Thursday, October 31, 2013

Family and friends oop North

My summer holidays weren't only spent in sunny Italy, there was also a few days in not-so-sunny northern England. This time proceedings were enlivened with a visit from my friend Rick, who you might remember from our ch√Ęteau shenanigans back in 2012. Our time in Lancashire and neighbouring parts mostly comprised driving around for hours in the car, which wasn't actually as bad as it sounds. Rick, who is from LA, had never been to the north of England before, and I think he actually quite enjoyed seeing the countryside and Hadrian's Wall. And everyone loves a good pub lunch and pint of beer and/or cider! He didn't even seem to mind the constant Sandiego family singalong in the car, although that may have been because he kept falling asleep to avoid it...)

Weirdly, Dad and I were talking about going fruit-picking when I was a kid, then we found a place where you could do it! Mmmm, raspberries

Family dinner in Lancaster. I'm not actually sitting on his knee, by the way

Countryside near Hadrian's Wall. We cunningly avoided the worst of the rain in a pub and a museum, but it made for some dramatic skies

Dad on Hadrian's Wall

Me looking oddly fey on Hadrian's Wall

I always forget the name of this place. A hill in Kendal overlooking Windermere, with Rick

Me and Windermere

Monday, October 28, 2013

Italy Day 5: Capri

On our last full day in Italy, we took a ferry over to Capri, both because I thought the ferry trip would be nice and because I'd heard good things about Capri. However, when we got there there wasn't really anything in the way of tourist information at all. I had wanted to go to Tiberius's villa, but a taxi driver told us it wasn't accessible by road and it would take a 2 hour walk, which we weren't too keen on. So we waited for ages for a bus that we weren't even sure where it was going. Someone in the line told us we needed to buy tickets for the bus, but when it arrived it turned out they were the wrong tickets. It's fair to say that at this stage, tempers were a bit frayed in the Sandiego party...

It turned out, however, that the tickets were valid for the nearby funicular, so we just decided to go up and see what was at the top at any rate. There were some lovely views on the way up and at the top, where you came out at a little town centre. I was inwardly convinced (on very little information) that from where we were we should be able to walk across and see the view from the other side of the island. After a stop in a shady (in the good sense) alley to eat our sandwiches, we noticed quite a lot of tourists going past in a certain direction, so we decided to follow them.

We ended up in some gardens with the most wonderful views of the coast and the renowned Faraglioni rocks offshore. I honestly think that Capri is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, it was just amazing being up there and seeing the cliffs, rock formations and crystal-clear sea down below.

After a while looking around in the gardens, Mum and Dad decided to just go sit at a cafe, whereas I wanted to walk down the Via Krupp to the bottom of the cliffs. It snakes down a height of 100 metres, offering beautiful views on the way. I took my time, stopping for plenty of photo opportunities, on the way down, but once I was at the bottom I was a bit concerned about us getting back to the ferry on time, so I powered back up in about 5 minutes. It was really, really hot and (as Mum lovingly pointed out), I was pretty red and sweaty by the time I got to the top! The fresh lemon slushy Dad bought me has got to be the most refreshing thing I've ever drunk after that!

So we only saw a small portion of the island, but it was so pretty it was well worth it for me.

Faraglioni rocks off Capri

Capri harbour


I've become a selfie convert


Didn't find out what was so exciting about it

Capri harbour from the ferry



The Via Krupp

At the top of the funicular


On the ferry


Finally, a family portrait!



Family dinner in Sorrento on our last evening

Bossyi and mutanttamer

Friday, October 25, 2013

Italy Day 4 - Naples Archaeological Museum

Many of the treasures of Pompeii - frescoes, mosaics, statues, etc. - have been removed from the city and are now in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. This is where we headed on the fourth day of our trip, and it really is the perfect complement to a trip to Pompeii. I think it's good to do it that way round as well, since you have some idea of the context which the objects came from.

It was really huge and there was a lot to see. We reconvened in the lobby after an hour or two and decided to take another half an hour to finish looking around - and I think there were at least two sections I hadn't even been in at that stage. I think in the end I did manage to see everything though. There was even the "Secret Cabinet", full of naughty paintings and mosaics found in Pompeii, which used to be restricted to gentlemen who sought special permission to see what was inside. It was only finally permanently opened to the general public in the year 2000!

Here are a few of my highlights from the collection:

The Farnese bull - an amazing piece of sculpture, although it seems all the major parts are actually reconstructions!

A glass pitcher melted in the eruption

This is amazing - it's actually a papyrus which came from the "Villa of the Papyrus" in Herculaneum. Some 1,785 charred papyrus scrolls were found in this villa. First attempts to unroll and read the papyrus were unsuccessful, until the machine pictured was invented in 1756. Now the papyrus, which include the only copies of some ancient works, can be read using multi-spectral imaging.



Many of the mosaics were so fine they looked like paintings from a distance





Not the easiest to see, but I love the restrained delicacy of these white-background pieces


An exotic-looking Venus

Slightly disturbing



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Italy Day 3: Pompeii

Going to Pompeii was definitely one of those bucket list things for me, especially when you're often hearing about it crumbling away due to lack of funds, too many tourists (oops) or mismanagement. So, similar to my trip to Venice a few years ago, I was happy to tick this one off sooner rather than later, in case one day it is no more.

After getting there and being led astray in the wrong direction by ticket touts (turn right out of the train station, not left, no matter what they say), we managed to find the entrance and decided to hire one of the official guides. This turned out to be a very good decision, since Pompeii is much, much bigger than I imagined, and there's not much in the way of explanatory materials. I think if you went with no guide you'd probably be in for a confusing trudge in the hot sun with not much idea of what you were looking at. Our guide was perfectly adequate on the level of the explanations he gave and so on, but had the slightly bizarre habit of getting in to shouting matches with every single other guide we came across. According to him, he was a true-blue old-timer who knew Pompeii like the back of his hand, but the place was now crammed with upstart newcomers, since the Italian government massaged unemployment figures by just handing out guide licences left right and centre. I don't know about that, but one might say that if you're arguing with *everyone*, it might just be that you're the problem.

Anyway, that was more amusing than anything else, and didn't take away from the roughly two-hour tour. We only saw a fraction of the city in that time, but it was very interesting. I'm afraid to say I've forgotten most of the details in the month since the trip, but it definitely made me want to read up more about Pompeii, or watch a documentary. It was just amazing really to see everything as it was on the day of the eruption (obviously, ruined buildings and removed artifacts aside). You feel much more that these were real people when you can actually see their houses and baths and brothels and gambling dens, and even sometimes their faces.

I didn't really get how the "mummified" bodies of the Pompeiians worked before. Basically, they were suffocated by the gases coming from the volcano, and then their bodies were covered with ash which set like concrete around them. Over time, their flesh decayed inside these ashen tombs, but because it had already set, it preserved the outline of their bodies (and the bones). When Pompeii was rediscovered, some smart person figured out that it essentially made a mould, so you could pour plaster in and make a cast of the person. So they're not preserved bodies, but they do accurately reflect the image of the person.

Me at the amphitheatre




A person frozen in time, trying to shelter from the eruption

You can see the man's skull sticking out of the back of his head

The forum


Room filled with archaeological finds, including a body

Oo-er, it's Priapus, god of fertility who brought good luck

Ruined temple

A mosaic-filled villa

Me and Mum in the amphitheatre. I was wearing my glasses but taking them off in the photos, so I'm perpetually squinting in the sunlight in nearly all of them. My glasses do that auto-tint thing though, and I look like a blind person

Strange and somewhat ghoulish to see the face of someone who died nearly 2000 years ago

I get the same feeling of looking through the past at a real person from this painting (even though it's a bit fuzzy)

The culprit. The guide said the sides used to join up in a peak, so you can imagine the size of the explosion!