This was actually last weekend to be specific, don't ask me the date though, I haave lost all sense of realworld time here. It was the weekend between Week 3 and Week 4 - my 3rd weekend while on the dig. So now that we are all orientated, let us begin.
Day One - Herculaneum, the Museum of Naples and Sorrento Shenanigans
In an effort to save money, I was convinced by Illana (fellow NZer) to get up at the crack of dawn and catch the most absurdly early train down to Naples on Saturday. Wake at 5.30, leave for the station at 6am, train to Rome from Frascati at 6.30, and leave on the IC train to Naples at 7.40. We didn't get a proper seat on the train, but managed to get a foldout seat in the corridor, which made the trip fairly bearable. We got to Naples close to 10am, and headed on the Circumvesuviana to Herculaneum. That train was disgustinly packed and we had to stand, which my sleepy self was unhappy about, but the awesomeness that was Herculaneum totally made up for that. We took it slowly, and were at Herculaneum for close on 4hours, which is a lot I think given the sqm of the site that is available for tourists. The great thing about Herculaneum is how you can explore every room and almost nothing is blocked off. Its also amazingly empty, so you didn't have to wind your way through throngs of tourists. It is, like Pompeii, completely stripped of most of its marble and all of statues, but what was really amazing was the preserved wooden charcoal beams. They had been left in situ, and supports placed in the course of excavation to hold things up. We even saw a set of preserved wooden stairs at one point. As this was our first city to explore, we stopped at every drain pipe and room and debated likely funtions of things and depaired at the people who threw rubbish into the impluvia. We explored an undergound cave which was most exciting. I wish I had the contacts to get into the theatre that is only viewable through tunnels built several hundred years ago.
After Herculaneum we trained back to Naples to look around the Museum for a few hours. We were there till practically closing time, although in honesty, we were quite tired and spent some of this time sitting and admiring random statues that happened to be near the available seating. We saw the Alexander Mosaic and all the famous mosaics and frescoes we learnt about in school. The highlight in all honesty....was the room with the dirty mosaics, which I like to call the penis room. I was expecting some pretty crazy things, but not at all the types of explicitness they had displayed. The anthropomorphised penis.......weird. Don't think I will be able to put many of the pictures on fb, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say it was classical pornography in all its raunchy glory, with animals featuring fairly heavily. You can see why they put a warning up on the door outisde and don't like to let children in. Many of the pieces had been banned in the past.
In the evening, we headed back to Sorrento where we met up with a few of the guys from Gabii and headed out for dinner and drinks. We also met a nice engineering student in our hostel who had been ditched for the night by his mate, so he came along as well. We got dinner and picked up some local wine and limoncello and attempted to head towards the beach. Turns out the sandy beaches I had expected......did not exist. Sorrento has cliffs, sheer crazy cliffs. We did spot a windy path going down towards a sort of pier, so we headed down hoping to find some nice rocks where we could dangle our feet. The path was scary to say the least, uneven and dark. At one point it went into the cliff face itself, which was all ominous and scary. But we made it down and found a tiny little stretch of sand, and decided to go swimming. The water wasn't actually that cold considering how late it was, and we weren't the only people who had the same idea. So we swam and chilled out. Things got ridiculous when we decided to dry off and head back up to the town. We made it to the top of the path no problem but turns out the cafe area we had wandered through to get to the path...controlled it or something. Because a gate blocked us at two points. Big spiked metal gates....which we somehow managed to get over, with a few scrambles and legups. The slliest part was a group of Italians outside the second fence who seemed to take great pleasure in sitting and watching us struggle over. After that the night wound down slowly and we got gelato and sat eating it in a park before trudging back to our hostel absurdly late at night.
Day Two - Pompeii and an eventful trip home
We woke up a bit later the next day, although still too early for my liking. The trip on the train to Pompeii went by in sullen morning silence on my part, but once we got there, my mood brightened considerably. The sheer scale of the city was mindblowing! The preservation difference between the two cities did not appear that obvious to me at the time, although the nature of the eruption meant that there were no preserved wooden beams and significantly fewer multistorey buildings. Pompeii made up for it however, with its endless streets and impressive public buildings. We explored the backroads for a while, which did not excite as much as Herculaneum in that almost every building was blocked off by a rope preventing you from exploring any further than the sidewalk. The few open buildings were definitely exciting, and we took great pleasure in engineering our "Christian Rock Group Cover Art" shots, against random ruined walls with everyone looking pensively into the distance. There were some pretty fun photo ops there as well as a great video of a gladiatorial combat in the Theatre (I know, should have been in the amphitheatre). We went from one side of the city to the other, exploring the amphitheatre and a fulonica as well as different houses and shops along the way. We were running low on time as we raced back across the city to the Villa of Mysteries, doing a quick tour through the House of Faun, with its reconstruction of the Alexander Mosaic and the dancing faun statue. The Villa itself was amazing, with two of the plaster casts of people found during the excavations (very chilling) as well as the original frescoes you all know so well still in situ. One of my mates intercepted a child who was throwing rocks at a fresco (unbelievable!)
After Pompeii we headed back to Naples where we had an hour or so to kill before our train back to Rome. We wandered a few blocks from the station, and I had hoped to find the famous rubbish heaps, but all we found was one overflowing dumpster and a burnt molten vespa. So grabbing a kebab we head back to station only to find out that all trains to Rome have been massively delayed. We ended up leaving Naples an hour late and missed the last train to Frascati. Only option.....take the metro out to the last stop in the middle of nowhere and then run around like headless chickens trying to get our hands on a taxi, which proceeds to stiff us for 10E more than the usual price for such a trip. We got back way later than planned and Monday followed as a haze of tiredness and sore feet.
All in all..... a pretty amazing trip I would say. The transport hitch at the end gave the weekend a bit of a downer ending, but the amazing ruins and the food and swimming and company of good friends made it an awesome two days.
More adventures to follow soon