Gates to the ruins open at 8am. Best time to see and feel the ancient city.
It’s a very eerie feeling, stepping into an actual ghost town.
Everything is as it once stood…rows of identical homes…mazes of stone streets…water fountains which once quenched the children’s thirst. The temples, dedicated sanctuaries…the markets, common meeting-places. The etched graffiti, ancient forms of social networking. The amphitheater where gladiators fought and died.
Mount Vesuvius in the background of Pompeii ruins.
And looming above it all, Mount Vesuvius, still active and trembling to this day,
The Pompeii ruins are an entire city, excavated and preserved in the Campania region of Italy. Buried by the volcanic eruption in 79 AD, it lay covered for over 1,600 years. In 1748, the first big excavations began. But of the settlement’s 66 hectares, only 44 have been revealed.
The best time to see and experience the ruins of Pompeii is at 8:30 in the morning. Try to get there when its gates first open. You’ll escape the crowds that tend to gather at midday, the tourists with selfie sticks and tour guides waving flags.
The early light also has a dramatic effect on the giant sculptures, buildings and crumbled stones.
In those early morning hours, you’ll also escape the intense summer heat which pounds the city by 10am. The glory that was once Pompeii may be mostly in ruins, but from the stone ovens and common baths, the temples and gardens, you’ll get a sense of life that once was.
Of all the frescoes, mosaics and art in Pompeii, this portrait of a child on the walls of one home, impacted me most.
Pompeii was one of the places in Italy I’ve always wanted to see. It was with awe and reverence that I stood, sketched and tried to grasp the reality of this place.
You’ll see giant stone slabs everywhere. These were the old pedestrian crossings, to enable Pompeii’s inhabitants to walk without soiling their feet when rainwater muddied the streets.
My children skipped between the giant stones which create passageways and bridges between the streets. They explored the mazes of houses, aware that in the background, stood Vesuvius. That powerful, destructive volcano.
Standing on Pompeii’s grounds felt surreal.
Large stones, fitted together, made up Pompeii’s streets .
A part of a home in Pompeii–colorful art, mosaics and frescoes still adorn some walls.
From Pompeii, we continued along the Bay of Naples. Our next stop was the Archaeological Museum of Naples, following the buried city’s treasures.
Things to know before you go:
- Wear good walking shoes. Luckily, I’d picked up a super comfy pair of Flexx sandals in Rome the day before. What a good investment!
- There is one cafeteria onsite, but you can save by bringing bottled water on your walk.
- Go early. In Summer, the sun is very hot already by 10am.
- Lucia is a professional tour guide, who gave me some great tips via phone the night before. If you book a tour, expect 2-3 hours tour. The city is huge, and we only got to see a fourth of it.
- Bring an ID—passport or driver’s license. You will be required to deposit your ID in exchange for an audio guide.
- Where to Stay: We booked “Apartment Pompei Wellness”, just walking distance from the city ruins. They have a gym, modern amenities, and a terrace. (Viale Giuseppe Mazzini, 108)
Detail of a floor mosaic in one of Pompeii’s homes.
View of modern-day Pompeii City (outside the ruins) by night. e had a great rooftop terrace view to have dinner and watch the sun settle over the lively city.
…Next stop, Naples!
Up close with the leaning tower of Pisa, one realizes the iconic structure is pretty tiny. Tourists with selfie-sticks, groups of stumbling visitors, and street-sellers add to the busy hum in the Piazza dei Miracoli. We’d paid a one-hour parking ticket just to see it but then ended up getting lost on our way back out the complex.
Traveling through Italy is both familiar and foreign.
Our kids both speak the language fluently but have to follow their inter-racial, tongue-tied parents around. When we really can’t communicate or get lost, we send them to ask questions and directions. It works out pretty nicely.
Folks are usually confused/amused and then relieved and pleasantly surprised when they hear the kids.
The city of Pisa is like many medieval cities this side of Italy. Romanesque churches, clusters of bars and pizzerias lining the streets, peddlers, and tourists. We only stayed for a couple of hours, because the rest of the country’s coast is calling.
Travel didn’t always thrill me.
The first memory I have of an airport was that ugly tarp in the old Philippine International Departure Terminal. It was muggy and gray, just like my memory of that particular day.
The year was 1985. I was five years old, and my parents had told me that we were flying to India!
How exciting! It would be my first time out of the country; probably my first time on an airplane.
But what they didn’t tell me, was that they were also breaking up that day.
My mom and dad sat on separate seats in the giant jet plane. I can’t remember which parent I sat with. I was too excited, looking out at the vast sky, soaring through the clouds. I remember chatting with some other kids on the airplane, eager to make new friends.
I had no clue. No warning of what would happen next.
When the plane touched down in crowded Bombay (now called Mumbai), my parents went their separate ways. They had decided that when they parted, I would live with my mother. And so I did, for the next five years.
Funny thing is, that day at the airport is the oldest clear memory I have of life.
It must have been the shock of that single incident: the old airport tarp, the rush of the plane flight…
And then, life as this five-year-old knew it, changing forever.
We spent the next 12 months in India. It was a culture-rich country filled with mythical gods and swarms of people, exotic markets and potholed villages. We moved around a lot, eventually living in Madurai. Memories of India are still crisp in my mind: finding quartz stones in the neighborhood; passing holy cows on the road; loving Masala Dosa; learning Tamil, my first foreign language.
I do remember coming back to Manila, this time with only my mother—the sad old tarp staring back at me from the ground.
Maybe that’s why airports always have a bittersweet feeling for me. Every time I returned to the Philippines, and there was still that ugly tarp, my heart would hurt a little.
I was to board many planes again in life—how many exactly, I’ve lost count. For leisure; for work; for love.
Every time I’d return to Manila, I’d never stop checking to see if they’d finally gotten rid of that ugly old tarp. It’s no secret it’d been called one of the “World’s Worst Airports” many times, and yes, I shared the sentiments.
Then, one day, a couple of decades later, I stood in the Arrivals Terminal, clutching my son’s hand in mine.
And this time, the color of the carpet beneath my shoe soles was a beautiful, beautiful blue.
Image Credit: Within Striking Distance Blog
I just stood awhile, gazing and smiling.
It’s hard to explain to someone why you’re thrilled when an airport gets an upgrade. I remember sheer happiness washing over me.
That day in 1985 set the stage for everything else I was to learn about travel. And essentially, about life:
That, travel is so much more about just changing places, or going somewhere else.
Travel is a wake-up call. It shines the spotlight on other worlds, the ones outside our own. Travelling can make us feel so small, yet so strong at the same time.
Travel teaches us that sometimes, we get left behind. We fall. We must journey alone. And it’s up to us to get up, catch up, and keep on going.
My life today is wonderful. In part, because of the painful decisions my parents made decades ago, which led to circumstances I had no control over. But that’s okay. Cliche as it may sound, it was meant to be. I remain grateful for life’s unpredictability.
This month, we flew over 6,000 miles, from Europe, back to Asia. Yes, right back to the airport where my journeys began that day in 1985. My dad had suffered a mild stroke in December. I took the kids back to visit the Philippines after four long years.
This time, coming back was a joyful feeling. The blue airport carpet in the Arrivals terminal was warm and welcoming.
We skipped, hugged, took selfies. We created new memories and I re-framed old ones.
My kids, too, have been learning, throughout our travels, that home is not a single place. It’s not a country; not a concrete house; not even an association of people.
Being home—and coming home—is a state of mind.
And that incredible state of mind still thrills me.
Anitun Tabu by Nyx Martinez
On my second visit to Western Bohemia, I should’ve known better than to ask the waitress if the restaurant offered anything that “wasn’t so heavy”.
“Evry-zing in Czech Republik iss e-vee!” came the curt reply.
It was Easter and we were in Františkovy Lázně, a small but charming spa town just beyond the German border, in the Karlovy Vary region. As we journeyed past the autobahn, forested highway lanes opened up to beautiful, spacious, bright green plains.
None other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described this town as “heaven on earth”. And driving through its historical center, you can see why. In the 1700’s, Austrian Emperor Franz I (after whom the town is named) founded it, and at the height of its popularity, even Beethoven and Johann Strauss visited. It became known for its mineral springs and mud baths. Even today, those from neighboring Germany love its wellness resorts and therapeutic treatments.
Here are some lovely photos of Františkovy Lázně.
Photo: Czech Tourism
Through tried-and-proven Booking.com, my husband found a fantastic marine-themed BnB called Penzion U Námořníka. It had a huge but cozy dining hall and outdoor pub/drinking area. Bonus points for its garden playground with a mini lighthouse and pirate ship. Oh, and a petting zoo with ponies and geese! (Scroll down to see the unbeatable cost for an overnight stay.)
Petting zoo at the Pension. Photo: Nyx Martinez
The next day, we headed for the Aqua Forum, the town’s spa center indoor swimming pool.
Its legendary thermal waters filled the indoor and outdoor pools. And although it wasn’t as huge or exciting as other water-parks in Europe, its 80-meter-long toboggan slide was thrilling enough for our 6-year-old to enjoy a thousand times.
Photo: Czech Tourism
By evening, I’d warmed up to the fact that a journey to the Czech Republic meant one could (must!) throw out all dietary preferences.
Hearty, heavyweight meals included giant slabs of juicy roasted or stewed meat (beef and pork) with creamy sauce over a pile of knedlík (local doughy dumplings, similar to the German knödel). The kids loved the ice-cream-and-Nutella laden crepes for dessert. (which, incidentally, we eat a lot of at home on weekends—get a recipe for palacinky here.)
Roast duck with Knedliky dumplings
If you’re going to the Czech Republic, I now know, you’re going to eat—and eat a lot. Not just because the food is loaded with deliciousness, but because the cost of their massive portions are so affordable. (Would you believe, all of the above including wine and beer for just 20 euros?!) As we say in the Philippines, “Good for five!”
We’ll talk about the tasty Czech beer next time…that one needs a whole dedicated travel journal post!
Next Stop: Pulled over by the police in Budvar City (České Budějovice) and tour of the Budweiser Budvar Czech Brewery!
Recommended Family Budget BnB:
Penzion U Námořníka (Cost: €60 a night for four, incl. Breakfast buffet)
(Družstevní 203/5 a 202/7, Františkovy Lázně, 351 01, Czech Republic)
What to do in Františkovy Lázně:
Swimming/Spa in the Aqua Forum
(5. května 19, 351 01 Františkovy Lázně)
+420 354 206 500