Finally, we got a decent night's sleep (though not long enough for me, after staying u to finish the day's journal).
I take a look at the wall above the bed. Two mosquitos are resting after a good feed. I smash one and it leaves a red spot. Sorry, Hotel Columbus! Get window screens!
We board the bus at 7:40 for a 3 hour ride to Montecassino.
The road winds up the steep hill above the town of Cassino, to the Abbey of Montecassino. The commanding view at the top (obscured by a lot of haze today, unfortunately) is what made this location of such concern to the Allies, during World War II. The only thing about this place that interests me is the controversy about bombing it during World War II. The Allies were so concerned about the German tactical advantage of holding Montecassino that they send over seven hundred bombers to flatten the place. It turned out, though, that the Germans had not been preparing to use Montecassino for use as an artillery position -- which they only did AFTER it was bombed. The Benedictine monks knew the bombing was coming, and were able to preserve themselves and the important documents in the bowels of the Abbey. Nearly every above-surface structure was destroyed by the bombing, along with considerable damage to the town of Cassino itself.
The Abbey has since been entirely reconstructed in its original form, including the rococco basilica. There is plenty of beautiful marble work, but lots of blank ceiling space awaiting worthy frescoe artists.
I quickly run out of interest in the reconstructed abbey, and I'm not really interested in seeing the post-bombardment photographs in the museum.
Box lunch (included): a banana, a tangerine, a cup of yogurt, and an assortment of sandwiches. I get a caprese sandwich (tomato and cheese). Brig gets a beef, olive, and cheese sandwich.
Oh, and a Baci ball (a milk chocolate and hazelnut confection) for dessert.
Another hour and a half on the road, and we arrive at Pompeii. You pass Vesuvius along the way, but again, the haze turns it into a faint profile.
Our local guide to Pompeii is Gaetano. Gaetano is [playing] the stereotype Italian male. Mid-30's, sunglasses, black sweater over the shoulders and tied at his navel (a modernized version of the Roman cape), black scarf tied around his neck, indiscreetly following any attractive woman with his eyes, head, or full body -- without dropping a word of his patter. Whether or not Gaetano is just putting on a persona for marketing purposes, he's a good and informative guide. Not particularly candid, but entertaining. I asked how many of the 20,000 residents of Pompeii were Roman citizens. I get a brief paragraph in response, which basically boiled down to "We (or I) don't know!"
I'm really interested in this, as we always hear about all the wonderful things that were made available to Roman citizens, but we rarely hear much about the proportion of residents of the Empire who were eligible to take advantage of the privileges of citizenship... This was, after all, a civilization based heavily on slavery.
Oh, and Gaetano volunteers a brief advertisement for good relations between Italy and the U.S. (This was prompted by his mention of some damage done to Pompeii during World War II bombings.) Supposedly, 95% of Italians are grateful for what the U.S. did to liberate Italy in WWII -- which is why they support the U.S. He never mentions Iraq specifically.
I learn quite a bit from this visit. I had previously noticed that in Roman brick walls, there are often arches included in the brickwork. Why? Well, it turns out that behind this kind of arch, you would usually find a toilet, and below it, a septic tank. Periodically, a farmer would have someone break through the bricks below the arch, in order to empty the septic tank. The contents would then be used to fertilize the crops (yikes!). Gaetano shows us the communal bakery. Beside the donkey-powered wheat mills lies a brick oven that's a dead ringer for the ovens used at the traditional pizza places of today. Meanwhile, some sudents are conducting an archaeological dig. We wander around, coming across the small (music) and large (everything else) amphitheaters.
After a limone granita, we're on the bus for a drive down the Amalfi coast to Positano. From the highway, the view of Naples is less than appetizing, largely consisting of industrial districts. We get some nice views of the Port of Napoli shortly before we reach the Amalfi Coast. More windy roads, this time up to the edge of a rather sheer cliff. Impressive views.
The road in to Positano is very narrow, and it doesn't help that roadside fruit stands are set up in such a manner that any patron in a car (a machina) will end up blocking the road! Typical wares include brilliant red braided peppers, strings of braided garlic, and local fruit.
At a crossroad not far from the hotel, we depart the tour bus for a shuttle to the hotel. The road gets a lot narrower, but at least it's one-way!
Our digs for the next two nights, the Aubergo Savoia, is beautiful. Our room has a double bed (plus an extra bed). There's alarge balcony with a view of the buildings encrusting the ravine that makes up the town. Off to the left is the Mediterranean. And there's a standup shower in the bathroom!
After a brief recuperation period (Brig and I read our books on the balcony), the tour group walks a block down the hill for a ride to tonight's dinner. 28 people pile into the bus, mixing in with a few other tourists and several locals. The bus becomes an instant sardine can.
The fact of the matter is that this long (10 minute), crowded, windy ride just isn't worth the hassle. It's really only a 10 minute walk (albeit it, somewhat uphill) to our restaurant, Il Fornillo. Why is the bus ride similar in length to the walk? Because the streets in Positano are one-way, and the long way around is needed to get out to the restaurant.
At Il Fornillo we are served the following meal (included):
For dessert, a light-enough-to-float-away wedge of cake filled with pears and whipped cream, and generously drizzled with chocolate.
Walking back to the hotel, we take some photos of Positano at night, and then we are treated to a brief, unexpected fireworks show, launched from down below, dockside. A nice way to end the day...