Hey, y’all! I’m baacckkkk!!!

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How ya been? I can’t believe it’s been over 3 years since I last wrote a blog post…or even really checked on this blog. I lost my domain name so note that the new blog link is http://www.internationaltravelchick.blog (.com takes you to a site that clearly isn’t associated with me). Life goes by so quickly!!! I figured I’d dust off my blog and start sharing about my life abroad.

Going forward, I’ll be posting about about my life here in London (my semi-new home) as well as tips for travel to the UK & Europe as well as skincare, makeup, and life. Basically, it will be a way for me to share my life as an expat and show you some cool things!

I’m going to start posting maybe 3 times a week. One of those will probably be a YouTube video so if you aren’t subscribed to my YT channel, be sure to go over and subscribe now!

I’m normally very private about my personal life, but have decided to share some of the defining moments over the past 3 years with you so you know why I’ve been MIA.

IMG_2692Moving Abroad

Last time I posted, I was living in the beautiful city of Paris. My former company relocated me to Paris after 18 months in Washington, DC and it was a dream come true!!! I actually used to have a photo of London on my vision board (since 2010) because I felt like my journey in life wouldn’t be complete unless I had the opportunity to live in another country.  Fast forward to 2015, and I was asked my the then-CEO to move to Paris and head up the company’s international compliance group. I was HYPED!

But listen…living in Paris ain’t easy. I know…what can be hard about strolling down grand boulevards eating macarons? Well, if you don’t know French, it’s confusing and a bit frustrating. My frustration wasn’t with French people (I’m lying…sometimes it was), but mostly with myself for not being able to pick up French fast enough. I learned pretty quickly that I couldn’t do a literal translation of English to French. My first attempt to showcase my “off-the-cuff literal French translation” resulted in what I thought was “I’m hot” (because the weather was really warm) translating to “I’m horny”. Apparently, I needed to say “I have heat”. Come on, France. Ha! It was so hard to learn a new language when you are traveling all the time and working long hours. But, I did learn enough French to bumble my way along and not come across as a streetwalker.

IMG_3765I was also able to find a beautiful flat in the Montparnasse area (which was only a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower) that I absolutely adored. I was also able to bring my beloved pooch, Riley, with me and he took to Paris like sugar to croissants. Seriously, he was going to doggie day spas and living his best life.

Then, after almost 2 years in Paris, my company moved me to our new headquarters in London. I feel like it’s been non-stop settling & re-settling for the past 5 years.

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The past 3 years haven’t been easy…but things are much better now. I’ve dealt with major losses…including suffering a miscarriage, having to put Riley to sleep (honestly, that day and the day I miscarried were probably 2 of the worst days of my life), having my heart broken, my cousin being killed in action while serving in Afghanistan, learning to navigate corporate politics in a global environment, and finding the courage to leave the perceived security blanket of a full-time job to start my own company.  It’s been a lot. And it seemed like it was one devastating event right after another. It can wear you down. I had slipped into a depression, gained weight, suffered health issues…and was exhausted by trying to pretend everything was ok for the people I had to interact with regularly. Which meant there was nothing left in the tank to pretend on the interwebs. I found myself pulling back from a lot of social media interaction and people.

The thing with depression is that it’s like a darkness that slips over you without you realising it until it’s too late. Between the losses mentioned above and the fear of failing with my new company, I was an absolute mess. And the thing with messes…they aren’t cleaned up easily or quickly. When you are trying to be superwoman, that cape gets heavy. I wanted to showcase emotional resilience, only to find out that I needed to take time and process the trauma.

I started therapy (which I think EVERYBODY needs to go to…we all have issues and we are in this together!) but also really invested in self-care. My body shut down on me and my doctor told me things wouldn’t get better until I learned how to truly manage my stress level. Which meant letting go of fear. I started meditation, reiki, floating (sensory deprivation is awesome) and most importantly, giving myself grace.

I’m so thankful for my friends and family who have been there to help pick me up and support me when I didn’t have the energy to support myself.  Life can be hard, but having people who know you and don’t make demands on you but are just there to pour into your empty cup in your time of need are critical.

Thanks for reading. This wasn’t easy to write as being vulnerable is uncomfortable. I do hope this gives you a bit of insight into my world. I look forward to getting back into the swing of things over here at International Travel Chick. So, stick around and let’s see where the next adventure takes us!

xoxo,

Nikki

An Expensive-Ass Letter

Hi all and Happy 2016!!!  I told myself that THIS year, I was going to blog on a regular basis. Now, I lie to myself so take it for what it’s worth. Anyways, I have moved to the beautiful City of Lights and figured I’d start sharing my experience with you…my peeps…my e-family.

So, being offered a job transfer to Paris was so. freaking. exciting! Then, I was like, “wait, I don’t speak French.”  But immediately was like, “Self, it doesn’t matter.  You can pick it up!” LIES!

I took an immersion class in Washington, DC for 7 weeks before I moved…and know how to say my name and count.  I can’t tell you how helpful that has been.

French Person:  Excuse me, would you like something to eat?

Me:  Je m’appelle Nikki.  Neuf.

French Person:  Um, hi Nikki.  What do you mean by the number 9?

Me:  *blank stare* Deux

French Person:  Wanders off and takes away sharp objects

It is getting better though.  I am now taking French lessons twice per week and while I do get frustrated at the fast pace, it helps to push me forward into learning the language so I can assimilate faster.

Which brings me to sharing my experience at the post office (or La Poste) as it’s called here.  My sorority sister requested I send a letter to her child’s kindergarten class that basically says that I saw the gingerbread man here in Paris.  I write and address the letter, figure out what I need to say at the post office to buy the correct number of stamps, and head forth to bask in a moment of triumph.

Sigh.  As I get to the counter, I show my letter and ask how much I needed to pay in postage to mail the letter to the United States.  I hear something that sounded like “set” which I took to mean 7 (which is “sept” in French).  So, I buy 7 stamps and place ALL 7 ON THE LETTER.

Did you ever read the Harry Potter books?  If not, there is a passage about Molly, Harry’s best friend’s mom, mailing him a letter thru the “Muggle Post” (non-magical letter mailing, which is basically what I am doing).  Since they normally use owls to deliver letters, his wizarding family didn’t know how much postage to put on the letter.  It looked like this…

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What my letter looked like.

 

Which is exactly how my letter looked to travel from Paris to Indiana.  When I put all 7 stamps on the letter, the address was just barely visible.  I give it to the postman, he looks at me and was like, “Why are there so many stamps on this?”  I was like, “Sir?  What?  You told me 7 stamps.”  He looked at me and muttered something in French that sounded suspiciously like “bless her heart” which we all know in southern US means that person is “special.”

After removing 6 stamps, I was finally able to get it mailed.  No telling where the gingerbread man is now…:)

 

 

The Chaotic Culture of Cairo

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Cairo…Lord help me…I wasn’t ready. Cairo is a HUGE city of over 25 million people.  It is chaotic, has the worse environmental, health and safety issues I’ve ever seen…and in spite of all that, it is magnificent.  In order to enjoy Cairo, you have to look past the current state of modern Cairo and imagine what it was like thousands of years ago.

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We start out today by taking a bus for 3 hours from Alexandria to Cairo. On the way, the tour guide gives us a history lesson (which conflicts with the history lesson from the Alexandria/Luxor tour and makes me consult my guidebook because you know how I am about details). Anyway, she does give us this tidbit as we pass this cone-shaped construction…

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It’s a pigeon coop and apparently, pigeons are considered a delicacy in Egypt. They construct these coops to trap the pigeons then kill them and eat them. I’m sure they taste just like chicken. My first thought was of Petey…the pigeon who took a dump on my coat in Florence. He better watch his back if he ever vacations in Egypt because Ahkbar will be like, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’

So, we get to Cairo and it’s instant chaos. Imagine 25 million people trying to get around the city. I’m going to break this post into the “good”, “bad” and “just plain sad”.

THE GOOD

Egyptian Museum
This museum alone is enough to bring me back to Cairo. It holds most of the treasure from King Tut’s tomb and words cannot describe how magnificent the treasure is. It is hard to imagine that there was that type of skilled artistry that many years ago. I expected crude drawings but this was delicate & masterful. The marble jars that held his organs were the most beautiful things I’ve seen. And, his bed? OMG. There was also a papyrus chair that looks like you can sit in it now. It’s just amazing how this stuff lasted for so long. And, how much they had! I mean, they had big patio umbrellas, boomerangs, huge beds, chaise lounges…you name it. They were living large back in the day! We were not allowed to take any pictures or even bring your camera off the bus so I apologize for not being able to show you these works of art. King Tut’s treasure does travel to other museums from time to time so I highly suggest you check it out if it comes to a city near you. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
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Seeing the pyramids and sphinx up close was amazing. Now, I will be honest with you…you are going to have to block out a lot of foolishness and really FOCUS ON THE MOMENT. Because the hustlers are out in full force. You thought the hustlers in Luxor were bad? That was the B team. These are the professionals.

The pyramids aren’t in the desert…they are right there on the edge of town. Look to the left and there is a KFC/Pizza Hut. But, once you look right and go up the hill, it’s all pyramids. It took over 2 million stones to make the Great Pyramid.

The Giza Plateau which houses the pyramids is older than the Valley of the Kings. While Thebes and Alexandria were capitals of Egypt during pharaonic rule, Memphis may have been the original capital. The Great Pyramid was built around 5000 years ago and became the necropolis (royal burial ground) for Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. It took less than 100 years to build all 3 pyramids.
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There were also smaller Queens’ Pyramids which were constructed for the wives and important relatives of the pharaohs.
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Then there is the Sphinx which is the guardian of the Giza Plateau. It’s known to the Arabs as ‘Abu al-Hol’ or the “father of terror”.
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THE BAD

The Hustlers.

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You could barely enjoy yourself because of how commercial it has become outside the major sites. You know it’s bad when they have to prepare you and give you “talking points” before you leave the bus. The professional hustlers are in cahoots with the cops. They play this game where they will trick you into paying them more money and if you refuse, they loud talk you and the police will come over and make you pay the hustler or face jail. Ridiculous. It’s just a very aggressive peddle market and if you aren’t prepared, it will overwhelm you. So, if you ever go over there, be on the lookout for 2 hustles.

1. The Camel Ride. The hustler will start by telling you it’s $100 to ride a camel for 5 minutes. Then, you negotiate down to $5. You have to be very specific and tell them that the $5 is for the ENTIRE THING. Because, they will charge you $5 to get on the camel…then $100 to get you off. That’s right. You could be held hostage on a camel. The fair price for a 15 minute camel ride is $10. Now, since the camels stank to high heaven, I decided I’d just get my picture taken next to one. This required every negotiation tactic I possessed. See, hustlers sense weakness. You have to go in confident and not show any doubt or insecurity with them or they will loud talk you. So, I just went in with the “I’m from the ATL…I ride MARTA, you can’t hustle me” attitude. I asked Muhammed how much it would cost to take a picture with the camel and his response? “Whatever you want to pay.” Naw, playa. I’mma need you to agree to a fixed price. So, I responded with, “will you accept $2?” He was like, “whatever you want to pay. It can be free. I’m not worried about the money.” Buddy, I’m from the ATL. You can’t hustle me. I already got caught up in the sphinx booty hustle in Luxor. I’m hustled out. So, I said to him, “you specifically agree to $2 because that is what I’m paying you.” He nodded and tried to distract me. Uh uh. Buddy…I’m from the A.T.L. Home of Grand Hustle Records. Please. So, I take the pic and you can see from the smile on his face that he thinks he’s about to pull a major hustle.
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After I take the picture and start to pull out the money, Muhammed was like, “most people pay me $7 or $10”. I was like, “well, you agreed to $2”. He then proceeded to give me a look like he was about to start loud-talking me…I then looked him dead in the eye, gave him the $2 and walked away.  I’ve watched Star Wars a hundred times…I know how to pull off a Jedi mind trick.  Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Ha!

2. “Free” gifts. After I leave Muhammed, this kid comes up with something that he says is a gift. It’s supposedly free. I already knew about that hustle too. See, I go on the Rick Steves website and see what the current hustles are in each country & city I visit. There was nothing about the sphinx booty so I got caught slipping but I was determined not to make that mistake twice. So, when the hustlers try to give you something (even a “free” gift), you cannot accept it because it magically becomes worth a certain amount of money. So, Lil Buddha comes up and is like, “my father wants me to give you this. It’s good luck and will protect you.” I was like, “no thanks” because I already bought the evil eye in Turkey. I also got Jesus and I don’t need nobody else. After telling him no, he suddenly doesn’t understand English and keeps following me around and trying to lay this gift on my shoulder then arm. I was ducking my shoulder so much I felt like I was doing the wobble. So, after about the 10th time of me saying “no”, he then tells me the gift is from his mother. I was like, “the answer is still no. I don’t want it. Back up off me little boy.” Shoot.

The Just Plain Sad

Environmental, Health & Safety
Sigh. The most shocking thing for me to see was how dirty the city of Cairo is. I cannot remember seeing a trashcan and trust me, I was looking. The canals and streets are littered with trash.

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When someone asked the bus driver to throw a can of soda and potato chip bag away since they couldn’t find a wastebasket on the bus, he threw it on the sidewalk outside the bus! I was like, ‘the hell?’ Seriously? Even the Nile River was dirty! Looking at how squalid the living conditions are and how dirty and unsanitary things are really makes you not want to eat or drink ANYTHING. I’m sure quite a few people are walking around with scavies.

Why won’t the government establish an environmental protection agency to clean this mess up? That could create thousands of jobs that are sorely needed. It would increase the life span and reduce health issues. It’s ridiculous when I can look into a river and see dead fish…or see fumes rising from piles of trash in the center of the city. I can’t get over people littering like that either. Take some pride in your city! I’ve just never seen such squalor & dirtiness on this grand of a scale. If folks are gonna hustle something, hustle some Clorox.

I was reading the Egyptian Mail newspaper which is written in English and has lots of great articles. I’m hoping they have an online edition because if you want to really understand what is going on in Egypt, this newspaper breaks it down and is totally entertaining.  Recently, there was an article of a 6-year-old boy who died because he fell out of a window at school. Where are your safety procedures? Why were kids playing around an open window on the 5th floor?

Poverty
I think this had to be the most depressing thing for me. The city is so poor. With 50% of people out of work, they struggle to survive. Of course, I did see men out smoking “hookah” and just hanging out since they didn’t have a job. Don’t they need to be on monster.com or something? I know the hookah stuff aint free so save your Egyptian pounds for food. As you can see from the pics below, it’s hard to imagine living this way.

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There is a strong history of governmental corruption in Egypt and you can see by the disparity in living conditions. You can see how most folks in the city live above. Now look at the palatial estate below.

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Egyptian officials sold a lot of land at a HEAVILY discounted rate to rich folks who aren’t using the land to help the poor but to build high-end luxury homes. You know, if certain governmental officials would stop selling Egyptian antiquities to folks in other countries for cheap and accepting kickbacks, they could earn enough money to clean the city up. Which brings me to my next point…

The kids.
There are tons of kids out hustling. They are like 5-12 years old!
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They don’t go to school because they earn so much from hustling tourists! Apparently, they end up having drug problems when they get older because they don’t know how to handle having that much money. Also, they pay off the government so they will look the other way and allow them to be truant.

Color Complex
Like just about any country on this earth, there is a color complex in Egypt. The lighter you are, the more beautiful you are by society standards. While we have a product line in the US called, “Dark n Lovely”, they have one called “Fair n Lovely”.

The Funny
So, now I’m going to get to a couple of funny things that happened. Apparently, if you are a black American, you are automatically an Obama. Everywhere we went, we heard, “Obama Family!” I’m not sure if my brother is Malia or Sasha. 

On the way back to Alexandria, we were involved in a bus accident. The bus sideswiped a car on the highway (they drive so crazy here) and instead of pulling over and exchanging insurance information and calling the police, the bus driver speeds up and runs away from the scene of the accident. So, we are now fugitives from the law. Lord help me.

Overall, going to Egypt was a great experience. I would suggest you add it to your list of places to visit…even if it is just to see the Egyptian Museum. Once you get past the hustlers and the filth of the city, you can really see why Cairo has so much to offer.

 

A little humor for the weekend!

The Riley Hour

Dear Riley,

Last night, my Mom came home from work and started freaking out & screaming.  At first, I thought she was drunk but realized that she was home too early to have been at happy hour.  All I kept hearing was “BAD GIRL!!!  WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”  Then, I focus on what she’s screaming about:

She thinks I did it.  Didn’t even ASK ME.  No benefit of the doubt.  No “innocent until proven guilty.”  I feel like I’m being animally profiled.  Just because the trash can is on its side and its contents are strewn about…all fingers point to me.  I’m writing you this letter from jail (i.e. my crate where I’m in time out).  How do I acquit myself of these heinous charges? 

~Pleading For Paw Justice

_______________________________________________________

Dear Paw Justice,

This is a classic case of animal profiling and I think I can help get you released…

View original post 278 more words

The Gritty G: Genoa, Italy

I left Milan and took the train to Genoa where I would be working for the week.  Renee and I had already peeped out crazy at the train station this morning.  In fact, Renee had dubbed this person “Bushwick Bill” because the resemblance from afar was uncanny and this person just started going off for no reason. However, upon closer inspection, Bushwick Bill turned out to be Bushwick Belinda. Crazy has no gender, y’all.

The train ride to Genoa was actually very peaceful. We rode thru the alps and I got to see a lot of snow! A couple of towns looked like something out of a fairy tale.  However, once I got to Genoa (or “Genova” as it is called here), things changed. New Nikki is still trying to hang on and be positive. It’s still January! I check into my hotel — The Grand Hotel Savoia (which is actually pretty cool — each room is different and is furnished with antique furniture).  You can read my hotel review here.  The view from the room is nice too!

After I check-in, I decided to explore the city and find a good hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant & some gelato. Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong.

I start out walking around trying to get acquainted with the area so I know where I need to go tomorrow. So, I’m walking and passing some nice sites which I am sure would be stunning when it’s sunny —

       

But, I start to notice something. In 1 hour, I have seen more Africans and Asians than I have in the 9 days I’ve been in France & Italy. Not only that…they are the majority of the people I am seeing which is why I even noticed. Native Italians are scarce. I’m hungry and trying to find an Italian restaurant is proving difficult.  If you want Chinese or Moroccan, you’ve got your pick. It was so weird seeing a majority of people who were not “Italian”. I almost thought about hosting a telethon or something because they seem to be extinct!  I’m guessing it’s because it’s a Sunday.

Anyway, I’m walking and I’m hungry. At this time, Old Nikki is making an appearance because I’m irritated that I can’t find an Italian restaurant that is open. I’m reduced to walking the back streets trying to find something. Now, in hindsight, this may not have been my smartest move because let me tell you…I saw the underbelly of Genoa. But, hunger makes you do strange things. I’m walking and I see every ethnic group except Italian.  You’ve got hair salons, knock-off bags (seriously…it was like Canal Street), folks playing craps and drinking beer…overall, it was the ghetto. You didn’t see dogs wearing their designer outfits here. I can’t find a gelatteria but, I did find some woman going off on a guy, a guy getting his hair cornrowed (seriously?), liquor stores, every ethnic store you can think of and Black Widow Records.

Oh, and I can’t forget about the sex shops…everywhere. But, they call them “sexy shops”.  That’s right, I had to attach a picture because I knew y’all wouldn’t believe me. This is just one of the (what I am sure) are dozens. You can buy your porn right on the main drag or the dark alleys (which surround the city and offer you all kinds of things you don’t want your mama knowing about). I mean, when you have signs notating that you can buy your porn soft or hard, I think that may be a bit much. A selection of porn but no gelato? You see where I’m going with this?

Between all the ethnic groups and sex shops, I had to ask myself how long I slept on the train because maybe I missed my stop? I have never seen Italy like this. It’s like the HBO/Cinemax version of Epcot. A bit of Africa, China, Amsterdam, and India.

After walking around in the ghetto (and getting lost still searching for some daggum gelato. I mean, come on, Italy! How are you not going to have gelato but you got Moo Goo Gai Pan???), I feel like I’m a survivor. In fact, I’m penning my rhymes now that I got street cred and submitting my track “Where the D@$n Gelato?” to Black Widow Records [“You got General Tsos but no Gelato…that’s wackity wack.”] LOL. Shoot, next week, I may be rolling with the B-Dub crew. Kinda like their Tupac or something. That’s right. Y’all don’t know about the Italian Bankhead.

The Secret World of Pompeii

Okay, y’all ain’t ready for this.  I wasn’t ready.  As you know, I like to give you a little flavor along with the history of the sites I visit.  Well, when our tour guide gave us the background on what life was really like in Pompeii before it was destroyed, it was like I was listening to “E True Hollywood Story: Pompeii”.  There is just so much.

First, the excavation site was visually more stunning than I expected.  Second, I was amazed that so many ancient homes were still somewhat intact.  I can’t even imagine my house being around thousands of years from now.

As we are walking, the guide tells us about the people of Pompeii.  I’m listening kind of lazily while taking pictures.  I mean, I’d just hiked up a volcano so my attention span was on a downward spiral.  Anyway, the guide says a series of things that capture and hold my interest for the rest of the day.

1.            Pompeii had an open sewer.  That’s right; Pompeii’s theme song was “Funkytown”.  I know…I couldn’t really believe it either.  I had to ask for clarification because it just seemed too nasty to be real.  Feces and urine would run down the streets and they would wait for the rain to wash it away.  Sorry for you if it happened to be a dry month.  You can see in this picture that there are huge stones that the people would use to cross the street (I like to call it “Doo Doo Crossing”) so they wouldn’t have to step in that crap (you know they only wore sandals which meant if they stepped in it, then they got the full effect).  I am sure that folks inevitably fell off the stones.  Maybe that is where the saying “Oh, sh*t!” came from?

2.            The rich folks in Pompeii were pompous.  Apparently, the good citizens of Funkytown liked to show off their wealth.  When you went over to Titus’s house, he had his treasure chest open on the front table so you could see how rich he was.  Also, they had a tiled mosaic of a big dog with “beware of dog” (in Latin) in the foyer.  So, basically, they invited you over and said, “Hey, look at all my money…but don’t try to take it because Fido will kill you.  More wine?”  This was well before the time of Occupy Pompeii Street.

  

3.            Pompeii was full of freaks.  Apparently, Pompeii was where the party was at.  They had 80 bars and 25 brothels.  With the open sewer.  I am not able to get past the open sewer so let’s just address that now.  It’s gonna come up…often.  Anyway, the freaks did come out at night and they were doing things that Rick James couldn’t even dream of.  Modern Pompeii is full of people selling erotic calendars, statues, playing cards, etc (see below).  Now, I originally thought these sexual position scenes may have been their version of “art” back then.  But, the guide pointed out that they posted these scenes in the bedrooms of the whorehouses as a “menu of services” (just like McDonald’s).  You know I was looking to see what the “goings on” were (purely for research purposes only).  You ain’t ready for that.  A menu of sexual services.  Seriously.  After getting your drank on at one of the 80 bars then crossing and falling into the open sewer, you go over to Octavia’s and ask for a #3.  Love it.

 

4.            Funk is a theme.  Now, the good people of Pompeii didn’t have bath tissue back then so they had to make do.  The lower caste folks would just wipe their booty with the left hand and eat with the right (they didn’t have forks or spoons back then which means they really needed both hands).  The rich folks would use a communal sea sponge for the family.  I’m gonna let that marinate for a minute.  Imagine you and your family all using the same sponge to wipe after doing #2.  I guess if they can deal with the open sewers, they can deal with a communal sponge.  They also used urine to bleach their clothes.  Really?  My dog would love that.

5.            They had cafes!  We found these bars with counters.  People would come in during the day and have bread and wine.  They paid their money and would sit at tables to socialize.  I never imagined an ancient civilization with marble counters!

 

It broke my heart to see the castes of the human & canine remains that were preserved from the lava and ash.  You can see the remains below of a man, dog and slave.

  

Overall, Pompeii was fascinating!  I highly recommend a visit if you ever plan to be in the Naples or Sorrento area.

        

Hiking Mt. Vesuvius

If you have never been to Mt. Vesuvius or Pompeii, I highly suggest you go!  These 2 places are AMAZING!  Mt. Vesuvius is about 5 1/2 miles east of Naples, Italy.  My brother and I decided to take a hiking tour up Mount Vesuvius.  That sucker is brutal!  It’s a steep incline but the views are absolutely amazing.

          

It was surreal hiking to the top of a live volcano and seeing something up close that caused such mass destruction thousands of years ago.  As a refresher, Mt. Vesuvius is the volcano that destroyed the ancient city of Pompeii in 79AD.  According to the tour guide, the volcano (which has been dormant since 1944) is due to erupt again soon and will probably be as devastating as it was in 79AD.  They have tons of monitoring devices which they say can alert them 3-4 days before an eruption and they can enact the evacuation plan.  CNN was there filming a documentary about the volcano.  The further up the volcano we hiked, the darker it got as we were well into the clouds.

You can see smoke rising up from inside the crater in this picture.

Overall, it was a great experience and really helped to put some context around our subsequent visit to Pompeii.