June 20, 2003:
Our last full day in Italy began with a standard European breakfast at our hotel in Sorrento. It was another hot, brilliantly sunny day. The weather during our trip has been a bit hotter than we would choose, but we can’t complain about rain or the lack of sunshine. In the 11 days of our trip so far, we’ve had rain in only part of one day, as we drove into Orvieto. Other than that, the weather has been consistently sunny, bright, and clear, often with cloudless blue skies.
We lugged our suitcases up the steps at the parking garage at Sorrento, fit them into the trunk of the Opel Electra, and headed off to Pompeii. Initially, we had some winding roads, and I think we all groaned inwardly at the thought that we might have to recreate yesterday’s journey along part of the Amalfi coast. Fortunately, the fear was unfounded, and the road turned inland and straightened out somewhat. We reached Pompeii after traveling through some of the most uninspiring Italian landscape we have seen on our trip. The area right around the Pompeii excavations were like an Italian Morse Road. We pulled off and left our car at an attended lot. The attendant spoke virtually no English, but through sign language communicated where we were to park and that we were to leave our car unlocked, with the key inside. This time, we agreed, although still with some trepidation. There didn’t seem to be much choice if we wanted to see the ruins.
The Pompeii ruins don’t seem like much from the outside, or even as you initially enter. Soon, however, you realize two things. First, the ruins are far vaster than you would expect, extending across significant parts of the countryside. Second, the ruins are much better preserved than the ruins in, say, the Colisseum or the Forum. As a result, you soon begin to feel you are getting a better sense of what Roman life was actually like. A complete gladiator arena, theatres, houses, public areas, shops, and signs survived the ash that spewed from Mt. Vesuvius. Many of the houses had ornate tile designs in the floors and painted walls — with yellow and rust apparently being the preferred color scheme. It is impossible not to feel that life in Pompeii before the eruption in 79 A.D. was lively and colorful.
However, it also is difficult not to be somewhat curious about Pompeii. How could it have stayed under its blanket of ash for so long without being disturbed or looted? The Romans didn’t seem shy about reusing old buildings — why not just clean off the ash and revive the town? Also, you can’t help idly wondering if some of the better preserved paintings weren’t recently added to enhance the viewing experience. In any case, Pompeii was quite interesting. Unfortunately, we saw it during the middle of the day, with crowds of other tourists. As a result of the hot and dry conditions, the ash, and the excavations, walking caused clouds of dust, and after a few hours we were all very thirsty. So, we left parts of the site unexplored and headed back to the car. After a quick bite of pizza at a nearby restaurant — and some much needed water and sodas — we retrieved our car (which was undisturbed) and headed back to Rome.
The drive back to Rome was uneventful. The roads became more crowded as we approached Rome, and even more so after we left the Autostrade and turned onto the “ring road” that encircles Rome. The exist for the airport was well-marked, however, and we found the airport Hilton without much trouble. Finding the Avis drop-off point was much more difficult, because there were virtually no signs showing the location of the drop-off point. After some driving around, and some cursing on my part, Richard and I found the Avis drop-off, which was on the fourth floor of a parking garage. Although I enjoyed driving, it felt good to be free of the car and to have successfully completed the driving part of the trip without an incident.
During our initial 3 days in Rome, we decided we should come back to stay at the aiport Hilton, rather than driving back into Rome itself and taking a long cab ride to the airport. I think it was a good decision. The traffic in Rome is unnerving, and we would have had to get up very early to make the flight. That said, the airport Hilton is a standard, soulless airport hotel with prices that gouge the traveler at every opportunity. Our dinner there was pathetic — the food came at different times, and one of our orders was simply forgotten. It cost about $20 for a cheeseburger and fries. However, Kish did get two excellent Cosmopolitans to help calm her nerves for the flight. After dinner, we walked to the airport, where Richard hoped to find the new Harry Potter book that he needs to read over the summer. No luck on that score. But, it felt smart to scout out the aiport before our departure tomorrow.
It’s been a fun and interesting two weeks of travel in Italy, but I think Kish and the boys (and me, too) are ready to get back home. As the end of a vacation approaches, the momentum to get home becomes irresistible, like a boulder rolling downhill. If we could have gotten a flight tonight, and thereby gotten home a few hours earlier and avoided our last night’s stay at the airport Hilton, I’m sure we would have voted unanimously to do so.