We boarded the train at the Roma Termini towards Napoli early one Monday. I picked up a recently outdated Italian newspaper on the seat next to me. Although i could barely read it, there was no mistaking a picture of the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots from a few days before on the front page. Nice to see my beautiful part of the world on fire on the front page of Il Manifesto. Sort of. We chatted a fellow across the aisle in broken Italian, and he replied in broken English. He asked where we were from, i showed him the front page of Il Manifesto.
In Naples, we found our connection to Pompei easily enough. This train was a public transit train. Shabbier, no A/C. Thirty minutes later we were at Pompei’s doorstep. From here, we took an open air bus to Mount Vesuvius. With their intertwined histories, you can’t see one without the other. A tourist bus drives us up a narrow road, negotiating countless tight switchbacks along the way. The sort of switchbacks where the driver needs to blow the horn at every blind turn to warn oncoming traffic. Everyone gets off at the terminus. There’s a lot of activity here due to all the buses and private vehicles that make their way up here. Cheap souvenirs, postcards, ice cream, snacks. Fill your boots, you’re about to go on a hell of a hike. The road only goes halfway up Vesuvius. The rest is up to you, and it’s a long way to the top. There’s a well maintained but steep trail that leads to the crater. Trouble is, with our huge backpacks, there was no way we were both going to make it to the top and back. There’s a time limit, your ride back to Pompei leaves in ninety minutes, with or without you, as the song says.
Narrow road leading up Vesuvius. Killer switchback ahead!
There are several odd statues along the road up the volcano.
So Dianne found a park bench while i raced to the top (I forget if we tossed a coin for this or not, but in hindsight, she might have won the toss). Saying i raced to the top is lying. It’s a steep climb. In this heat all you can do is pace yourself. The views of Pompei below, with Naples and the Mediterranean sea in the hazy distance are wonderful (Caesar, i can see your house from here!). Forty minutes later i was peering in the crater. I couldn’t believe how many people had trekked up here in flip flops. Like they’re out on a casual stroll. Meanwhile, in my comfortable shoes blisters were popping with every step.
If you want to peer inside the crater, it’s all uphill.
Plumes of smoke coming from the heart of the crater remind you that this volcano will one day devastate again. I hope today’s not the day.
In 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompei below in ash, along with the neighboring town of Herculaneum, killing thousands. The towns were actually all but forgotten until an architect named Fontana (Fontana the Architect, they called him) discovered them in 1599 while architecting (!) a canal. It took another 150 years to organise any serious excavations. Work continues today.
Napoli and the Med in the haze.
After a quick drink of overpriced bottled water – there’s a cafe at the top of Vesuvius and they know you are thirsty if you made it here – i quickly hiked back down to rejoin Dianne who had been patiently waiting with my pack for the last hour or so. With but a second to spare, we’re back on the bus to Pompei. I marvelled at how Dianne looked remarkably fresh sitting next to sweaty, dusty me. We were dropped off where we started at Pompei’s front gates. Our day was about to start going down hill (pun intended). You know when a bad experience becomes a highlight when you look back? That kind of bad.
If you’d like to visit Mount Vesuvius or other regions of Italy, visit our website or email us directly firstname.lastname@example.org Make your own travel plans, or we can certainly assist you as well.
– Dianne & Mike, see you on the road!