Thursday, February 12, 2004

So you've been wanting to know about my holiday in Sorrento?

Well, we took it pretty easy, but the main highlights were visiting Amalfi,
Pompeii and Herculaneum. Amalfi is an old town near Sorrento, and is
famous for the windy coastal road to get there, taking in some stunning
views. Houses and hotels are built into the side of the cliff down to
the sea, with several stories. It's pretty weird - you'd park on the roof
of the house.

We went before the tourist season started proper, so many restaurants
and shops were closed, but we had the advantage of not having to
compete with massive crowds at the tourist attractions, which we had pretty
much to ourselves. And although it wasn't hot (hotter than the UK
though, we had to wear sunglasses) I'm glad we didn't have to push our way
through crowds in baking hot weather at Pompeii (as we would have done if
we went in the summer).

To get to Pompeii we took the train, and passing through the
surrounding countryside was quite an eye opener. Simply put, a lot of the
surrounding area around Naples is a dump, and much of the South of Italy is
quite impoverished. It reminded me more of the housing we saw in
Cambodia than in England, and clarified in my mind that although the
countries of Europe are untied by the Euro, they remain unique countries with
very different cultures, attitudes and problems. Many people complained
that since the Euro has been introduced, prices have been rounded up/
continue to go up, but without the same movement in wages. Ok -
Political rant over.

Pompeii was very interesting, a very large area of preserved ruins,
with a surprising amount still intact. Sadly many of the more
interesting pieces have been moved into Naples museum. The brothel, still with
rudey pictures painted onto the walls was probably the most entertaining
part for me, with the theatres and well preserved amphitheatre also
good. There are a couple of funny mosaics of dogs at the front of the
houses "cave canum" (or something), meaning beware of the dog.

The nearby Hurculaneum was also good, though smaller (and
comparatively empty of people, hurrah). It is better preserved than Pompeii,
having been covered by a kind of mud, rather than pumice stones. Despite
being buried for almost 1,000 years, many of the ceilings, second floors,
wood in the building, murals and mosaic flooring remain well preserved.

We read "Pompeii", the novel by Robert Harris while we were there,
and it was cool to connect a story to the places we had been to. I also
read the enjoyable 'Northern Lights' by Philip Pullman (the 1st of the
Dark Materials trilogy - big but its gonna be huge - movies etc), and
"Talking Cock" by Richard Herring (a bit rum but quite interesting).