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The Peens Of Pompeii (TIK Tour Day 4)


Our small group of women clustered in awe around the ancient cobblestone, undoubtedly placed there by the hands of a skilled slave laborer over 2,000 years ago, during a time in my mind’s obviously skewed historical eye when I imagined people walked around barefoot wearing animal furs and clubbing sabre-toothed tigers for dinner.

This was so not the case.

At the archeological site of Pompeii, the uncovered remnants of colorful frescos covering crumbling stone walls told me the people of that time were skilled artists with an eye for natural beauty. Intricate mosaic tile entryways and fountained courtyards spoke of their taste for opulence and modern comforts. Sunken city streets lined with raised sidewalks and dotted with stepping-stones to allow dry crossing told me they were remarkably adept at city planning — except, of course, for their unfortunate lack of knowledge about plate tectonics.

Also, they liked to party.

Once located right along the shore of the Bay of Naples, Pompeii was, in its heyday, a bustling Roman port city full of eateries and shops and brothels catering to brawny sailors. Our enthusiastic tour guide shot us a knowing smile before pointing to a stone at our feet.


See it?


How about now?

“There were penises everywhere,” she explained, while we stared at a carved penis relief in the stone. “They pointed — quite literally — the direction of the brothels.”

Now I’ll admit it — I did zero research before heading to Pompeii and in my mind, we’d be visiting a small ancient village that had been excavated hundreds upon hundreds of years after getting decimated by — and then preserved beneath — layers of ash and soot after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. What I didn’t expect was an entire city once filled with 11,000 inhabitants — one that’s only been partially excavated — and the discovery of a debaucherous society of sex and slaves, the likes of which might send a flush straight to the cheeks of Ron Jeremy himself.


From high-end, luxurious bath houses to seedy back street brothels, lechery was apparently all the rage in those days, and there it remained frozen in time beneath 4-6 meters of ash and pumice while the rest of Roman society moved on to more modest times.


Today, much of the artifacts removed from the site (that weren’t stolen by kings), can be found in the Naples National Museum of Archeology, where the more… uh… explicit pieces (including frescos, statues, and party favors) unearthed from Pompeii and surrounding villages are kept in a secluded viewing room, the Gabinetto Segreto.

Phallic symbols not excluded, Pompeii was a fascinating sight to behold.


I’d highly recommend visiting with a knowledgable tour guide so you can fully comprehend what it is that you’re seeing — which is, in fact, a whole lot of interesting stuff.


Saddest, of course, were the casts depicting human and animal remains. Some people — mostly slaves — were left behind while the volcano showed signs of activity, and their bodies left cavities in the ash which, upon excavation, were filled with a plaster-like substance and then unearthed, revealing in surprising detail the positions in which they died.


The biggest drawback of Pompeii is its immense tourist pull — the city was hot, crowded, and would’ve been miserable on a sunny summer day. Word on the street is that there are several other partially excavated villages surrounding Vesuvio, like Herculaneum, which are even better preserved and far less inundated with tourists.

The irony of Vesuvius is that still today, even with history’s lessons, people are drawn to settle in the gorgeous landscape atop its fertile soil. The region is, in fact, the most densely populated volcanic area in the world, with around 3 million people living in Naples and the surrounding vicinity.

On our way to unwind at a tranquil winery perched along the volcano’s subtle slope, I couldn’t get the visions of a deceptive predator — a man selling ice cream to happy little children — out of my mind. Only in this case, Vesuvio is the predator. A sleeping dragon with one eye slit open — just waiting for the right moment to strike.


Fortunately, these morbid thoughts were easily subdued by lunch.


Our driver, Tony, (different from Tonino and Antonio of yore) picked us up from Pompeii and dropped us off at the lush, soothing, Cantina del Vesuvio for an afternoon wine tasting.


Typically, wine tastings are accompanied by a light plate of meats, cheeses, and maybe some bruschetta, which we were served, but we were also served an absolutely incredible pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce and basil).


I still salivate thinking about this pasta.

And also dessert, over which they asked us to drizzle a super potent liquor.


After the slightly physically demanding morning of walking around Pompeii, this was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

When we arrived back at the hotel, it was time to get back to the kitchen for our final cooking class where we prepared:


Rolled Stuffed Red Peppers

Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce

Ricotta Pear Sandwich Cookies


Yes, we were tired. But once again, we had a great time together in the kitchen — at this point we synchronized our efforts to complete dinner in record time. Italian time, that is, with sips of wine and made-from-scratch noodles.


Even though Alaina and I were on Day 4 with no luggage, we couldn’t have asked for a better time. This day had everything — historical learnin’, wine tasting, an emergency pit-stop in Sorrento for gelato, and a final amazing cooking class with people I was beginning to love.

If I had one day on the trip to live over again, I think this one might be it.

Need to Know:

The International Kitchen
Mediterranean Cooking Experience
Women-Only Week

Good to Know:

  • If your luggage doesn’t happen to be lost, bring comfortable clothes and shoes for the cooking classes and excursions.
  • Chef Carmen selects the dishes based on skill level and available seasonal ingredients. She’s flexible to suggestions.
  • Be prepared to COOK! There’s plenty of relaxing time on the tour, but the cooking is no joke. You will learn, and you will love it.

Disclosure: My Women’s Only Week Culinary Vacation was provided for review by The International Kitchen. Rest assured, though, that all opinions — as always — are entirely my own.


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Pompeii IS amazing. I had no idea! My art-historian sis INSISTED we go there. I had no interest at all. I was blown away by that place. Your pics are an excellent representation. I was taken aback by the streets and the neighborhoods. Love your photos! Bravissima!


It would be so amazing to go with an art historian! For the first part of our time there, I’d wished we had beautiful blue skies. But after 30 minutes or so, I was SO grateful it was cloudy and late October. I can’t imagine going there in the heat of summer, but I would definitely love to go back with longer to explore. Have you been to any of the other buried towns around Vesuvio?

Amanda @ MoveLoveEat

Wow, who would have known about the Peens :P Pompei looks like an amazing place to go, I haven’t made it over there yet unfortunately but I think we will definitely need to get a guide when we do.


Ha, right??! It was like Where’s Waldo for adults. ;) And a guide is a MUST for learning all of the cool facts — just don’t go with one of those huge tour groups. Those looked awful!


Wow.. looks like such a packed day for you! Haha I don’t think I would have noticed the penis unless someone pointed them out to me. I was wondering what you meant by the P word. don’t remember learning about all this in history class. I would definitely love to visit one day.


Yeah, the peens were subtle, but definitely there. Many decorative ones were removed and put in museums — apparently there used to be a lot more! Ha. You know, I think more people would pay attention in history class if they mentioned ALL of the facts. :)


I have been to Pompeii about 4 or 5 times and it never ceases to amaze. Yes, you are correct, it is a killer on a hot day, but the last time I tried to go, storm clouds were rolling in and I turned the car around on the autostrada as Pompeii in the rain would just be terrible. Unfortunately, my kids never got to see it.

I would love to have joined you at lunch after Pompeii, because that’s what REAL pasta looks like! See how they serve it with the tomato sauce mixed in? Not a clump of sauce sitting on white noodles as they do here in the US. Looks incredible, as does your cooking class again! Btw, can’t believe still no luggage after 4 days!


I’m so envious of all of the time you’ve spent in Italy! You’re right about the rain — the ground was a little wet when we arrived from a shower the night before, and the slope walking into the city was a bit treacherous! In actual rain, it would be awful. And that pasta — SO, so good. Probably the best I had the entire trip. And yep — we didn’t get our luggage back till the evening of the FIFTH day! Still no apology from U.S. Airways or Lufthansa. I won’t hold my breath. ;)

Britany Robinson

I honestly knew nothing about Pompeii but this sounds absolutely fascinating. I like the mix you got of history lessons and booze on this trip. Sounds like my kind of travel!


It was SO amazing. Next time you go to Italy, you really should check it out — or one of the other buried villages! And I will tell you what — the International Kitchen did an AMAZING job balancing the work/play aspects of this trip. I never would’ve been able to do a day this long if not for the luxuriously relaxing lunch and ample amounts of wine. And it was ALL included, with the exception of tips for tour guides!


Sounds like you needed a vacation from your vacation! Thanks for the insight into Pompeii, but I am even more grateful for the tip on Herculaneum. I hate crowds and so it isn’t likely that I would go to Pompeii if I could go to Herculaneum, unless I went way, way off season. The food looks amazing – like all food in Italy! Have you been trying them out at home now that you are back?


Yes — Pompeii is totally worth seeing, but I’m with you — if you can avoid the crowds by going to one of the smaller (and arguably better) sites, that’s what I’d do next time. That pasta al pomodoro was one of my absolute favorites of the entire trip. I actually made it for myself once while I was staying in an apartment in Florence! I actually haven’t made any Italian food since I’ve been back, with the exception of the potato-encrusted fish we made once in cooking class. Mine was SO not as good, and now I’m too nervous to try again just yet. :)

Colleen Brynn

I did NOT see this side of Pompeii when I was there… I saw none of this in fact. Gah. Should have sprung for a tour guide but I was broke and 19 and it was hot. We did probably dive into some pasta like you did after, which kind of makes up for it? I love the simplicity of Italian cooking when done like this… that was one thing I really appreciated there. They could do exquisite dishes with simple ingredients and it was life changing. Of course there are lots of other more complex Italian dishes, but the principle stands. Simple, fresh ingredients = yum.


Haha, one of the benefits of taking a tour! Though I definitely would’ve loved more time to explore just on my own. Or more time to explore in general! And you’re absolutely right about the simplicity of their food. If the dish itself isn’t simple, at least the ingredients usually are. That pasta was one of my absolute favorites, and all it is was tomato sauce and basil! Yet I salivate just thinking about it.

What Solo Travel Is Really Like. - Domestiphobia

[…] even more wine consumption while getting chauffeured to the top sights around the peninsula — wine tasting on Mount Vesuvius, ceramic shopping on the Amalfi Coast, Michelin star dining in Sant’ Agata, clothes shopping […]


Some of that food looks damned delicious, but the art-themes are particularly interesting,


That’s because it WAS damned delicious! You should definitely check out that part of the world. :)



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