here.”
So I did. Until after half an hour I went to a different person and asked for the flight to Naples. “Naples? But we came calling for Naples like half an hour ago!” Well du-uh? She rushed me through to the check-in counter, and there the lady said: “Naples? Oh dear, sorry, they’re boarding already, we can’t get your luggage on anymore. If only you were like ten minutes earlier…”
So I went to yet another queue for 45 minutes to get a different flight. Which was an intermediate flight to Milan at 16.45h, and then yet another flight to Naples, to arrive at 21.20h. Great. But I got warned not to leave the airport and go into transit right away, lest I should have to do all the queueing again… After all, it was way past noon by then.
So in the check-in queue I went again, got through, got through customs and yet another security check, and finally into the main lounge. Which was cool and airy and not crowded at all.
I found myself a sandwich and something to drink, and went in search of an laptop charger. Alas, to no avail.
Anyway, I read a lot, got a marvellous cake handed to me
took the first flight in excellent conditions on a half empty plane, had my salad in the Milan lounge, marvelled at the sign of the times,
and got incredibly sick on the second flight. After handing my lunch in a bag to the stewardess, I stumbled outside, only to find a taxi waiting for me. Luckily Leon, our ‘leader’, had arranged for me to be picked up. I suffered the twenty minute ride since I was still feeling awfully sick, but at last, round 10.15h I guess, I arrived at a very nice Italian villa palazzo style.
After a short lie down, I went to meet part of the other attendants, and got welcomed very warmly, to such extent that I felt instantly at home.
I think I’ll like my stay, even though it hasn’t started out all that well…