Europe Day 14 – The Last Day

At last the final day had come; not only of Athens, but of the holiday itself as well. Our flight was in the evening which gave us one last morning to explore. We checked out of the hotel and left our baggage there to make our exploration a little easier. We decided our sight for the morning would be the Athens Military Museum, though like the Naval Museum before it we had no map with it on and hadn’t originally planned to go there.

The museum is free to enter and you’re allowed to use cameras, just no flash photography allowed. There’s a lot to see inside and it is split into different eras starting with the oldest on the top floor. As we had plenty of time to waste we lingered around every exhibition to allow it to all be taken in and to give us ample opportunity to get the photographs we wanted. On the mezzanine floor there are a number of World War Two exhibits that were quite interesting to see due to having seen them in movies and in computer games – it was amazing to see such things in person.

Athens War Museum

What sits outside the museum is far more amazing however – there are a number of aircraft, AA guns, and other machines of war all parked on the tarmac and slabs around it. Leaving the museum we left in search of another museum. This one was tiring to find and eventually we gave up and went in search of a restaurant instead.

Then it was time to start the long journey home. We headed back to the hotel to our luggage and then took the metro and bus back to the airport where we had to wait a few long hours until our delayed flight was ready for boarding.

Northrop F-5A Tiger

Traveling around Europe really does make you appreciate the value of a single currency – we did not have to worry about changing currencies as we changed countries, we could just continue using what we had. As a single currency it also made it easier to compare prices between countries so we could see what was a reasonable price for a meal, etc. I can only imagine the pain this would have been had I done this trip 10 years ago. We had travelled through eight cities across 3 countries seeing the lasting monuments of ancient civilisations, memorials to those lost in war, and one of Earth’s most destructive forces – a volcano.

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Europe Day 13 – The Ancient Greeks

The breakfast this morning was as bad as the room and the noise, it wasn’t a very substantial breakfast and basically consisted of a slice of some sort of sponge loaf and a glass of orange juice.

Temple of Nike

To start the day off properly we headed to the Acropolis so we could take some photographs of the world famous Parthenon. It’s an amazing experience to see the Parthenon, temple of Nike et al in person and seeing them was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. As impressive as they were the view was spoilt by scaffolding surrounding much of them. The whole experience was also in part spoilt by them not liking people stopping to take photographs – they want the crowds to be moving at all times – but for the most part we did choose to ignore them as we were there to take pictures. At the top there is also a museum but that had been closed since July 2007 due to them opening a new one down in the city which was supposed to be far better. What was really annoying by that though was the new museum was not yet open, and did not open until a month (almost to the day) since we were there which meant we missed out on seeing a lot of the artifacts.

The Parthenon

However, due to being herded around like that we did somehow manage to miss whatever was on the east slopes, and we managed to exit the Acropolis without realising it there was not way to get back round to it without paying the entrance fee again. It was really great to see the Parthenon and the Temple of Nike – they’re iconic remnants of an ancient time now long gone when the Greeks built fantastic structures which were so amazing that they have been imitated since. From the Acropolis you can look down upon the city of Greece and see how different it is today though there are other signs of it’s history you can see from there such as the Temple of the Olympian Zeus.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus

So, after leaving the Acropolis we headed off in search of Hadrian’s Arch, named after the same Roman Emperor as Hadrian’s Wall in England, and the nearby Temple of the Olympian Zeus. There is a small entrance fee to get in to the grounds where the temple is, but if you’ve got the multiple site ticket from the Acropolis then this is one of the sites included.

Inside you can get some fantastic shots of Greek columns and long shots of the Parthenon and the Acropolis though you wouldn’t really need a great deal of time here as it is predominantly just some examples of Greek temple columns which you can’t get very close to.

After a quick sandwich in Syntagma Square we went off in search of Ancient Agora. We knew the rough direction to go in and that it was some sort of old market place, and as usual we wondered around through very “untouristy” areas until we somehow stumbled upon it. Considering our collective sense of direction it is a wonder we were ever able to find anything in any of these cities, it just seemed to be pure luck.

The Roman Agora

Inside the site of the Ancient Agora, another site included on the Acropolis ticket, you can wander around some basic gardens and relax. At one end there is a small museum with examples of pottery and other relics found at this site and they do actually allow you to photograph inside here as long as you do not use a flash. At the other end and raised above what was once a bustling market place is the Temple of Hephaestus, the Greek God of technology, blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans and volcanoes.

Temple of Hephaestus

We decided our next stop would be Hadrian’s Library as that was another excavation site that was included in our tickets. It was a fair search looking for it considering how close to the ancient Agora it is, but we did stumble upon the Roman Agora along the way. On passing the Roman Agora we decided we could see everything there from the roadside and didn’t bother going in as it looked to be a very poor site with very little remaining. Unfortunately the same was true of Hadrian’s Library although there were a few worthwhile photographs to be taken there.

As the day started to draw to a close we went in search of the Museum of Archaeology. Unfortunately due to the lateness of our visit it seemed pointless going in due to there only being 30 minutes left and it meant the entry fee was not worthwhile. It was a difficult decision, but we moved on without having seen inside the museum.

For our final stop of the day we took a number of trains to get to the port of Piraeus so we could visit the naval museum. Unfortunately we had no map of the area which meant we had to wander aimlessly in search of the museum. We assumed it would be somewhere along the coastline as I assumed it was most likely housed in a former dry dock if they were going to have boats inside. Having seen both the naval museum and the metro station on Google Maps I now realise that they were a mile apart which when you’ve got no idea of the direction or distance you need to cover to find somewhere it can be an impossible task. We had to give up, and we returned to the metro station to return back to Syntagma Square.

We had previously thought there were a number of restaurants at the square, however upon closer inspection it only looked like there were two and I didn’t like the selection of courses available so we headed, upon my recommendation, back in the direction of the Acropolis as I’d remembered seeing a few restaurants that morning when we were buying souvenirs. The food wasn’t bad, but my friend ordered a side salad for his meal which never arrived. Despite this they did still try to charge him for it, and after a brief discussion the waiter had agreed that he’d made a mistake and changed the bill.

The Acropolis at Night

To end the day I went up onto the roof of the hotel and set up my camera for some night photography in hope that I might get at least one good night shot of the Acropolis. Unfortunately they didn’t come out quite as well as I’d hoped – but it was nice to see the way the Parthenon was lit up at night.

Europe Day 12 – Arriving in Athens

Once more we had another day of traveling, though this was our earliest start and the riskiest of all the days. Any delays during this day could have been catastrophic for the rest of the trip as it could mean a missed flight. After getting up at 4am we got to the boat stop in time for 4:36am boat to the railway terminal on the main island. It was actually surprisingly warm for that time of the day, and it made it a pleasant hours journey watching the sun slowly rise along the way.

From the train station we left the way we came in, across the long bridge back to the mainland where we continued on to Milano Centrale in Milan. The train we got on in Venice did leave us a little unsure to start with as the board said it was bound for Milan, but the train was empty and had the wrong destination on the sign. Fortunately it was the correct train and was just another case of a driver not bothering to update the sign. The train did get us to Milan more or less on time yet we still had to make a mad dash across the train station and outside to where there was already an airport shuttle bus waiting for passengers. After 55 minutes we were at Terminal 2 of the Milan International airport (Malpensa) where we were able to wait and admire the impressive vista of glacial mountains behind the terminal building.

On the other side in Athens we once again experienced a total lack of passport control and were through baggage claims and out onto a waiting bus in very little time. As predicted before we started on this adventure, it took around an hour for the bus to get into Athens and for us to find our hotel via the metro.

The hotel looked like it was situated in the middle of a warzone, everything around it seemed to be under construction and there was the constant noise from pneumatic drills pounding holes into the road for some unknown purpose. I did however get an impressive view from the rooms balcony due to it being on the top floor and it made it easy to see the Acropolis. I was shocked at how much noise there was that night – the roadworks continued long into the night and started again in the very early hours of the morning. The room was also below the restaurant which was on the roof which meant you could hear talking and scraping of chair legs across the floor as well. It did also seem that they had not actually bothered to finish the rooms decor as the bathroom was in a very sorry state with gaping holes in the wall.

Europe Day 11 – Venice in a Day

Venice Waterway

We only had one day to look around Venice so we knew we had to get over to the main island quite early so we could see the sights we wanted to see. We were also hopeful that being surrounded by water it might be a little cooler as wind which travels over water is cooler than when it travels over land. However, the humidity was incredibly high, even early in the morning.

Doge’s Palace Courtyard

Since we knew the following morning depended heavily upon the accelerato line we decided to use that to travel to the main island and to time how long it would take to get to the stop at the train station. It was quite a scenic journey and is a pretty good way of seeing some of the areas of Venice you might not otherwise see as it makes many stops all over the island. By the time the bus pulled in at the train station stop the heat had soared to amazingly high temperatures and we knew by midday it would be into the 40’s again. We took another boat back from there to the Saint Mark’s square stop so we could look round Doge’s palace. The entry for Doge’s palace was €13 and states that you’re not allowed to take bags or cameras in with you however it seems they don’t actually mind as I took my bag in okay, and my camera. Most places in there specifically state that you’re not allowed to take photographs, however you can in the courtyard so I was able to take a few photographs there. You can also cross the “Bridge of Sighs” into the prison to look around the cells there. From the outside you couldn’t actually see the bridge when I went due to them doing some repair work.

Piazza San Marco, Venice

The ticket also gave us entry to Museum Corro which was full of artwork, sculptures and some armoury from their local history. We did have a quick lunch at the museum but they charged for being seated so we instead chose to eat outside on the steps overlooking Saint Mark’s square. It was pretty much some of the worst service imaginable and the food wasn’t even that good. If you ever visit Venice then I wouldn’t recommend eating at the museum.

The Rialto Bridge

Our next task was to find the Rialto bridge. It wasn’t too hard to find but it is easy to go wrong and have to backtrack due to there only being bridges in certain places. It’s probably one of the safest places in the world to get lost in, and it’s not really a problem, but the weather as I have said before, was very warm and so it did make it hard work. The Rialto bridge is pretty amazing – it is wide and lined with shops; it’s kind of reminiscent of the way the London bridge used to be many years ago (before the houses and shops were demolished in 1762). It was also a good opportunity to look for souvenirs as the majority of shops there are aimed solely at tourists.

The Arsenale

Our final stop of the day was at the Venetian Arsenal which has long been a shipyard for the Venetian military and is still in use today. Unfortunately we couldn’t go in to look at the historic boats as it is currently in use as a naval base and had signs up to say there were no unauthorised people allowed through the doors. Still, it’s quite an impressive front to a building and was worth taking a few photographs.

Venetian Waterway

Finally we headed back to Lido to have our evening meal and get suitcases packed ready for the next day’s flight. I had a pizza and the most amazing black cherry ice cream I had ever had. Whilst eating in the sun started to set, seeing this the friend I’d travelled with ran back to the hotel to grab cameras so we could take one last photo of Venice.

Venetian Sunset

Europe Day 10 – Roads of Rivers

The next day signaled the end of our time in Rome, and to move on once more; this time heading North to the waterways of Venice. It was a reasonably early start to the day at 6:30am, but we wanted to be sure that we’d be at the Roma Termini early as the station is notorious for changing train times; as a friend said, “The board giveth, and the board taketh away”. Sure enough 8:50am, the time for our departure, came and went with no sign of our train with the delays column updating regularly to state the train was running somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes late. We sat in front of the departures board and watched the times flick round as trains came and went, and finally, 9 minutes before the board said the late train was due to arrive it finally gave us a platform number. Normally when you’re given a platform number in Italy that means the train is there and you’d better board it before the departure time otherwise the train will leave without you, however they seemed to have forgotten something quite critical to the trip: the train. Fortunately the train did arrive shortly after the platform had already filled with hopeful passengers and it was a bit like a Mongolian horde trying to board the train with no organisation whatsoever or any regards for common courtesies towards other passengers.

Our previous Italian train between cities had been one of the sort you see in movies where you’d get 6 people in a cabin with a sliding door that opened into a corridor down the carriage. This one was far more modern and was the sort of carriage you’d expect to see on an English train. It was a very long train ride, and it gave me opportunity to catch up on some reading. The approach to Venice by rail is absolutely amazing the first time you see it. The train rockets down the track leaving the mainland behind and then all you can see is the open water until you start to approach the islands of Venezia. We were pretty much straight off the train and onto the number 51 motoscafo (water bus), it costing us €6.50 for a single fare. It seemed a little extortionate considering for a longer ride it would have only cost us €2.10 in Berlin, and €1.00 in Rome; it was a sign of how much more expensive everything in Venice is.

Lido, Venice

When we arrived on the small island of Lido, we weren’t immediately sure where it was we needed to go. I remembered the hotel being quite close to the waterbus stop, though we saw a bus with the name of the road we wanted to be on printed on it’s sign and so without thinking we ran for the bus and paid for our ticket. It was after all pretty understandable to assume that a bus that had the name of the road you wanted as it’s terminal that it’d be the bus you wanted to get. However, after a few minutes of traveling we started to get suspicious that we were heading in the wrong direction and not long later we had reached the other end of the line, and indeed the opposite end of the island with no signs of life anywhere other than a ferry crossing. By this time our ticket had expired and there was no where to buy a new one from, unsure what to do next we spoke to the bus driver and he agreed to take us back to where we started for no extra fare. So, eventually we had made it back to where we had started but were still left with two major concerns – where the hotel was, and whether or not there was an early enough boat to get us back to the main island for a 6:20am train.

Venetian Garden

After a 5 minute walk we had stumbled upon the hotel, Le Boulevard – situated about half way between the Eastern and Western shores. We asked the receptionist about the boat and he assured us that the boats ran to and from the island 24 hours a day, and then got out a timetable to show use, then he saw our confusion. It seemed the normal boat did not run 24/7, but there was another which did called the “accelerato” line. With a name like that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was faster, but it was actually a slower line and would take us 55 minutes to get from Lido to Venice. It was a relief, we’d been worried that if we couldn’t get an early boat then after looking around Venice the following day we could have ended up sleeping in the train station. Instead we knew we’d just have to get up extremely early instead.

That evening we explored Lido to see what this small, mostly residential, island had to offer. There wasn’t a great deal there even though we did find an amazing beach on the Western shore. Although Venice is well known for it’s canals it seems Lido did not have as many, which did seem a little strange. For an evening meal I decided to try another Italian made Pizza since the previous once had been disappointing. This one was so much better and was till just as big as the previous one. There was also a really great ice cream place not far from the hotel which served many varieties of ice cream; I tried the black cherry one and it was possibly the best ice cream I have ever tasted.

Europe Day 9 – Angels and Demons

For our last full day in Rome there was not a great deal left to see. We had managed to cover almost the entire city in two days and it seemed all which was left was to look round the Roman Forum – a site of great importance during the time of the Roman Empire. It was a cooler morning than the previous few days, with the temperature instead in the low 30’s (Celsius). The Roman forum is at the side of the Colosseum, and on our way down there the roads were all closed due to the UEFA Champions League final which was going to be held there a few days later. On the way we also got to see the Champions cup before joining a queue for 30 minutes to get into the ruins. Unfortunately it turned out our ticket for the Colosseum would have also given us entry into these ruins as well, however neither of us had it on us and it probably wasn’t valid for more than one day either. So another €12 later we were into the ruins and started our exploration of them.

Roman Forum

There’s an awful lot to see there including a small building where they keep busts and statues that they have found during excavations. Unfortunately due to the heat it wasn’t easy going around the ruins and by mid-afternoon we decided we’d seen enough and headed back into the city.

The Monument of Victor Emmanuel II

For €7.50 we were able to watch “Angels & Demons” at their local Warner Brothers cinema, and the film was in English too which was helpful. Watching the film we got to see so many of the places we’d seen in the past couple of days and I think in part it made the film more enjoyable. One of the few places in the movie we hadn’t visited was the Santa Maria della Vittoria church where tourists can go to see Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”. Unfortunately when we got there we couldn’t enter, a priest walked up from the other side of the closed doors (they had glass in them so we could see) and held a cross out in front of him as if to say “you’re not allowed in here”. We could only assume that being a Sunday there must have been an afternoon service going on.

Santa Maria Della Vittoria

Europe Day 8 – Fountains and Squares

Fontana di Trevi

The second full day in Rome once again started with us heading to the Roma Termini on the bus. Rather than taking the metro like we did on the first day we walked across town photographing sights as we went. Our first stop for the day was the Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi fountain) which was designed by Nicola Salvi. It was once tradition for an aqueduct to end with a fountain and the tradition held true when they built the Trevi fountain as it is fed by the Acqua Vergine aqueduct. There have been a number of stories associated with this fountain, made in part by movies. One such story says that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain with your back to it that you guarantee your return to Rome. I don’t think the full extent of the story is commonly known however as you often see people only throwing coins in without following that specific criteria. Whilst there we also looked in a church called “Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi” which translates to Saints Vincent and Anastasius at Trevi.

The Pantheon

The next stop was the Roman Pantheon, a large domed building which was once used for Pagan worship. Inside the Pantheon you can see it’s domed structure actually has a hole in the middle where rays of light shine through to illuminate the interior. Inside the pantheon is the tomb of Raffaello Sanzio (more commonly known as Raphael) though due to low light conditions and not having my tripod with me at the time it proved quite difficult to photograph due to camera shake.

The Pantheon’s roof

The next stop was the Piazza Navona where there are three fountains, the grandest of them being the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi which has four figures representing four major rivers from different continents: the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio della Plata; all seated around an obelisk. This is one of the many examples of Bernini’s work in Rome and one of two which can be seen in the square, the other being the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain). The third fountain is the fountain of Neptune (Fontana di Nettuno) which features the God Neptune with a trident – the trident being a later addition.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

From here we cut through the Piazza del Parlamento reach Piazza del Popolo – a large square which was once a place for public executions and has the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. This being a large open square with no shade and the sun continuing to beat down on us at the heat wave continued we didn’t stay long and swiftly moved on to Piazza di Spagna, the site of the famous Spanish Steps. We then travelled back to the Piazza del Popolo and took the road behind it which leads up a hill to a good viewing point where you can look down on the city of Rome. From there it was possible to see a good portion of the city and to see the contrasting styles as new meets old.

After we’d made it back to the hotel via a bus from the Termini it was getting late and time for an evening meal. We tried a ristorante not far from the hotel which was almost empty – something which can be a little worrying as it makes you wonder why no one is eating there. I ordered the lamb dish and a can of Fanta, but they had neither so I ended up with a beef steak and Coca Cola. Now normally when I order a steak, or indeed a meal, I prefer a little more evidence that the cow is dead other than the fact it isn’t moving. This steak was rare enough to wonder if someone had decided to “cook” (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) it over a lit match. I know there are people who like to eat their steaks like this but usually the waiter would actually ask how you want your steak – if they don’t ask then it is a fair assumption that they will cook it “medium”. It was a disappointing meal but we ate it anyway and returned to the hotel, and watched “The Davinci Code” in Italian (with me providing English commentary to my friend who could not remember the film) to finish the day.

Europe Day 7 – A Colossal Day

Vatican Museum entrance

To avoid the crowds of people at the weekend we decided that the best plan was to visit the Vatican and the churches on our first full day. We asked at the reception about getting to and from the city centre and it turned out the best bus to take was the number 86 as it stopped pretty much straight outside the hotel. Unfortunately once more we were given bad directions in that we were told to take the bus in the opposite direction – fortunately we were able to guess the correct direction because one passing bus which we missed said Termini. In Rome you have to purchase a €1 ticket before boarding the bus from a shop and have to validate it on the machine onboard. We never once saw a driver check passengers tickets but we decided not to take the risk and for each journey we took we made sure we’d got a valid ticket.

Stone tablet

At the Roma Termini we switched to the Metro and took that as far as the Vatican Museum. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the pickpockets in Rome and so was very protective of my pockets – nothing was going to get stolen from me! The queue for the Vatican museum seemed incredibly long and we were outside in the scorching hot sun for around an hour. It isn’t a good sign when at 9am in the morning the temperature is already 24 degrees Celsius as you know it’s only going to get warmer.  The entrance fee is €14 and once in there is plenty to see and photograph. One word of warning is that most places inside the Vatican they do not allow flash photography even though you’re likely to see others trying to get away with it. We started off with the Cortile della Pinacoteca where there is a lot of stone carvings depicting various biblical scenes. I’m not sure why, but half of this area was closed off at the time so was unable to see the statues that they have in there. Our next destination was the Sistine chapel which you get to by going through many other exhibits such as the map room. By the time we got to the Sistine Chapel I didn’t think it was anything special – sure the ceiling is a Michaelangelo painting, but by the time you get there it feels like just another painting.

Saint Paul statue, St. Peter’s Square

Within 2 hours of entering the Vatican Museum we had seen everything which was open and so headed over to Saint Peter’s Square. It’s surprising how many people were out in the square considering the temperature by this point had soared to an amazing 41 degrees Celsius. To avoid standing outside too long in the sun we decided to instead get some food first in hope the queue for Saint Peter’s Basilica would shorten. The cafe we got food from was a really peculiar place – you had to pay a set amount and then decide what it was you wanted in that price range, however barely any of their food was priced up correctly which just made ordering near impossible. By the time we’d finished our lunch the queue for the Basilica had not changed so we joined the queue anyway. Just like the entry for the Vatican Museum, the Basilica requires you to go through a security point where they put your bag through an X-Ray machine and you have to walk through a metal detector; just like being in an airport really.

Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica I think it’s a more impressive sight than the Sistine Chapel. The current Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano took approximately 120 years to build and has the largest interior of any Christian church anywhere in the world. During the 1500’s the Basilica had fallen into such disrepair that the Pope at the time ordered for stones to be taken from the Colosseum to help with it’s repair. Underneath the Basilica is the Papal tombs where most of the Popes are buried, including that of Pope John Paul II who died in 2005.

After having done the Vatican and the Basilica we thought we’d done enough sightseeing for the day so headed in the approximate direction of the Termini but somehow managed to end up at the Colosseum. From the outside it kind of seems out of place with a busy road running past it, however there is a relatively peaceful square and green area to one side of it. The entrance fee was €12 but doesn’t take that long to look round – probably not that much longer than it takes to queue to get in.

Castel Sant’Angelo

It is unfortunate that so much of the Colosseum was damaged in the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica but at least they have done some repair work on it. As you go in you have to take a flight of stairs straight up to the spectator area where you can see down into the lower levels and the rooms which would have been beneath the arena floor. There is then a second set of steps further round which leads you back down to the ground floor; however there isn’t a way for tourists to get down into the hypogeum where they used to house slaves and animals. Normally there is a wooden walkway across the hypogeum so you can see down into it, however this was not there when we visited it. Outside the Colosseum is the usual swarm of souvenir sellers who hope to sell their wares to any passing tourists – there really are a lot of them here, as well as people who pretend to be statues.

The Colosseum (Exterior)

We then made our way back to the Termini, once again heading in completely the wrong direction, fortunately we somehow managed to work our way back round in the right direction and found a tourist information place where we were able to get a free tourist map. By the time we’d found the tourist place we were practically outside the Termini so decided to wander around a little more to find somewhere to eat. At this next restaurant I tried some of the local lasagne and it was as delicious as you’d expect it to be though compared to elsewhere the service charge seemed a little “steep” at 15%. On the way back to the Termini we also spotted a Warner Brothers cinema which we thought might come in useful if we ran out of places we wanted to see.

The Colosseum (Interior)

Europe Day 6 – All Roads Lead To Rome

Another day, another journey and another city for us to explore. Once again we found ourselves at the train station from the previous day with tickets we needed to validate. We were told before we went that in Italy it is very important to ensure your tickets are validated before boarding the train. Try as we might though, we could not find out how to validate our tickets as they looked different to what other people were validating. Eventually we asked at the ticket office and after trying to explain to someone who didn’t understand English (and we couldn’t speak much Italian) we figured out that maybe our tickets didn’t need validating at all; so we waited for the train to arrive. It wasn’t until 30 minutes before our train was due to leave did it appear on the board, and not until 10 minutes before did it list a platform number.

When we arrived at the Roma Termini we ended up queueing at the tourist information desk for a good 20 minutes to try and find out how we get to our hotel. The problem here is that the desk doubles as a place that sells guided tours around Rome known as the “Roma Pass” so a lot of the people were there for that. We were told there to take the number 90 bus and to get off after 8 stops. Now the first thing which is important to remember with Rome’s buses is that there are multiple stops on roads and all stops on the road only count as a single stop – that can get a little confusing if you don’t know the system.

We got off at the stop we were told to and wondered where we were – we had no idea where to go to find the hotel. Fortunately I had my PDA with me with a map of Rome on it so I typed in the address of the hotel and it sent us on a trek around the suburbs of Rome trying to find the hotel in a humid climate which was starting to reach the mid to high 30s (Celsius). Road after road we hauled our luggage around and eventually we found the road we were looking for, the hotel was still tricky to find though as it was only distinguishable by a small “HA” printed on one of the windows with the words “Hotel Aniene” underneath it in small lettering. You would think if they wanted people to stay there they’d make it a little more obvious that it was a hotel and what it’s name was.

By the time we’d settled in to the hotel it was time for an evening meal so we went in search of a nearby restaurant. We found a small place with a set menu for €25 which we didn’t think was too bad. The meal consisted of a bottle of the house wine, a gourd of water, and four courses so it really was good value for money. The way the courses are laid out is very traditional for Italy. It starts with a vegetable course, a pasta course, a meat course (which in this instance was veal), and finally followed by a dessert. It was a really nice meal and if anyone finds themselves in the outskirts of the city I would have recommended the place however I have no idea what the place was called.

Europe Day 5 – Ash and Volcanoes

The following morning I’d hoped we would have been able to leave the hotel early so we could get to Pompeii as early as possible. However this was not the case; the friend I’d gone with decided that we didn’t need that much time in Pompeii as it didn’t look that big. I chose not to argue whilst it did turn out it would have been nice for more time we soon found out it was too warm to stay there long anyway. So, we got breakfast from a place near the hotel – fortunately this was the last time we needed to get breakfast away from the hotel. It was a peculiar way to be served water and croissants – you eat and drink at the counter standing up which leaves you feeling a little rushed; but it was actually a very cheap, but nice breakfast.

We made our way over to the Garibaldi train station and was able to get tickets to Pompeii very easily from the ticket office. The thing to remember here is that the tickets are actually in the direction of Salerno and that they have two types of train which go there. It was a bit confusing trying to follow the directions we were given to get to the correct platform. Eventually we found someone on one of the underground platforms who was able to translate directions from a guard for us. So we followed his directions and got down off the platform and crossed the railway track onto the platform on the other side just as we’d been told to. Sure enough when a train pulled in it said Salerno on it, so we were confident we were about embark in the correct direction.

We were a bit dubious as to whether or not the train was the correct one, it seemed a bit too run-down and empty for it to be the main way of getting to Pompeii from Naples. It’s a strange journey when you’re constantly looking out for signs to try and figure out whether or not it’s the right train after you’ve already boarded it. It took about 3 stops to finally find one which we could find on the map in my tour book – I did have a feeling we were heading in the right direction before that but it’s always a relief to know for sure. The train followed the coastline around avoiding most the settlements and took around 40 minutes to get us to the Pompeii Scavi stop.

Forum, Pompeii

When you get off the train at the stop we did you’d be fooled into thinking that the ruins of ancient Pompeii aren’t important to the locals. We wandered around the town looking for the ruins and we found a tourism place, however it was closed. By some miracle it wasn’t that long until we found an entrance into the ruins. It costs €11 to get inside the ruins, and at the time we were led to believe that it also included Herculaneum. The first thing you can see from the Piazza Anfiteatro entrance into the ancient city is an amphitheatre (which is anfiteatro in Italian which is where the name for the entrance comes from). As it seemed fairly empty around this area we decided to move fast and get as many photographs as we could which were clear of tourists so we turned west down Necropoli di Porta Nocera which is lined with tombs.

Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis Sicula)

On the way from the entrance to the main road through Pompeii (which leads to the Forum) we had a reason to pause – I noticed an Italian wall lizard scurrying along one of the walls so had to pause for photographs and some video. It’s amazing how fast they move, and whilst watching them we managed to see two chasing each other and fighting in the middle of the “road”. Unfortunately the ones we saw didn’t stay still much either so it was hard to get really close up photographs of them but I did the best I could.

Frozen in time

From here we continued on to Via dell’Abbondanza which led directly to the forum. This area of Pompeii always seems to be filled with tourists making it so incredibly hard to take good shots clear of other people. Around this area there is also a number of bodies covered in ash, which has effectively frozen them in time so you can see what they were doing at the time of the catastrophe. One of the bodies here is squatting, suggesting that the poor victim knew the futility of running and instead cowered in fear. From the forum it’s not far down Via dell Tombe to the Villa dei Misteri where there is another body, one which looks like his or her last moments were sheer agony from the look on their face. It’s hard to imagine what these people must have been thinking and how they reacted to their impending doom. From the few bodies on display in Pompeii we can at least guess that not everyone acted the same way; it wasn’t like a Hollywood disaster movie.

By this time it was getting close to mid-afternoon so we headed in the direction of the amphitheater back near where we’d started so we’d done a full lap of Pompeii and had lunch. The ramp leading down into the Amphitheater is actually quite steep so I’d recommend wearing sensible footwear if you go to Pompeii. When we left, we did so via the Porta Marina exit which actually comes out at another train station, the circumvesuviana which is what we should have used on the way to Pompeii. We didn’t take the train all the way back to Naples as we wanted to go up the volcano which caused the devastation all those years ago, Vesuvius.

We were told the best place to go up there from was Ercolano so we got off at Ercolano Scavi and almost immediately after leaving the train station we found a tourist place that did bus trips up the volcano. The bus ride up cost €16.50 each, and it was lucky we’d gotten there when we did – the last bus up was at 15:50. Whilst waiting in the tourism place we started talking to a couple of American girls from Dallas (Texas) though I forget their names now. They were on the homeward stretch of their own journey which had started in Paris and had continued from the top of Italy, working their way down from city to city. Of course it was kind of similar to what we’d just started doing, just in reverse and with a different starting country. The bus ride zigzags up the side of the volcano and is reminiscent of the bus journey up Machu Picchu from Agua Calientes the previous year; except this time it was safer as there were barriers to stop you going over the edge should you find yourself needing to swerve. When the bus stops it is still not the top. We were given until 17:10 to reach the summit, look around, and get back. So we wandered up with the two Americans talking about the differences between British and American culture and of what we’d seen so far.

Vesuvius

When we reached the crater I think the reaction my friend gave is the same sort of reaction many people seem to give when visiting a volcano and that is to wonder where all the lava is. Some people don’t seem to realise that an active volcano can be plugged – which in face most are except for the most active of them (or those which are about to blow). In hindsight it probably wasn’t the cleverest of ideas, but after we had finished at the summit of the volcano we decided to run back down it to make sure we weren’t late. If you’ve ever run down steep sides where the floor beneath you is loose then you’ll realise how bad an idea it actually is. There were various points where the running wasn’t just running but more of a slide as we had to try and get round corners. Normally you’d slow down for a corner when you’re running or driving, but when the ground is so loose you can’t actually slow yourself down it is not particularly easy. The thing about Italy was that it was so much hotter than Berlin as well, we were well into the 30’s (Celsius) and after running it only makes you feel hotter.

After Vesuvius we headed to the ruins of Herculaneum in Ercolano with the Americans. Unfortunately we couldn’t actually enter the ruins as the tickets we were led to believe at the kiosk in Pompeii would cover Herculaneum as well did not. So we said farewell to the Americans and wished them well for the remainder of their holiday as we made our way back to the Ercolano Scavi train station. Once more we had a bit of trouble with the trains in that our tickets were refusing to validate, however one of the locals who was about to get the same train was able to help us by fooling the machine into thinking it was a different ticket. The amusing thing here though is that it was the ticket attendants idea for the lady helping us to try that!

Herculaneum

The train ride back was a little interesting to say the least. Normally it would be safe to say that if you are on a moving train that the doors would be closed. Right? Wrong! Locals were hanging out of the doors of the speeding train to keep cool in the searing summer heat. I can only imagine what would have happened if we’d passed another train too closely. I’m only guessing here, but I think they would have regretted it. As I’d been standing near the doors due to the busyness of the train I opted to sit on the floor instead as it seemed like the safer option.

When we were back at the Napoli Garibaldi station we were a little worried whether or not our tickets would work on the barriers considering our tickets wouldn’t validate properly despite having bought them from the ticket office. Fortunately we never got to find out as the barriers were open – but once through we realised where we’d made the mistake in the morning. The person at the ticket office had told us our platform was at the end of the station and to turn right there – which we thought we had. As it turned out there was a little entrance just past the one we’d taken in the morning which led to the Napoli Metropolitane.

We ate at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel that night, and I think it was possibly the worst meal during the entire holiday as it was swimming in a pool of grease, and the chicken had very little meat on it. I think after having experienced Naples I wouldn’t recommend going there unless you really want to see the castle there as there isn’t a great deal to see, and the food in the places we’d tried didn’t seem that great.