Thursday, March 10, 2005

When in Rome, do as the rodents do--Part II 

We set off from our hotel Monday morning and walked to the Termini railway station to catch our trains to Naples and then to Pompeii. As we crossed through the Piazza della Repubblica, we noticed a lot of activity. There were even more police than usual, for one thing, plus the front of the church there was covered with floral arrangements. I asked an Italian woman what was going on, but I understood only 2 words of her response. Those 2 words, however, were funerale and Iraq, which led me to conclude (correctly, as it turned out) that they were getting ready for the funeral for Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence officer shot to death in Iraq last week. As we continued on our way to the train station, I took this shot of the scene on the street:

The train ride from Rome to Naples was uneventful. We passed some beautiful scenery, including the remains of aqueducts and the coast of the sea.

I know that I have mentioned the rodents several times before. They are an ever-expanding collection of Beanie Babies that Mike and Annabelle have endowed with personalities and personal histories. Ratzo the purple rat, for example, invented the apartment building; his friend Rizzo the pink rat invented the condo. Flinch and Rosa, the guinea pigs, are both afraid of rubber bands. Ears is a flying rabbit (are rabbits even technically rodents?).

Mike and Annabelle can amuse themselves for hours with these critters, and the night before they had inducted me into the ranks of the rodent lovers. I had had them in stitches as I manipulated Pellet the hamster and Cheezer the white mouse (the 2 rodents who were selected to accompany us to Italy) and had them singing Broadway hits. They decided to carry the rodents along on our trip to Pompeii, and I took this picture on the train:

The kids decided that from that point forward, we would spend our time documenting the rodents' travels in Italy.

We changed trains in Naples and continued on to Pompei (the modern town, not to be confused with double-i Pompeii the ancient town) on a regional train. We took a 10 euro taxi ride from the train station to the Porta Marina, one of the main doors to the historical site.

For almost half of the time we were in Pompeii, I was trying to use a map that I had bought off a souvenir vendor outside the Porta Marina. The numbers on my map, however, didn't match up with the numbers on the signs, so frequently we had no idea what we were looking at. Eventually though I got an official map from a kindly pair of British tourists, and that helped a lot in figuring out where we were going and where we had been. It was generally too cold and windy though to mess with either map very often, so we just wandered through the ruins enjoying the wonder of standing in the middle of an ancient city and looking for new places to photograph the rodents:

This picture shows the scene looking down Via Vesuvia:

Doesn't the mountain look peaceful? Hard to believe it was responsible for so much destruction.

The streets in Pompeii are "paved" with huge rocks. Periodically there are lines of even larger rocks that apparently served as pedestrian crossings way back when. Here are Mike and Annabelle (and the rodents) resting their feet on one of these larger rocks:

When we left Pompeii to head back to Rome, I decided to forego the 10 euro taxi ride back to the train station where I would have been able to use the 3 euro ticket I had already purchased on the national railway. Instead, we went across the street from the Porta Marina and purchased new tickets for 7 euro on the Circumvesuviana line, a private railway connecting Naples with Sorrento. We had a little confusion in Naples, as the private railway comes in on a different level of the main station than the national trains do, and we managed to overshoot the station by 2 stops and had to get on another train for the short ride back.

Once we got back to Naples, we found that we had over an hour to wait for our next train. We went into the pizzeria to have a bite to eat and get out of the cold. The pizza was delicious, but I noticed a middle-aged man staring at us as we ate. A beggar came in and insisted I give him money, and Staring Man came over and chased him away. I thanked him, and he sat down with us and started jabbering away in Italian.

Have I mentioned that I don't speak Italian, except for a few dirty words I learned back in college? And no matter how much you might WANT me to speak Italian, I will not suddenly learn Italian in 15 minutes if only you flood me with it. Staring Man had trouble with this concept. I understood that he thought I had beautiful children, and I said thank you. I understood that he wanted to drive us around Naples in his car, and I said no thank you. I THINK I understood that he has a villa in Sorrento that he would love to show us, and again I said no thank you. He just wouldn't leave, and I didn't want to leave the warmth of the pizzeria.

Finally though I pulled the ol' oh-my-would-you-look-at-the-time trick, and we went back out into the cold station. I found the railway customer service office, and we hid out there, safely away from Staring Man, until it was time for our train to leave.

That was honestly the only bad experience we had with the stereotypical Italian man on the whole trip. Overall I found that traveling with a couple of kids was quite the vaccination against unwanted sexual attention.

I can't help but wonder about Staring Man though. Annabelle wanted to go to the restroom right after we left the pizzeria, but I refused to split up either by leaving Mike alone to escort her to the bathroom or by sending her in alone (both things I would never think twice about doing here in Germany). It dawned on me that I really didn't know which of the 3 of us he had his eye on, which was good for a major case of the ick.

We arrived back at our hotel a little before 10 that night and had no trouble falling asleep. Tune in again later for the report on our final day in Rome, in which the rodents visit the Vatican and we meet up with an old friend at the Colosseum . . .

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