Monday, 30 September 2013

Caves and Hagrid Houses

Matera, Italy

After the Amalfi coast we ventured east to Matera - a town with caves dug all through the hillside. It was a maze of paths and buildings above and below ground.

The cathedral was also fairly impressive. But what we really wanted to see were the churches that had been built inside the caves. 

Initially we tried to find our way without a map, but soon realised that we would become hopelessly lost. The first cave church we went to was allegedly the best. It was also closed. We thought it might have been closed for lunch, as were many places, but the lady in the information centre just said that it was closed in a definite way. 

You can stare at the view for a long time and always see new things. 
This is the view from a hillside that contained two cave churches. We could only find one of them. A kid had lost his family around here and looked very scared, but someone helped him. 

This kitchen has a rarity - an early spork. Spoon in one end, fork on the other. (It's hanging above and to the left of the little shelf-alcove hewn into the wall.) It was in a house that was carved into the hillside. The man who lived here also had an adjoining stable for his horse.

This was a temporary church used for a short time when another was out of service.
Upon leaving, a child saw Yannick and grabbed him around his legs, possibly mistaking him for their mum. I laughed. 

Alberobello, Italy
After Matera was a small town called Alberobello. This place had buildings with distinctive roofs, called trulli (singular trullo). I thought they looked quite like Hagrid's hut from Harry Potter. Not sure what the painted symbols mean. Most of the trulli had been turned into souvenir shops, and one of them said something like "Come Inside to Find Out What the Symbols Mean" but it was a bit creepy and we figured you'd have to pay so we skipped that. 

Even the church was trulli.

We stayed in a campground just on the outskirts of town. The receptionist informed us that there was a beer festival that night, and we ended up employing our earplugs. Judging from the noise, they had barely stopped to sleep before resuming the festivities in the early morning when us sober folk were stirring. Hard partiers, those Alberobellians. 

Very close by was Locorotondo which we saw in the evening. 
I quite liked this blue door.

The historic quarter was nice to look at. Here are some other tourists looking down an alley. 

This is that alley. 

Here we found some trulli delicious gelato - I forced Yannick to go back for seconds of the dark chocolate. It tasted like brownies and pudding. Though I did feel a bit ill after.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Herculaneum: Not A Good Day At The Beach

Herculaneum, Italy

Instead of the ash that swamped Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered in very hot mud from the explosion of Vesuvius. 

This means that they were preserved in slightly different ways. Some wood could still be seen, in roof beams and stairs. It was replaced by archeologists in part for structural reasons, seen here above the columns, but the original wood was visible in places. 

At the beach, excavators found the skeletons of three hundred residents who had fled there but were overcome. These piles of bones had been moved into alcoves that used to be boat sheds, and greeted us as we entered the site. 

Amazingly, you could still see the well-preserved trees around this impluvium. (Alright, alright, they're a more recent addition.)

After waking into this shop, Yannick paused and said that this was the view that a shop owner would have had thousands of years ago. We sometimes had humbling moments like this.
The pottery in these thermopolia (and there were many of them) were much more intact than in Pompeii. We did wonder how they got those big pots clean after scraping out the food and drink, considering they couldn't be removed from the counters. Such mysteries. 

Herculaneum had more buildings that retained their second floors. Even the roofs were intact on some buildings, unheard of in Pompeii. 

Gates were present here also, blocking us from entering delicate buildings. Behind me you can see those wooden stairs I mentioned earlier. 
One villa had a fully preserved wooden door, hinges included. 

The frescoes in this building were beautifully kept and I was glad this area was roped off so that people couldn't ruin them, intentionally or otherwise. I was astounded by how much graffiti I saw carved into frescoes. Never on ones this immaculate, but it's the principle of it. You shouldn't scratch your name into someone else's art. 
In a room off to the right of this photo, excavators found the remains of a caretaker still in his bed. Bit sad. 

The gods going about their business.

Herculaneum didn't take as long to explore as we expected. We rode back along the ghetto-like Neapolitan track and as we entered the campsite, happened to see that checkout time was 2:00pm. The time was 1:59pm. No joke. We hurriedly checked out and packed up our camp (a record time of thirteen minutes, including bathroom breaks). This allowed us to see the Amalfi coast one day earlier than expected. 

This was the photo we took of it. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Neapolitan Pizza is Not Chocolate and Strawberry

Naples, Italy

We had to get pizza in Naples, and it did live up to expectations (despite not being able to go to our first choice for lunch). 
We had worked up an appetite on a tour of the underground - old Greek and Roman wells, wartime shelters, an ampitheatre that was underneath varying degrees of modern buildings. Some passages were very narrow, requiring walking sideways, and we carried candles to light our way. Though we could have used a mobile phone like our guide, who spoke five languages and was still only in university. His English was near perfect, as apparently was his Swedish as he had lived in Sweden for six months and liked to do a thing he described as flat skiing (he could remember how to say it in Swedish and Italian, but not English). 
Walking around the streets of Naples was a bit harrowing. I thought that of all the places we'd been, we were most likely to be mugged there. But we weren't, not even a little, and though we had to wait out on the street for our turn to be able to get pizza, nobody pickpocketed us either. The pizza place claimed to be one of the oldest pizza places in Naples, and only made two types of pizza, but they made them well. 

We visited the archeological museum of Naples, and were dismayed to find that the fresco section was closed that day as well as some other sections. Unfortunate, but we had to go considering every other sentence in the audio guide for Pompeii said that the fresco/sculpture/mosaic that was there is now "in the archeological museum of Naples". As well as impluviums and compluviums, this was his most repeated phrase. 
I cannot remember who this guy was, but Yannick liked his expression. He has what I like to call 'Cheerios hair', which is lots of little ringlets that make his hair look like someone tipped a bowl of Cheerios out over it. 

A statue of Marcus Aurelius as a youth. I am trying to capture his bored expression. (Though he seems to have droopy eyes in most sculptures, so that may have just been how his face looked.)

There were many mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum, some of them very detailed. 

Here is the mosaic of Alexander the Great fighting off the Persian king Darius. Difficult to imagine that I studied this in school and university, and there it is. The house that this mosaic was found in took up a whole block in Pompeii, and was quite an elaborate habitation.

The metro, we discovered, didn't work. Or more accurately, we would not figure out how to work it. And the most useful bits were still under construction. Despite this, we found our way around just fine and managed to get a train back to Pompeii and our campground.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Pompeii, Italy

The archaeological site was less than a five minute walk from our campsite. I could hardly believe that we were actually at Pompeii, one of the best preserved (and probably most well known) ancient towns in the world. 

There were a few bath complexes on the site. This room was a changing room - you would put your discarded clothes into those alcoves on the wall and change back into them later. Between each of these was a carving of a strong little man holding up the top of the shelf. You could see the different textures of clothes they were carved wearing. Some looked like cloth, some fur, and some scale. 

And I thought the curbs in Wellington were tall. 
The roads were used partly as a drainage system. At intervals there were stepping stones so nobody had to get their feet wet crossing the road. 
At the edge of the site, we saw a couple of ambulances in case of emergencies. They had been designed with tall thin wheels so that they would be able to manoeuvre around these stones. 

A villa on the outskirts of town. 

The Villa of Mysteries. Parts of this building were roped off due to renovations, but what we did see was incredibly well preserved. 
There were stray dogs sleeping and roaming all over Pompeii. A sign at the entrance advised against any contact with them. This one was in a roped off area - lucky dog. 

The town had two theatres and an ampitheatre. It was definitely of a decent size in its day, which I wasn't expecting. I had imagined it to be quite a small town, but it had the population for several baths as well as several theatres. 

This fresco was in the House of Menander, so called because of this guy. The paint is still very discernible, showing a reclining man with a scroll. 

Most of the houses had impluviums, which is where rainwater is collected from a hole in the ceiling called compluviums. The audio guide told us this for every single house we visited (except the sole house that did not have an impluvium). 

A ray of sunshine in through the compluvium. 
Many of the houses were gated off, probably for renovations. We stared longingly in through the bars, the audio guide up to our ears listening to all the great things that were in the room right around the corner and out of sight. Despite the roped off and gated parts, we still saw so much and it was well worth it. I just hope to return one day when more is on display. 

The Romans liked their hot food. They would eat lunch out of their homes, often in places called a Thermopolium. In the holes in the counter were clay pots holding food and drink. The audio guide told us that Romans liked this thing described as a "pickle made of fish". Sounds yummy. 
We needed sustenance ourselves, as we ended up walking around Pompeii for eight and a half hours. Prosciutto sandwiches do the job. 

Mount Vesuvius behind the temple of Jupiter and the forum. It is a tragedy that the volcano erupted and killed so many people. At least the ruins were preserved. Thanks for all the ash, Vesuvius. And the mud, but we'll get to that later.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Grumpy Cat and Thunderstorm

Ostia Antica, Italy

Ostia was the port for Rome in the time of the Roman Empire. The first thing you saw upon entry was the necropolis - where they kept their dead in tombs and in urns. The urns were long gone but the buildings remained, with the alcoves inside walls to keep the urns in. I decided I wanted a picture of this after the fact, but as you will see, we had to make a hasty exit from Ostia. 
It had all that every regular Roman town had, including a theatre for entertainment. 

It was very open and you could wander around most of the buildings. We walked up a staircase from the street into what used to be an apartment building and got a good second story view. 

There was a cafe on site with a bit of a grumpy cat who liked to sit on chairs and groom his fur. At one point a woman went into the gift shop and he made to go in after her, but she shut the door without seeing him. He sat and stared at the door gloomily. 

Some floor mosaics were very well preserved. Even where they weren't decorated, there were plain floor tiles as small as the ones used in mosaics. At one point we walked over what I thought was gravel, but it was a walkway of those little tiles, all stirred up. 

Of course they had baths, being a place for Romans, and there was the usual hot bath, tepid bath and cold bath. 

Much of the brickwork was visible, the plaster and marble facade being long gone in most places.

It was at about this time that we saw the clouds. As we were nearly finished anyway, we started to head back but took our time about it. We didn't want to rush, by any means. 

A temple with a mostly intact altar down the front and an off-centre swimming pool. (Or more likely decorative pool not for swimming in. I can imagine a Roman sign saying 'Do Not Put Feet in Pool'.)

This was the last photo we got before the rain began. A large set of latrines, well preserved because they were made of stone rather than the more typical wood.
We ran to the car, shoeless as our rubber jandals were sliding everywhere. We slammed the car doors shut and though it was pouring down, it was still very hot and as we dried ourselves with our towels, we began to sweat. Yannick had cut his toe in the maelstrom so we patched it up and drove like a bat out of hell (at least, as fast as a bat can go while blinking streams of water out of its eyes and taking utmost care not to be involved in an accident). 

We joined back up with the main road, and it was quite crowded with people trying to get away. The roads did not have proper drainage (tsk) and it was like we were driving through a very long puddle. 

Or you could call it a small sea.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Cake for Breakfast

Orvieto, Italy

Orvieto was the perfect base for travelling to Rome during the day and coming back to at night. We stayed at a hotel that was at the bottom of the hill that Orvieto sat upon. Each morning, we woke up and traipsed down to the dining room where a dozen different cakes were laid out, as well as toast and jam and some other things we paid no attention to. 
We walked up the hill and into its defensive walls. The cathedral was so much larger than any of the surrounding buildings, looking like it had drunk a growth potion. The sides were white and black striped, and the facade was brightly ornamented. 

It had a lovely atmosphere, and hardly anyone was around except couples walking and people having dinner. Whenever a car come through, we all had to squash ourselves to the walls of buildings or duck into the gap made by a parked car. 

There was a gelateria right on the cathedral piazza that had the most amazing raspberry sorbet. They also asked us if we wanted whipped cream on top, which was a novelty. Unfortunately you could only get three flavours per cup so we went back for more, the server asking with a smile "Another?"

On our second night in Orvieto, we could hear music as we approached the piazza and were pleasantly surprised by a live band. We sat listening on the steps of the cathedral and, of course, ate more gelato. 

We visited during the daytime to take the underground tour. The tunnels in the hill were originally dug by the Etruscans and were later expanded by successive inhabitants. The tunnels were used as places of work, with olive mills, quarries and dovecotes. Seen above, pigeons were kept and bred in the holes in the walls. They were a source of food, which was particularly useful during times of war. They believed the enemy could not get inside from the cliff face. 
Instead of walking up the hill, that day we took the funicolare. It was just like the cable car in Wellington, puttering up the slope to deliver tourists to their destination. 

Here you can see just how much larger the cathedral is than the rest of the town. After climbing the tower that we took this photo from, we had gelato. They were out of raspberry, I'm sure you'll be disappointed to hear.