The past few summers I have been going over to Europe for appearances, usually in the United Kingdom for Truckfest (more on that festival soon) and have been very lucky to get accustomed to do a little European travel. This has mostly been around the United Kingdom, and usually the time there is too short: Appearance, quick visit with friends, and back on a plane home. Jet lag a-plenty, but loads of fun.
So this year, there was a little time between a Truckfest in Edinburgh, Scotland and Belfast, Ireland. What’s a trucker to do? Road trip, of course. And a full on one at that. The plan was to take a train from Edinburgh to London, hop a train there and head over to the continent. As this happened to coincide with the Olympics in London, that plan changed quickly to a car after a stay at our close friend Glenn’s house (Thanks, Glenn!) for a couple of days. During our stay there we plotted our very enthusiastic trip: Basically all the way to Pompeii, Italy back up to Belfast, Ireland, with a return to London before heading home. Because we only had about a week and a half to do this, we’d soon find this an ambitious schedule. Because so much happened in such a short period of time, I’ll break up these posts into three parts: Italy, France and Ireland, of which Italy will be broken down into a few parts more (we saw quite a bit in Italy).
We’d got our car in London and took the short trip to the tunnel near Dover. We’d stopped on the UK side to get a few munchies for the trip ahead, got our ticket to go through the tunnel, and got in line. You can see by the photo I was clowning around a bit. Because I hadn’t traveled the channel tunnel before, I thought that you were able to drive through it and, as I am sure most of you know, you wait and then you drive your vehicle on to a train which transports you to the other side. I’d gotten used to driving on the right side from my adventures in India, but hadn’t driven with the steering wheel on the right while traffic (on the continent) is on the right. Interesting, but got used to it quickly.
Our time waiting went quick and soon we were driving up into the train. It’s a pretty efficient process and once the line got moving, we were in the train in no time. Again, I am sure to many of you that live and take this train it isn’t that big of a deal, but being my first time through, it’s really interesting! What a marvel in engineering.
Although the trip to France on that train was quick, we were able to get out and chat with a couple of people and peer through the windows into the dark wall quickly moving by. It was nice to be able to stand up and take a break before the long drive ahead. It was the middle of summer, so it was a bit hot during the ride, but it was pretty quiet! My mind thought about just how much water was above our heads and about the drive ahead in which I’d be driving on the other side of the road.
About 45 minutes passed and I could start seeing light in the portholes in the train. France ahead. Out we drove and we were soon driving down the road, with the mission of making it to Italy. At the start we nearly had an unplanned visit to Belgium, driving the wrong way for 45 minutes before figuring out that we were going the wrong way. Ooops. Bad navigator…LOL. Getting our directions right, it started to become apparent that there was no way we’d make Italy that day without a stop in France somewhere. We overnighted in Troyes, France, then hit the road the next day… A day that would be a seriously long drive as we’d make it all the way to Pompeii, Italy.
We made our way south down through Grenoble, France and had a quick stop at a beautiful lake just outside the city. A short stop because the trip ahead was going to take another 24 hours to get to Pompeii. We decided to take a less traveled route and got to the border between France and Italy at the end of the day. In fact, the route was so off the beaten path there was no clearly defined mark as to when we passed into Italy. Very mountainous roads with a ton of switchbacks, down the mountains and, just as it was getting dark, we were waived over by a couple of police officers for a paperwork check. Once they started speaking, then I knew we were in Italy. Just a little struggle with trying to understand what Italian for “license” was, and off we went.
The drive through the night took us through many small towns, with the first large city being Genoa. No time to stop, but we were able to drive through the main part of the city down by the water. Definitely want to get back and see that city, it was late but the street life was buzzing with activity! After going bonkers of trying to find the A12 and back on the highway, we’d made it and drove through the night to get to southern Italy. Night driving was pretty wild. Not a lot to see, but lots of tunnels, with some hypnotizing arrows in tunnels that beckoned me to try and travel as fast as they were flashing, directing me around the bend. It didn’t happen, but one thinks of all kinds of funny things to do to pass the time on a long road trip. On this one it was mostly podcasts and music.
There were many road side stops for gas, munchies and coffee. We only stopped a few times, but tried a few interesting things… Small packets of an espresso chocolate shot, lots of different kinds of breads and some of the standard road food: Chips and soda. The night droned on and as morning broke we found ourselves with Rome to the west and beautiful mountains to the east. We were getting closer.
The A1 eventually got us to Pompeii by mid-afternoon that day. Again, a little more getting turned around here and there eventually to find the town of Pompeii, finally arriving and checking in at the Hotel Calypso near the center of the city. We unpacked and wasted no time, getting out to check out the city before planning to see the ruins the next day. The first thing that was noticeable is that we were no longer in northern climates. It was hot! Nonetheless, a fresh T-shirt and out the door.
The modern city of Pompeii is a wonderful walking city and certainly a destination vacation spot for many. The streets were filled with tourists, bustling in and out of the shops and restaurants. Walking along, I decided to poke my head into one of the gelato stores and get a cone. That is where the love affair with Italian gelato started. There were more flavors to choose from than I could even begin to guess. A rainbow of absolutely wonderful gelato. I picked a standard: Chocolate. It was a winner indeed. The setting was perfect: A Mediterranean hot, dry breeze in a wonderful city with so much scenery: A view of the plaza with it’s magnificent church and flags flapping in the wind. Statues everywhere; from the buildings to free standing. I watched the people pass by and enjoyed the scenery as I ate my cone. First day in Italy started out wonderfully.
However, I did want to get down to the water, and then get a good rest in so I could have some time in the ruins of Pompeii without being completely worn out from the road. I strolled along a few of the streets, made my way back to the hotel and went down to the beach west of the city for a dip in the Mediterranean for a couple of hours before calling it a day and getting in some shut eye. I got my dip in the sea and went to the hotel for a good nights rest. I slept like a rock, all the while being excited for the day to come. The ruins of Pompeii.
We’ve all seen the pictures and heard the stories of the tragedy that befell Pompeii by the volcanic eruption: The Roman vacation city that was buried in ash from an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. As I’ve learned so many times in the past, it’s yet another one of those places that has to be seen and experienced , because second hand descriptions are tough, mainly because of the enormity of it. After navigating the maze of vendors who apparently were selling everything for free, we made it to the gate, got our tickets and made our way in.
There are a few entrances, and we came through the one from the new city of Pompeii. After a short walk through a file of large pine trees standing guard, it opened up to Pompeii’s amphitheater to the right. Of course, I had to see that! It is in such great shape. I’d soon find out not as grandiose as the Colosseum in Rome, but very, very well preserved. We went down through one the tunnels (the Porta Libitinaria) and wandered out into the oval field of the arena. You do start to wonder of all the things that went on in that field… I did find out that it was built in 80BC and is could seat 20,000 people. You do get the sense while walking through the field that the stadium could hold that many. It seemed like the TARDIS in Dr. Who, larger on the inside than it is on the outside. I walked the length of the field and made my way to the other exit, and started off to explore more of the ancient city.
We walked out and took a left, following the crowds. It led to a large wall shaded by more of the unique, and massive, pine trees. Catching a few of the much needed cool breeze in that corridor, we soon were walking the streets of Pompeii and marveling at all the impressive structures and art. And I think that what struck me the most was just how well-preserved this city is. I am sure that it has taken many, many decades to get it in the shape that it is now, certainly a testament to the caretakers of the site. It is interesting to me that, because of the tragedy that befell Pompeii, that tragedy turned into a positive, leaving a legacy and record of how the ancient peoples of Italy lived and built their society.
It was nonstop sensory input! If you plan a trip there, I wouldn’t suggest my method of a one day rush through the ruins; this is clearly a week long trip and probably best done with a local guide if you are on a timeline and want to hit the highlights and get a little information about what you are looking at.
Unfortunately for me, my life is always on a tight timeline these days, so we kept on walking and looking at whatever stuck our interest. It was very hot that day and I drank plenty of water. It had to be close to 100F! In our quest to be quenched, I came across these crosswalk stones that are all over the place. To me it looked like where both water flowed (I didn’t notice gutters for rain water) and a place for people to cross the street and keep dry. If you look closely in the picture, you can see that the stones were placed with carriages in mind; you can see the ruts from the traveling done on the paving stones. Everywhere we went these popped up on the streets. I know that there is plenty of art and architecture to see, but, as many of you know now, my eye seems to always find something a little different. The not-so-obvious-yet-so-obvious. Of course many others were checking these out too. People making their way across the street, kids jumping from stone to stone in the hot Italian sun. I did it a couple of times myself, found a store selling water and hopped across those stones making a beeline for a huge jug of cold water.
I am hoping that you don’t expect a full tour of Pompeii from the tour of an expert…LOL. Only my take from what I saw that day and hopefully I spark a little interest in being able to share what I do when I get a little time to explore. One thing that I find that during my travels is that it is so hard to both absorb and enjoy your surroundings AND make sure you are taking pictures and remembering all the details of where you are at. I’m afraid that it’s the same with Pompeii: I have my experience to share, but there is much, much more to Pompeii than I can possibly describe. I’ll just share my photos and thoughts and hopefully you get a good read out of it!
We eventually got to the Forum in Pompeii. Another vista and a thousand things to take in. We probably spent the most time in and around this area. Here are a few photos of what I’d seen, from the views of the area itself, to some rooms that we walked in to explore. The rooms were AMAZING. I am so impressed with how pristine some of them are both from what they’ve been though from the paraplastic flows from the volcano to simply the ravages of time itself. Some of the tiled rooms we in such good condition that they looked almost… Modern.
This room amazed me. I’m sorry I can’t tell you the name of the room, but how amazing is that? Detailed tiles on floor with immaculate artwork. Many animals with plenty of birds and dogs depicted, as well as some of the fable characters told from that time. I spent time peering in here imagining the people who lived here. Certainly well to do with the intent to impress those who walked in. Impressed me! The lighting was amazing and you could feel a big difference with how hot it was outside and how cool and breezy it was inside. And being that this is 2,000 years old, built to last! I don’t know that anything we build these days will ever be able to withstand time at these scales.
Believe it or not, this short walk took most of the day. Every ten feet you’d find yourself in stopped in front of wonder after wonder. As I said, this isn’t a day trip at all and really needs a good week to even begin to know the lay of the land. As I understand it, there are continuous discoveries there and a town located more near Vesuvius called Herculaneum that has been in the process of being excavated for decades and has even more to see and explore. One day.
The day for us ended in the Forum, where we were able to see a locked off storage area that displayed everything from pottery to statues and mundane items that were used for everyday life. There were also the famous images of a few of the ash entombed bodies, placed respectfully amongst the other things. It is one of those classic images that we’ve all seen from Pompeii and a reminder of what happened to some of the residents there. Of each of the bodies I was able to view, it seemed like the tragedy was, in the end, very fast.
We ended the day in the Pompeii ruins, after seeing this, quietly walking out. A sobering sight, but one that I am grateful for being able to experience. Pompeii is something that I would like to see again one day and spend more time. It offers so much insight into who some of us were, how we lived, what we believed in and how innovative and industrious we’ve been through the ages. The Pompeii experience is also one of many emotions: Sadness. Awe. Happiness. Intrigue. The feeling of the old souls who lived and died here.
We ended the trip in Pompeii by having another gelato and one more culinary surprise: Calzones. I’ve had them before, but these were very, very good. A little different than what I was used to. In the US our variation of the calzone has more of a crunchy crust, these were soft, warm and so good I had two. I had to fill up for the trip ahead. Next stop on the itinerary was Rome, so we got back to the hotel, packed our stuff and set out on the road north to the capitol of the ancient world. The subject of my next installment: Italy: Part 2.