Which wasn't much different from the tour bus that left the Ponte Sisto that morning full of UW students heading to Hadrian's Villa without me. Nor was it much different (albeit more crowded) than the city bus I had to catch on my own before sunrise in order to meet up with Mitch at his hotel. Except of course that Mitch and I would be treated to the sort of spectacle one sees others being subjected to in St. Peter's Square outside the Vatican -- the tour guide gathering everyone together to tell them all how beautiful it is, then hustling them off from one spot to the next so fast that they may not have time to figure it out for themselves. "Might as well let them do all the work," Mitch said in explaining his choice of tourism today, and I had to agree that he had a good point. Sit back and let it wash over you.

Southward, away from Rome, I saw highway signs pointing the way to Anzio, scene of a months-long campaign during World War II which resulted in well over 90,000 casualties. Among them was a British soldier named Eric Fletcher Waters, whose newborn son, Roger, ended up forming a band called Pink Floyd and making nearly an entire career out of his fatherless childhood. Immediately before becoming one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, Pink Floyd paid a musical visit to Southern Italy and the ruins of Pompeii, and that ghostly, long-buried amphitheater is high on my list of sites to explore today, if I can find it among the ruins.

OK, here's the main difference between our school-related bus trips and a hotel-sponsored tour package, Surprise: it's "commercialism"! As we make our way south, we stop a number of times to investigate the local arts and culture -- for example, a shop where sea shells are carved in relief to create cameos, miniature sculpted portraits for jewelry. And wouldn't ya know it, after seeing the master carver at work, we end up in the gift shop where we have a rare chance to purchase his work, right now!

Good thing I've been in Italy for a few weeks and finally can control my hyper-impressionism and the rampant spending that can accompany it. Because, after a bit more driving, now we're at a shop where the Finest Woodworkers toil by hand to create one-of-a-kind works of functional art; and look, here's the gift shop where we have a rare chance to purchase their work, right now! The chess set, although pricey, was kinda cool, truth be told. Mitch had more spending money than I, and he bought himself a souvenir for the family back home. I kept my money for later -- I had a feeling I would need it. I wonder how much commission on sales this tour operator gets....

On the subject of spending money and taking home souvenirs, both Mitch and I wondered with glances askew about the elderly and rather-too-genial British gent who was partaking of the sights accompanied by a young and rather-too-subservient Asian girl ... er, woman. Something is going on there that's none of my beeswax, I'm sure...

Finally we pulled up to a gated entryway, and after being served a seated lunch, included in the price of the tour -- and here we are with a rare chance to purchase Right Now! the "Lacrima Crista" (Tears Of Christ) local wine which was served with our meal -- we were brought through the gates into the lost town of Pompeii.

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