All at sea: the don goes cruising
I have never been on a cruise before. I have crossed the Aegean and the Channel in a ferry and my granddad was a merchant navy captain (and we plenty of photos of him "on the bridge" as it were). But that's about as far as my nautical experience goes.
Anyway -- I am now cruising. Just for a few days, lecturing on Pompeii (and assorted other ancient topics) on two cruises run by Voyages to Antiquity, on a ship called 'Aegean Odyssey'. I'm actually picking up the end of one cruise and the beginning of another, so I'm not really going very far -- from Naples to Sorrento, to Civitavecchia, and back to Sorrento. Hardly much of an Odyssey. But the truth is I'm rather enjoying it.
Sure, the whole idea of a floating hotel still feels a bit odd, and even three days in I haven't got the foggiest clue which end of the ship (which I keep wrongly calling 'boat' is which), and I can never remember which 'floor' is which (my cabin is on the 7th, but is Reception on the 5th or 6th? don't ask me). And this, despite the fact that the husband (who had sailed with an earlier cruise) had given me helpful practical guidelines about how the boat worked, and who is who etc.
But the food is good, the alcohol generous, the view from my cabin mostly bloody marvellous (the pics are from our Sorrento stop), and everybody -- from the crew to the other passengers and lecturers -- pretty charming. And there is, I confess, something nice about having everything arranged, at least for a few days. The bit I liked best was leaving the boat -- sorry SHIP - to go to Pompeii and being given a couple of little bottles of ice cold water to take along. Just what you need.
And there have been some good trips too. My favourite was to Oplontis yesterday morning.
If you haven't been there, do try to go one day. It is a vast Roman villa (mostly excavated in the 1970s, but work is still going on): real metropolitan, top of the range, Roman millionaire row stuff, with some of the most stunning painting to survive anywhere in the world, not to mention a vast swimming pool. And almost noone visits it. That's partly because it is a bit off the beaten track in the rather nasty town of Torre Annunziata, which is hardly tourist friendly, but is on the Circumvesuviana railway line.
It is partly, I guess, to try to get people to go there that the authorities have hyped a very tenuous connection between the villa and the emperor Nero and his second wife Poppaea.... and you will often find it referred to as the "Villa of Poppaea". Even if true (which I doubt), that it is not the most interesting thing about the place. Whoever owned it, what you see here are some stunning remains of the best that Roman money could buy (and it makes a good contrast with Pompeii, where there are some wealthy houses and some really high quality art -- but nothing at this level.)
Anyway when our party of 30 or so went yesterday, we were more or less the only people there for the whole morning.
But I have missed something being here: namely Newnham's appearance on University Challenge. I gather they beat Southampton by not very much is a rather low scoring match (well done anyway, ladies). But my informant tell me that Jeremy Paxman signed off the show with the line that Newnham hadnt done badly seeing that they represented only half the human race. Now I suspect that Paxman's views on single sex colleges are not far from mine (ie in favour), and this was a bit of friendly banter. BUT, as Southampton team was composed entirely of men, it must have seemed a bit odd.