Sunday, May 8, 2011

And We're Back in Atlanta!

It's now Sunday, May 8, and we're officially back (meaning, we've unpacked).  As a final story, I have to relate some of our adventures on the trip.

Because it was significantly cheaper, we flew back via London.  Our first flight took off about 20 minutes late (we had an hour and a half layover), but we were told that everything would be just fine.  Off the plane, we went through immigration and another security screening (with lines both times, of course).  And with 15 minutes before our flight boarding closed, I checked the gates board.  And, yes, we had to change concourses.  Our new concourse had a recommended time of 15 minutes travel time to get there. 

So we set off (bear in mind that each person's backpack weighed 25-30 pounds) and got to the train.  Off the train, up the elevator (nearly getting off one floor too early), and a rush to...the line to board.  Phew.

We had a nice, uneventful flight across the Atlantic.  About a quarter of the passengers were Indian; I asked the stewardess whether this was a connecting flight for them from India, and she said yes -- these poor guys had been traveling a lot more hours than we had -- no wonder they were sacked out! 

Three of my favorite passengers
James with his pouch from British Airways
Later on in the flight, she came and spoke with me:  the kids had been so wonderful, she would like to extend them an invitation to visit with the pilots in the cockpit.  Would that be okay with me?  Well -- of course it would! 

The cockpit with our pilot

Jeremy the pilot wannabe

After a quick visit with the pilots, we went to immigration.  I'd filled out my forms very carefully, since we'd been warned that any mistakes would require the entire form to be discarded and rewritten.  And I loathe forms.  Anything to declare?  Nope.  Bringing in soil?  Nope.  Seeds?  Nope.  Fruits/veg or other fresh produce?  No -- of course not!  I know that this isn't allowed...

As we were standing in line, Jeremy showed the signs of needing sustenance, so I said, "Would you rather have a cracker or an orange?  Who's carrying the oranges? Oranges."  I told the kids that I didn't want to bring up the oranges with the immigration officer, but that we would stop by the USDA booth (I couldn't face filling in the form again).  Everyone understood, agreed, and that was settled.

A few minutes later, James tapped me on the arm, and said in his piping little-boy voice,"Mummy, will they make us get rid of our lemons?"  Right. Next. To. The. Immigration. Officer.  (Bear in mind that it was 2 in the morning on our body clocks).  "Shhhhhhh!"  I'm sure people thought we were smuggling something in. 

Our turn.  Gulp.  The officer smiled at me, had each kid identify him/herself as she called out the name.  Phew.  We're clear.  But no: "Ma'am, do you have any fresh fruits or vegetables with you?" (She was just going down the checklist).  "Well, actually -- I was a dodo and brought in these oranges.  I know it was completely stupid, but I was thinking snacks for the sorry."  I was poised for the frown and the inevitable command to redo the paperwork. 

Fortune smiled.  Or at least, the immigration officer did.  She just noted "Oranges" on my form, put a big "A" on the top, and told me to go through the USDA station. 

I explained to the kids what was happening on our way to get the luggage from the conveyor belt.  James said loudly, "Can't we just throw them in a trash can?"  (Innocent question, but I felt like a criminal, so I shushed him and explained why one can't just throw them away.)

And secretly, I was a bit pleased that we'd be going through the USDA line, because it's often a shorter line than the "nothing to declare" line.  We collected the luggage, and -- foiled!  The gods of customs have changed the process and everyone has to go through the line.  Which wrapped around the entire luggage return area. Tick. Tick. Tick.  I could sense the remaining minutes of kids' good humor lapsing.  We got channeled into the USDA line.  Tick. Tick. Tick.  At the head of the line, Ashley asked out loud, "Can't we just throw them in a trash can?"  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Looking furtively around and shushing her vigorously, I whispered fiercely that one can not just throw them into the municipal system.

The USDA agents were in truth very nice and explained (again, since I'd just told them) why we have to get rid of them.  They x-rayed all our bags.  And then we were standing next to another traveler -- who was on the receiving end of the Spanish Inquisition.  He appeared to have been trying to smuggle in something other than oranges for personal snacks, although I wasn't listening too closely.  I was trying to figure out if they were going to get mad about the nuts that I'd forgotten to mention...

And -- hurray!  I showed them my passport, and they made a note of it (I'm probably somewhere in the rolls of notorious citrus smugglers).  We're free!

Two and a half hours after the flight landed, we hugged Michael at the top of the receiving stairs. 

Now we're home.  Well, at one of our homes.  We all feel very torn, because now we have two homes.  So it's bittersweet -- we're happy to be here, but we miss all of our friends and our lovely town. 

We can't wait to get back together with all of you in the upcoming weeks.  And thank you for following our Italy adventure!



Move over Pompeii...

Today was our last full day in Italy.  It’s so hard to say goodbye to this funny country!  On our way from Santa Agata to the Fiumicino (airport) hotel, we stopped in Herculaneum.  I think it’s Italy’s best-kept secret.  Wow.
The way the volcano erupted had a different effect on Herculaneum than on Pompeii.  While Herculaneum is smaller than Pompeii, it had many organic elements preserved, including ropes, doors, and many other items.   This meant that second (and even third!)  floors were still intact, which gave a much better sense of what the town was immediately before the eruption. 
The frescoes were also generally more intact, although truly not a large portion of them remained relative to what was missing.  On the other hand, there were some amazing mosaic floors, walls, and shrines.
Overview of Herculaneum

Another cityscape

Fresco -- about 2000 years old...
Look at this marble floor!
Family shrine
Closeup of mosaic work on shrine

A shrine in another house

Troughs?  Perhaps to wash clothes?

Check out the perspective on these paintings.

Part of a bakery, we think.

Look at the colors here!

A closeup to see the realism

Another closeup

Jeremy, to show scale for the fresco with closeup above.

A wine or olive oil shop

A bas-relieve in the forum

A view of the forum

This wood is original

A door jamb.  See how it's worn at the hinge to show rotation?

A fountain in the forum

Fast-food joint?  Olive oil vendor?  Check out the rounded corners on the counter.

Streetscape near the forum

Mosaic floors.  The stones are about 1/4" square.

A ceiling -- WOOD (!) that was plastered and frescoed.

Look at how high the sidewalk is relative to the road.

This was a house.  Look at how big it was!

This was the opening in the atrium (it would not have had glass on top) leading to the impluvium.

Fragments of a bed

The doors to the house (now protected in a case)

They had some beautiful furniture -- all carved by hand...

Multi-story house

A rope excavated at the site.

They were security conscious, even then!

Another mega-mansion

Inside the atrium (same house as above)

Entry foyer to the house shown above

Wine shop (?)  Look at the storage!

A mosaic; we were completely struck with the bright colors.

Another side of the room with mosaics

Closeup of the gorgeous work

Note the use of scallop shells around the border.
Entry way of two-story house. 

Pavement in same house

Stairway leading to upper floor

Shot of upper floor

Florence and Jeremy looking thoughtful.

In the outer courtyard of the women's baths

The locker room in the women's baths

Tepidarium of the baths

This is the ceiling shaping that channels condensation back into the walls.


The atrium of a house.

The columns were concrete-covered brick.  Look at the interesting shaping.

The courtyard of a beach house.  The view through the pergola would have been of the ocean.

Inside the same house.  The room was HUGE.

The house was called "La Casa dei Cervi" (the house of the deer).  A pair of these statues explains the name.  Look at the delicacy of the carving! 

A table in La Casa dei Cervi

Pavement in La Casa dei Cervi

The realism was extraordinary.

Another fresco (it's framed for protection)
Seeing this town helped me appreciate Italian architecture in general.  When you go into a town, you’ll typically be faced with a lot of walls and little to no apparent garden space.  However, behind the blank walls are gorgeous courtyards with lush plants and flowers.  This started with the Romans.  Their houses opened into a courtyard with an impluvium (a square receptacle for rainwater).  The house used the rainwater for cooking, drinking, and domestic purposes.  There was sometimes a well directly next to the impluvium that led into the cistern.  Since this water was important for the family, it had to be in a secure area, rather than being part of a “front garden.”  Hence, much of the beauty of the house is concealed within, behind these doors.

You still see that today.  The palazzi, many of which have been converted to apartments and smaller houses, typically have relatively plain doors.  But when you enter (or peek through, if you’re lucky enough to see one opened!), there’s a lovely courtyard, often with stairs leading to the upper stories.  While these would not generally be Roman structures, many of the same requirements (read: need for water) drove the construction of these houses hundreds of years ago.

After Herculaneum, we had lunch across the street.  Someone from the restaurant had handed us a flier as we entered the site, and they advertised, "Open, even at lunchtime!".  We found that hilarious.  Silly us; aren't restaurants usually open at lunchtime?  

Then, we drove to the airport hotel.  Since I was worried that my bags were over the weight limit, I wanted to purchase a tote bag or another suitcase.  I was told to go down the road to the supermarket.  When we arrived, the “supermarket” turned out to be a slightly larger version of an alimentari.  And no suitcases.  But upon inquiry, he suggested I find a place down the road called La Metta.

I went down a side alley, as indicated, and found a fairly seamy part of the tiny town.  Junked cars on both sides of the roads, a mechanic’s shop, but not much else.  However, I asked a lady who looked kind for La Metta; she had no idea, but she walked with me to the mechanics’ and asked them.  They said, “Right there” and pointed to an open doorway with some junk piled around it.  Huh?

It turns out that I had found my first ever Italian thrift shop!  So for seven euros, he fitted me out nicely with  a suitcase with wheels (and intact zippers).  Ta-da!  AND I know what a thrift shop in Italy looks like.  In case you’re wondering, it was a pretty scary place and I wouldn’t expect to buy much there.  But a suitcase certainly came in handy!
A really neat flower near the hotel
This is what the bush looked like
We had a lovely dinner overlooking the ocean, and got nicely lost on the way back to the hotel.  We finally asked this sweet guy who told us that he was going near it and to follow him.  After some erratic driving, he opened the car door (holding it with one hand and gesturing with the other; if you’re counting, you might wonder how many hands were on the steering wheel – we didn’t really want to know at that point) and indicated that we were to go straight even though he was turning right.  We knew exactly where we were, and got back to the hotel in great shape.  Now it’s time for bed.  Up tomorrow for breakfast, and then we leave for the airport.

I probably won’t post this until I get home, because the hotel’s internet access went down.  But I wanted to write it all while it was still fresh!