I knew I would come to Italy one day, although there was no rush since the whole of Europe is on my doorstep. For the last few years, I have been busy getting to know Southeast Asia and loving every second. I didn’t crave the regular ways of any lawful and conservative land in Europe. Anyway, I always thought the land of pizza and gelato to be way to expensive and fashionable for me. When I thought of Italy I thought of fast cars driven by avatar wearing Italian stallions and beautiful designer-clad women shoting espresso in just the right way. No place for me and my trusty, tired backpack.
So, for the above reasons, I was well into my 31st year when my feet landed on Italian soil. I’d like to tell you that I came for the history and culture, but that would be a lie. I came to Italy for the food and wine. I was fully intent on spending 5 full days stuffing my face with pizza and washing it down with Italy’s finest grape juice.
It turns out though, that my plans for a 5-day pizza fest were far too ambitious. On the 3rd day, I awoke in Naples, head pounding, stomach clenched, my digestive system and liver begging me for a day off. So there was nothing else for it, it was time to explore some ancient ruins and see what all the fuss was about. I bought a ticket and boarded the train. Ninty minutes later, I found myself in ancient Pompeii.
One Day in Pompeii.
The train ride from Naples to Pompeii has to be one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. As the train rattles along the rugged western coastline of Italy, the sea views alone are enough to blow your mind. This interspersed with clusters of tower blocks, each apartment with its own vegetable garden balcony. In my humble opinion, it’s worth heading to Pompeii for the journey there alone.
Pompeii has it’s own train station and once you disembark, the ancient city is but a few feet away. I decided to take a guided tour since I was entirely uneducated on the subject. I found a tour operator at the train station and handed over my €20. On top of the tour price I also paid €11 for entry into the city. The tour group consisted of about 20 people and our guide was clear, funny and full to the brim with knowledge about the ancient city.
We walked the streets, marveling at what stood before us. The roads worn by chariot wheels. That a bustling city once stood here was hard to imagine, but impossible to ignore.
From the forum, we finally had the first view of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that ruined Pompeii and buried the whole settlement under tons of molten rock and pulverized pumice, killing over 1500 people in 79 AD.
Perfectly Preserved Pompeii
Pompeii lay undiscovered until 1599. On the west side of the forum is a kind of mini-museum which houses around 250 objects found in the excavation of Pompeii. Many of the objects were perfectly preserved. Objects on display include sculptures, medical instruments and decorative items. The likeness to the same kind of items we use today makes it hard to believe that these items are almost 2000 years old.
During the excavation, plaster was poured into the voids which once held human and animal bodies. Dried and excavated, the plaster shows the exact position that the people and animals were in when they died. These casts are on display in the museum- I’m not sure how I feel about that.
During my visit (October 2016), an exhibition of around thirty bronze sculptures by the late artist Igor Mitoraj was on show around the city. At first, I thought the exhibition was out of place, but after a few moments, I realized it was just the opposite. The sculptures of rusted, broken bodies laying twisted and abandoned are especially relevant and fit perfectly into the Pompeii landscape.
The tour lasted for about two hours and took us around just a small section of the city. After the tour, you are able to stay inside the city walls and explore at your leisure for the rest of the day. Although, after two hours I was hot and tired with no room left in my brain for any more information. Mind completely blown! The experience left me wanting to know more and wishing I had paid more attention in History class.
Vesuvius, (the culprit!)
On leaving the city walls I was just in time to catch the last (3 pm) bus to Mount Vesuvius. The hair-raising journey takes around 20 minutes. First of all, we boarded a regular coach and were swapped into a 4×4 bus about half way up the mountain. The road ascends 1000 meters, to a car park, quickly and at times felt like we were completely vertical. I won’t lie, my eyes were firmly closed for most of the ride!
We hiked the last 280 meters to the summit, which took about 10 minutes from the car park. The hike is easy going- I did it in flip-flops. I had never seen the mouth of a volcano before, it was another one of those times where I’m not sure that I can trust my own eyes! It’s impossible to imagine the scene as this beast erupted, sealing the fate of thousands. To be stood in such a place is just unreal.
The views from the summit are breathtaking. I was blessed with great weather and as a result, the visibility was perfect.
As I left Pompeii and headed back to Naples I struggled to process what I had seen. The power of Pompeii is something that will stay with me for a long time. I’m happy I went, I’m happy that I saw and I’m glad to share my experience with you. I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Pompeii should you find yourself in the land amazing food and wine! On return to Naples, my digestive system well rested, I set out to find Pizzeria da Michele, but that is a story for another time.
Have you visited Pompeii? What was your experience? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!