Pompei and Mt Vesuvius

On Sunday I went on a tour to Pompei and Mt Vesuvius, and both were really good. We had a fantastic guide who knew answers to every question we asked and he knew and explained the Latin and Greek symbols, words and mythology. He gave us so much more information than we expected and it was really informative, and a nice change to be with people who spoke English as there were four Americans and two Londoners on the tour with me. We learnt that Pizza originated in Pompei, because people didn’t have time to sit down for lunch so the restaurants would sell their lunch on an edible ‘plate’ – just like a pizza as we know it today. With the lack of schooling in those days people did not have numbered streets, your house location was simply known by the face of the god/goddess carved into the water trough nearest your house.

Brothels were an important part of everyday life, to keep the violence and aggression levels low to minimal, and the word SPA as we know it comes from Latin words meaning ‘Health by water’ – which is how the people of Pompei would spend their afternoons after working all morning. There were phallic symbols all throughout the buildings, some carved into stone like graffiti, others were built onto walls and footpaths. This was to invite the gods of fertility to bless their families, because the infant mortality rate was so high they wanted to produce many children to ensure their family flourished. The gladiators were not so by choice, however they were slaves and criminals whose punishment was to fight for others entertainment. If they won a bout they earnt money, and winning enough times meant they also had a chance at gaining their freedom.

We climbed Mt Vesuvius, or at least the last 600m anyway. My Grandpa had climbed it in 1949, only five years after it last erupted, and I was keen to do the same. The crater is huge, although not having any comparison I’m not sure if it large in terms of other volcanoes. I glimpsed a few wisps of smoke from the centre, however I was a bit surprised to see grass growing in the crater. It makes sense when I think about it, because it has been 67 years since the last eruption and the crater is comprised of dirt, rocks and vegetation, however it was something I guess I just hadn’t considered. There is now a railing around the edge, which wasn’t there when my Grandpa was there, and there are a few stalls selling postcards and gimmicks as you climb up. We were told we could take some rocks from the crater, so I got a few little ones of different colours since I’m betting there will come a day when you’re not allowed to take anything from the site.

An encounter as we headed up the mountain left us all in stitches from laughing so much. Our mini bus driver was stuck behind a large tour bus and at one sharp corner we came across another large tour bus heading down hill. Drivers in Italy seem to announce their arrival at intersections by tooting the horn, and in this case it was an early and appropriate warning system as the road was barely wide enough for one bus, let alone two. Our driver and the tour bus reversed their vehicles, while the other tour bus navigated the corner, and we were perched precariously on the very edge of the road while we waited for the outcome. Suddenly our driver darted onto the other side of the road and drove parallel to the bus ahead of us and towards the oncoming bus. As we squeezed between the two vehicles with only about an inch free on either side, the downhill tour bus driver shouted something in Italian, to which our guide replied, also in Italian. Once we’d succeeded in passing we left them to work it out and continued up the mountain, while our guide explained in English what had been said. Apparently the oncoming bus driver had yelled ‘Why were you behind the other bus?’ to which our guide replied ‘Why was your mother behind the stove?’ We thought it was hilarious because it was a stupid question that deserved an equal reply, and the guide had succeeded in delivering just that.

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