On the Way to Castellammare
Trip Start May 22, 2007
15Trip End Jun 04, 2007
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We left Frascati and moved south on Monday. We managed to get to the main train station in Rome with an hour before our train ride to Naples. The coffee shop in the station was a hoot. The coffee chefs had things flying. I don't know which was more energizing, the shot of expresso or the shouting and dish banging behind the counter.
We had reservations on the newest of Italy's high speed trains. That is travel! The train is roomy, comfortable, quiet and gives a smooth ride. We were waiting for it to get up to speed and we could not tell if we were accelerating. Buck whipped out the GPS and found that we were traveling at 183 mph (295 kph)! We could not tell. Dad was seated at the other end of the car and I was walking up and down the aisle to talk to him as if we were still standing in the station
Things get interesting when you get to Naples. As everyone here will tell you, southern Italy is a very different place from Rome and the North. We are told that there is chronic 30% unemployment here. The whole area is a sea of tenements. Traffic is unregulated. People are everywhere and travelers are warned to beware of pickpockets and scam artists. We mis-communicated with Audrey from the Vesuvian Institute who wanted to ride in on the train with us from Naples to Castellammare. We thought she had arranged a ride, so we waited half an hour and then caught the next train when no one showed. It turned out the she was coming in from the Naples airport and expected us after lunch. We managed to reach her by phone from Castellammare and everything worked out fine. While waiting in the Naples train station, we were approached by a wobbly old guy with no teeth wearing a sport jacket. He asked where we were going and simply would not be ignored. When we told him, he took us in tow and guided us through the train station, hollering in Italian to nearly everyone that he was guiding us and where we were going. He delivered us directly to the right track in the regional train station. We tipped him a few coins and he went away singing and looking for the next "lost" tourist
The Circumvesuviana is a very old narrow gauge train which circles Mt. Vesuvius. It is the only reasonable way to travel out to Castellammare. It is old and creaky. It is filthy. Posted on the window next to where I stood for the ride was a certificate proudly announcing that the train had been cleaned-in March. The train was packed with people. With our luggage, we chose to stand in the door compartment, which meant a very rocky ride. We were mildly harassed by this remarkably gregarious drunk with a lazy eye who looked every bit like he lived 10 seconds from a knife fight at all times. After the conductor (or, the guy wearing the conductor's shirt...) admonished him not to smoke, he pulled back the gaskets on the doors and stuck his face and lit cigarette out of the moving train. He took an interest in my Dad who did a wonderful job of ignoring him. Arriving in Castellammare, we discovered a large mixed crowd of hangers out and dogs who were passing the afternoon in the train station. Needing relief after the train ride, we discovered that the train station toilet was the standard southern Italian/North African hole in the floor with places to plant your feet. After contacting Audrey, we opted for a taxi ride to the Institute. As the crow flies, these two buildings are about 200 yards apart. The crow does not carry a suitcase up the +200 foot escarpment, however. The walking route takes about 10 minutes empty handed and requires threading your way through a residential neighborhood and then climbing a cobblestone road which switchbacks twice before the top
Things get better when one enters the care of the Vesuvian Institute. The staff are friendly and are completely ignoring Audrey's efforts to teach them English. Lack of language only seems to be a spur to more communication around here. The less you understand, the more they wish to talk to you. I got cornered by one of the retired priests who lives in the Institute. He kept switching back and forth between Italian and German to the point where I could no longer answer him. My German is beyond crappy and using it almost always kicks my brain into 'safe mode' where most functions are limited.
The Institute is an interesting place. Constructed to serve the Salesian Friars, it became superfluous with the Italian education reforms. It has capacity for 140 persons overnight and can serve over 200 in its dining hall. The rooms are comfortable and functional, but boring (made for monks?). The kicker is the view out the window over the Bay of Naples. Wow! Vesuvius looms on your right. The sea shimmers in front of you. Naples bustles in the distance.
Ultimately, the Institute hopes to offer a mix of programs directed by external institutions and curriculum given by Institute staff. It is a perfect study abroad location. They have three very important ingredients. First, they have acquired a property, which allows them to accommodate student groups of various sizes. They have instructional space and modern technology. Holding classes here will be a breeze. Second, they have staff who will handle most logistics (Audrey). Third, they are located in a remarkable treasure room of cultural material. Pompeii is visible out my window about 3 km away.
Audrey gave us a tour of the institute and then we dined with Prof. House of Southwestern University who is the program manager for the Restoring Ancient Stabia foundation. That position gives him responsibility for working with the Superintendent of Archeology from Pompeii to oversee and coordinate the activities at all sites in the Vesuvian region. There are many exciting projects in the works, including the first subsea survey of the Bay of Naples through cooperation with the Woods Hole Oceanographic institute. Buck and I both agreed that the next time we returned, we would bring our c-cards, just in case there were an opportunity to dive on an ancient wreck. Buck talked with Prof. House about opportunities for Cy-Fair College GIS students to participate in the mapping of the Stabia sites. That conversation went so far as to have Prof. House make tentative plans to visit CFC next month when he is in Texas.
I am about a day behind in my posting. Tomorrow I will try to catch up and share today's visit to the Villa San Marco in Stabia and our exploration of Pompeii.