Gap Year Days 39 – 43
In Rome we boarded our Italo fast train for the trip to Naples. The trip was to take just over an hour. As soon as we got out into the countryside the speed slowly climbed, until the train was moving along at 300km/hr! It felt like we sat down, got comfy, watched the speed – and then we were there! 190km gone just like that. What a great way to travel!
Getting to our accommodation I was really struggling. My cold was finally winning, and breathing was becoming a chore when we were around smokers, which was unfortunately almost all the time. We forget how lucky we are in Australia to have smoking banned almost everywhere. Here it is common to still have people smoking in enclosed spaces. The train stations are a very good example of this. In fact, we’ve even seen people smoking on the trains. So when we arrived at our accomodation, and no one was there to meet us, I just felt like curling up in a corner for a nap – if I could stop myself coughing!
Simon eventually got hold of our host, and we got into our apartment. This is one of the downsides to booking AirBnB style accommodation. It may be cheaper, but sometimes it’s harder to arrange. This place was in a residential area, and no-one spoke English. We also had the loudest neighbours ever! I kept wanting to say “please use your inside voice!” It probably didn’t help that I was feeling terrible and all I wanted to do that afternoon and half the next day was sleep.
Where we were staying was right near the waterfront, and late the next afternoon I did drag myself out of bed and we went for a walk along the seafront. It was nice to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Soon I was back resting though, watching BBC docos preparing myself for the next day.
Pompeii was on the list for the next day. I had done some research, and knew we wanted to get there early. I had looked up how to get there, and knew it would take about an hour on the trains. So off we went at 7:15am, planning to be at the gates as they opened at 8:30. All was going well until we made a tiny mistake. I knew that to get to the ruins at Pompeii we needed to go to the Pompeii Scavi train station. Simon had just written Pompeii into the Google Maps app. I didn’t think much of it, until we realised they were not even on the same train line. We now needed to catch a bus down the road a little.
After waiting about ten minutes at the bus stop, Simon got impatient and decided we should walk – it was only going to take twenty minutes! Not two hundred metres down the road the bus passed us. I had to have a wry smile. We should have waited for the bus!
With all the extra messing around, we arrived at Pompeii at around 9:30am. There was a bit of a line, but in about 15 minutes we had our tickets. We also chose to get an audioguide, to help explain some of the ruins.
For a bit of background, Pompeii was a town of about 11000 people when it was buried by ash and debris when nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. It was undisturbed for many years, with it commonly believed the ruins were discovered in the 1500’s. The archeological dig to uncover the city began in the 18th Century. There is still about a quarter of the settlement not yet excavated, and only about one third of what has been uncovered is open to the public. Pompeii is one of Italy’s most popular tourism sites, and gets over 2 million visitors every year.
My first impression of Pompeii is that it is simply huge! This is seriously a full day place if you want to have a good look around. I knew we wanted to leave by mid afternoon, so we skipped a few of the sections to ensure we saw all of the main buildings.
Pompeii is incredibly well preserved due to the way it was buried. There are still mosaic floors and paintings on the walls. Some of the artefacts that survived are amazing – like bread for example. Many of the items of interest on the site are actually reproductions though with the originals housed in the Naples Archeological Museum.
The main amphitheatre, while not as big as the Colosseum, is almost perfect. Pink Floyd used it as a recording venue in 1971 for the great acoustic effect it has. There is a display about the performance housed inside under the seating.
It was hot during our visit, but as in Rome, water fountains were found throughout the site to fill up water bottles or just to splash water on yourself to cool down.
While there is a lot to see, we did find after a while things started to become the same. Many of the houses had the same layouts, the bakeries all had the same mills, and the bath houses all had similar design. Something we found a little frustrating was we would be listening to the audioguide about a particular house and it would say “Now go inside…” and probably 75% of the places were not open. We were inside one place and were asked to leave by an employee as she was closing it. I’m not sure if they were only open at certain times and we were getting it wrong.
We left Pompeii at about 3pm and walked towards the train station. I had read something about a public bus that could take us to Mt Vesuvius for €5.40 return, a lot less than all the tours. Unfortunately I had not taken good notice of where this bus left from, so I had to do a little asking around. As luck would have it, the bus left from right outside of the train station.
It was a 40 minute ride up to the highest carpark on Mt Vesuvius. We then had to purchase entry to the national park, which cost another €10. I had read it was about a twenty minute walk up the mountainside. This information was right. It was hard work though. The path is made up of small pebbly bits of volcanic material, so it can be unstable to walk on. Not quite as bad as soft beach sand, but on the way to it. I struggled a bit, but I think a lot of that had to do with not being too well with my cold.
The view into the crater is not all that exciting, but we did see small amounts of steam rising in certain places that did not show up in the photographs. The smell of sulphur was also obvious in some areas, reminding us that this is a real live volcano, expected to erupt again sometime soon.
The view out to sea though was spectacular. We could see all the way down the peninsular to Sorrento, and across the sea to Capri. It was also plainly obvious just how many houses now lie in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius. It’s not a few thousand people any more, but around three million instead.
Our plans for the next day were to take the ferry over to the island of Capri to visit the Blue Grotto. On our arrival home from Pompeii though, we had some family news that required us to call home. Due to the time difference, we had to wait to do it in the morning. This meant that by the time we were ready to head out, it was too late to go over to Capri. Instead we jumped on the train and went down to the lovely seaside town of Sorrento for the afternoon.
We had considered spending a couple of nights at Sorrento after Naples, but we struggled to find accommodation in our budget (or almost any budget really!). Our visit made us kick ourselves, because it was such a relaxed seaside town, perched up on the cliffs. It was certainly different for us to see the climb down to the beach, with most of the available space to sit and relax actually being man-made piers. It was a little cool for swimming when we were there, but I could imagine this place would be crowded in the middle of summer.
We enjoyed a lovely late lunch, and explored the narrow laneways full of lemon scented shops. There was lemon almost anything available to buy. It’s times like this I am so glad I cannot fit another thing in my backpack, otherwise I would be tempted to take so much home.
This small taste of Sorrento has put the Amalfi Coast firmly on our list for our next visit to Italy.
With our time in Naples coming to an end, we had to get pizza for dinner on our last night. Up until now we had been taking advantage of the kitchen in our apartment to cook for ourselves. It’s surprising how satisfying that is after a few weeks of not having the time or option. Naples is reported to have the best pizza in Italy. I had my usual margarita pizza, and yes, it was pretty good. Not sure if it was a lot better than all the others, but it was at least as good.
And that was it! We were moving on again. I’m not sure we did Naples justice, because we didn’t see a whole lot of it. Where we were staying was a bit out of the centre. With me being unwell, the day I had thought to use to explore we instead spent staying near our accomodation. I definitely want to come back and spend time on the Amalfi Coast and visit Capri at some point, so maybe then we will see Naples properly. I also feel like I need to go to the Archeological Museum to see all the things taken from Pompeii.
Vico San Guido 26, Chiaia, 80139 Naples, Italy
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.