Naples: pizza, and a train to history.

Our two-week cruise is over. Many thanks to Ryan, our cabin steward, who exceeded expectations, and to Tenisha and Dwight, our favorite wait staff in the main restaurant. Thanks also to the spa ladies, who pampered Leslie just a bit. Great ship. great crew, great food. Would we do it again? No. Once across the Atlantic is enough!

Now we are in Italy — not checking it out as a possible home but just as tourists, like we did in Scotland and England back in 2016. Our ship docked in Civitivechia (chee-vee-tah-VEK-ee-yah), which is the port for Rome. Then we took a high-speed train to Naples so we could begin our sightseeing in the southernmost of the three Italian cities we want to visit: Naples, then Rome, then Florence.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza so we tried a few. I had a pretty good pizza with sausage and broccoli at a restaurant just down the street from where we stayed. And Leslie and I shared a true margherita pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil) at a hole-in-the-wall in Ercolano, which is modern-day Herculaneum. It was pretty good, but I think more research is in order. Is pizza better in Rome? We’ll see.

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We’re in the main square of Pompeii, fulfilling one of Leslie’s childhood dreams.

Leslie has dreamed of visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum since childhood. She even considered becoming an archeologist when she was young. Maybe you did too. Step one in fulfilling that dream was a visit to the National Archeological Museum in Naples, where our guide (and graduate-level archeologist) Enrica showed us the best of the floor mosaics and wall frescoes from homes in Pompeii. They can be better protected and cared for at the museum than on the site, Enrica explained. We gaped at high-quality mosaics — the ancient artisans used tiles smaller than the nail on your pinkie finger!

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This statue of a faun is what gave House of the Faun its name.

Let’s refresh our memories for a second. Pompeii and Herculaneum were Roman cities destroyed in 79 C.E. when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Thousands of people died in a matter of minutes. People in Pompeii were buried in volcanic ash, while in Herculaneum they were covered by lava. The main killer, however, was the pyroclastic flow. In Herculaneum, for example, people crowded into areas near the seaport docks to escape by boat. But the super-heated flow of air rushing down the side of the volcano killed them instantly.

To reach these two historical sites, we took a train called the Circumvesuviano. It’s a local train — similar to a Chicago “L” but above-ground — that makes all stops between Naples and Sorrento. It’s quite an experience in itself: dirty, covered with graffiti, un-air-conditioned and over-crowded, especially headed into Naples.

In Pompeii, we were able to see a few of the houses, like the House of the Faun, that had mosaics and frescoes featured in the museum. But the site is so huge it would take most of a day to see it all. We used Enrica’s information and found most of what we wanted to see. Here’s a 2009 four-minute Rick Steves video about Pompeii.

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Looking down from what is now ground level to what was a seaside dock area in 79 C.E. That’s how much lava archeologists dug through to find the ruins of Herculaneum, where some residents waited in dockside storage areas (left) to be rescued. 

Herculaneum is much smaller than Pompeii. The beginning of a visit here can be a little depressing because one of the first sights is the skeletons of those who hoped for a boat rescue that never came. Leslie overheard one of the Italian guides tell his group that he could not go with them to this place because it is too difficult for him. In the rest of the city, we were able to see how these first-century Roman citizens lived. For example, we saw a bakery, a laundry and some restaurants.

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These people, and thousands more, died 2,000 years ago in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

The Herculaneum website is great, but I couldn’t find an English version. If you know Italian, take a look. If not, the pictures are good.

We had hoped to see the Amalfi Coast on this trip, but I got sick and needed a day to recover. So I guess we’ll have to come back someday.

Next post, Rome — The Eternal City.

Ciao!

 

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That’s the culprit, behind Leslie’s head. Mount Vesuvius. Most recent eruption was in 1944. With 3 million people living in its shadow, Vesuvius is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
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One of the frescoes in a Pompeii house.
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Try to imagine living in first-century Pompeii. You look through this arch and see fire and ash spewing out of Vesuvius. Gotta be frightening.

Where you gonna go when the volcano blow?

We just got back from a trip to the Lake Arenal area in north-central Costa Rica, and I had that Jimmy Buffet song running through my head: “Where you gonna go when the volcano blow?” From the deck of the Arenal Lodge, we had a nice lunch and an amazing view of the Arenal volcano, which is listed as “dormant.”

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Clouds drift over the top of Volcan Arenal, a 5,538-foot dormant volcano.

The last major eruption was in 1968, when 87 people were killed. It was active up until 2010. Now it’s a major tourist attraction, as are Costa Rica’s other volcanoes. At least five are still active.

This side trip was another effort to see more of this country, since our time here is limited. We stayed two nights at the Lucky Bug Bed & Breakfast, which is right at the edge of a rain forest. Upon arrival, we heard howler monkeys in the jungle. Rob, one of our hosts, told us the howler is the loudest animal on earth. Louder than people?

We heard a lot of strange bird calls that were also pretty loud, and frog noises at night. Never caught a glimpse of a monkey or any of the strange-sounding birds. But we did see hummingbirds at Rob and Monika’s feeders, and a white ibis on their small pond.

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Hummingbirds joined us for breakfast at the Lucky Bug.

The Lucky Bug is just outside the town of Nuevo Arenal. The “Nuevo” part is because the original town of Arenal was flooded in 1973 when a dam was built and a very small lake became a huge lake. That dam now provides 12 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity and the lake is beautiful, with lush, green hills all around it. We saw some people kayaking, but the  tourist boat that will take you out for a ride (like we did on Scotland’s Loch Ness back in 2016) was only available in the town of La Fortuna. We didn’t get that far. If you lived here you would definitely want a view of the lake. And there are a number of properties for sale, as well as long- and short-term rentals.

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A view of Lake Arenal. On the right you can see windmills, part of a large wind farm along a ridge line. Almost all electricity in this country is from renewable sources.

Nuevo Arenal is quite small. There are other villages in the area, as well as the larger town of La Fortuna at the other end of the lake. La Fortuna got its name after the 1968 eruption, which spewed volcanic material up to five kilometers away and destroyed the small town of Tabacón. But La Fortuna was spared, so the name was changed to reflect its good fortune. One website I checked says that’s a myth. Maybe.

Lots of gringos live in this area, including our B&B hosts (he’s from the U.S., she’s from Germany). Some of the other local B&Bs appear to be gringo-owned and catering to North American tourists.  I got directions at one point from a small group of North Americans at a bar called Karacters. Seemed like a fun crowd.

The climate is nice: mid-80s F. in the daytime and mid- to low-60s F. at night. We actually had to close the windows our first night there. Driving is a challenge because of the hills — lots of turns and twists on narrow roads.

Leslie and I thought the region was just a bit too rural. A dearth of health care would probably keep us from relocating there. Our host Monika complained about having to see what she called “cow doctors” unless you went to San Jose, which is almost a four-hour drive. So if we choose Costa Rica as our new home, the Lake Arenal area would probably not be our first choice. Great place to visit, though.

Next post will be a review of what it costs to live in Costa Rica. Spoiler alert: It ain’t cheap. I’ll leave you with some photos.

Pura Vida!

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We haven’t done a selfie in awhile, and that volcano makes a great background!
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Another view of the volcano. The clouds come and go, and they create shadows on the face of the mountain. We could’ve sat there all afternoon watching the changes.