Classicists’ gourmet tour of Italy
In the very early hours of Friday 8 April, 53 excited Perse students in Years 8, 9 and 11, together with six equally excited staff, gathered in front of the Pavilion and – passports checked and luggage loaded – departed for Gatwick Airport.
After a 5am check-in it was time for breakfast. By 11.30am local time we were on the way to our first stop: lunch in Torre Annunziata, and our first taste of what was to be a signature dish of the trip – pasta with tomato sauce. Then to our first site, the luxury villa at Oplontis, probably owned by Poppaea, the wife of the emperor Nero, with is lavish wall paintings and swimming pool. The sun shone; we observed the lizards, before moving to a more modest site: Boscoreale. A quiet site, and new to our Bay of Naples itinerary, there were some interesting items in the museum, although labelling solely in Italian proved challenging. The museum attendant entertained, speaking rapidly and expressively in Italian, his words reinforced by gesturing of which Cicero would have been proud, but understood by no-one.
And then it was on to our hotel, and those vital decisions about room sharing groups. That sorted, rooms checked, and by now hungry, we eagerly anticipated dinner – pasta with tomato sauce. There was time to head off into town after dinner, and some shopping, before bed.
Saturday took us first to climb Mount Vesuvius, but the low cloud base prevented us seeing anything from the top. Lunch on this day – pizza Margherita – turned out to be the culinary highlight of the trip. The afternoon took us to the smart Roman town of Herculaneum, rapidly entombed by molten lava from Vesuvius in the eruption of AD 79.
Sunday dawned damp, although the day later brightened, and after breakfast it was off to Pompeii. With many streets closed, working a route and negotiating other groups in confined spaces proved challenging at times. For many the highlight was the Castellum Aquae where the town’s water supply was divided into three channels: see Robert Harris’ Pompeii for more on the Castellum. After more pasta with tomato sauce, it was on to the Villa San Marco, another first on this trip. This was a splendid villa, on the coast and orientated to maximise the fabulous sea view. After dinner (you’ve guessed it) it was into town for a final shopping trip.
On our last day we checked out from the hotel and went to the volcanic Solfatara; the guide’s suggestion that the sulphurous smells were beneficial for one’s health did not command universal assent, nor the suggestion that cooking chicken on hot volcanic rock improved the flavour. Our final stop was the spectacular amphitheatre at Pozzuoli with its extensive underground passages, before heading to Naples airport for our flight home. A fabulous and memorable trip: a packed itinerary and amazing sites.