Today I am proud to present part 1 of UKViggens Volcanic ‘Grand Tour’ to you, but as long as it is Friday… you are expecting some riddles!
RIDDLE – Name that volcano! By Suzie.
Once upon a time K met A.
They kissed, married, argued and had a baby!
But did they live happily ever after?
And another evil riddle!!
We are as peas in a pod, head to tail, but to see us we need to be extinct!
1) What feature am I/we?
2) Where will you see me and what is extinct?
3) In what are we commonly found?
Happy hunting! AlanC
Part 2 will be published once you solved the riddles and Suzie and Alan did the Dinging. Expect part 3 on Monday.
The bar is open, have a nice weekend, happy reading and riddling!
“The Prologue” *
* with thanks to Frankie Howerd in the British late-60s/early-70s sitcom ‘Up Pompeii!’
In days gone by, it was considered an essential element of a young gentleman’s education to undertake a ‘Grand Tour’. While such journeys might have taken in the works of the Flemish masters, or some botanical study in the Swiss Alps, the focus of the ‘Grand Tour’ was to bathe in the sumptuous delights of the antiquities of Italy. Florence, Rome and, of course, Venice were the signature destinations of such a journey of enlightenment and education.
In the 21st Century such places can be visited virtually from one’s armchair, without the need to hire mountain guides to cross the Alps in safety, or tutors trained in the Classics to provide insight as one travels. The same can also be said of volcanoes: with near real-time seismometers, webcams, blogs and page-upon-page of internet information, why bother going to look at them at all?
True up to a point, but for any young gentleman (or lady) who may wish to further their studies in this fascinating field, is there any substitute for feeling the rough crunch of scoria underfoot? Or, maybe, even witnessing a volcanic eruption at first hand? Of course there isn’t!
So, while the Viggen womenfolk indulged their own peculiar desires to cook themselves slowly around a hotel pool, this humble correspondent and his volcanoholic 14-year old son embarked on a ‘Grand Tour’ of their own. All for the boy’s education, you understand.
And, just as the young English gentlemen of the past sought their enlightenment among the art and artefacts of the Renaissance and Roman Empire, so budding volcanoholics must also journey to Italy, and more specifically the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, for a true educational grounding in the marvels of the magmatic world.
There, within a few short hours of each other, lie the most impressive (Etna), the most active (Stromboli) and the most famous (Vesuvius) volcanoes in the continent, if not the world.
Vesuvius: meet the world, his wife and their kids!
Vesuvius seems like a good place to start. Wake up nice and early to beat the tourists (we, you understand, are not mere sightseers – we are engaged on scientific studies to seek out and attain higher levels of volcanological understanding!). Nice drive up to the car park to find 20 coaches already there. Oh well, the best laid plans …
So, here we are standing on the rim of the crater of the world’s most famous volcano, surrounded by a mass of people from Texas, Tokyo, Tyneside, Timbuktu … and Esbjerg (a very pleasant couple!). Despite the throng, my first glimpse of the crater as I scrambled to beat the fat bloke to a gap in the crowd by the fence will stay with me forever.
People or no people, it’s a pretty impressive hole in the ground, but I just couldn’t help thinking how even more amazing that crater must have been before the 1906 eruption, when the giant hole was 250 metres DEEP!
Faced with the crowds my mind starts to wander, and I find myself getting fascinated by the array of sensors around that hole in the ground. What do they all do? Which is the spectral gas emission sensor? Is that a differential GPS antenna I can see there? Do they work?
In any case, I can’t help thinking there’s not enough of them. Look away from the crater and laid out before you is a smog-diffused vista of packed urban sprawl. From the top the houses, offices and shops appear so small that they meld into a solid mass of … what?
Humanity! Yes, that’s it. There’s one hell of a lot of people down there. Maybe a few thousand fewer than before the government sponsored a campaign for families to move away from the Red Zone (only to create a vacuum of empty buildings into which the Camorra swiftly moved their illegal immigrants, brothels and drug factories), but there are still several millions. Evacuate that lot? Not a chance. Re-read Carl’s posts on the matter. It’s a sobering subject.
Having left the hordes behind at the top, we descended to lower levels and found ourselves eating a slice of pizza at the quiet former base station of the funicular railway.
A railway up Vesuvius? Yes, there was one, and once back home I have become more side-tracked by that than the volcano itself. In 1891 the famed travel company Thomas Cook Ltd claimed to be able to arrange tickets on 555030 km of the world’s 580397 km of railway line, but the only railway that the company actually owned was the 806 metres of funicular line that climbed 391 metres in elevation to the top of Vesuvius. The steepest incline was 63°.
The opening of the funicular in 1880 inspired the song ‘Funiculì, Funiculà!’ (all of you will know the tune very well, even if you were previously unaware of what it’s all about). Here’s much-missed Luciano singing about a volcanic railway, together with the lyrics in the Neapolitan dialect:
By 1903 Thomas Cook had opened up an 8-km stretch of line that took passengers from Pugliano in Ercolano (Herculaneum) to the base station of the funicular. The 1906 eruption caused major disruption and a halt to the funicular for a few years, and finally the eruption of 1944 put an end to all that nonsense. The post-war chairlift that replaced the funicular came to an unprofitable end in 1984.
Work fleetingly began on reinstating the rail line in the early 1990s, and then again in the late ‘Noughties’, but today such frivolity seems out of place, especially in a city where the council is forbidden to support organised crime, yet the Camorra own everything – not just the construction companies, but those that sell the materials to the construction companies.
So, now you walk – that’s progress for you!
Seems like a nice place to build a town…
I will freely admit that the ‘Lill-Viggen’ and I are not great ancient history buffs. In fact, one of my most precious possessions is a note that was surreptitiously passed to me by my late, great mentor during a long-winded RAeS historical lecture that states simply: “Old stuff is rubbish”. Despite our general antipathy, it would be rude of us to ignore the most famous volcanic tragedy of all time when in the vicinity, and so on to the Roman ruins of Pompeii (one of the genuine glories of southern Italy is that it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain where the ‘modern world’ ends and the ‘ruins’ begin).
Now, I’m sorry, but the fact that Romans lived in houses (Gosh!), cooked in kitchens (No!), ate food (Really?), slept in beds (Amazing!), bathed, shat, fought and f***ed doesn’t really excite me that much. I was surprised, however, to see that they had developed such good scaffolding. And they had Fanta, too!
In all seriousness, Pompeii is incredible on any level, and even I was reluctantly fascinated to see glimpses of how the inhabitants lived (especially following a recent excellent BBC documentary about the place).
Most of the time, though, I looked up at the omnipresent Vesuvius and just tried to imagine what it must have been like exactly 1,933 years previous (by happenstance we were there on 24 August, the anniversary of the eruption) as the flakes of ash began to fall.