As the days grew smaller on our summer break calendar and the Libyan rebels made headway, we tried to get a few day trips in before Ben had to return to school. First up, we ventured up into the heights of Mount Vesuvius! What an amazing experience. The adventure began even as we drove up to the hiking point as the width of the roads appear to be designed for only one car and yet we miraculously managed to skate by with two vehicles traveling in opposite direction. I don’t know how the tourist busses do it!
We parked our car and on our way to the hiking point, an old man offered us hiking sticks. We thought, “Aww that was sweet, what a cute novelty!” Huh. Little did we know the help one stick could do when walking straight up a 50 degree incline for a full mile! Needless to say we got our workout for the day. Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano to have erupted on the European mainland in the last 100 years. It last erupted in 1944, but is most notable for its eruption much earlier that buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. We have visited Pompeii, though we plan to return, and are eager to explore Herculaneum. The view is breathtaking as you can see the entire Bay of Naples and of course the Mediterranean Sea.
After a long morning hike, it was time for lunch! We found this delightful little restaurant on our way down Vesuvius. Being the one who is always picking off others’ plates, Ben went to steal a bite of my pasta until he caught sight of it and wasn’t familiar with what he saw and exclaimed, “Are you eating mealworms?!”
It caught Rob and I so off guard, we just laughed, before we could explain that it was pasta with cheese on top. He still wasn'[t convinced and decided to only mooch off of dad’s plate.
For our final weekend before school we decided to venture up north a little to find a beach. I know it seems silly because we are surrounded by nothing but “beach”, but the truth is, these are not the beaches that we are accustomed. The views are fantastic and the sunsets are breathtaking, but a stroll on the sandy beach of Naples is not an easy thing to come by. Much like what we found in Peru, these beaches are mostly rock, which is fine is you just want to sit on the side of the water and listen to the waves crash against the rocks, but if you are looking to feel the sand between your toes…you must go north.
And so the Leese family ventured out to Sperlonga beach…
There were a few quirky experiences unique to an Italian beach–first, you can tell the Italians from the tourists by the suit they wore. European men wear speedos. Not just any speedo, but one that leaves little to the imagination…very little. The European woman, they too want to make sure that their bikini tops leave little to the imagination. Little girls wear bikini bottoms and nothing else and boys take after their fathers.
There are endless restaurants serving the beachside customers, but the strange thing is where you would expect to see a tray full of frozen drinks with the tiny little umbrellas, there is a man carrying out a tray full of…wait for it…wait for it…dozens of cups of hot café and he couldn’t bring them out fast enough!
Sperlonga is beautiful! There is a small town on the side of the mountain and watching the sun set over the Mediterranean is a site that will not soon be forgotten. The drive home was quite a bit longer than the trip out to sea. It appears that everyone and their 4,000 closest friends decided to travel southbound at the same time we did, but we finally made it.
Monday morning brought us a “second chance” at the first day of school, hoping to God that this one would go better than last May. My son is going to school in Italy…somehow, I don’t think I will ever quite get used to that! So we were told that the bus picks up at 7:20 but that we should be out at the stop around 7:10 just to be safe. The plan was to park my car at the end of the driveway that leads into our parco, wait until the bus arrived and then follow the bus to school the way my mom and dad did every year (you know the routine that I protested as I got older but secretly loved). So there we stood, Rob, Ben and I with the three neighbor boys and their parents and waited.
After 20 minutes, we all packed into our individual cars and drove to school. On the way, we called the transportation office to ask where on earth the bus was only to be told, “Oh yes, bus #21, it is running late, (ya think?) but it will be there.” Well, we obviously were not waiting for the bus on the first day of school. When we arrived, parents and children were walking in masses toward the school. As we passed one checkpoint a teacher with a clipboard asked the student’s name and grade. Once we gave her the information she directed us to the next checkpoint which was based on grade. Then we had to search the masses of people for the sign on a yardstick that had Ben’s teacher’s name, Mrs. Brunacci. He is now in the Italian immersion class, which should be interesting. We followed the woman holding the stick into another building and up a set of stairs as she said, “Su per le scale sulla destra, up the stairs and to the right, su per le scale sulla destra, up the stairs and to the right.” The students all took turns looking at her speaking and then back at their parents. She welcomed the parents into the classroom. The children’s desks had their names on it and the parents stood on the side of the room. Meanwhile, she continued to give directions in Italian immediately followed by the English translation. Ben’s eyes were as big as golf balls, but he was keeping it together. She gave a small introduction, some parents asked a few questions and then she asked if the students had any questions. Since Ben was the only one to raise his hand and ask a question I felt fairly confident that he was going to be okay and we would not have a repeat of last May.
Next stop…Venice for Labor Day weekend!