Remind me never to drive in Italy

Pompeii Travel Blog

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Entrance to Pompeii ruins

We got to the train station a little early to get our seat reservations but had some problems with the language barrier.  We thought the ticket seller told us to wait 30 minutes and then our tickets would be 5 Euro instead of 20.  That would only give us 6 minutes to run to the train.  We thought this was odd but as we watched other people in line, many of them got their tickets and dashed off to the trains.  Maybe they knew about this Italian custom and we did not.  So at our given time we went up to buy our cheap tickets.  Nope, too late we were told.  We wouldn't make the train now.  What?  Turns out the first guy was trying to get us to take the earlier train, not wait to buy cheap, last minute tickets.  So we just took the next train instead, a little miffed that we waited around for 30 mintues when we could have been on our way!

We arrived in Naples and made our way to the Circumvesuviana train.

Mt. Vesuvius, here we come
  Again, Rick Steves let us down.  His directions failed.  But to give him a little credit, they were doing some remodeling there.  We got in line for the package deals because that was the only ticket seller that spoke English.  We knew we wanted to see the ruins at Pompeii and take the bus ride up to the crater of Mount Vesuvius.  We did the math in our head and the bus tour to Vesuvius was the better deal - plus a little less hassle trying to buy tickets there.  As we bought our package deal, the woman told us we would not be able to do the ruins at Pompeii because they close at 15:30.  What?  We were very disappointed.  We had planned out our trip so we could do both.
first room I saw in Pompeii
  What did she know that we didn't?

We took the Circumvesuviana train to Pompei.  The commuter train was full so we stood near the door with a bunch of other people.  Partway there, a man got on who was not in touch with this world.  He stood by the door talking to himself and sneezing and coughing and spitting out the door.  It was disgusting.  Slowly the people standing around him, us included, made their way to a different area of the train.  I couldn't stop staring at him, he was completely oblivious to everyone else around him.  Finally he got off the train and immediately we doused our hands in hand sanitizer.  Ick!

We double checked the closing time at the ruins and we were both right.  The last entrance is at 15:30, but it does not close until 17:30.

great timing...
  We would have time to do both if we hurried.  We ran off to find the bus tour.  There was no clearly marked spot that said "board here for bus tour to Vesuvius", so we wandered around, wondering if we were in the wrong place.  The Rick Steves directions led us here, but, well, he had let us down before and I was beginning to doubt him.  We met a couple of English girls that were also looking for the bus and they called to us when the bus did eventually show up.  So we ran back down the hill (we were heading back to the ruins to look up there for the stop). 

The drive there was very wild, for lack of a better word.  I was trying to get a photo of the volcano as we drove, but we were going really fast and kept changing lanes abruptly so I couldn't get a good shot.

Intricate detail preserved
  Then I saw a great opportunity and snapped my photo just as a small cluster of trees perfectly lined up and blocked the volcano.  I couldn't have done that if I tried.  Most of the drive was spent holding on for dear life with one hand and trying to take a photo with the other (and trying not to get car sick and throw up in the bus!).

Soon we turned off the highway and began the windy road to the top.  At every curve, the driver would honk, then whip around as fast as he could.  Or so it seemed.  Back and forth through many switchbacks.  He stopped near the top so we could get a nice photo of the Bay of Naples and then brought us to the top.  He told us to be back by 13:10.  We had about 60 minutes to walk to the top, take photos and get back.

holding on for dear life!
  Or else we miss Pompeii.  I had read that it is a steep 30 minute climb - great, that doesn't give us much time!  So off we went. 

We stopped to take photos at intervals that conveniently coincided with our need to stop for a quick break.  It was hard walking - the steep trail had a lot of loose rock that we kept slipping on.  But eventually we made it to the top, legs and lungs burning.  Yay!  There was steam coming out of a vent!  I was secretly hoping we'd get to experience an earthquake or even an eruption up there, but nothing exciting happened.  We took our photos and decided to head back.  There is a little gift shop up at the top and a few more at the bottom.  But we skipped these - we didn't want to miss our bus.

one of many storage rooms of artifacts
  We made it back, hopped on the bus and ate our lunch.  The bus driver left a few minutes early and our English girls weren't on the bus.  I wondered if they were planning on taking a later bus?  Maybe they thought they couldn't do both the volcano and the ruins in one day.  I felt a little guilty as the bus pulled away without them but I didn't see them anywhere. 

We raced back down the volcano and got to the bottom just in time to get stuck in a traffic jam.  Cars honking, driving the wrong way on the streets, scooters darting in and out, fists shaking, etc.  The inconviences we take to avoid driving in a foreign country are sometimes well worth it.   So what if we would have liked more time on the volcano?  Sure beats having to drive there!  Back at the bottom, we thanked our driver and very shaky legged walked back up the hill to the ruins.  Plenty of time! We got our tickets at 15:00!

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Naples

We got our tickets to the ruins of Pompeii and headed in.  You get a map of the city with numbered sites marked and a corresponding booklet that has a brief description of the room or site you are looking at.  It is well designed, but we had trouble finding a couple spots.  So we started out at number one and were already out of order by number 8.  Then we decided to just skip around and see the sights we wanted to see and any that were nearby. 

I was amazed to see Mount Vesuvius looming in the background of many of the stops (but what did I expect?).  For those who need a history lesson, Pompeiians didn't know they were living at the base of an active volcano when it erupted in A.

statues in room
D. 79.  The town was covered in super-heated ash that buried the citizens and their town before they really knew what hit them.  The victims suffocated under the ash and their body casts were preserved.  Archaeologists noticed air pockets in the ash when they were excavating and pourced plaster into the cavaties.  Out came life sized casts of humans and dogs, many appeared to be writhing in pain.  Some were holding loved ones.  Its quite sad and yet amazing, too.  This is another thing I heard about when I was little (I was infatuated with natural disasters) and I really wanted to see the site someday.  The science museum in St. Paul (Minnesota) recently had an exhibit on Pompeii, but I was determined to see the real thing, and a few months later here I am!  The town of Herculaneum suffered a similar fate, but we didn't go there.
Ahh! Its going to erupt!

The town is about 80% dug out but many sites need some restoration or are under renovation.   Near the big grassy square are several rooms filled with artifacts including more body casts and lots of amphorae (big pottery).  I was amazed at some of the details that survived the eruption.  Some very intricate carvings were preserved, statues, mosaics and even some color paintings!  Most of the artifacts have been removed and are located in the archaeological museum in Naples, but we didn't have time to go there.

Back in the day, the city was flooded daily to remove waste in the streets.  Large stepping stones allow pedestrians to cross flooded streets.

body cast
  The number of stones relates to how busy the street was.  A chariot can pass over one stone, so two stones in a road means it is a two way street.  You can even see the ancient wheel grooves in some of the roads. 

We toured the baths, some fast food eateries and a couple of bakeries.  I really wanted to see the bakery but we couldn't find it.  We were headed off to the far northwest area, an area that is supposed to have more bodies and other things.  But we were so tired from climbing up Vesuvius that we decided to re-think our tour here.  Michele wanted to see the colosseum and ampitheater, both of which were about as far away as you could get in the opposite direction.  I sort of wanted to keep going, but didn't really want to do both.

Vesuvius crater
  Plus we didn't think we could cover all that ground in the little time we had left.  So we turned around and went the other way, finally finding the bakery.  We also saw some Italians climbing the walls to pick lemons.   Maybe they thought they were eating lemons from the same tree the ancient Pompeiians did, I don't know.

We dragged our feet off to the brothel on the way to the colosseum.  It was interesting, complete with stone beds and pillows (very uncomfortable looking).  Erotic pictures were painted above the doorways, perhaps as a menu for guests.  Eventually we found the little ampitheater, but somehow ended up in the bottom stage area.  We sat to rest as a tour group came through up top, knowing we were probably in a bunch of pictures and not caring.

me crossing the street
  Then we went off to the colosseum.  Once we got there, we couldn't find the way in, and being a little tired and cranky, we were a little pissed that we walked all the way over here and couldn't see it.  But Michele was deteremined and she set off to find the entrance.  Sure enough, on the opposite side of us was the entrance. 

The colosseum was mostly overgrown with grass, but you still got an idea of how many people could fit there to watch gladiators or whatever they were watching.  We walked across and out the other entrance, near where we first walked up but didn't see it.  And then we decided it was time to head back out since it was near closing time.  We were dragging our feet, which is not the safest way to walk over paving stones.

Michele and me at the crater of Mount Vesuvius!
  We were exhausted.  We figured we walked about 5 miles through the city and only saw a small portion of it.  You would need all day to go through the whole thing.  Maybe I will come back again - I could easily spend another day wandering around Pompeii.  But we did climb Mount Vesuvius so I can check that off my list of things to do. 

When we got back to Naples, we set off in search of a restaurant that bears Michele's name.  The city was in the middle of a rubbish strike, so there was trash everywhere.  It was disgusting and dirty.  We went a few blocks and decided we didn't want to be here any more.  Instead we ate a couple slices of pizza at the train station and went home.  Another exhausting day completed.

ela3211 says:
great blog and great pictures!
thankyou :)
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012
lilredhead611 says:
I visited Pompeii when I went to Italy while in high school. It is a pretty amazing place. I remember thinking the crosswalks were cool. I love your pictures!
Posted on: Jul 06, 2008
Entrance to Pompeii ruins
Entrance to Pompeii ruins
Mt. Vesuvius, here we come
Mt. Vesuvius, here we come
first room I saw in Pompeii
first room I saw in Pompeii
great timing...
great timing...
Intricate detail preserved
Intricate detail preserved
holding on for dear life!
holding on for dear life!
one of many storage rooms of artif…
one of many storage rooms of arti…
Naples
Naples
statues in room
statues in room
Ahh!  Its going to erupt!
Ahh! Its going to erupt!
body cast
body cast
Vesuvius crater
Vesuvius crater
me crossing the street
me crossing the street
Michele and me at the crater of Mo…
Michele and me at the crater of M…
second room - I forget what it is
second room - I forget what it is
Me on Mount Vesuvius
Me on Mount Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius through arch
Mt. Vesuvius through arch
cool clouds coming over mountains
cool clouds coming over mountains
more body casts and storage
more body casts and storage
Michele and me on the trail to the…
Michele and me on the trail to th…
Michele crossing street
Michele crossing street
Low clouds over Capri
Low clouds over Capri
private pool
private pool
sign pointing the way
sign pointing the way
bakery
bakery
fast food bar
fast food bar
picking lemons
picking lemons
pretty painted room
pretty painted room
wheel groves around stones
wheel groves around stones
menu at brothel
"menu" at brothel
Temple of Isis
Temple of Isis
ampitheater
ampitheater
entrance to colosseum
entrance to colosseum
colosseum seating
colosseum seating
Pompeii woman
Pompeii woman
view of modern day Pompeii
view of modern day Pompeii
Pompeii
photo by: Grpablo