Europe Day 5 – Ash and Volcanoes

The following morning I’d hoped we would have been able to leave the hotel early so we could get to Pompeii as early as possible. However this was not the case; the friend I’d gone with decided that we didn’t need that much time in Pompeii as it didn’t look that big. I chose not to argue whilst it did turn out it would have been nice for more time we soon found out it was too warm to stay there long anyway. So, we got breakfast from a place near the hotel – fortunately this was the last time we needed to get breakfast away from the hotel. It was a peculiar way to be served water and croissants – you eat and drink at the counter standing up which leaves you feeling a little rushed; but it was actually a very cheap, but nice breakfast.

We made our way over to the Garibaldi train station and was able to get tickets to Pompeii very easily from the ticket office. The thing to remember here is that the tickets are actually in the direction of Salerno and that they have two types of train which go there. It was a bit confusing trying to follow the directions we were given to get to the correct platform. Eventually we found someone on one of the underground platforms who was able to translate directions from a guard for us. So we followed his directions and got down off the platform and crossed the railway track onto the platform on the other side just as we’d been told to. Sure enough when a train pulled in it said Salerno on it, so we were confident we were about embark in the correct direction.

We were a bit dubious as to whether or not the train was the correct one, it seemed a bit too run-down and empty for it to be the main way of getting to Pompeii from Naples. It’s a strange journey when you’re constantly looking out for signs to try and figure out whether or not it’s the right train after you’ve already boarded it. It took about 3 stops to finally find one which we could find on the map in my tour book – I did have a feeling we were heading in the right direction before that but it’s always a relief to know for sure. The train followed the coastline around avoiding most the settlements and took around 40 minutes to get us to the Pompeii Scavi stop.

Forum, Pompeii

When you get off the train at the stop we did you’d be fooled into thinking that the ruins of ancient Pompeii aren’t important to the locals. We wandered around the town looking for the ruins and we found a tourism place, however it was closed. By some miracle it wasn’t that long until we found an entrance into the ruins. It costs €11 to get inside the ruins, and at the time we were led to believe that it also included Herculaneum. The first thing you can see from the Piazza Anfiteatro entrance into the ancient city is an amphitheatre (which is anfiteatro in Italian which is where the name for the entrance comes from). As it seemed fairly empty around this area we decided to move fast and get as many photographs as we could which were clear of tourists so we turned west down Necropoli di Porta Nocera which is lined with tombs.

Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis Sicula)

On the way from the entrance to the main road through Pompeii (which leads to the Forum) we had a reason to pause – I noticed an Italian wall lizard scurrying along one of the walls so had to pause for photographs and some video. It’s amazing how fast they move, and whilst watching them we managed to see two chasing each other and fighting in the middle of the “road”. Unfortunately the ones we saw didn’t stay still much either so it was hard to get really close up photographs of them but I did the best I could.

Frozen in time

From here we continued on to Via dell’Abbondanza which led directly to the forum. This area of Pompeii always seems to be filled with tourists making it so incredibly hard to take good shots clear of other people. Around this area there is also a number of bodies covered in ash, which has effectively frozen them in time so you can see what they were doing at the time of the catastrophe. One of the bodies here is squatting, suggesting that the poor victim knew the futility of running and instead cowered in fear. From the forum it’s not far down Via dell Tombe to the Villa dei Misteri where there is another body, one which looks like his or her last moments were sheer agony from the look on their face. It’s hard to imagine what these people must have been thinking and how they reacted to their impending doom. From the few bodies on display in Pompeii we can at least guess that not everyone acted the same way; it wasn’t like a Hollywood disaster movie.

By this time it was getting close to mid-afternoon so we headed in the direction of the amphitheater back near where we’d started so we’d done a full lap of Pompeii and had lunch. The ramp leading down into the Amphitheater is actually quite steep so I’d recommend wearing sensible footwear if you go to Pompeii. When we left, we did so via the Porta Marina exit which actually comes out at another train station, the circumvesuviana which is what we should have used on the way to Pompeii. We didn’t take the train all the way back to Naples as we wanted to go up the volcano which caused the devastation all those years ago, Vesuvius.

We were told the best place to go up there from was Ercolano so we got off at Ercolano Scavi and almost immediately after leaving the train station we found a tourist place that did bus trips up the volcano. The bus ride up cost €16.50 each, and it was lucky we’d gotten there when we did – the last bus up was at 15:50. Whilst waiting in the tourism place we started talking to a couple of American girls from Dallas (Texas) though I forget their names now. They were on the homeward stretch of their own journey which had started in Paris and had continued from the top of Italy, working their way down from city to city. Of course it was kind of similar to what we’d just started doing, just in reverse and with a different starting country. The bus ride zigzags up the side of the volcano and is reminiscent of the bus journey up Machu Picchu from Agua Calientes the previous year; except this time it was safer as there were barriers to stop you going over the edge should you find yourself needing to swerve. When the bus stops it is still not the top. We were given until 17:10 to reach the summit, look around, and get back. So we wandered up with the two Americans talking about the differences between British and American culture and of what we’d seen so far.

Vesuvius

When we reached the crater I think the reaction my friend gave is the same sort of reaction many people seem to give when visiting a volcano and that is to wonder where all the lava is. Some people don’t seem to realise that an active volcano can be plugged – which in face most are except for the most active of them (or those which are about to blow). In hindsight it probably wasn’t the cleverest of ideas, but after we had finished at the summit of the volcano we decided to run back down it to make sure we weren’t late. If you’ve ever run down steep sides where the floor beneath you is loose then you’ll realise how bad an idea it actually is. There were various points where the running wasn’t just running but more of a slide as we had to try and get round corners. Normally you’d slow down for a corner when you’re running or driving, but when the ground is so loose you can’t actually slow yourself down it is not particularly easy. The thing about Italy was that it was so much hotter than Berlin as well, we were well into the 30’s (Celsius) and after running it only makes you feel hotter.

After Vesuvius we headed to the ruins of Herculaneum in Ercolano with the Americans. Unfortunately we couldn’t actually enter the ruins as the tickets we were led to believe at the kiosk in Pompeii would cover Herculaneum as well did not. So we said farewell to the Americans and wished them well for the remainder of their holiday as we made our way back to the Ercolano Scavi train station. Once more we had a bit of trouble with the trains in that our tickets were refusing to validate, however one of the locals who was about to get the same train was able to help us by fooling the machine into thinking it was a different ticket. The amusing thing here though is that it was the ticket attendants idea for the lady helping us to try that!

Herculaneum

The train ride back was a little interesting to say the least. Normally it would be safe to say that if you are on a moving train that the doors would be closed. Right? Wrong! Locals were hanging out of the doors of the speeding train to keep cool in the searing summer heat. I can only imagine what would have happened if we’d passed another train too closely. I’m only guessing here, but I think they would have regretted it. As I’d been standing near the doors due to the busyness of the train I opted to sit on the floor instead as it seemed like the safer option.

When we were back at the Napoli Garibaldi station we were a little worried whether or not our tickets would work on the barriers considering our tickets wouldn’t validate properly despite having bought them from the ticket office. Fortunately we never got to find out as the barriers were open – but once through we realised where we’d made the mistake in the morning. The person at the ticket office had told us our platform was at the end of the station and to turn right there – which we thought we had. As it turned out there was a little entrance just past the one we’d taken in the morning which led to the Napoli Metropolitane.

We ate at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel that night, and I think it was possibly the worst meal during the entire holiday as it was swimming in a pool of grease, and the chicken had very little meat on it. I think after having experienced Naples I wouldn’t recommend going there unless you really want to see the castle there as there isn’t a great deal to see, and the food in the places we’d tried didn’t seem that great.

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