Monday, 31 May 2010

A few weekend trips...

The inside of St Mark's in Venice. The whole interior was this bright.

This is an older picture I took from the parking garage at work. The snow is gone now but you can see the ridge we hiked to the left of Vesuvius' cone. That whole thing is Mt Somma and Vesuvius National Park.

The colorful water ways of Burano.

The wonderful blue grotto. The bright spot is the small entrance.


22, 23 May
Hiking Mt Vesuvius
So most people, including the Navy people we know here think, “Hike Vesuvius? That’s just a silly tourist road “hike”, a few hundred meters from the top…” Yes there is a “trail”, that may as well be a road, that cruise ships take the tourists to “hike” the last little bit of the cone. However, the whole mountain (Mt Somma is the original volcano that Mt Vesuvius is coming out of) makes up Vesuvius National Park and there are eight other trails. So while the girls went to Ischia to be pampered, we guys hiked all day, ate big steaks, and drank good German beer… The trail we took goes along the ridges along the left side (of the picture I’m attaching). Highlights… Of the 9 trails only the tourist, cheesy, trail was open. But we noticed the trail head for the trail we really wanted to hike on the way up AND we noticed there happen to be a few cars parked along the road outside the locked gate… Like any good Neapolitan, after confirming the trail was indeed closed, and after noticing the guy working didn’t seem too concerned, we drove back to the trail head, parked, and climbed through the cut out hole in the fence… The trail is closed because they haven’t done any clearing this year yet. Most of it was fine but there were a couple hundred meters that we just put our arms in front of our faces and pushed through. Amazing views. Unfortunately the women were in Ischia and they normally remember stuff like cameras… As you move along the rim you can see old lava flows from over the years (1906, 1929, and 1944). We had a very clear day and could see from Sorrento, in the south, all the way out to Ischia, to the north.

So after the women were done pampering themselves we all met out in Capri. It is a very pretty little island. A tourist trap worth doing at least once. If anyone is planning or thinks they want to go to the famous “blue grotto” I’ll save you the time, and more importantly, the ton of money. It’s a cave on the very steep coast that the walls don’t go all the way to the bottom of the water so the sun reflects off the bottom up into the cave… Pretty blue color. That’s about it. Not sure why it’s a huge attraction but whatever. I’ll attach a picture. You all owe me 10 euro.
Like I said the island is very pretty. We followed the sign to the “centro” thinking how bad a walk up can it be. 750 meters and A LOT of steps later… We took in the view, had a good, relatively cheap lunch, and then went to the Augusta Gardens. The gardens are very nice and colorful and over look the back side cliffs of the island. We’ll definitely go back because there is more to see, we’ll just skip the grotto…

29-31 May
So we waited a while to plan the Venice trip, so airline ticket prices shot up. Carey had to work until 4 PM on Friday so… The perfect opportunity to experiment with a night train. Maybe it would be better if we actually paid for a sleeper compartment (probably not though since then it would have bee close to the airline tickets). Long story short, it was cramped, Carey and I only slept a few hours each, temperature control in the cabin was non-existent, and Carey got a new hair treatment, water della mozzarella de buffalo, as the cooler above her head very slowly dripped down. We did get to have a very broken, all Italian, conversation with the couple in the cabin with us (they owned the cooler and ended up giving us their name and address in Naples. Something about, we'll have pizza! Very nice people...).
We arrived in Venice at about 6 AM and got on the water bus to the stop near our apartment. The woman helping us was very nice, came and walked us to the main office, and set up breakfast for us. The apartment itself wasn’t ready until about 1 PM. A great two bedroom apartment with plenty of room, kitchen, etc. for half the price of most hotels (half the price of any hotel that had consistent good user ratings).
Most reviews of Venice say just try to get lost and wander. Definitely the way to go. It is nothing but tourist based so you will pay a ton for everything. Food, public transportation, sites… We spent that first morning walking around near Saint Marc’s square and the surrounding area just admiring the back alleys and canals and bridges. Its really neat to see boats for every normal automobile job (barges for delivery trucks, refrigerated barges for frozen stuff, garbage truck barges, taxis, buses, personal vehicles…) After settling into the apartment we went back to St Marcs and went into the church. Very pretty. I’m glad we waited for the lines to die down though. Through the day we went into a few churches and were impressed. Unlike other places we’ve been there was always something playing in the churches; either live pipe organ practice, choir practice, or just a recording.
The next day we went to Murano and Burano. Murano, famous for glass blowing, was a nice small set of islands. We got a real quick demonstration in a shop. Amazing how fast and precise the guy has to be. Screw it up the first time and it’s a waste… Burano, famous for lace work, was great. All the apartments are painted different bright colors. Still touristy in the main square, but small town touristy. Just pleasant to walk around.
We ate at the Hard Rock, twice. One, great American style (tasting) burgers! Two, 15% off military discount made it the cheapest place in Venice to eat!
All in all, I’m glad we went to Venice. Two whole days was just right, but I can see how people do it in a day. Probably wouldn’t be a bad place to stop on a cruise (don’t do the pricey cruise package, just buy a 12 hour water bus ticket and explore!) I’m glad we didn’t do a lot of planning and we just wandered. Most importantly, I’m glad we got out to Murano and Burano.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Rome Underground

We started just outside Rome and visited the Catacombs of San Callisto. In the first 300 years or so of Christianity people were not allowed to be buried within the city walls. The pagan religions had no problem with cremation so for them, no big deal. The Christians wanted burial though, expecting a second coming any time now, therefore waiting for resurrection. And by the way, Christianity goes against the current Roman rule and religion so you are persecuted if found out… So, being buried outside and underground was really the only good option. The land where the catacombs are, ultimately ended up belonging, and still belongs to, the Vatican. This site, if I heard the guide correctly, has about 20 km of tunnels and is four layers deep. There were about 500,000 buried here, including 9 popes. Rome sits on top of volcanic tufa rock. It is soft and easy to mine until the air hits it, then becomes hard. Perfect for an underground cemetery… We spent most of our tour in the second layer. There were individual and family tombs. Sadly, about 40% were small, for children and babies. It’s hard to say how tall each layer was. The tombs were abandoned around 800 AD when barbarians started to pillage the tombs. In the following 1000 years earthquakes filled in some of the ground. Where we were was about 10 feet tall (anywhere from 5 to 8 tombs high) but you could see the tops of some arches (entrances to family tombs) at foot level, so there had to be another 5 feet below us for that level. So doing the rough math and making some assumptions based on how far we walked down just to get to the second level, these catacombs had to have been 80- 100 feet deep. You can see the early “secret “ Christian symbols here. The fish, a Shepard carrying a sheep, and an anchor (the ring on top, not for tying a rope to but… for God, the never ending or beginning circle; the stock and shank, the cross…; and the crown, arm, and fluke at the bottom, not for digging into the sea bed… the wings of the holy spirit.)
Next was St. Clemente Basilica and the levels beneath including a Mithraism Temple. This was a church built on top of a church, built on top of a church and other, older, city remains. The top church was built around 1100 AD. The lower church was built in the 300’s (The beginnings of legalized Christianity). There were two pulpits. The tour guide explained this to be so teaching debates, or questions and answers, could be used to teach early and uneducated, Christians. The alter has an anchor on the front. Below that church was an old pagan church to Mithras. Also down here though were old apartments, a coin minting shop, and still running water from an old aqueduct. 2000+ year old, very well preserved, ruins.
Finally, on to Basilica of St. John and St. Paul (Constantine time frame John and Paul, not Jesus’). Again you see the layering of old to new. On the bottom you had market shops and the small lofts for living above. Then someone came along and built a house or two behind the stores. Then someone else came and combined it all and kept building up to make a huge house, then church. Then finally, a church built on top of it all.
We see the same type of archeological “problems” here in Naples too. When you have thousands of years of civilization you can see the effects of volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods. Stuff gets buried and forgotten about. People build on top. It all happens again and again. Not to say that Rome was buried three times but as things crumpled or were destroyed in a battle, or some combination of all of the above, layers developed and are still uncovered today. Just another interesting side of Rome and a day well spent…