Rome: Day 5: Tuesday: The Tears of Christ
I learn little things as I go along. Give the small change to Jane, because she likes to give it to the beggars. After three consecutive years of going to Rome and staying at the apartment at Piazza Vittorio, we feel like we know some of the lame and the beggardly.
There is “look at my nasty foot man”, who has apparently learned to twist his probably perfectly healthy foot into a contorted nightmare. We have seen, “Please help my child who cannot wake” lady, who’s child has aged almost to his teen years, but is trained to pretend to be comatose in his mother’s lap.
I don’t want to sound jaded, but some of the beggars of Rome are definitely on the grift. I watched this poor apparently elderly lady suffering from what looked like Parkinson’s disease. She was covered up from head to toe including gloves and a scarf over her head and face. She shook like Mount Vesuvius before it wrecked Pompeii, and had the cup in front of her as if she were praying her last prayer to it. Then, a man from one of the church’s told her the Italian equivalent to “Hit the road”, and the scarf came off, revealing a healthy girl in her twenties, who looked right into my eyes and smiled as if to say, “You, Joseph, are in on the joke!”
But, Jane loves to tip the beggars. All I can do is ask her not to give them the coins with the copper colored edges, and silver in the middle
Back in Los Angeles, we had meticulously planned our trip, up to and including reserving our trip to Naples on the treitalia.com website. Trenitalia had a special called “Due per Uno” (two for one). This applied to people traveling between Rome and Naples on a new ultra high speed train called the Alta Velocita (high velocity), a bullet train that was able to achieve the speed of 300 kilometers per hour (about 180 mph). Rome is about 118 miles to Naples, this train could make it in about 90 minutes counting the slow departure, approach and whatever in between.
Our problem was that in the days before we left, the Vatican emailed us back and told us that we were invited to the Necropolis, which I wrote about in my last chapter. We had reserved the Alta Velocita for the same day as the Holy See had invited us visit the Necropolis. I couldn’t figure out how to change the train reservations on the website back home, so a few days before, we decided to go to the window at Termini and see if we could do it there.
The Alta Velocita is so new and swanky that they have a special window just for people traveling on that train. We waited in line for our turn. I was looking over the people behind the desk trying to size up which one would be most sympathetic to us. I was hoping not to get the man at the end, because he looked especially grouchy. But, as fate would have it, he was the one to call “PRONTO!” when it was our turn.
I had heard all of the service people speaking English to other non-Italian travelers while waiting in the line, so I went ahead and tried to explain what we needed that way. I produced our tickets, and he punched the numbers into the computer. Then he told me that we had been given a special price, and that the tickets could not be changed.
“We would like to purchase new tickets then”, I explained. He asked me to write down the dates and times I wanted, since he was having a hard time understanding me. I did, and he produced a receipt for me to sign for the Rome to Naples tickets, actually throwing the pen at me. I looked at the receipt, and it was only for € 5,00. We had paid quite a bit more than that for the original tickets. I didn’t complain, and signed the receipt. I thought about throwing the pen back at him, but thought maybe I had just misunderstood his action. Then, he produced the return ticket with another receipt for € 5,00 and threw the pen at me again! I signed the receipt, and this time really held back because I wanted so badly to throw the pen back at him. I wondered what the penalty was in Rome for throwing a sharp object at a railroad employee. But, I just smiled and said, “Grazie Senore!”. I didn’t even get a “Preggo” in return. Just a look back at the line and loud “PRONTO!” to the next in line as if to say to me, “Get the hell out of my sight!”.
As we walked away, I said to Jane, “Am I just hypersensitive today, or was that guy pretending to be some kind of a screaming shit-heel?”. “No, he was really rude”, she answered. “Well, at least he did the change for only € 10,00 instead of just charging us for new tickets like I thought he was going to. Maybe he thought I was trying to talk him into doing it for free?”, I wondered.
On Tuesday morning, we got up extra early to catch the first Alta Velocita train to Naples. We arrived early enough at Termini to stop at one of their many bars and get our standard breakfast of cappuccino and croissants. It really does seem like even the worst train station croissant in Europe is about ten times better than the best croissant you can find in the United States. At home, they are usually thick and heavy. In Europe, they are light and flaky.
When the time came we went and found our track number from on the large board. From looking at this board, it seems like it may be possible that more trains come in and out of Termni in an hour than airplanes at LAX. Europe really takes train travel seriously. I’ve tried to explain this to people back home, some of whom just say, “We have trains here too”. But, it’s really not the same. For example, go on the Amtrak website sometime and tell it you want to take the train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. We did take the Amtrak one time from L.A. to Seattle. It arrived about 12 hours late at around 2:00am.
It turns out that the new train looks inside and out much like the Eurostar trains we had been on before, just newer. When we found our seats, we learned that our delightful pen throwing ticket guy had seated us across the aisle from each other. We went ahead and just sat together hoping that whoever had the seat we weren’t supposed to be in would be willing to switch.
Soon two gentlemen in business suits approached the cluster of four facing seats we were in. One of them looked at us, and without hesitation, spoke to us in English saying, “Good morning”. He sounded like he might be German. They two had their seats split up, but went ahead and sat together opposite us. I told the man, “They did the same thing to us”. “Oh, they do that all the time, we just sit where we want”, he explained.
Later, a young man walked up looking kind of bewildered that his seat was occupied. The man told him in Italian that we had switched seats, and pointed at the empty one that Jane or I were supposed to be sitting in. The young man complied without complaint.
The train left the station, and the two men started to have a business meeting in Italian compete with a lot of legal briefs being passed back and forth. I had the impression that the man who spoke to us in English was probably an attorney, and the man with him was his client.
Soon, an attendant came down the aisle with a drink and snack cart. Everything was free, unlike the normal trains where you pay for items from the cart. I had coffee and some cookies. They also gave me a small packet that had a few chocolate covered coffee beans inside.
Someone else came along with newspapers. The lawyer guy got two of them, then explained to me that he took ours since he didn’t think we wanted to read any non-English newspapers. The guy spoke fluent Italian, but certainly didn’t act behave like one. He wasn’t rude, just very to the point about everything.
After a while, I noticed we were going very fast. A voice over the loudspeaker announced that the train was now traveling at 300 kilometers per hour. It felt like it was just floating over the rails, and I wondered if we would ever have a train like this to take us from Los Angeles to other cities. I really doubt it.
About 90 minutes later, we arrived at Napoli Centrale, the main train station in Naples. On our first trip, we really had no idea how we were going to get to Vesuvius and Pompeii, but immediately upon exiting the train we were greeted by an official looking man with a name tag claiming to be from the tourist bureau. He set us up with a driver named Pasquale, a giant of a man, who I wondered might rob us and leave us dangling from a cliff. It turned out that Pasquale was just fine, but this time I really didn’t want to be driven around like that.
Before leaving home, we did some research about how to get to Pompeii, and learned that there was a smaller local railroad we could transfer to from Napoli Centrale called the Circumvesuviana.
Exiting our train, we found signs directing us to the Circumvesuviana station, which was just down stairs. At the ticket window, I told the attendant that we wanted two tickets to the Pompeii Scavi. She told me that they had a package price that included unlimited use of the train, plus admission to Pompeii. It seemed like a good deal, so we took that option.
Now, Naples is kind of a rough town. Rome is old, dirty and smells like pee, but I just don’t feel like anybody is going to beat me up and rob me in Rome. But, I always get that feeling in Naples. On the Circumvesuviana, it felt to me like we were the only tourists on the train. We were going to Pompeii and were dressed in our full tourist regalia, including cameras around our necks. I kept getting the feeling that people were looking at us, adding up what we had. I was glad I left my Rolex at home, and wore my cheap vacation watch instead. At one point, I took the lens off my camera and stuck the camera body in one pocket of my jacket and the lens in the other and zipped up the pockets hoping to look a little less like a tourist. Jane, on the other hand, felt completely safe on the train. I was probably just imagining things, regardless; I’d take this train if I came back to Naples again.
After what felt like a very long ride, we arrived at the Pompeii Scavi stop. I wondered if we were about to get lost trying to find the actual attraction, but instead we found that we were only a few meters from the gate.
At first we didn’t get audio guides, and I began to get upset about visiting Pompeii again without knowing what we were looking at. Jane told me that I should go back and get the guides rather than be mad about it, so I left her a ways inside and went back to rent the electronic tour guides. The cost was minimal, and I had to give the guy a piece of picture ID in exchange. I gave him my California driver’s license rather than my passport. He told me to be back by 5:00pm to turn in the guides and get my license back.
I trucked back inside and found Jane at the Basilica, where they used to have their trials.
Video: The Basilica in Pompeii
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All around Pompeii there were puddles as if it had rained within the last hour or so. It was cold, damp and windy. I began to notice that there were very few people around. Often Jane and I were the only humans in sight. The other life forms you see in Pompeii are dogs. There is a population of stray dogs who seem tame enough, but I wouldn’t walk up to one and try to touch it. They seem a bit afraid of people, but they also act like they are used to accepting food from visitors.
As we came to the Forum, I noticed a black dog that seemed to be following us. I decided to name him after Amerigo Vespucci (pronounced Ves-Poochie), the Italian that America was named after.
The area of the Forum in Pompeii is lush and green and full of artifacts. On one side there is a building that has a lot of ancient relics behind iron gates, but you can easily see inside. This includes a number of plaster casts made of the victims of Vesuvius. These casts were made when they found air pockets in the ash, and poured plaster inside. Once the plaster hardened, they brushed away the ash and there were perfect replicas of whatever body had disintegrated over time.
Video: Artifacts near the Pompeii Forum
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After viewing the artifacts, we walked around the forum, and listened to the audio guide, which pointed out to us a sundial that still works today. Amerigo and his friend continued to follow us in the distance, as we looked at the many ancient pieces and statues in the area.
Video: The Pompeii Forum
(Press Play to Start or click HERE if Video doesn't start)
As we headed toward an ancient theatre, I noticed an area that looked kind of like a cave. I walked inside, and it was dark and kind of smelly. I had a thought that this was probably a place where one or more of the wild dogs lived. I thought about what a bad thing it would be if all of a sudden I started to hear growling and got attacked by a pack of wild dogs. On that happy note, I turned to leave the cave, and standing in my path was Amerigo Vespucci! I let out a yell and almost jumped out of my skin, and came sprinting out of the cave.
Jane was doubled over in laughter. Apparently she had seen me walk into the cave, and then watched Amerigo follow me in, just curious to see if I was going to give him a tidbit to nibble on. She saw me turn and then scream and jump. At the same time, the dog yelped and jumped because we scared each other half to death. Then we both came trotting out of the cave side-by-side looking very wide-eyed and freaked -out as one went left and the other went right.
Having been a professional Actor in my younger days, I found the small theatre complex very interesting with terraced seats going up the sides, and marble seating near the stage.