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Last Day of Pompeii!

Ok, the first group to leave for the airport left at 3:10 am, and the next group leaves at 5:30, so I have some time to make my last post from Italy. (you'll have to excuse me if there are more typos than normal)

Our last day in Italy we traveled south to a place whose last day 2000 years ago was preserved forever. A few hours south of Rome on a big bay of the Mediterranean Sea near Naples, with the Isle of Capri in the distance stands the ancient city of Pompeii.

We met our guides, were handed our last whisper systems of the trip and went through the entrance to start our tour. As we entered the edge of the city, there was truly an eerie feel about it. I think everyone was aware of what happened to Pompeii, but unless they'd taken Dr. Worley's Latin class at East, were like me and their knowledge ended at "something about a volcano".

Our guide started by telling us about the bustling days of this port city. She described it as the "Las Vegas of Italy". There was a great deal of trade there coming from the port in the bay. There was entertainment for the sailors coming to town and just a wild, decadent thriving environment. I guess "What happened in Pompeii stayed in Pompeii".

Then, in the year 62 A.D. they had a significant earthquake. Almost everything in the city was affected. In the wake of the earthquake anarchy ruled the city. Tourists left, and theft and starvation plagued the survivors. Just as they were starting to get things rebuilt and back in order, in 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted for six hours and covered the vibrant city with 25 meters of lava and volcanic ash, killing everyone and freezing the city in time, until it was rediscovered in 1599 when a water channel was being dug to divert the Sarno river and walls with frescoes were found. Scientists and architects were brought in. Something I didn't know was that the first people to excavate Pompeii covered it back up. It is thought this could have been done for two reasons, to preserve it for later, and/or to censor the crude images depicting a wild society deemed inappropriate in the counter-reformation. (our guide kept pointing to the dirty graffiti on the walls and would just say "Pagans"!)

It wasn't until 1738 when the foundation for a palace for the King of Naples was being dug that the site was rediscovered. This time, they continued excavating, while hiding some of the more offensive artwork. It is still being excavated today, with about 2/3 of the city still under the lava and ash.

As we walked through the streets on the original stones, and walked through the houses with pretty modern technology, it was clear that while maybe morally loose, this society was very advanced.

We went into what is considered one of the wealthy homes because of its size and amenities. When we came out, a few of the students were excitedly talking. I asked what was up and one of them said that they had studied that exact house for two months in Latin class. They knew every inch of it. How cool is that! We saw shops, restaurants, theaters and gladiator quarters on our way to the main forum.

At the one end of the large open meeting area, there is a big covered exhibit of many artifacts found by the archeologists of the years. There are statues, ceramic urns, furniture. etc. However, the most iconic pieces in there are the casts of the people and animals that were discovered.

I have seen pictures of these before and always thought they were the lava itself. It is actually quite interesting how these were preserved. At first when digging, the scientists found air pockets that contained bones, so they dug out the bones and studied them. Then an archeologist named Fiorelli in the late 1800s figured out that these pockets were left by decomposed bodies. He then changed the way they dug. When they found the voids in the ash, they drilled holes and injected plaster into them. When the plaster was hard, they dug them out and removed the ash, finding horrific casts of people's final moments as they were engulfed by the volcano.

I can't imagine what that was like, but because of really smart scientists ,we can see what happened there.

After seeing these amazing relics, we all met in the forum, and keeping with our normal routing of singing every day somewhere, we serenaded our local guides with a nice flash mob in a 2000 year old forum. What a great place to sing our last notes of the tour!

We went out to lunch after the tour and were encouraged to get pizza somewhere. Naples is considered to be where pizza began so this area is the place to get it. I had not eaten pizza at all in Italy this week and I can tell you I was not disappointed with my very first piece of pizza on the last day of the trip!

It was a bit rainy all morning, but never came down hard until we met up after lunch to walk to the coaches to drive back to Rome. When I looked at the forecast the day before we left Kansas City, it called for rain every day in every different place we were going. I was really hoping for a small miracle to keep us from being sogged out. I think I got my wish because this was truly the first time we got wet instead of just damp. I think we may have had the spirit of Dan Zollars watching over us and keeping the rain away. We were very fortunate!

Once back at our really Swanky hotel A ROMA, we were served an incredible dinner buffet. It was a wonderland of choices from pasta to fish, carved roast beef to sushi, salad to shishkabobs. Then there was a dessert spread like you wouldn't believe, complete with fill your own cannoli!

We finished dinner and went over to our meeting place to wrap up the trip. We had some presentations to our tour directors and trip chairs, and had some fun sharing individual bus activities. We went over all the logistics for the 7 different flight groups so everyone was clear on when they had to meet in the lobby with their stuff.

Dear Friends,

I am honored and proud to be the choir director at Shawnee Mission East High School. The students, parents, administrators and community support this choir program so fully, and it is a culture that values the arts. The 207 people on this trip represented the best of what we do at SME while here in Italy. We are respectful, caring, resilient, and talented; daring, confident, compassionate and giving. Thank you for the opportunity I have to work with these fine young adults! They make me better and make the world a better place!

See you back in KC!

With gratitude,

Ken Foley

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