Sunday, August 3, 2014

Amalfi and Pompeii

Amalfi is gorgeous. The little hotels clinging to the sides of the cliffs, the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the sunshine … I want to rent one of these villas and spend the whole day on my veranda, sipping Italian wine and watching the sea. Instead, we're off to Pompeii.

I have always wanted to see Pompeii. I've read about it, watched films about it, gone to museum exhibitions that featured relics of Pompeii -- including casts of the bodies of people and dogs who were killed instantly and whose remains were preserved by the ash -- but I've never actually seen it.  After another amazingly beautiful drive along this spectacular coast, here we are.

It is much, much bigger than I imagined.  First, we visit a cameo factory. (Cameos were found in Pompeii)  I didn't realize that cameos were made from shells. So that was interesting.  Then we were led down a long walkway to Pompeii, which was originally a seaport.  Xingxing trots happily, stopping to sniff here and there. Dogs have obviously come this way. Our guide walks very fast, so fast that it's hard to keep up with her.  By the time we get to the city entrance, she's lost several people and we have to wait while she finds them.

We enter Pompeii. Narrow, cobblestoned streets. The paving stones are huge. On either side, the brick walls of destroyed houses. It is amazing to think that these are the original stones, the original bricks.  It is very hot, and there are thousands of other tourists. Some of them are with tour guides, others are wandering around on their own with guide-books and head-sets. Nobody is expecting to encounter a small dog, so we've got to watch our step. Between the crowds and the small spaces and the uneven paving and the speed with which our intrepid guide marches forward, it's all rather a challenge.

We visit the remains of shops, a wealthy man's home -- complete with atrium -- and the prostitute quarter, where what's left of the graphic murals advertise each woman's speciality. I think it's the sheer size of the place that overwhelms me. I don't know why, but I always thought of Pompeii as being a small village. It wasn't. It was a city.  We finish at the Forum, which is enormous. Everything is still there, and you can imagine the residents walking and talking among the columns and arches.  My imagination peoples the ruined houses with men and women in togas.

Xingxing is hot, and tired. I've brought water for him, but the guide is moving along so quickly that I'm afraid to stop, lest we lose her.  But she wouldn't dare just leave us here, I think.  If she returned to the ship without us, surely there'd be hell to pay.  So we sit down on one of the huge curb stones, and I pour water into a little dish I've brought.  Several of the other people on the tour have noticed, and they loudly tell our guide to stop and wait for the little dog to have his drink. She pauses, not impressed. But Xingxing gets to have his drink.

At the end of our tour, other people are missing. (This doesn't surprise me a bit)  Our guide counts us three times, always coming up short. She's very annoyed. The rest of us wait at a souvenir store while she rounds up the strays.  It's quite a nice store, and I manage to buy some limoncello to take home.  It's rather a long walk back to where the bus is parked and when we get there, a huge, black mastiff leaps out of a kiosk, growling and snarling. Xingxing leaps into my arms and several of the men in our group form a protective cordon between us and the angry dog -- who is probably a guard dog and just doing his job.

People think I'm lucky, to be able to travel with my dog. And it's wonderful, most of the time. But it's also like traveling with a very small child. You've got to be alert, you've got to always be watching for potential trouble.  Of course in this case, the guide should have warned us. But she wasn't a very good guide. Still, no harm was done. And we saw Pompeii. And back on the Azamara Quest, yet another four-course, gourmet dinner awaited us. So all in all, it was a pretty good day.

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