Thursday, May 29, 2014

casey at bat in naples

When I strike out, I do it with style.

There are about twenty of you who will be saying “I told you so” by the time you finish this tale.  And you will have every right to do it.

I have mentioned before that I do not like the bus tours sponsored by the cruise lines.  Everything one should expect from travel (spontaneity, surprise, awe-inspiring wonder) has long ago been sucked out of what the ships euphemistically call “excursions.”  I avoid them as much as possible.

For whatever reason, I ended up on one to Pompeii yesterday.  I wish I could tell you why.

Well, I can tell you why I went to Pompeii.  It has been on my “to visit” list since I read those enthralling stories in National Geographic when I was in grade school.

You know the type.  With the graphic paintings of how Vesuvius destroyed the city and turned many of its inhabitants into fleeing fireballs.  The next photograph was inevitably a plaster cast of what had once been a Roman citizen.  A photograph with the type of detailed clarity that made National Geographic famous.

Because that twelve-year old boy stills lives on, and because of my personal experiences with the eruption of Mount St. Helens, I knew I needed to get to Pompeii.

Of course, there were other options.  In most ports, I simply head off on my own to see the sights -- or I hire a local cab driver to show me around his town.

Not yesterday.  I joined 42 of my fellow passengers in a 40-minute bus ride to Pompeii.  Where we congealed with what must have been half of the passengers on our ship along with passengers from a Costa cruise.  And, of course, there were the usual crowds that troop to Pompeii each day.

But we were not yet ready for our tour.  These ship tours inevitably start with some form of craft shop designed to separate tourists from their Euros.  In this case, a cameo workshop -- with its associated sales room.

That lasted about 30 minutes until our group formed up to push their way through the entrance gate.  I found it a bit ironic that our crowd was pushing into Pompeii in much the same way that the inhabitants in 79 AD were rushing in the opposite direction.

We then joined up with the rest of the human Neapolitan traffic jam to attempt to squeeze as many sights as we could into the hour and 20 minutes that remained.  Our guide told us that it would take three days to do justice to the site.

Instead of justice, we settled for a mad-dash to see:

  • A gladiator school
  • A bakery
  • A “fast food” store
  • The villa of a rich Roman family – complete with classic frescoes
  • A brothel – complete with frescoes of classic positions
  • A Roman bath – with two of those famous plaster casts
  • The Pompeii forum where civic and social business was conducted
The forum is featured in the photograph at the top of this post.  Along with Vesuvius in the background.  And hundreds of my fellow tourists.  I must confess that the crowds were large enough to be experience-killing.  It was worse than an amusement park.

On the whole, it was a very bad tour.  But I have learned there is joy in every experience.  And there was here, as well.  After all, I did experience a bit of Pompeii.  A bit.

There is also a moral.  Unless I am absolutely desperate, I will not set foot on another bus tour.  The only reason is to gather some impressions of my fellow travelers.  And those I have.  But they will keep for another day.  Maybe as interesting character studies.

By the time you read this, I should be in Rome -- or somewhere in its environs.  That will mark the halfway point of this cruise.

If you stick around, there should be some interesting tales from the Adriatic.  And maybe a few strike-outs.

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