I can’t remember exactly when I first learned about the tragic fate of the famous city of Pompeii, but I remember looking at those fascinating images of a city frozen in time and thinking “I want to go there someday. I want to walk those streets.” Up until our trip to Italy this spring, I had never been any further south in Italy than Rome. When the Mr. proposed we visit the island of Ischia, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that we would be fairly close to Pompeii.
We weren’t quite sure how to fit a visit to the city into our plans. We originally were going to finish up the trip by taking the train from Naples to Pompeii early in the morning, see the site and spend the night somewhere in the area before making our way back up north by train. When we discovered that you could do an organized day trip to Pompeii from Ischia, we thought that sounded like the easier option and what would make the most sense given that we would be on the island for 11 nights. We’d have plenty of time to fit a day trip in.
What I didn’t count on was that when it came time to book the day trip, the Mr. would balk at the 5.45 am pick up time and bail on me. Actually, in some ways, splitting up for the day made a lot of sense as the Mr. wanted to tackle Mount Epomeo on Ischia, and I really didn’t want to do that. I’m not much of a mountain climber, and the Mr. also wasn’t really certain how easy and accessible the path would be from where he wanted to hike up (and it turned out it was a good thing I didn’t go as the path wasn’t so easy in places). So I decided I’d sign up for the day tour to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius on my own with a company that offers tours in both Italian and German. I hoped maybe I’d be able to follow the German a bit, but I was also realistic enough to know that there would be a good chance I wouldn’t understand so much if it was a non-native speaker doing the talking (and yep, I understood maybe 10% of what our bus driver\guide said).
Unfortunately there was no tour offered that went only to Pompeii, so the other disappointment about the tour was that we would have only a couple of hours on the site to explore before we’d head on to Mount Vesuvius. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see Vesuvius, I just would have preferred to have had the better part of a day to take in Pompeii. It’s actually a fairly large site (it was a city, after all) and although it hasn’t been entirely excavated yet, one could easily spend an entire day walking around. But doing a day tour from Ischia and back again means you can only fit in so much, especially when the tour includes a second stop.
We were picked up at literally the crack of dawn by a bus, loaded onto the ferry, journeyed over to Naples and then had to hop on a bus to get to Pompeii. I was a little torn about what to do when we arrived. There was a guide who had been hired to lead our group around, and although I could understand her a little better than the bus driver, I wasn’t sure whether I should stay with the group or break off my own. My frustration was that we had such a short amount of time to see Pompeii, and she talked about each of the stops in both German and Italian, wasting (from my point of view) precious minutes. And even though I had an audio guide with English, it was sometimes difficult to figure out exactly where we were, find the right number, and punch it in. And then the recording would finish and I would be standing there, straining to make out bits of German as the guide talked on, sharing bits of information and stories that weren’t on the audio guide. I couldn’t usually understand enough to make me want to stay, but after wandering off my own a couple of times I actually got a bit worried that I might get lost and not find my way back to the bus on time. So in the end, I stayed with the group but off to the side listening to my guide. I realized that although we weren’t going to cover much physical ground, the tour was going to cover the major highlights of the site so I figured I should just relax and accept that I wasn’t going to see everything in such a short amount of time. There’s always next time, right?
After the tour ended, we had about 45 minutes to grab something to eat and\or buy souvenirs. I had a fairly tasty Panini for lunch and a delicious glass of fresh orange juice at one of the many restaurant stalls lining up just outside the Pompeii entrance. It was really interesting that apart from one restaurant/cafe in the middle of the site, there was no main visitor’s center with a gift shop and restaurant/cafe as one might expect in a major tourist attraction. In some ways, it’s almost a better system because all of the vendors right outside the entrance are competing for your business, so that competition probably helps ensure better service. Also, it’s giving more jobs to local people versus just a handful of employees that would run a visitor’s center cafe and gift shop.
From Pompeii, we hopped back on our bus and made our way up to the top of Mount Vesuvius National Park. It was a beautiful drive up as you take in the Bay of Naples and climb higher and higher. Up at the top, we hopped out of our mini bus and were instructed to head towards a hut at the foot of the path that leads up to the crater. Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano, but what you can see is its ancient (and now inactive) crater, Monte Somma. The hike up took around a half hour and apart from the great views of the Bay of Naples, wasn’t particularly pleasant. It was extremely windy, and dusty, dusty, dusty. I ended up having to give my shoes a bath the next day as the were completely covered in fine volcanic dust. At the top, there’s a path that winds around the crater and it is pretty awesome to behold and imagine what it must have been like when this thing blew its top. I made it all the way around to the final little hut (there were huts scattered along the way up, each selling souvenirs and refreshments) before turning around and heading back down.
The weird thing about Mount Vesuvius National Park? There must have been hundreds of people there that day, while I was there, and I would imagine thousands over the course of a day. I asked several times, because it seemed to so hard to believe, but there was only one toilet, in a shop at the entrance of the path up to the crater. You were expected to buy something and be a customer before using their loo (though many people were shaking their head in disbelief and didn’t), and it was apparently the only one in the entire National Park. And let me tell you, if you were thinking about communing with nature and going at the top of the crater (because there was nothing once you started hiking up), there wasn’t anything to hide behind. I’m guessing if you had had an emergency while you were climbing up some of the little huts might have had a loo for their worker, but it definitely wasn’t advertised as a public facility. After waiting for 20 minutes for the one down in the shop, I finally got to go but ended up running for my bus and was five minutes late. I don’t know what the Italian authorities are thinking, providing one toilet for hundreds of people, but you would think someone would have the common sense to do something about it. (Or at least those poor shop owners would. They looked pretty disgruntled at the line for the loo snaking out of their store….)
Back on the bus, we made our way back to Naples and caught the ferry over and were then dropped off at our respective hotels. All in all, I was pleased I had gone but next time I think the Mr. and I will make our way to Pompeii on our own so we can take as much time as we’d like.