Tag Archives: Sorrento

Every Picture Tells A Story, Friends on Holiday 1946

Ivan with pals

This is a picture of my dad and two of his pals and I guess was taken in the summer of 1946 when he was fourteen year old.

I like the picture, it has a swagger and a jauntiness about it, it looks like three boys on holiday and off to the beach.  My dad, in the middle, has spade and his friend on the right has a metal bucket, the tall boy on the left has a cricket bat which suggests beach cricket to me.  I always wonder who took the picture, it isn’t posed but is a walking action picture.

These were surely days of optimism with a country led by a Labour Government that had been elected in the summer of 1945 with a landslide majority and a promise to make everything better and which had embarked on a radical programme of nationalisation including coal mining, electricity supply and railways.

These were the days of the new National Health Service and the Welfare State all based on the optimistic principles of socialism.  And to add to all this good news the United States announced the Marshall Plan to pay for the reconstruction of Europe and that meant over three billion dollars was on the way to the United Kingdom to rebuild its bombed-out cities and its shattered economy.

So where were they?  The picture isn’t dated accurately or gives any specific location, but it does give a couple of clues.

In 1945 my dad lived with his family in the town of Rushden in Northamptonshire where his parents ran a corner shop.  The nearest seaside to Rushden was North Norfolk and I think that this picture was taken somewhere near the seaside resort of Hunstanon, about eighty miles away and easily reached by a Midlands Railway train to King’s Lynn and then a change to Hunstanton on the Great Eastern network.

The properties on the left of the picture certainly have a north Norfolk look about them.  But then again they could be South Lincolnshire, I am open to being corrected.

Dad is wearing a sleeveless cricket sweater, his shirt sleeves are rolled up above his elbows as they always were and he is wearing socks with his plimsolls.  Dad always wore socks with his plimsolls.  This is him on holiday in Sorrento in Italy in 1976.

Ivan Sorrento 1976

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Travels in Italy, Updated

I have got a few gaps in the map, so I will have to get travelling…

Italy Visited

Travels in Italy, Looking Back

Travels in Italy

Not surprisingly Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it has fifty-three, seven more than Spain which has the second most sites in Europe.  I have visited half of the sites in Spain but when I reviewed the Italy list I was disappointed to find that I have been to less than a quarter.

This time in Italy I was planning to add a few more, Milan (The Last Supper), Modena and Ferrara.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Naples, The Roman City of Herculaneum

Herculaneum

“At every ticket window customers were gesticulating wildly.  They didn’t seem to be so much buying tickets as pouring out their troubles to the… weary looking men seated behind each window.  It is amazing how much emotion the Italians invest in even the simplest transaction”  –  Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

The Circumvesuviana is an electrified narrow-gauge railway that runs from Naples to Sorrento and we enjoyed a cramped but scenic journey as the line passed through many tunnels and over several bridges.  I first used it in 2004 and from memory it was clean and efficient but now it is gloriously chaotic, battle scarred and overcrowded with danger seeping out of every corner.

After half an hour we arrived at the station of Ercolani Scavi, which is barely half a mile away from the entrance to the excavations.

You have to hand it to the Romans, they thought of everything, even down to building this great city so close to a convenient railway line.  Compare this to the French, for example, Calais station, if you have ever been there, is miles out away from the town!

For those short of time, Herculaneum is a good alternative visitor site to the more famous Pompeii.  After the eruption the town was buried under approximately twenty metres of lava, mud and ash and it lay hidden and almost intact until it was accidentally discovered by some workers digging a well in 1709 who dropped into an underground Roman Theatre.  After a bit of inevitable plundering the excavation process began soon after but is still incomplete and today the untidy Italian towns of Ercolano and Portici lie on the approximate site of old Herculaneum which prevents its complete excavation because you can’t just knock down a living town just to get to Ancient Rome.

Herculaneum

Actually the excavation has now been indefinitely suspended to help preserve the ancient city.  The volcanic water, ash and debris covering Herculaneum, along with the extreme heat, left it in a remarkable state of good preservation but once excavations began exposure to the elements began the rapid process of deterioration. This was not helped by previous methods of archaeology used earlier in the town’s excavation, sometimes rather crude which generally prioritised recovering valuable artifacts rather than ensuring the safeguarding of the infrastructure.

Tourism, vandalism as well as inappropriate excavation methods has damaged many of the areas open to the public, and water damage coming from modern Ercolano has undermined many of the foundations of the structures. Consequently the archeologists have decided that what remains buried is best left buried until it can be excavated safely.

So long as Vesuvius doesn’t erupt again these archeological  endeavours can wait.  No one knows absolutely for sure but it is estimated that visitors can only see only about a fifth of the city which led me to speculate on what great treasures there must be waiting to be discovered in what remains perfectly preserved underneath the foundations of the modern town directly above.

I had been to Herculaneum once before in 2004 with my son, Jonathan, this is him at an ancient fast food restaurant…

Herculaneum 7

I tried to recapture the cool pose fourteen years later…

Herculaneum 6

… and failed miserably on account of not having a hat.

From the entrance we had to descend into what resembles a deep quarry through the twenty metres or so of tufa and down to the site itself and it became immediately apparent that Herculaneum is most unlike the remains at the site at Pompeii.

Pompeii was destroyed and the citizens were killed by fumes and ash that were carried by the wind in a south-easterly direction from the volcano but Herculaneum was on the other side of the mountain to the west.  During the night, the column of volcanic debris which had risen into the stratosphere began falling back down onto Vesuvius.  A pyroclastic flow formed that sent a mixture of gas, ash, and rock that had reached a temperature of five hundred degrees centigrade racing down toward Herculaneum at a rate of sixty miles an hour.  No chance to outrun it, a Roman chariot could only achieve speeds of half that and only over a short distance. When the flow reached the city it buried the citizens who had fled to boat houses and were trying to escape to open sea and the intense heat killed them in an instant.

Herculaneum 9

This is the scientific bit.  A pyroclastic flow is a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano and the temperature within a flow may be so great that it is sufficient to burn and carbonise wood immediately upon impact. Once deposited, because of the intense heat, the ash, pumice, and rock fragments deform and weld together.  Although it killed all of the inhabitants this flow did little damage to the structures, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up and preserving them perfectly without destroying them altogether.

This process of filling from the bottom in this way was important because at Pompeii most of the buildings were destroyed by the overhead weight of the ash  and they inevitably collapsed but this didn’t happen at Herculaneum.  Good for us visitors two thousand years later but not so good for those living there at the time.

The excavation site is much smaller than Pompeii but because of the state of preservation of the buildings I found it to be more interesting.  The buildings are intact and the frescoes and the wall paintings are much more vivid and it is possible to visit the houses of important people (including Julius Ceaser’s father-in-law) and the shopping areas and public buildings and the boat houses where most of the inhabitants died as they tried to make their impossible escape from the approaching boiling lava flow.

Whereas Pompeii takes a full day to explore, Herculanem takes just a couple of hours so after we had walked the ancient streets we left and ran the gauntlet of the restaurants and bars with pushy waiters back to the railway station and a return to Naples.

Herculaneum also reveals that things don’t really change so much, this is a sign on a wall setting out prices two thousand years ago…

Herculaneum 8

… and this is a modern day fast food shop in the city of Naples…

Italy Chip Shop

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Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

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Naples, Mount Vesuvius

From  literally anywhere in Naples Vesuvius stands threateningly close by, like a loaded gun pointed at the heart of the city…

Naples and Vesuvius

Even eggheads find it difficult to be absolutely precise about this but scientists think that Vesuvius formed about twenty-five thousand years ago and today the volcano is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world – not because of its size but because of the proximity of millions of people living close by and if it was to go off again with a similar eruption to the one that destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D. then it is estimated that it could displace up to three million people who live in and around the city of Naples.

The volcano has a major eruption cycle of about two thousand years so the next eruption is dangerously imminent.

I visited the top of the Volcano in 1976.

Read the Full Story…

Vesuvius still smoking and active

Naples, Celebrating the Pizza

53-naples-pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

There was no debate or discussion about evening meal, we were in Naples and it had to be pizza, it had to be pizza because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.

Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the most famous pizza of all on a visit there in 1889.

Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas and she would chose her favourite.  Like a judge on a cookery TV programme she decided upon the patriotic version, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) and this became the Pizza Margherita.

Everyone in Naples eats pizza, I have never seen so many pizza restaurants in one place, I tried to work out how many pizzas might be eaten here in a single day but I found the number to be so big it was so incalculable that I feared my head might possibly explode.

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy has a National Pizza Day.  Maybe, and this is an interesting fact, because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   A lot of places outside of Naples are clearly bringing the numbers down.  Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

The USA has a National Pizza Day on February 9th.  Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.  Not one of my favourites I have to confess.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  Unless you live in Hawaii pineapple on a pizza is just plain wrong.  And, I am not the only one who thinks this way; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  In his words…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.”

pineapple-pizza

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made only with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Pizza should be kept simple but it is not only pineapple that is used to spoil it.

Canada joins in on USA Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.

poutine-pizza

If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit.”

On this occasion we stumbled upon an excellent pizzaria down a predictable untidy back street and went downstairs into the restaurant.  Good job we were early because within half an hour it was heaving with customers.  The food was cheap, the house wine was served in a jug and I would like to tell you that I had a classic Margherita but I can’t because I added ham, olives and artichokes to the topping.  It was wonderful.  So good we made an instant decision that we would return again the following evening.

We walked back through the grubby urban scarred back streets of Naples to our accommodation, our senses and stomachs overflowing full to busting after an excellent first day.

I liked it here.  I really liked it here!

What is your favourite pizza, do tell?

My Pizza in Naples

Naples, Postcards of Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius Naples Italy

“…when the sun burst through the morning mists and fired this tinted magnificence, it topped imperial Vesuvius like a jeweled crown!” , Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

In 1976 I visited Sorrento in Italy.  The currency was the Lira and  the notes were so worthless (I seem to remember that the smallest denomination was 1,000) that it was normal practice for shops to give change in the form of a postcard.

One day I went to Mount Vesuvius and came back with these to add to my collection.

Vesuvius the craterVesuvius Postcard73-vesuvius-old-postacrd

My personal favourite…

Vesuvius Postcard