Disclosure: Walks of Italy furnished a tour guide and driver for our tour of Naples. All opinions are my own.
Up until recently I’ve been a DIY traveler. I enjoy the research that comes before reaching a destination, and the challenge of taking public transportation and the satisfaction of “discovering” things as I go.
This past trip to Europe with my four kids and 80-something parents, however, really put that mode of DIY tourism to rest for the time being. I may be able to (happily) walk for hours in stifling hot temperatures, clambering over ruins and drinking in the sights and smells. But my parents and kids can’t. They need a knowledgeable guide. Particularly when we only have a day to see and do it all, such as was the case when our cruise landed us in Naples,Italy for the day. I called Walks of Italy.
I’d heard rave reviews about Walks of Italy and met the founders briefly at a conference. Their passion and knowledge impressed me. I made a note to call them, if I was ever in Italy.
For our single day in Naples, Walks of Italy suggested a guided tour of Pompeii in the morning, and a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Naples in the afternoon. There we could view many of the artifacts.
Our driver, Enzo, met us at the port in a comfortable van and delighted us with colorful stories and facts about Mt Vesuvius during the short drive to Pompeii. Once there, he placed us in the more than capable hands of Ilaria, our expert guide.
We’ve all heard tales of the town that was buried in a massive volcanic eruption in 79AD. The stories are legend. But to see it… To actually see the plaster reliefs of the victims, the straps of their sandals, their bones, their curled fists. Their lives were gone in an instant, but they left so very much behind. A thousand stories to ponder. The gladiator, found in the arms of his wealthy mistress… The silver buried in the basement to prevent the workers from stealing it while renovations were underway… The brothel and the bathhouse. Every stone seems to have a story to tell if you can unearth it carefully.
The level of preservation in Pompeii is astounding. The similarities to our own modern lives unmistakable. But it is so much more so, when you have a knowledgeable guide to tell you exactly what you are looking at.
A great tour guide is both translator and storyteller. She/he doesn’t merely relate the facts and figures of the destination. A great tour guide relates the stories.
If your guide does their job well, you can hear the ghosts whispering to you, adding details, prompting and prodding you to ask questions about a carving, particular archway, or the ruts in the cobblestones. A great guide brings a destination to life and makes it memorable for all
I don’t think Leo will ever forget tracing the drawings of gladiators left behind by children his age, their way to immortalize their idols, similar to the way he draws his Skylanders.
Fox tried to envision what life was like in the Gladiator’s barracks.
Marly admired the floor plan in the larger homes, wishing our home was laid out a little more like theirs were then, with a private central courtyard.
Ani dipped her hand in the well of plenty, scooping up fresh water from the ancient spring and stopping to trace the grooves worn into the stone by centuries of hands that had rested there for an instant like hers.
Maybe it was Ilaria’s vast knowledge and story telling, or the mirage inducing heat, the crowds of tourists. There was more than one moment I felt tapped on the shoulder, drawn to look this way or that. A voice in my ear, from the beyond. Ancient ruins are the meeting places for lonely souls. Here we connect, if only by the fact of our shared humanity.
At one point I paused in front of the shell of a particular shop that caught my fancy. Why that one? Who knows. This one was significant, Ilaria informed me. It was owned by a woman, which was rare. It was a fabric store. A successful one, from the records they found. Tap, tap. Like a wave from an ancient kindred spirit.
Ilaria also pointed out the bakery where blackened petrified loaves of bread, still inscribed with the initials of the bread’s owners (common in communal bakeries) were found. Nearby there was a home with a street facing shop front that was the ancient equivalent of a drive through. Here large pots of soup and stew were served daily. From the remnants of food left behind they were able to tell much about what people in Pompeii ate. Honestly, it wasn’t a lot better than the “pink slime” of our drive throughs.
I couldn’t have known this, or a hundred other small stories, had we not toured with Ilaria and Walks of Italy.
It was hot when we were in Pompeii, which was tough on my parents, but we pressed on, viewing the bath houses that had such political and social significance, and giggling over the graphic “arrow” (think male body part) carved into the street, directing ancient visitors to the red light district.
The heat and our tight schedule kept me from exploring Pompeii like I really wanted to, and yet I know I visited in a far more complete fashion than if I’d gone it alone for several days of exploring. I’m a private/small group tour convert. I only wish I could take Ilaria with me everywhere in that region. She has a way of bringing history to life in a meaningful and personal way.