Southern Italy Field Study: No work, all play

I was the last one on the bus on Monday morning in what was very surprising considering I am always early. We embarked on a four hour bus ride to Naples, but the bus broke down not even an hour into our journey. A 30-minute layover at a rest stop off the autostrada had us waiting for another bus to take us to our destination.

We immediately trekked to a pizzeria where we enjoyed ice-cold bottled cocoa cola and traditional Neapolitan pizza. Let me just say that the piazza was heavenly. It smelled so good and tasted even better. Thick crust and fresh, tart tomato sauce blended perfectly to create authentic Neapolitan cuisine. Naples is traditionally credited as the home of pizza, this originated as a meal of the poor, but under Ferdinand IV it became popular among the upper classes. Famously, the Margherita pizza was named after Queen Margherita after a visit to the city. It is cooked traditionally in a wood-burning oven.

After lunch, we journeyed across town on a walking tour of Naples with our tour guide, Alessandro. We saw the historical spots in the city and kind of got a feel for the layout and pulse of the city. I could tell right off the bat that Naples is a touristy city. Most Italians speak some English and speak a dialect previously unrecognizable to me.

I also noticed that peddlers like to push umbrellas around in strollers instead of babies. I thought that was weird at first but then realized it was actually somewhat normal. In Naples, we saw the archaeological museum, which houses the Pompeii and Farnese collections. Some fun facts about the museum and city – it’s one of the most complete collections in Europe and Naples has 2nd largest port in Europe to Hong Kong.

I thought that Via San Biagio dei Librai was interesting, too. The street is also commonly called “Spaccanapoli” because it divides, with its perfect linearity, the ancient city between the north and the south. During the Renaissance, the way underwent enormous changes.

Tuesday brought many surprises, and I mean that. We hopped off the bus and took our talents to Pompeii, an ancient Roman city covered by ash in 79 A.D. after an eruption at Mount Vesuvius covered the city in 25 feet of ash. It wasn’t until in the late 1700s that archaeologists began to excavate the city from its ashes. The weather was sunny, not a cloud in the sky for the first part of the day.

As I walked around the city, I kept thinking about what it might have been like to live in the city all those years ago. I thought about what it might be like go about my daily business as a member of the community. What a theatre show might be like, what the brothels were like, what peoples’ jobs were, and how their relationships with others were. It seems too unreal to me. Like, I have a hard time picturing myself living in this community. I mean the Romans that lived here (if I can even call them that) were literate and intelligent. They were sophisticated and had very good architectural skills.

We walked and walked and I noticed the rivets in the road where standardized carriages rolled through the streets. Since the roads were cobblestones, drainage was poor and there was only space for one carriage at a time. I took fantastic pictures and would rank this as one of the top sites of the trip. Walking and climbing the ancient ruins allowed me to live vicariously as a member of this community.

The second half of the day was about hiking Mount Vesuvius, which has to be one of the most memorable hikes I have ever done There is just something about hiking a national monument and doing it with good friends. We pushed each other and cheered each other on – we were one unit. As the hike progressed, we saw snow for the second time in Italy! I looked inside the deep crater and where the volcano erupts and a feeling of extreme elevation fell over me.

I thought to myself, as I looked inside the crater of an active volcano, how lucky and blessed I was to be there, and how I felt infinite and on top of the world. Time stopped, the brisk air was not a factor, I just wanted to remember it all. I wanted to remember the satisfaction of being on top of the mountain. I wanted to remember climbing it; sweaty shirt sticking to my back and all.

Wednesday was a free day. Our group had the option of going to Capri or Positano – both cities in the district, or province, of Naples. I went to Capri with my friends, and so did most people actually. The ferry costs a whopping 25 Euros for a round trip, which I thought was high, but at least we got a discount. During the thirty-minute ferry, I changed into my bathing suit and sandals because I was so hot and the weather was so nice. I always get hot, and very easily.

My language partner, Ivan, tells me that I am sempre colorrosso, which he says means always hot. That’s an accurate statement. Anyway, I stepped off the ferry and felt like a movie star because I was in such a beautiful place. Never would I have imagined coming here and so I was glad that I had the opportunity to come. I went to Sperlonga earlier this semester, but the day was cloudy and rainy and I ruined my sneakers when the water washed too far onto the sand and soaked my pants and shoes.

The first thing we did was pay another 25 Euros to board a smaller boat and take it to the blue grotto. The entrance to the grotto, the mouth of the cave, was very small – we had to lean backwards and basically lie on our backs. The Italian man who rowed us in spoke decent English and told us about the cave while serenading us with his deep, masculine voice. It was beautiful inside. The water was crystal clear and shimmered under the dark cave like a star shines in the sky on a cloudy night. The water was blue and wonderful. Man, I wish I could have stayed in that cave for longer. The Emperor who stayed here used this cave as his personal swimming pool.

When we got back to shore, I walked to a rocky beach and began skipping rocks across the water. I skipped small and light rocks as well as big and heavy ones. Some just plumped into the water and made a big splash, but others skipped as many as four times across the water. I also took this opportunity to walked about 20 feet into the ocean and on this elevated rock in the water. I walked in with my sandals. Unfortunately I still had my shirt on. Even worse, my phone was still in my pocket so you can imagine how unhappy I was when I realized it was still in my shorts.

Only I would walk into the water with my phone. It is fried and I will be buying a new one this weekend. I did get some quality pictures of me looking like I could walk on water. It was like a scene straight out of the ‘Bruce Almighty’ movie.

Needless to say, that even though I was shivering and shirtless for the rest of the day, it was a very rewarding – and memorable visit to the cave and island of Capri. I would do it all over again – not walking into the water with my phone of course, but definitely experiencing the cave, the water, and the viewpoints. Man, it would be great to live here.

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