Ciao Italy:Pompeii and Vesuvius

When visiting Naples, it seems like a shame to not at least attempt to make a pit stop at Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Both these sites have captured global wonder for the longest time, serving as a lesson in human mortality at the hands of nature and a tale of tragedy. No matter what discipline you come from, whether that be history, science, literature or anything else there’s something of interest to be discovered.

I chose to go on a tour that combined a visit to Pompeii and Vesuvius in one day. This is because I read that the local train lines to Pompeii are rife with petty crime (in fact, people I know have seen people being robbed on this trip) and also, Vesuvius seemed rather difficult to get to without a bus or car.

The tour bus departed from Naples station, making short work of the trip between the capital and the ruins. Near the entrance to Pompeii, there are crowds of tourist stores and hecklers, trying to get you to buy their water and hats. The actual ticket booth is much more sedate. By the time we arrived all the English maps and pamphlets for the day were already gone. However, seeing as we had a guide there wasn’t a huge need for them anyway.

There are actually a few theatres in Pompeii.  This one that we started the tour off is on the larger side. It was really something, to sit on the steps where thousands of years earlier wealthy Romans would have been laying down, watching comedies and dramas emerge.

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Once again, modern art was so be found within the ruins. Giant statues towered over the ruins, and like Pompeii, they too were broken and imperfect. I actually really enjoyed these artworks along with the ruins. Their scale helped put into perspective just how towering this city must have been back when it was in its prime.

Casa del Menandro is one of the larger houses that you can wander into. The house takes its name from a fresco of the Greek playwright Menandro found within its walls. The size of the buildings, the beautiful frescos and the fact that this residence had its own private bath reveals that once a very wealthy family lived here.

The Lupanare is apparently one of the most visited buildings in the entire city. This small building was back in its heyday a brothel. As Pompeii was a merchant town with plenty of travellers, the erotic imagery on the walls, worked as a sort of menu for people looking for a good time, no matter what language they spoke.

I think that to many the thermal baths are truly one of the greatest achievements of Ancient Rome.  From the remains of the bath, it was still possible to tell that the bath, especially the men’s bath had once been ornately decorated with tiles and mosaics. The impressive, larger than life statues I saw the day before in the Naples museum also sprung to mind.

At the main forums, you can see rows and rows of pottery, daily artefacts and plaster casts of the animal and human remains. There is always a line down this way, so I only had a few brief moments with everything, but the sheer number of things on display was overwhelming. It was strange to think that this represented only a tiny fraction of what was found in the city as a whole. By the time of the eruption many had already left Pompeii and taken their previous cargo with them, much had been destroyed and of what was left the most precious has already been taken by museums.

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When you start walking around, you get a sense of just how large the town was. Sure, there are plenty of tourists, but apart from in a few key buildings it never feels crowded. I didn’t have much of a chance to get lost, apart from a bit of a harrowing moment when I was separated from the rest of the group, but what I saw was still amazing.

Climbing Mount Vesuvius is an experience that I’ll never forget! Not so much because of the mountain itself, but rather, the shocking weather. As I was ascending up the mountain, the scent of sulfate hung heavy in the air, but so did a very thick mist. If anything, it looked like something out of a horror game!

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Although I did manage to get to the top of the volcano, the rain and fog totally obscured the view of the city on one side and the crater on the other. I ended up standing in a souvenir store for 20 minutes waiting for the hail and rain to ease up before descending. The only half way decent photos I ended up taking were when some of the mist started to roll out, and I could catch a tiny glimpse of what must be an amazing view.

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In another twist of fate, by the time I had returned to my Airbnb in Naples, it was warm again! All my wet clothes and hair had already dried from the afternoon sun. Perhaps the sun had put me in a good mood, but instead of being frustrated, I just put it in my stride and had a laugh. Sure, it was disappointing that I didn’t get to see Mount Vesuvius the way you’re meant to, but I have a story to tell and a reason to visit again!

Tips:
There are very little explanations for any of the ruins around so a guide of some sort is essential for Pompeii. I chose to go with a tour to make things more convenient, but there’s a whole host of other options. There’s always guides at the gates offering their services but I can’t vouch for the quality of any of them. If you want an audio tour, make sure you arrive early as they tend to go quickly. Otherwise, some people have reported that it’s possible to have a very good time with just a guide book and some map reading skills.

It’s very possible to spend a whole day in Pompeii. My tour meant that I wasn’t able to, but if you’re interested in the ruins the town is sprawling and there is so much to see! As a word of warning, there is not much shade, so bring a hat and some water and wear comfortable walking shoes!

As you may have figured from my photos, make sure you check the weather before you climb Vesuvius. Not only is being stuck up the mountain in a storm not very fun, but there really is absolutely nothing to see!

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