Due to our Airbnb host getting back to us rather late on the morning we left, we were not able to take an early train to Pompeii.
We arrived at the main station in Naples at about 10am to find the platform rammed with people waiting for the notorious Circumvesuviana, the private train that runs around Mount Vesuvius from Naples to Sorrento, stopping at Pompeii Scavi (scavi means ‘ruins’) and about 30 other stops along the way.
It is an old dirty train and it was PACKED. We were standing up the whole way and it was hard to avoid knocking into other people as the train sped up and slowed down to stop at places where hardly anyone got on or off.
At Pompeii the train pretty much emptied and we’d read that the entrance to Pompeii was about 500 metres up the road. This wasn’t true – it was almost opposite the station. Super handy, as were the free bag lockers that were, quite miraculously, mostly empty. We’d brought along all our luggage and were a tiny bit concerned that our bags wouldn’t fit but they did, plus there was an office for super large bags near the ticket windows.
We put our bags in then sat at one of the two open air restaurants opposite the entrance to the site and had a sandwich and a drink. Even at such a touristy location the prices weren’t awful – we could have food and a drink from about ten euros each. The restaurant also had quite an interesting display of labeled herbs and fruit trees spread around the tables. Here’s some lemons that were on display. Huge!
Eventually we sucked up our courage (it was a very hot day) and ventured out. The ticket queue was long but moved at a reasonable speed and we downloaded a Rick Steves audio tour of Pompeii while we waited.
Eventually we got in and wandered around, stopping in shady spots (there aren’t many) to listen to the podcast tour. If you haven’t heard of Rick Steves and you like travel, he’s worth investigating. My friend Jess’ mother, Wendy, recommended him to us. He’s an American who runs tours and writes and makes travel videos about Europe. He talks to locals, promotes sustainable and low cost travel and has quite a nice accent and enthusiastic manner. We listened to quite a few of his podcasts and watched his videos before we left.
The audio tour was quite informative and we also listened in to a few bits of guided tours that happened around us. It did seem that a few of the major buildings were closed while we were there and so we didn’t see the public baths and a few houses.
We stayed for about two hours but eventually the heat defeated us. There are taps on many of the street corners and so I did what I do at summer music festivals and soaked a cotton scarf and wrapped it around my head and shoulders. It helped somewhat but the reflected heat from all the dirt and stone was intense.
I think my favourite part of the city was the mosaic of Alexander the Great – someone I studied in high school and found fascinating. The mosaic (a replica, the original is in Naples) depicts a battle between Alexander and Darius, who led the Persian army. The guide who was talking near us was asking his group if they knew about Bucephalus (Alexander’s horse – a legend in itself) and various other things and I wanted to butt in and show off but managed to restrain myself with great difficulty.
We left knowing we hadn’t seen it all and probably wouldn’t come back. I did enjoy getting a feel for the layout of the city and the technology and everyday life of people who lived so long ago. I would love to see parts of the city restored more fully – we didn’t see any actual work going on while we were there and weeds seemed to be taking over many of the central buildings, with ancient frescos open to the elements. Considering what a tourist draw and money spinner the place is, it’s hard to believe there isn’t money or interest in looking after it better.
We collected our bags and walked back to the station to find a sign being displayed at the kiosk saying that for the princely sum of four euros (rather than the regular price of two) we could buy a ticket on the express train to Sorrento. Yes please! When the train pulled up there were staff in the doorway making sure only the people who’d paid extra got on the express, which meant that we and perhaps another ten people got to enjoy a slightly newer and cooler train for the rest of our journey.
Why they didn’t offer this service (or perhaps didn’t advertise it) for the rush-hour period to get there I couldn’t say. That’s Italy for you.
Anyhow, we arrived in Sorrento to find that our next Airbnb was three flights up in a building right in the middle of the old town. One of those places that is an apartment block with a central atrium full of plants and laundry.
Our apartment had windows on three sides, a rooftop deck and a shower with disco lighting.
We celebrated our arrival with cool showers and then enjoyed wearing nothing but our undies and drinking some ice cold limoncello on the roof.