Pompeii Take 2 and Napoli Food Tour – Pompei, Calabria, Italy

We decided that there was just too much of Pompeii archeological site we did not get to visit yesterday and we wanted to go again. It is only a 5 minute walk to the entrance so we couldn’t really not go again. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we left despite dramatic thunder, lightening and heavy rain most of last night.

The menace of Vesuvius overlooking the Pompeii forum

When we went through the gates we passed Riccardo our guide from yesterday. He said hi and gave us an approving nod at our keenness. We were keen to get across to the amphitheatre today so headed in that direction. It took a lot longer than the estimated 40 minute walking time as we stopped every few metres along the way. We were walking down the main high street of Pompeii and there were many villas and shop remains intermingled along the way.

We got to see many more frescos of impressive quality, more phallic signs, graffiti on the walls. A thermopolia (hot food counter) with the original terracotta amphora jars still in place. They apparently found about 170 sesterti in takings in one jar, left by the owner in hope of return. Impressive as well was the multicoloured segments of marble which made up the counter, apparently all shipped from various parts of the empire.

There were vast villas with their own bath complexes, swimming pools and gardens with water courses. Even impressively the familiar three sided triclinia dining rooms where the rich owners would lounge on cushions eating had a water feature running through as an early kind of air conditioning.

The public bath complex was amazingly well preserved. Many frescos impressively preserved though I suspect much faded from their original status when first excavated. The men’s steam room especially was as if you could see them sat in there. There were also many visible lengths of lead pipes, apparently the lead was imported from London and used for all water pipes- sadly causing a life expectancy of 35.

We finally made it to the amphitheatre, with its characteristic steep external staircases. I have seen photos with all of the stone seating exposed and the did apparently famously host a Pink Floyd concert some years ago but there was grass covering a lot of the area now. I believe sometimes they re-cover some buildings to preserved them. Perhaps that was why. It is the oldest amphitheatre of its type still preserved today, dating from 70 BC, so worth the effort of maintaining.

Finally we visited a large open ground surrounded by columned walk way which apparently used for education and recreation for younger residence. It is currently used to house some of the more preserved frescos which they have removed to preserve in Perspex cases indoors. It also has a collection of the erotic art found throughout Pompeii on walls of bedrooms, reception rooms and dining areas. They certainly were much more liberal and open in that era!

Back to the van for a late lunch and rest for the afternoon. Booking and researching some of our forward visits etc. Tonight we have also booked in for a Naples food tasting tour. We have enjoyed these in the past and apparently Naples is where they invented pizza.

We headed into Naples on the train, an easy 30 minute ride on a single track into the centre. Riccardo had warned us there is no such thing as a timetable in Italy, they should run every 20 minutes however the one before was 17 minutes late. We just saw it leave, but thankfully ours was only 5 minutes late. We disembarked at Garibaldi station in front of a huge square with modernist looking designer shop arcade at basement level below. However we were soon into the historic area, apparently dating from the Greek era of the city. Very tall buildings built close together to keep of the sun. However these were much closer than we have seen elsewhere, the side roads were more alleyways not passable by car.

Google maps tried to direct us down the narrow alleys but we decided to stick to the main streets as Napoli has had a bit of a reputation previously. It is certainly a bit grimy and there is graffiti everywhere. However, there were a lot of people out and about, street food stalls lined the streets and there was a good atmosphere.

We met our guide with his hand made Food Tour sign in Piazza Bellini with another 5 English people and a New Yorker. They all seemed a good bunch and were generally in Naples for a weekend break. Our guide Mario was a local and he gave us a bit of a potted history of the city as we walked. It was unfortunately rather wet and rainy again. However, we were all dressed for the weather and ploughed on.

Ironically, much of the stops were on the streets we had walked through to get to meeting point. We tried antipasti with local broccoli, amazing sun dried tomatoes from the famous San Marzano region grown in the rich soils of Vesuvius and noticeably sweet flavoured. We had fresh buffalo mozzarella from the Campania region it originates from. Apparently a maximum 2 days old to eat it fresh and do not keep it in the fridge.

Next was obviously pizza, invented in Napoli as the Margherita, named after the queen of Italy to celebrate unification with its red (tomato), white (cow mozzarella) and green (fresh basil). We also got to try it with a local speciality which does not seem to have travelled quite so far, except perhaps Glasgow – deep fried pizza! It is made with fresh ricotta, smoked mozzarella and local tomatoes. I thought it would be awful but it was actually pretty tasty. Next was the Napoleon version of arancini, made with macaroni instead of rice and pork, another dish designed to use up leftovers. I got the vegetarian potato croquettes which were also very good.

Next we learned about Limoncello making at a factory and tastes the crème version made with milk which tasted like lemon curd. The original was preferred by most served after a minimum 3 hours in the freezer.

After our digestive we had desert two local cake varieties. Baba which is made with rum and despite appearances is almost soggily moist and a crispy shelled ricotta pastry before finishing with coffee or gelato at another spot. It was quite a fun evening in good company in an area of Napoli we would probably not have bothered venturing to at night on our own. Pleased we did despite a rather wet walk home.

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