I have a life bucket, not a bucket list

June 6, 2016

I was pleased Vesuvius decided to remain inactive as I peered down into its deep cratered heart

I believe that life is one big bucket that is sometimes filled and sometimes emptied. Full of objectives, challenges, and achievements that includes travel. In my ‘life bucket’ there were some places I held on to and always wanted to visit: Naples, Pompeii, and Mt Vesuvius. I have now visited all three and “wow”.

There was one final leg to complete following my Greek Writing Retreat before I returned to Australia and it was like the icing on the cake. My daily good morning greeting changed from Kalimera to Buongiorno – yes to Italy for 12 days of relaxation, more learning, and a well-earned break from weeks of writing.

Apart from absorbing the endless historical encounters in Rome, I progressed south of Italy and took in some truly magnificent Italian delights (I am not talking food or men … although tempting).

I climbed to the very top of Mt Vesuvius

Mt Vesuvius – an active volcano, but not when I visited!
Mt Vesuvius – an active volcano, but not when I visited!

I climbed to the very top of Mt Vesuvius, where it stood tall over the picturesque metropolis of Naples. It is far closer to the ancient water-fronted city than I had imagined. There is no peak on the top and at first I wasn’t sure if I was on the volcano.

It was nothing like I experienced when I trudged up the snow covered Mt Villarrica in Chile before it erupted in 2015. That time we needed to wear hard hats, use ice picks and had metal spikes attached to our walking boots to be able to get a decent grip on to snow-covered rock face! I didn’t make it to the top; the sulphur was too overpowering and dangerous. This time, I did make it but nevertheless, it was a winding trek to Vesuvius’s crater edge.

I was impressed with the elderly people who managed to overcome the steep, gravelled path that wound itself to the summit. I could see the determination on their faces as I passed them by. It truly is a sight worth battling for the view – one peering down into the base of the crater and the other, an almost 360 panoramic view of the city of Naples and distant islands in the expanse of the Gulf of Naples that opens up into the Mediterranean Sea.

I was pleased Vesuvius decided to remain inactive as I peered down into its deep cratered heart, and to answer your question, there was no red hot spitting lava bubbling away in the centre. I could smell a whiff of sulphur at times. The huge pit is full of coarse dark grey pebbled sand and large chunks of molten lava rocks; I was surprised to see plants growing inside the crater.

Full kudos to my personal trainer

The written guides say it takes around 20 minutes to get to the peak, well, our definitions must differ as I walked at a fast pace, even uphill plus I was on a timeline. To reach the summit then continue around the parameter of the crater was a 1.5 hour round trip.

I am forever grateful for my personal trainer’s weekly persistence as I may not have reached the edge and returned on time.

Then there’s the coming down

The descent was a different story again and you really needed to focus on the surface as it was loose and slippery. I found it easier by side-stepping down as if I was on snow skis.

I placed my feet on any solid embedded chunks of rock to get a good grip. This may be the reason I suffered from sore back and hips for a few days later!

Other stops on my Italian adventure:

  • Pompeii was covered and destroyed by Mt Vesuvius’s devastating hot lava in 79AD, then accidentally uncovered by a local peasant in 1710 when he started digging a well for his vegetable garden in Herculaneum! It is hard to believe the relics uncovered as I walked the streets of Pompeii and tried to imagine how it must have been;
  • Hotel Villa Maria – where Jackie and I have now both been spotted!
    Hotel Villa Maria – where Jackie and I have now both been spotted!

    Amalfi Coast – now Jackie Kennedy Onassis and I have something in common: we have both dined at Hotel Villa Maria at Ravello, Italy. They have a photo of Jackie and Aristotle during their visit, framed and hanging in the hotel;

  • Ravello is a stylish, interesting medieval town located further away from the sea up off the Amalfi coast. The two-way mountainous roads are best left for the experts to manoeuvre their small cars around the snake like winding road – there is minimal room for error. Getting there is not a problem if you organise in advance and dare I say pre-book a private vehicle before you leave Australia. You may pay a little more, however, it is worth every cent for an experienced local, safe driver – they know the area.
Breathtaking views in Ravello
Breathtaking views in Ravello

The view is breathtaking. Like many other places on the Amalfi coast the town is built in on and around the rocky cliff faces of the lava laced mountainous terrain;

  • Positana and Amalfi are both breathtaking villages built on steep, narrow streets around the waters’ edge of the Amalfi coastline. The homes, boutique shops and cafes extend into the rock face and they are stylish shopping paradises. Food and wine are always a gourmet feast like all Italian towns.

Three travelling traditions for my grandsons:

The other task was final shopping for my grandsons before returning to Australia. When I travel overseas I manage to maintain three traditions for them.

1. Video messaging – communication with my family. I have previously written about this in my column on Remote Grandparenting. On this trip I had clear reception using Messenger video chat and of course texting is great. The feeling is reciprocal; they are happy to hear from me and I always feel at peace once we make contact, particularly if I see their faces.

Free WiFi was available at all the hotels in both Greece and Italy except in Positano (Italy) where I only had to pay once. Check this out before departing Australia, although the majority of places seem to offer this for free.

Snow dome of Mt Vesuvius
Snow dome of Mt Vesuvius

2. Snow domes – I know it sounds cliché’ but since my grandsons were babes they have loved snow domes and they have a small collection from my travels. Carrying glass snow domes in a suitcase can be a challenge; there are restrictions depending on their size and liquid content.

One of our games is that the boys must locate the snow dome’s country or town on a world map or globe. We normally do this together and sometimes I test them out, but most times they remember their geography lesson. The boys will need to find Kythera in Greece and Mt Vesuvius in Italy. The pressure is on!

3. Sport tops – my grandsons get a kick out of the sport tops I bring back. It may be soccer, rugby, basketball … it doesn’t matter as long as they have the ‘famous’ name of the sports star and their number. Always a hit at school with their mates.

It’s good to be home.

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