1947 - 1948, Side Trips During Liberty
While in Naples, just before Christmas, I was able to take a three-day guided tour bus trip to Rome. It was a two-section bus (with the second section attached to the first like a trailer) and going to Rome I rode in the rear section. The mountain roads were a real thrill. A couple of curves were scary. I thought sure I was going over the side. Coming back I rode in the front section.
On the way to Rome, we passed the Monastery of Monte Casino, where our troops had fought a fierce battle against the Germans. It was a six-hour trip and we stayed at the Hotel Flora. We went to all of the famous ancient areas of Rome as well as the modern ones.
|In the "liberty" launch at Augusta Bay, Sicily.|
Went to St. Peter’s Church for Mass the next morning. We were scheduled for an audience with the Pope, but he took sick and we didn’t make it. We did take a very detailed tour of the Vatican. The Sistene Chapel with the ceiling painting by Michaelangelo was outstanding. It took him eleven years while lying on his back. We just stood and stared for a bit. The detail was unbelievable.
We visited the catacombs of Callisus and there we saw the crypt where St. Cecilia was buried. There were ten miles of corridors in this one catacomb and there were 40 catacombs surrounding Rome.
We visited the ruins of the ancient forums, and saw the balcony where Mussolini stood to give his many speeches to the people.
We got back to the ship about 1800 (6 p.m.) the third day after a fantastic trip.
Capri, near Naples, Italy
The Isle of Capri was like paradise. Orange and lemon trees were everywhere with a lot of the fruit ripe. There was no evidence of bombing, etc., from the war. The harbor was very picturesque. Met many Americans while touring Capri, some stationed in Germany, some going to school (not at Capri), others just tourists.
The Blue Grotto was a cave entered from the sea through a very small opening. It was on the side of the island opposite the harbor. We were in a small four-person boat and we had to lie back in the boat to squeeze through the opening. Inside was stunning. The sun came in through the bottom of the opening which was like a large triangle with the small surface access hole at the top and all of the bottom filled with light that bounced off the floor of the sea and illuminated the entire inside of the small cavern that we had entered. A beautiful blue light bounced off the roof of the cavern and shimmered as the sea lapped against the entrance. (See this link for pictures.)
A buddy and I hired a guide to tour Naples. The guide was an out-of-work college professor (his English was perfect) who said he would guide us all day for a dollar each. We went to the top of the main hill in Naples via a funicular (incline). It was actually part incline and part subway(as it went through a mountain), except it was at a 45 degree angle. The subway portion served as an air raid shelter during the war. The view was spectacular. We could see Mt. Vesuvius with smoke pouring out of its North crater and we hoped it didn’t decide to erupt while we were there.
We visited the National Museum and saw a lot about the Roman Empire and its many accomplishments. We took our guide to dinner and each of us gave him five dollars. Imagine, working a whole day for two dollars. Times were very rough for the people who survived the war. There was a very high unemployment rate.
Cigarettes were a major bargaining power. We bought them on the ship for six cents a pack and were allowed a carton a week. I didn’t smoke and found a couple of other fellows who didn’t want to use their rations, so I bought theirs. In both Italy and France a pack was worth one dollar. I bought a lot of souvenirs with cigarettes.
One evening, a buddy and I went to the Naples Opera House. Neither of us had ever been to one and this one was said to be outstanding, both in beauty and acoustics. From the outside, the building looked old. Inside was beautiful. It had been spared during the war. There were six levels of balconies around the complete auditorium, not just in the rear. The balconies were all gilded gold appointed. The seats were padded and comfortable. The curtains were masterpieces of weaving very heavy-looking.
Our seats were about seven rows back, center (must have been expensive in their money for such good ones). We sat behind an American couple who were studying Art in Naples and they kept us informed of what was what, etc., in the Opera. La Traviata was being performed for the first time in many years. We didn’t know what the singers said, but we enjoyed it something different.
Pompeii and Herculaneum, just outside Naples
Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., causing a major loss of life and property. Twenty-five thousand people inhabited Pompeii 3000 were buried in the ash. The ash covered both Pompeii and Herculaneum which were close together. It took many years and much effort to excavate the two cities. All of the streets were paved with flat rock. Most of the houses were two-story stone. Mosaics were placed everywhere. There were sidewalks on each side of the street. At intersections, the sidewalks continued across the streets with pairs of spaces left in the sidewalk where horsedrawn wagons and chariots would pass through at street level.
Pompeii was like a wealthy resort where many of the Senators and other well-to-do men of Rome came for their pleasure. Brothels were everywhere. They had a very unique symbol for identifying brothel locations. It was carved into the sidewalk pointing to the entrance of the brothel, either first floor or second or both (See link for Pompeii pictures, “Stone Sign”).
The area to the West of Italy contains many volcanoes. We were told that the earth’s crust was very thin in this area; possibly the thinnest in the world.
We passed close to: Mt. Etna snow covered, very inactive; Mt. Stromboli very active we were told it was one of the few continuously active volcanoes in the world at that time we came within two miles; unknown name volcano which we passed at night and it was shooting out fiery lava and rocks every two minutes; Mt. Vesuvius East of Naples had smoke pouring from its northern crater.
French Riviera, France
While anchored at Hyeres, I was able to go on a three-day trip along the French Riviera. We traveled by bus and got to Nice around noon of the first day. It turned out to be the last and greatest day of the Mardi Gras and everyone was really celebrating. They had parades all day long and danced and acted crazy all night. Sometime near midnight they ignited a very large statue of King Neptune, made of papier mache, that had been built on the sand at the beach. The statue was about thirty feet tall and it was loaded with fireworks and took about thirty minutes to burn down, exploding all the way.
The second day we went to Monaco and stayed there that night. Monaco is a principality and is very small, measuring about two miles along the coast and three-fourths mile inland. It is home to the World Famous Monte Carlo Casino. We were not allowed to gamble there since we were in uniform. It seems that some time back an officer of high rank, in uniform, had gambled away money from his government and so the rule. None of the citizens of Monaco pay any taxes. All expenses are paid from Casino profits.
The Prince at the time we were there (his son later married Grace Kelly) had a passion for the sea and had built one of the finest aquariums in the world. It was situated on a hill that jutted out into the sea. Sun shown in many windows and also in some of the tanks holding the fish and other creatures. Very spectacular.
The next morning we went up into the hills and visited a perfume factory in the town of Grasse, France. It had to be away from dust and smog and other pollution since everything was worked out in the open. Tray upon tray held petals of flowers that were used in the perfume for the different scents. Fascinating place.
Then we visited the town of St. Raphael along the coast. Spent about two hours here, mostly staring at the women on the beach. Most had no swimsuit tops and others had nothing on. Then back to the ship; a very nice and informative trip.
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