Day 33: Half Baked

Today is a story about how I got totally baked and not the good kind of baked. Starting off the day early (this fact should probably go left unsaid at this point), I made my way to the train to take the half hour journey to the ancient city of Pompeii. While waiting for the train, I ended up talking to a student from Singapore who was in Florence for three months and is now in Naples for another three months doing research as an anthropologist. He is studying Italian artisan tailors; apparently much goes into their craft (news to me). Anyways I got to Pompeii and could not believe I was seeing what I saw; originally I had no plans to go this far deep into Italy because of time restrictions. I’m glad I was able to fit it into plans since I’ve always had a curiosity about Pompeii. With my audio guide, I was introduced to the beginnings of the people of Pompeii and to how they dealt with disaster 12 years before their ultimate destruction. A fair amount of the city was destroyed by a powerful earthquake. The determined Romans that they were, the people of Pompeii rebuilt their proud city. Unfortunately for them, their renovated city was given a death blow by Mt. Vesuvius, which still glares down at Pompeii, patiently awaiting its next attack. While walking around, I could not help being amazed by how much of the city still stood intact after all this time. Pompeii has brothels, baths, theaters, and the second most impressive arena I’ve seen (next to the Roman coliseum) all standing proudly. Strolling along while trying not to pass out from the suppressing heat, I felt like I took a time machine to 2000 years ago because the city still seemed so alive (maybe it was from all the tourists?). Until I got to Pompeii, I did not fully realize that it was once a legitimate city. I did not expect my visit to last a full day but my curiosity got the best of me. Museums try to create the experience of being there but Pompeii blows that concept out of the water. Pompeii offered insight into the lives of the rich and lower classes. The artistic quality of the homes and especially floors stood out the most for me. I don’t know how the Romans had the patience and innovation to carefully build mosaic floors composed of millimeter squares of varying colors that eventually formed gorgeous masterpieces (I guess that’s a small example of what made the Roman Empire so great). Kind of an odd sight was the stray dogs roaming about town. One of the mosaic floors drove home the irony of the situation. On one home’s floor was a dog on a leash with a Latin phrase that, when translated, means “beware of the dog”. The most saddening and thought provoking sight had to be the plaster castings of the victims from the volcano. It was not easy looking at the faces and bodies of these poor people; the faces looked scared and traumatized while the bodies were contorted in crouching positions and their hands tried to shield their heads from the oncoming doom. I could have stayed in Pompeii even longer if not for the overexposure to the blistering sun. After getting back to Naples and before walking back to the hostel, I stopped at a bakery shop, called Attanasio, that the receptionist recommended (he even wrote down the pastry that I should get – sfogliatella riccia). I could not seem to find this raved about pastry so I just showed them the paper. She knew exactly what I wanted (only after leaving the shop did I see the name of it written all over the store’s exterior). After getting the piping hot pastry, I said “gracias” in my rushed confusion. The pastry is a crispy, flaky croissant that was still somehow fluffy at its center. The croissant-like pastry came with some kind of creamy ricotta flavored by orange and lemon. I will put its taste this way: I’m getting two for breakfast before leave Naples in a couple days. Before turning the last corner to the hostel, I bought a few taralles for snacking tomorrow but couldn’t help getting a taste. These taralles are unlike any I’ve had before; it came loaded with almonds and black pepper which provided a nice nutty and spicy mixture to go with the crunch. At the hostel, I went to fill up my water bottle in the kitchen and ended up talking to two girls from the U.K. We chatted for awhile and ended up getting drinks at a piazza nearby. With all the people from I’ve met from the U.K., I think I’m starting to pick up their lingo and phrases. Even though we both speak English, certain words have completely different meetings. The two of them are on a university funded trip as part of their classical arts studies. They traveled to Greece and Italy to see all the museums, monuments, and historic areas of the main cities (I would gladly do that on a university’s dollar). After a long day at Pompeii mostly by myself, it was awesome meeting some great people and having a few laughs. We went our separate ways: I pointed them in the direction of an amazing gelateria (as if I were a native Napoleon) and I headed towards the pizzeria that seems to be considered the best of Naples. Thank goodness the pizzeria has take away (not take out, that’s American) because everyone and their mother was either standing outside waiting or within eating at one of the prized tables of Naples. I ordered an eggplant (obagin – another word I learned from my English friends) and mushroom pizza. These hardworking Italians laboring near their wood fire oven churned out my pizza in five minutes. I had to contain my excitement and hunger until I got back to the Pizza Hostel. The pie was immaculate just to look at. I enjoyed the sight of its pure state for less than a second before tearing it apart and devouring it like the Tasmanian devil. I somehow have found a way to live off of pizza and gelato while in Italy; it has been a struggle but I have managed to keep it together :). To finish the night, I got advice as to which area to see: Capri, Amalfi coast, or both. The receptionist suggested Amalfi since it is cheaper and more authentic to southern Italy. I planned my route for early tomorrow morning and called it a night.

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