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Wed Sep 24 2014: The Ruins of Pompeii

From Rome, we tried to hug the western coastline as we ventured further south. We stopped for the evening just outside of Naples at a campsite we found on the Internet, but it turned out to be The Most Expensive Campsite In The World, because it was situated on the grounds of a dormant volcano. We didn't know this beforehand, but since it was starting to rain, we decided to set up our tent instead of trying to look for another place.

There was no 3G signal on the campsite, so we had to hike out of the campsite to the main road so we could log onto AirBnB to find someplace warm and dry for the next couple of nights. We've done some pretty vagabond-ish stuff on this trip, like camping out in a Walmart McDonald for hours stealing their free wi-fi. But nothing will top sitting on a bus stop bench in the pouring rain while taking chugs from a tetra pak of red wine. We looked like a couple of miserable, wet hobos, but after the tetra-pak was done, we turned into a couple of happy, wet hobos. Red, red wine, make me feel so fine...

Campground Cat is laughing at how much we paid last night

In the morning, before leaving, I told Neda, "We should probably go see their stupid volcano to make it worth our money". It wasn't very large, you could probably walk around the rim of the crater in 15 minutes.

Inside the crater of Vulcano Solfata there was all sorts of fissures sending up steams of smelly gas

Crocs were probably a bad idea for this hike

We met Petr and his friend, two R1200GS riders from the Czech Republic, who also stayed at the campsite last night

We continued south on the coastline trying to find the closest road to the sea, and we were rewarded with a scenic cobblestone ride into Naples. For once, the sun was out and we peered over the edge of the road as it twisted around the steep cliffs overlooking the blue Tyrrhenian Sea. A very nice ride!

Our cobblestone ride takes us into Naples

Neda staring at Mount Vesuvius in the distance

Don't f*** with the Scooter Mafia! This car parked in scooter parking and paid the price.

We just can't get used to the Italian siesta, called the riposo, which closes down all shops and stores from... basically whenever the sun is in the sky. We always seem to be perpetually off-sync, knocking on shuttered doors hoping to get gas or food while we're on the road.

We're also out of sync with Italians mealtimes as well. The restaurants only seem to be open on a very rigid schedule: a couple of hours for lunch and then only after 7PM for dinner. Because we had an early breakfast, we were starving by 11AM. With our bellies complaining loudly, I knocked on the door of one establishment where there seemed to be people inside preparing for the lunch hour. One of the employees peeked his head out and told us it would be another hour before they opened. My stomach and I grumbled in unison. I think it must have been a bakery because from inside, when his co-worker asked about us, I distinctly heard him mention "mangia" and then "cake"...

Ever seen a cake eat a pizza?

Did you know pizza was invented in Naples? They take their pie-making very seriously in the city. There's even an Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, which certifies pizzerias around the world to the Neopolitan standard according to an 11-page document that outlines stringent regulations like the acidity of the yeast, thickness of the pie, and the ingredients like the fresh tomatoes and buffalo cheese, which all have to come from the area surrounding Naples. This pretty much guarantees that the only certified Pizza Napoletana can only come from Naples.

After eating one of these certified pies, I feel a bit more Italian so from now on, I'm going to start using the Italian names of the places we're visiting. For the Mangiacakes out there, here's a quick reference: Napoli = Naples, Roma = Rome, Bologna = Baloney!

Staying at a typical Italian neighbourhood, those are our clothes drying on the line! :)

Because of the costs of accommodations in Italy, we're finding that we need to be more diligent in researching and booking places in advance, instead of rolling into town and knocking on doors like we did in Latin America. We're refining this process and we're pleasantly surprised at how many private homes are opening their doors to travelers via AirBnB. Very good value for the money. HostelWorld remains a distant second because of the relative low value for what you pay for, and there seem to be plenty of RV campsites all over Italy, which is our cheap and easy fallback plan. The trick is finding one that doesn't have a volcano or spa attached to it that hikes up the price.

We opted to stay outside of Napoli, just a couple of kms away from Pompeii, which we visited the next day.

The ruins of Pompeii

There are places that we stumble upon as we're traveling that just pop up on our radar as we're planning our next day's ride. Pompeii was one of them. I had no idea it was this close to Napoli. We had planned to stop in the area to try some authentic pizza Napoletana and ended up visiting the ruins that had captivated my imagination when I was a kid.

Mount Vesuvius in the background

Walking through the streets of Pompeii, some sections were boarded off because excavation work is still underway

One of my favorite TV programs growing up was a sci-fi-documentary series called In Search Of... I remember being transfixed for a whole half-hour every week as Mr. Spock himself spun tales of pseudo-science explaining how the Mayans worshiped Ancient Astronauts and how Mount Vesuvius erupted blanketing Pompeii in a layer of thick hot ash, instantly preserving everything it covered. I remember vividly the plaster casts of the bodies caught in their last moment of anguish and how that both haunted and fascinated me at the same time.

Over 1,000 bodies were found preserved in the ashes of Pompeii

The biggest mystery was why Pompeii was the only city that had human bodies preserved in such detail that even the folds of their clothes can be seen in the plaster casts made from the hollows of the ashes. Other cities near Vesuvius showed no such preservation, only bones and teeth remained of their citizens as the pyroclastic surges of hot toxic gases and ash incinerated their bodies.

A recent documentary I watched explained that Pompeii was exactly the right distance away from Vesuvius that the surge of hot gases was just the right temperature to kill a person - boiling their brains in their skull - but not hot enough to destroy their flesh and clothing.

Some of the dead were little children, which was very sad

I spent a good long time staring at these bodies with both sadness and wonder. Like many other moments on this trip, this was a visit that brought back childhood memories and at times, it felt like I was 10 years old again with a Leonard Nimoy voiceover in my head. Pure Energy...

Greek-looking columns in Pompeii

I did some research and the columns here are more Greek-inspired than Roman. Pompeii is regarded as the crossroads between the Roman architecture of the north and the Greek influence of southern Italy. I know nothing about architecture, but I love the names of the types of Greek columns: Doric, Ionic, Mixolydian, Pentatonic...

Water break amongst the ruins

"No Neda, this amphitheatre is not as pretty as Pula's..."

After this visit to the ruins of Pompeii, I have a new mission for our trip. I'm going to download all those old episodes of In Search Of... and then we're going to ride to every place covered in each episode. Next stop: The Lost City of Atlantis!

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