It was over a year ago that Mary Beard last sailed with Voyages to Antiquity. We love to see her on board Aegean Odyssey and we know from the comment sheets that our guest really enjoy Mary’s lectures, too. This time Mary sailed from Sicily to Rome and enjoyed the sites of the beautiful Amalfi Coast.
“Let me apologise for the absence of my own photos from this post. There’s a simple and slightly humiliating reason for that. When I was getting ready in my cabin to rush out for the ringside seats of the erupting Stromboli – glorious red streaks of molten stuff, under the clear night sky – I discovered I had parted company with my camera. It had I recalled been in an open-topped basket that I had put in an overhead bin on the plane. Somehow, just as those cabin crew voices warn you, my stuff must have shifted in flight and NO CAMERA. (Moral for self, and all others: always take a careful look right inside the bins.)
Anyway it was actually rather nice looking at the volcano as we cruised alongside it after dinner, without constantly looking for the photo opportunity, just gawping (after a good meal). Until about ten years ago, I had been rather dismissive about volcanoes, and couldn’t really see the point of actually visiting them (either, I suspected, they are too dangerous or more often nothing to write home about at all). But then I hiked up Vesuvius and was well impressed by the crater and the smoke and the weirdness of it all. Stromboli turned out to be good in a different way – pouring out its lava (or whatever it actually is) against the night sky. I’ve not done Etna yet, but it’s next on the list.
I was only on the ship this time for just under a week, going from Sicily to Rome – really to take in the Pompeii and Herculaneum leg of the trip. But it was a brilliant time, combining visits to loads and loads of sites and museums, with sybaritic over-eating… and, in my case, giving a few lectures.
Trying to see things in Italy can sometimes be a bit of an uncertain business… you can never be quite sure what exactly is open, or when. But the good news is that – although strikes on the sites are getting quite frequent again (in protest against ‘the cuts’) – they don’t usually last for long (and usually the team on the boat is well ahead of the game, finding out what the problems might be where).
On this occasion, there was to be a short strike on the day we were to visit the Roman town of Herculaneum (Pompeii’s baby sister), so we started out with a detour to see some of Naples and arrived at the site itself, with the 30 minutes before the gates were now due to open. Improvisation was the order of the day – so I gave a couple of short talks in the cool shade of the side of the bus, briefing people on the key things to look for when we got into the city itself, and answering questions.
(One particular favourite topic was the recently investigated cesspit in the town whose contents, under microscopic analysis, can tell you exactly what went through the digestive tracts of the population of a block of Herculaneum flats just before the eruption – eggs, sea urchins, chicken, fruit, course ground bread, the odd bit of pork….and loads more.)
Every cloud, as the old cliché goes, has a silver lining. And for us it was the emptiness of the place when we got in. The late opening had put off most people who had turned up early, and they had given up. This meant that we had Herculaneum pretty much to ourselves for an hour or so… which really helps the “walking back into the past” feel that used to be one of the top pleasures of visiting both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
So in a way, thank you strikers……and thank you for not disrupting the lunch that followed!”
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