Category: epic adventure

One word

Based on my recent success with writing stimulus packages (NaNoWriMo), I’ve been looking at a few similar sites like 750words.com and, recently, reverb10.com.

Reverb10 is designed for bloggers, to give them a prompt for each day in December. I thought I’d give it a try, though my entries will be sporadic at best next week when I’m in England for graduation, I’d like to try to get into blogging again. So, here goes!

December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

Adventure.

2010 was an adventure in all possible senses of the word. It was exciting, new and occasionally terrifying. It was quite often about putting one foot in front of the other, following the bread crumb trail only to be derailed by a siren. But the most important part of any adventure worth having is the journey, not the destination. And that was my 2010. It took me many, many places and really, it’s not about where I ended up. I hope.

Beginning.

I would like 2011 to be about beginnings. New projects, a new career, a new life path, a new home. Maybe even a new city. Maybe even a new person. I would like to begin as many things as possible in 2011 so that I can spend 2012 and onwards completing them.

The one where I get stuck in a ruined city

On August 24, 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano in the vicinity of modern Naples in Italy, erupted and buried the surrounding settlements of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a mile of rock and ash, killing up to 25,000 people.

Pompeii and Vesuvius, by me

Pompeii remained buried until the 16th Century, Herculaneum until the 18th. In 1804, the first real excavations of Pompeii began to uncover the city. Large scale excavations of the ruined city continue to this day making Pompeii one of the largest and most famous archaeological sites in the world.

The plan was to get to Pompeii from Rome and back again in one day. Pompeii is closest to Naples, about 2.5 hours from Rome. We arrived at Termini, the central Roman train station, at about 9am on Monday. We struggled through buying our tickets, and spent about 20 minutes with a dictionary trying to read the Italian tickets and figure out where were supposed to be waiting for the train and where we would sit once it arrived.

We boarded the train and found our seats, only to be almost immediately yelled at in Italian that we were in the wrong seats. We tried to show the two ladies our tickets and prove that we were in the right place, but they just kept saying “No, no!” And so, assuming we must be wrong, we left the seats and went up the carriage to ask an employee and another man who spoke English. Both pointed us back to where we had come from. Finally, we squeezed our way through small, crowded hallways to the seats we had started with. The ladies were gone and our seats were now vacant. We sat down and I watched the Italian countryside through the rain on my window for most of the journey (punctuated by naps, of course, because it was quite early still.)

With the train and a transfer to the Metro in Naples, we got to Pompeii at about 1pm. The site is open until 5pm, so we had enough time to see most of it (not all, though, because it really is an entire ancient city.)

It was pouring rain by the time we arrived, and though it was frustrating to have to hold up my umbrella and my camera at the same time, it also made the site a lot more interesting to me. Pompeii is a major tourist location, and I’ve heard that in the summer it’s packed beyond belief. Since it was the off season, and since it was raining, Pompeii really did look like an abandoned, ruined city. A city of the dead. You could walk several streets before running into another person. It gave a very surreal, ghostly aspect to the site.

p1113253

The streets of Pompeii are still paved with cobblestones and still have the stones in place for the pedestrians to cross without stepping in puddles or debris. In the rain, they were more rivers than streets and we were glad for the raised sidewalks on either side. We wandered the streets of Pompeii, walking around a city that was frozen in time in 79AD. It was amazing to see the way a town looked in the Roman Empire. With wall paintings, mosaics and graffiti still in tact, it was easy to imagine yourself a Pompeian in the houses and courtyards.

A room with wall paintings, by me

When they excavated Pompeii, they didn’t find dead bodies. They were incinerated in the heat. But the way the ash and rock had fallen created pockets of air in the shape of where the bodies had been. Therefore, archaeologists were able to make plaster casts of the people who had died in Pompeii. In the summer I understand that many of these are left in situ, among the buildings of the city so that you can see where they died. In the off season, however, the casts are kept in an open storage area.

Praying, by me

As someone studying archaeology, Pompeii was a wonder to see. I have been reading in textbooks for years of all the things we’ve found out from Pompeii. Because it was frozen in time, it alloys us to see how a Roman city would have looked in the 1st Century AD. Graffiti, wall paintings, amphorae and shops can tells us countless things about the Roman way of life.

Needless to say, we spent as much time as possible at Pompeii.

At around 4:25 we made our way back to the main gate to buy the guidebook. The last admission was at 4:30, so we ran out quickly to get the book and then nipped back in. An employee told us not to go too far, since they were closing in half an hour. We told him that we were going to go see the Villa of the Mysteries and exit that way.

And so, we walked across the city to the Villa. We got there at about 4:50, just in time to see the Villa and exit on time. But when we were done looking around the Villa, we realized that we couldn’t find the way out the book had described. There was a fence that kept us from going any further past the Villa.

We decided to go back up the hill to see if we had missed the exit on our way in. A man told us that we had to go back towards the main entrance. We were confused, but we continued up the hill anyway.

After walking for a while, we realized that the path we were on wasn’t going to lead us to an exit. By now it was 5:20 and dark, and there was no one else in Pompeii. Everyone had left for the day. We still had no idea how to get out.

We had two options, either to go back down into the city and keep walking to the main entrance and hope we could still get out that way, or go back to the Villa of the Mysteries and continue to search for that exit. Standing on top of the hill, we could see Vesuvius, the city of Naples and the intense dark of the dead city below. The only house nearby had dogs that were barking loudly and, in my anxious mind, angrily. I was worried we would have to stay in Pompeii all night.

Stuck in Pompeii at night, by me

We decided to go back to the Villa and try our chances there.

When we got back to the Villa it was about 5:40. We jumped two fences to get past it, trying to follow the signs that said “Uscita” (Italian for exit.) Finally, walking around with only the flashlight on my keychain for light, we found the exit. A woman in the building at the exit saw our flashlight and opened her window. She started yelling in a mix of Italian and English that they were closed, we had to leave. I yelled back “I know! We’re trying! Uscita! Uscita!”

Finally, we got out of Pompeii and didn’t have to spend the night with only two toblerones and a package of Fruit Joys, possibly ending up food for the famous Pompeii stray dogs.

Of course, on the way down the hill in the dark I tripped and went over on my ankle and I ended up having to buy a Tensor (/Ace) bandage to keep me walking all over Rome for the week.

So many miles

Tomorrow afternoon (weather permitting) I’m leaving Newcastle for Edinburgh. Sunday at 6am I’m leaving Edinburgh for Rome.

I’ve never been to a city even a little like Rome before. I’ve never been anywhere where I didn’t speak the language.

I’m going to be back in Newcastle for one day before I go to Egypt the next week. If I think Rome’s going to be different, than Egypt is even more so.

I won’t be able to update while I’m in Rome or Egypt, but I’m going to try to write posts the old fashion way, by hand, so that I can put them up when I get back. Because, as I said a few posts ago, what I love most about this blog is that it teaches me how to tell my own life’s story.

A story that’s about to get pretty damn exciting.

A love affair

The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.

~Isak Dinesen

I lick my lips and taste salt. The water rushes towards me and I dance away - acutely aware of my clumsiness because how can any human have grace when compared to the sea? The waves crash angrily against the pier. The wind sweeps by, carrying with it the smell of the ocean. I close my eyes and breath in deeply.

I am having a love affair with the ocean. It has been going on for years. It started long ago with waves and fresh water, the beautiful crisp smell of a lake on the breeze. It’s culminated in this - I feel better when I’m around water. In Galway, I lived minutes away from the ocean and beside the river. And when I got lonely or sad or a little too drunk, I would walk down to the infamous Galway Bay and listen to the swans fight, watch the waves crash into the rocks. Suddenly, you feel small and your problems unimportant. You feel freer, imagining that you can hitch a ride on the wind and explore the seemingly infinite ocean.

northsea1

Last weekend, I had my first encounter with the North Sea. It was beautiful. The waves were so strong that they crashed into the Pier and sometimes splashed over. It was cold and windy, but it was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

tynemouthpriory2

I spent longer in Tynemouth, on the coast, than I had planned. After exploring the Priory for a couple of hours, I decided I need to explore the coast. So I climb down this small staircase from the Pier and picked my way through seaweed and stones to watch the waves crash against the rocks.

I started picking up rocks to keep as a reminder of my trip - the beach was full of round pebbles, smoothed by the restless sea.

rocks1

On the other side of the Pier was a small bay where people more adventurous than I were sailing, and a small boat rental place to serve them. But there was also a mass of rocks, covered in seaweed, and the ruins of something at the bottom of the cliff. I decided I wanted to walk over. It was treacherous.

otherside

I slipped and tripped and had to be very careful. The worst rocks were the ones covered with the slimy green seaweed, because if you stepped on it wrong you slipped and lost your balance. I only had one slightly scary experience, though, when my foot slipped and ended up wedged between two rocks. But I caught myself, and remained largely uninjured. Thankfully.

By the end of the day I was windswept, cold and hungry. And far too late to go explore St Mary’s Lighthouse like I had planned. But it was worth it. The North Sea made me feel better, the trip reminded me why I was here - to explore.

sea

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.

~e.e. cummings

The Road Less Traveled

How many of us spend our lives in a city we barely see?

It’s the same old story. Jaded by life, we go through our days with blinders on. Without the energy or the interest to see or do things. To explore.

There’s so much in Ottawa and around that I have never seen, and I lived there for 22 years. There was tons in Galway that I never saw in my four months there. I remember walking to work one morning in Galway, following the river back behind the Roisin Dubh, watching the swans and the garbage float side by side. And suddenly I was struck by the fact that, even though I was on my way to crappy job too early in the morning and even though it smelt like vomit and stale beer, I was in Ireland. It was so easy to forget. To concentrate on hating my job or on what club we were going to go to that night.

This time, I made a decision to change that.

I made a list. It’s a whole page of places to go around Newcastle. Most of them are either in the city or on the Tyne and Wear Metro system.

My best memory from Ireland was when we crawled underneath the Blarney Castle with only the little flashlight from my keychain. Because we were terrified and had no idea where we were going or whether we might get thrown out before we got to kiss the Blarney Stone, but we were there. In this little passageway underneath a castle. People had been there before - the bottles and garbage everywhere proved that. But in a place so chalk full of tourists, for that moment it was ours.

blarney

This weekend I became an adventurer. Living in alone in a new city is terrifying and lonely at times, but I made this decision for myself and I know that I can love this. So I went exploring, to distract myself from the small ache of loneliness that followed me to London and back again.

This weekend was Heritage Open Days in Tyne and Wear. Tyne and Wear is the area of between the two named rivers, including Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. They were offering special tours of many places that weren’t normally open to the public, and even the places that were normally open were free. I admit that I forgot about it entirely on Friday, and slept in quite late on Saturday. But I still managed to make it to three places on Saturday and one today.

One of the buildings I saw, Alderman Fenwick’s House wasn’t normally open at all. And the highlight of my day on Saturday was the Bell Tower at St. Nicholas Cathedral. I had gone to St. Nicholas the first Sunday I arrived in Newcastle. It’s a gorgeous old church, and I walked around inside the seemingly deserted building for a while on my way back to my flat. I returned on Sunday for two reasons. The first was that it was close to the Holy Jesus Hospital, which I visited before it, and the second was that the Heritage Open Days booklet promised a display of the oldest books in the Cathedral’s collection.

stnicholas

I arrived just in time for the magic words.

“So I guess you all want to go up to the tower then?” The guide said to the gathering crowd. I immediately tried to blend into the group. I definitely wanted to go up to the tower.

stairs

The staircase up the Bell Tower is impossibly narrow, steep and dark. The first place we got to was the Bell Room. From here, the Bell Ringers (who have trained for years to be able to do this) use the cords to ring the eight bells in elaborate sequences which produce the tunes you can hear for miles from the Cathedral.

bells

We had to leave our bags here, because the staircase got narrower from then on. Right before we left, our guide rang one of the bigger bells. As we climbed the staircase, the sound buzzed through the tower. The walls trembled with the vibrations. We stopped briefly at the Bellfry to watch the huge bell swing back and forth.

We continued on to the very top of the Bell Tower. Heritage Open Days is the only time they let the public up this tower. And so we stood, where not so many had stoof before, looking out at the city of Newcastle from perhaps the highest point in the city.

newcastle

You should know, I’m terrified of heights. But as I looked up, my back pressed firmly against the stone wall of the Tower, I knew it was worth it. The climb. The shaky feeling in my knees as I glanced at how far away the ground was. I was looking up at the spires of the Bell Tower, from right below. From the centre. From a spot that so few people had before.

tower

I’ll continue the next part of my weekend adventures tomorrow, with my first trip to the North Sea.