A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

The Wrath of Vesuvius

sunny 24 °C

It is 12.30pm on Friday August 24th. AD79 - precisely one thousand nine hundred and thirty six years and eleven weeks ago. The folks living in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the other towns under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius on the west coast of Italy, are simply going about their daily routine. Ordinary folk are having lunch at this restaurant where the food is kept hot with wood fires under these actual pots…
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...while the aristocracy are dining in the shady courtyards of their homes…
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Local senators are meeting in the town hall to discuss politics. They are admiring these newly painted murals that still adorn the walls…
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Other townsfolk are gathered in the square around this statue…
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Some women are preparing to bathe in the hot baths and are walking on these actual mosaic tiles as they disrobe…
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Groups of children are playing in these actual streets – stepping on exactly the same paving stones that we are treading today…
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Storekeepers and their workers are making and selling all manner of metal, ceramic and everyday objects while customers choose products from these adverts painted on the shop wall…
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Now it is 1pm on that fateful day nearly two thousand years ago and an enormous mushroom cloud bursts from the volcano into the sky above the town. Thousands flee as hot ash begins to rain down and then a pyroclastic flow of superheated gas, travelling faster than a bullet, vaporises everything combustible while leaving perfectly preserved scorched timber in its wake…
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There is pandemonium in the streets. Many rush to the boats and head out to sea. Those neither able nor willing to run, shelter in the boathouses that line the beach. But no one escapes the asphyxiating gasses that fill the air, nor can they escape the sixty feet of volcanic ash and magma that engulfs everything in its path…
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For nearly two millenia the victims have lain here undisturbed by wars, tempests and further eruptions. Stripped of flesh and blood by the intense heat, but still crying out in agony as their beautiful town is swallowed by the volcano, these residents of Herculaneum will forever be a symbol of human fragility in the face of raw nature…
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Posted by Hawkson 00:22 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

Postcard from Positano

sunny 25 °C

Dear All.
Just a quick note to say that everything is just fine here on the beach in Positano on the Amalfi coast…
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We would write much more but itˈs 25 degrees, the sea is warm, the pizzas and gelatos are delicious, and the wine is cheaper than water – so we are taking a few days off.
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Wish you were here.... Ciao for now.

Posted by Hawkson 08:27 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

Our Grand Tour

sunny 23 °C

The picturesque Italian city of Sorrento was one of the stops on the European Grand Tour that became an essential part of the education of young members of the British aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Those fortunate (and rich) enough to enjoy the exotic sights and cultures were expected to write about their experiences and here is what we imagine we might have written at that time.
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We are not, apparently, the first visitors to discover the ancient Greek city of Sorrento on the Amalfi coast south of Naples. This heavily fortified rocky outcrop was seemingly inhabited 600 years BC by the Greeks but the Romans eventually captured it, lost it to the Spaniards who in turn lost it to the Turks. It is now firmly Italian and there are hereabouts many summer palaces built by the Neapolitan nobility from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Indeed, we are guests in one such elegant mansion – the Palazzio Marziale, circa 1464 …
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Our bathroom is decorated in the finest Italian marble while the foyer is most splendidly furnished …
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This elegant abode overlooking the Bay of Naples lies a safe distance from the still active volcano of Mt. Vesuvius, (more about which we will write later), and we have no concerns as we wander the narrow lanes examining the many hand wrought trinkets offered by the local artisans…
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All manner of wooden objects are inlaid with the most intricate of designs requiring many hours of skillful work. However, we fear that in time these local handicrafts will be usurped by men using machinery in such far off lands as China…
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Lemons grow in such profusion on the sun-drenched hillsides that the peasants ferment the skins to make a pungent liquor they call limoncello. It has neither the refinement of brandy nor the sophistication of port, but it is nevertheless an amusing libation…
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Lemons are so plentiful that all manner of foods and toiletries are scented with them in this part of Italy and there are numerous shops that exclusively sell lemon products…
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The narrow lanes of Sorrento, snaking twixt the magnificent mansions and palaces, are so thronged in the months of summer that it is said to be impossible for the bearers to carry a Gentleman about in a litter let alone a donkey cart. Fortunately for us we have arrived at a time conducive to taking an evening stroll without being accosted other than by the many restaurateurs whose premises abut the lanes…
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The ancient fishing port which lies at the foot of the sheer cliff is also a tranquil place at present…
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However, we are thoroughly enjoying the delicious fresh seafood that the Mediterranean sea provides, especially the sardines, octopus and mussels.

Posted by Hawkson 09:45 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

Renovating Rome

sunny 24 °C

While Senor Berlusconi’s personal safety deposit boxes might be bursting at the seams, the Italian government has been flat broke for years. So first time visitors to Rome might be a touch miffed to discover that someone has flashed the cash and many of the revered sites are closed for renovation.
Climbing the 136 Spanish Steps is a ‘must-do’ in Rome, but it is a ‘don’t do’ since a swanky Italian jeweller named Bulgari paid 1.5 million euros for a facelift…
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Throwing three coins into Rome’s 18th century Trevi Fountain is the only way to ensure a safe return to Rome – but what happens if the waterworks have been off for the past 17 months while it was spruced up at the expense of Italian handbag king Senor Fendi?...
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And then there is the Coloseum…,
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This colossal pile of rock, bricks and mortar was slapped together by the Romans exactly two thousand years ago, (give or take a few), and it has been falling apart ever since. Now Diego Della Valle, founder and chief executive of the Italian fashion house Tod’s, has stumped up 25 million euros to fix up the joint. You can see the scaffolding through the Arch of Constantine…
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The Colosseum is one of the most gruesome places of entertainment ever devised. Gladiators, prisoners and slaves fought an astounding menagerie of ferocious animals, and each other, for the enjoyment of the senators and the masses who filled these fifty thousand seats...
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Lions, bears, tigers and even alligators, were set upon defenceless naked people and in just one series of events two thousand men and six thousand animals were slaughtered. Beneath the arena was this maze of cages and cells where the animals and prisoners were kept before their event…
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Following each massacre the arena was cleared of bodies and re-set by hoisting up trees and other props through trap doors. Once the stage was set the fun would begin again. The events were sponsored by rich merchants and influence pedlars who knew a good marketing opportunity when they saw it - just like Bulgari, Fendi and Tod’s today.

However, in a stroke of sheer good fortune, we happened to be in Rome on the very day that the Trevi fountain was to be re-opened, (a mere 8 months later than advertised). Four thirty pm. (Italian time) was the advertised moment and we joined an exuberant throng of thousands for the occasion…
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And then, promptly at 5.17 pm. (a mere 47 minutes later than advertised), Mr. Fendi’s successor pulled the switch and the Trevi Fountain was back in business. Now we could all throw in our three coins, (but not if we knew that for the past thirty years the daily haul has been scooped up by a couple of dodgy villains dressed as council workmen).

Posted by Hawkson 23:29 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Paradise inn Bologna

semi-overcast 16 °C

Nearing the end of our trek from Istanbul to London, though not on the Orient Express, we chose Bologna in Northern Italy as our last stop. If you are thinking you've never heard of Bologna, ask yourself where spaghetti Bolognese comes from. But, Italy isn't all about pasta: Modena, the balsamic vinegar place, is just up the road, as is Parma - famous for its ham and Parmesan cheese...
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Bologna is a shopper's paradise with mile after mile of covered arcades dating from the mid-seventeen hundreds. These majestic buildings would completely overshadow the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, (supposedly the biggest in North America)...
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But there is much more to Bologna than food and elegant 18th century shopping arcades. There are many historic towers, numerous renaissance churches and, being Italy, a monstrous medieval castle. But perhaps our greatest surprise was a little backstreet alberghi called the Hotel Paradise - although it didn't look much from the outside...
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In contrast, this is the outlandish art nouveau facade of the Grande Albergo Ausonia Hungaria, touted as one of the most prestigious hotels in Venice...
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The Ausonia Hungaria certainly wasn't bad. We had a nice room to escape to during a wet weekend, but it wasn't a patch on the apartment sized suite we had at the Hotel Paradise in Bologna...
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The Paradise is owned and run entirely by women, and they know exactly how guests like to be treated. From the moment we walked into the lobby we felt like prodigal children - nothing was too much trouble for Monica and Marissa and their staff and they had thought of everything, including poetry cream...
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So, here's a couple of tips for travellers: Never judge a hotel by the flambouyance of its exterior, and if you plan a trip to Bologna - stay in Paradise.
And finally - you haven't eaten pizza until you've had one in Italy...
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Next stop... London. Just in time for the Lord Mayor's Show.

Posted by Hawkson 13:32 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

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