The waiting game

Having a sprained ankle and having to wait for hours, it is not fun, I can tell you that.

I was awake this morning before seven, as nearly everybody was leaving at that hour, and I wanted to say our goodbyes. I had decided not to go that early by bus, but to wait another hour and a half comfortably in the villa, and then take a taxi to the airport. Alison volunteered to stay with me and help me out, but since her flight was quite a bit earlier than mine, we arrived at the airport at 9 nonetheless.

She dropped me and my suitcases off at the ‘special services area’ in the airport, said goodbye, and vanished to catch her flight. So there I was, sitting on an uncomfortable bench, for more than three hours. My flight was at 13.45h, and the Italian people behind the counter just eyed me suspiciously from time to time, but said nothing. Luckily I had brought my Robert Harris to read, and that is exactly what I did, for three hours straight. Just once in a while an elderly couple, or a father with a helping son would join me for 15 minutes or so, and then we’d chat a little. There was this very charming old couple travelling to Cannes, he a total gentleman in suit with tie and everything, who apparently was born near Pompei, and had never even visited the excavations. They had been living in France for quite a number of years now, and it was nice to be able to talk in French for a change. They were both so sweet…

Anyway, around half past one the lady behind the counter finally summoned up an assistant with a wheelchair, and within less than five minutes my luggage was checked in and I had a boarding pass. On we went, through customs and security, and even the little bottles of water in my handluggage didn’t cause a problem. I was manually frisked, only the cast got some special attention, as it’s an exquisite place to hide stuff, I suppose. Yet further we went, straight through the entire airport, to a little waiting room right next to the gate, in less than 10 minutes from the first waiting room to this one.

By then I got very hungry, but the guy accompanying me just wheeled me, on simple request, to the baker shop in the transit area, ordered whatever I pointed at, and payed for me, so I even didn’t need to get up. I must say, I was quite impressed.

More Robert Harris it was, till half past one, when they wheeled me down, and into this special kind of truck for disabled. And then, to my surprise, at the airplane, the entire truck went up, to the level of the side door. Such fun!


In the airplane I was crammed into a regular seat, even though the business seats were empty and spacious. When I asked if there was a possibility that I could sit there, in order to lift my by then really painful and swollen ankle a little, the stewardess answered that it was business customers only, and that everybody had one complaint or the other. So much for compassion, I guess.

I made it through the flight quite unharmed, though feeling a bit queasy once more, and was happy to get off the plane. A very friendly (and pretty) girl was waiting for me, took me all the way through the corridors in both a wheelchair and this little electric car, waited for me by the luggage and hoisted my case off the belt, and wheeled me to the exit, onto the street, where Bart was waiting for me. Upon seeing that it would be hard for Bart to both help me ànd take care of the cases, she decided to stick with me and took me all the way to the car. What a service! Kudos to Brussels Airport, I say!

We got home by seven, and I was sweaty, sticky and exhausted. And still feeling a bit sick to the stomach. I lied down for a bit, took a shower, had a decent meal, and did feel better. By then it was passed eight, so no use to go to the Emergency at the hospital, as they would only take x-rays, and then make me come back the next day anyway. I decided on having a good night’s rest first, and in the morning go to the hospital.


Villa Vergiliana: a most volcanic day

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!


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…