While traveling back to Oxford to participate in graduation, Luke and I stopped over in Italy to visit friends.  We stayed with the Barcas in their apartment in Rome. The ancient goliath marble steps that led to the apartment door were deeply eroded and bowed to each of our steps. I only tripped up the stairs once. This place had such a warm feeling to it. The walls were coated with artwork, books and a beautiful mess of mismatched frames displaying endless photos of family from ceiling to floor. In the antique and endlessly interesting antique print store downstairs 'Forza Fabrizio' is posted in the window.

Our traditional roman feast.

The Barcas were incredibly hospitable and presented Luke and I with a culinary experience we certainly will never forget. Luke and I traveled from Rome down to Napoli to visit the ancient city of Pompei. We spent the day waltzing around the ancient roman city, cursing at unreliable public transportation and drinking wine and munching salami next to an ancient roman's hearth. We were exhausted by the time we climbed up those marble steps and slid through the door. We were also excited for this surprise meal that had been planned for days. We sat around the table, libations were poured and the first dish was served with a metal lid on the table. When they lifted the cover a group of sheep heads peered up at me with their beady little roasted eyes. The cheek was tasty, the texture of the tongue was freaky and when the brains were served as a second plate, diagrams from the neuroscience minor I took in undergrad all came flooding back. I silently identified the lobes, picked at the gray matter, looked for the reptilian hind brain and tried my hardest to follow suite and smear the brains on bread and eat them with a smile. I had a little brain, realized how much of a wimp I actually am and watched Luke gulp down a sheep eye. We were also served delicious arancini, a yummy ox dish and some strange Mexican after-dinner drink with a scorpion/rattlesnake or some sort of venomous creepy crawly in it. It was all just delightful!

While in Italy, we watched a burlesque show, a gay South African rendition of Swan Lake, traipsed beside lots of crumbling ruins and ate.. a lot.

Benji took us on a day trop to visit the ancient city of Monterano. Wow I have used the word 'ancient' a whole awful lot during this post but it still feels appropriate.

The ancient city of Monterano.

The ancient city of Monterano.

The aquaducts of Monterano.

 We had dinner in Calcata- a romantic little town not intended for those with a fear of heights. The town limits cascade down a steep mountainside and the views and food are exceedingly delectable.

Calacata, Italy.

Calacata, Italy.

Vatican city was overwhelmingly opulent. Gold foil, castrated roman sculptures and maps celebrating the catholic conquest filled seemingly endless corridors. It was admittedly beautiful at times but after a while my feet just hurt. All of the statues of familiar roman gods did however make me want to disrobe, dive into a marble bath and read Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Vatican and St. Peters Basillica.

The Pantheon was just a hop skip and a jump from Benji's apartment and Luke and I spent an evening eating gelato against an ancient giant column. It poured rain that night... and on a few other nights as well. The most enjoyable part of the Roman downpours- apart from the romantic aura the wet ruins and slippery cobblestones give off- is that solicitors appear en mass literally out of nowhere within seconds of the first drop to sell you umbrellas. I imagine they crawl out of the city cracks or fall from the sky using umbrellas to brace the fall (see below for an accurate rendition of my imagining).

Umbrella salesmen fall from the sky when it rains in Rome.

Pompei was utterly brilliant and worth every bit of frustration expelled while trying to take public transport there from Rome. We arrived hours late and missed our train home but we still had big grins on our face all evening. I was shocked by the freedom awarded to visitors to explore the ruins. Luke and I stumbled into an ancient crumbled house and drank wine and ate lunch by the hearth. We gazed up at a wall and noticed a beautiful painting of two birds beside the chimney. You can walk right up to an old shop, lean on the colorful mosaic countertop and imagine what you would have ordered there before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. As much as this freedom is treasured by visitors, it sadly also presents ample opportunity for abuse.

Another notable aspect of Pompei I particularly enjoyed was the color! So much of Rome- its ruins, artwork and history are colorless. The unique tragedy of the Vesuvius eruption left behind such a well preserved opportunity to peer into the apparently bright lives of ancient romans. Walls were brilliantly painted, mosaic countertops were splashed with green and blue stones. What a lovely place to explore and pretend you are someone else from some other time.

Ciao Italia- I'm heading back to England to graduate!