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 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.


The Alta Velocita Runs 300 Kilometers per Hour

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.


Video: Arriving at Pompeii
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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. 


Jane at the Forum in Pompeii.  Mount Vesuvius looms in the background.


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

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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.


At the Theatre in Pompeii


I took a moment to recite some Shakespeare, as it began to rain.



Video: Joseph quotes the Bard at the Theatre in Pompeii

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A few drops started to turn into a downpour.  Jane’s umbrella broke, so I gave her mine.  I had the new heavy jacket with a hood she had bought for me a few days before, so I put the hood up and tried to stay warm.  But it was really raining hard, with wind and I started to become really miserable.


We came to a cafeteria, and I suggested we go inside, eat some lunch, and see if we could wait out the storm.


Inside, we became confused about how to get our food.  An older Italian man was behind the counter, and when Jane tried to ask him in Italian what we needed to do, he shouted back at her in a very rude manner, “Just speak English!”.  Jane kept speaking to him in Italian, which I thought was a bit strange, and it just seemed to make him madder and more impatient.    We ended up where Jane had a lot of food on her plate and I had almost nothing.  Jane tried to get me to go back and get him to give me more food, but I was already cold, wet and now mad at how rude the man had been to us, so I just wanted to sit down.


When we got to the cash register, I saw that they were selling little half bottles of Lacryma Christi wine.  I picked up two bottles and paid for our lunch.


I first became acquainted with Lacryma Christi years before when eating dinner with Jane at La Opera, a fancy Italian restaurant in Long Beach, California near the Convention Center.   Lacryma Christi translates into “The Tears of Christ”.  This wine is only made in this part of Italy, and is exclusively from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.  The price for a bottle of this wine in Long Beach was well over $100, and Jane really wanted it because she said it was her favorite wine, and she hadn’t ever seen it in the states before. Lacryma Christi in the Pompeii cafeteria goes for about €4,00 per half bottle.  Quite a savings!



Passing the time during a rainstorm drinking Lacryma Christi Wine in the Pompeii Cafeteria


We sat and dried off as it continued to pour outside.  Next, the cafeteria filled up with about 100 teenaged kids apparently on a school field trip.  The mean man behind the counter was less patient with the kids than he had been with us.  After a glass or so of wine, he became humorous to me, and I started making wisecracks about him as I ate my small lunch and about half of Jane’s.


I pulled out the map of Pompeii and tried to dial in on my audio guide to hear about some of the nearby points of interest.  Apparently, my guide had gotten soaked during the storm, and had stopped working, looking foggy inside the glass where the screen was.  I began to wonder if they would make me pay for it, or if I should just go back and act mad that they gave me a broken guide.    We kept drinking wine until the rain started to taper off. 


From our inspection of the map, we decided to try and walk all the way across Pompeii and find a very large amphitheatre similar to the Roman Coliseum on the east side near the boarder of the city.  The idea was to walk as fast as we could past everything, trying not to stop and look until we got to the amphitheatre, then work our way back slowly to the gate we came in from to return our audio guides by the 5:00pm deadline.


Once we staggered out of the cafeteria, I started going the way I thought we were supposed to, and Jane stopped me and said I was going the wrong way.  Now, I get lost every day of my life, and Jane always seems to know where things are.  I was sure I was right, but my track record is terrible, so I turned around and followed her.


We got lost.


But, we really didn’t mind that much, because we were so pleasantly tipsy from the wine at lunch.  After a while, we just kind of gave up and started looking at the things around us trying to guess what they might have been.  We had one working audio guide, but neither of us could really figure out how to properly work them, so we just faked it.


Jane after lunch. We were both quite cheerful after a few glasses of Lacryma Christi


We just started having fun.  At one point I got way ahead of Jane, which isn’t unusual given the difference in our heights (I’m 6’, she’s 4’11”).  I thought this was a good opportunity to hide and jump out and scare Jane.  I ducked around a corner of a ruin and waited for her.  I heard someone walking up, and just before I was going to pounce out, I heard two voices talking.  So, I waited and a group of people passed.  I was relieved that I didn’t scare strangers who for all I knew could have been carrying mace.  Then, suddenly, I hear behind me an amused voice saying, “JOE?”.   Jane figured out what I was doing and had snuck around.


As we walked along, it was so cold that I had pulled my hands up inside the sleeves of my jacket to keep them warm.  At one point, I walked up to Jane who was shooting video of me, leaned into the camera and said in a very low voice in my best Italian accent, “I lost my hand fighting in the war for Mussolini!”.



Video: Joe having fun in Pompeii after Lunch

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We were so lost, we had no idea where we were.  Then, all of a sudden, all of the teenagers from the cafeteria came around the corner and surrounded us.  I remarked to the camera that the only people crazy enough to be in Pompeii today were us and teenagers.  As they walked by us, I noticed that Amerigo and his canine partner had joined in the parade.



Video: Swarmed by Italian Teenagers

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We walked behind them for a while, when suddenly, I saw a sign with an arrow that said in Italian “Pompeii Anfiteatro”, which I guessed must be Amphitheatre.  We slipped off into that direction, with Amerigo and friend not far behind.


On the way we saw some remains of either homes, or perhaps restaurants where they had these bars set up, some of them had very attractive marble tops with big holes in the top.  Jane told me that these were for pots of soups and other food to go into.



Video: How they cooked in Pompeii

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After walking for what seemed like forever, we came to a sign that showed that there was a “WC” (Bathroom) nearby.  We followed the signs, because after all that wine, we were ready for a restroom break.


We found ourselves right at the east gate of Pompeii and nearly into a residential neighborhood, where they had these very strange portable bathrooms.


Space-age Toilets in the Ancient City


These were very space age in design.  They were round.  You hit a button and the door rotated around in a circle like something out of Star Trek.  Once you stepped inside, it closed.  I began to wonder if I would get stuck inside the thing.  After completing my mission, I figured out that there was a button that I had to push to make the door open again.


Jane was inside the bathroom next door, and I waited to see if she was going to be able to figure out how to open the door, or if I’d have to help.  She got the door to open, and walked out video camera in hand.



Video: Inside the Amazing Pompeii Bathroom

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We found someone working at the gate and asked how we could find the amphitheatre.  He pointed at a road, which looked like it went back in the direction we had came.  At this point I thought we just were going to miss it, but we needed to start heading back toward the gate we came in from, so we went the way he pointed.


This road took us through a necropolis, complete with very well preserved mausoleums.


Jane emerges from an ancient crypt on the outskirts of Pompeii


In this area we also saw something that looked like Century Plants, which also grow around our home in California.



Video: Pompeii's City of the Dead

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After leaving the Necropolis, we were surprised and happy to finally stumble upon the Amphitheatre we had been seeking for hours.


Thanks to Amerigo Vespucci, we find the entrance to the Pompeii Amphitheatre


We looked around to try and figure out if we could go inside, or if it was locked up.  It appeared to me that we would not get to see the inside, when all of a sudden, I saw Amerigo walking out of one of an entrance.


We were able to go in through a large tunnel, and once we were inside we were able to stand in the middle of a grass field with the large arena all around us.  It was quite an awesome sight, and well worth all the searching we did for it.



Video: Inside the Pompeii Amphitheatre

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We spent some time investigating the amphitheatre, and then noted the time.  We had to get all the way back across Pompeii to turn in our audio guides and retrieve my driver’s license in about an hour.  It sounds simple enough, but after having gotten lost for almost the entire day, we weren’t sure how the return was going to go.  So, we started to quickly walk back the way we had come.


The signs started to point toward familiar landmarks, like The Forum we had stopped at near the gate we entered from.  We only made one quick side trip, which was to “The House of the Lupanare”.  We learned from our audio guide that “Lupanare” translated into “She Wolf”, which is what prostitutes were called in Pompeii.  The house of the Lupanare was literally a bordello


The House of the Lupanare


Inside there were several bedrooms, with cement beds, that were likely covered with mattresses and blankets 2000 years ago.  Over each door was a painting illustrating the specialty of the girl who worked inside.  These paintings were quite explicit, and I found it interesting to be standing inside a 2000 year old building dedicated to the worlds oldest profession.


Soon, we found the entrance we had come in from, and I was able to return the audio guides before the deadline.  I just didn’t mention that one stopped working, since I didn’t want to have to find out if there was some kind of penalty for getting it wet.  If I had mentioned it, they probably would have given me a refund, but I just didn’t want to end up being surprised if they decided it was my fault.


Outside the gate, we walked toward the train station.  A young man selling out of a street stand invited us to see what he had for sale.  He sounded to me like he had a Russian accent.  Jane noticed that he had Limoncello, a liqueur made from lemons that she had never tried but had read about.   She had one of those, and I bought two full sized bottles of Lacryma Christi wine from him, one red and another white, to take home.


We found the station for the Circumvesuviana train, and after a bit of a wait, boarded it and headed back to Naples.  As we waited with mostly fellow tourists, I took the lens off my camera so I could hide my Canon EOS Digital Rebel in my jacket for the return to Napoli.


Returning to Naples we somehow got off at the wrong station, and ended up having to walk quite a ways through the cold and dark streets to find Napoli Centrale.  We were very tired, and the last thing we wanted was to be lost again.  Luckily, with a bit of effort we finally found the main train station.  We had a bit of time to spare, so we went inside and sat down.


Next we did something that is probably unforgivable.  We noticed that there was a MacDonald’s near where we were sitting, and I went over and asked for a large order of French fries for Jane and I to split.  The menu was in English, but when I asked for “Fries”, the girl looked puzzled.  Then said back, “Potate?”.  “Si, Potate”, I replied. Jane had a coke, and I asked for “Aqua, Minerale”.  She pointed to another vendor that was selling bottled water.


We sat for a while and ate our fries and watched the people hustling around the Naples train station until it was time for us to get back on the Alta Velicita back to Rome.


Returning back to the Apartment a little later than usual, and a whole lot more tired and sore, we went back to our favorite restaurant for one last meal there.  Once again, we were treated like returning celebrities.  We were starting to feel sad that this would be our last meal at Il Padellacio 2, and in our beloved apartment.


NEXT:  We check out of the Apartment, and head back to the Rome Airport Hilton to drop off the luggage.  Then, we take the train back to Rome getting off in Trastevere for another walk across the eternal city!


But First!  One more photo.  This from “The House of the Lupanare”.  Sex hasn’t changed much 2,000 years.  Parental discretion advised: