Day Trip: Pompeii

 

 

Like I said in an earlier post, sometimes Michael and I would disagree on which places to see when we go somewhere new. Because we couldn’t decide between seeing the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii, we purchased an 8-hour tour on Viator that would allow us to see both. We had a great morning in the Amalfi Coast (see post here), but it was now time to head to Pompeii. I admit, I didn’t really know a lot about this ancient city before we visited except that it was wiped out by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which was then romanticized by the 2014 movie starring that guy from Game of Thrones and that girl from Sucker Punch. I like Kit Harrington but that movie, not so much. 

Anyway, we arrived at Pompeii early afternoon where we were told to wait with a large group of people as our guide went in line to buy us admission tickets to the UNESCO-listed site. When she got back, she then informed us that we were going to join the aforementioned group and follow another local guide, who was licensed to actually tour people around Pompeii.  As we headed inside, we saw this big bronze sculpture of 2 human heads that appeared to either be sleeping or dead. It was an eerie but apropos way to welcome us to the city. We would continue to see many of these bronze sculptures during the tour. Our guide mentioned that these were made by Igor Mitoraj, whose dream was that his work be displayed at the ancient city of Pompeii. Sadly, he passed away before his dream could come to fruition. 

The tour was very interesting, with the guide giving us a lot of information about daily life in Pompeii during the Roman times. Michael loves history so he was really excited to learn more about the city and the people who lived in it. The streets of Pompeii fascinated me. They were arranged in a grid like manner, just like present-day NYC, which was astonishing considering the city was built centuries ago. Like many ancient cities in Europe, Pompeii had narrow stone-paved streets, but it also had roads that were wide enough to let chariots and merchant carts pass through and had sidewalks so people could walk along the street. Some wide streets even had stepping stones, which were “ancient crosswalks” so people didn’t have to dirty their feet on the street which was sometimes riddled with waste and floodwater. In addition, tiles were embedded into the streets so that it could reflect the moon’s light at night and illuminate the way. Ingenious!

We saw many fascinating ruins, including the Villa of Mysteries which was built in the 2nd century and still has surviving ancient wall murals; the Stabian baths which had vaulted rooms where men and women (separately, of course) could avail themselves of something akin to a steam bath; and the amphitheater where shows and gladiator fights were held and celebrated. We also saw ancient sculptures and paintings, and went around houses that had floors made of mosaic tiles.  

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Most interesting was the brothel, which even though it only consisted of 5 small rooms is one of the most visited sites in the city at present time (and probably in the past as well, I’m sure). Check out the uncomfortable and (surprisingly) short beds that they had in the brothel. Not exactly words one would prefer to use when describing what happens here. Ha! Also entertaining was the fact that there were numerous phallic symbols in Pompeii, many of which can still be seen today. I’m not sure if it’s true, but we were told that these signs would point towards the closest brothel. If that’s true, there must’ve been dozens and dozens of brothels here in ancient time. Naughty!

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Make sure to bring these 2 things if you’re planning to visit Pompeii: sensible shoes and a water bottle. First, you’ll need shoes that are comfortable and made for walking. There is a lot of walking on uneven stone streets. A LOT. The tour is one-way, meaning you don’t go back on the same route so if you want to get out of the area, you’ll need to follow the group everywhere. Second, you’ll need a water bottle especially in the scorching heat of summer. Don’t worry if it’s not filled as there are a lot of ancient street fountains where you can fill them. We thought it was pretty cool to be able to use the same water system that people who lived centuries ago also used.  Along the way, you will come across body casts of the citizens of Pompeii in their last few minutes before death. To date, there have been about 1,150 bodies excavated from the site. Around the 1860s, an archaeologist named Giuseppe Fiorelli and his team figured out that instead of digging out the bones, they could inject plaster into the hollow area made by the decomposed bodies and make models of how the bodies actually looked at their time of death. It is both fascinating and heartbreaking to see.

The tour ended in the main town piazza which housed the law court, market and basilica of the time, among other things. Most of these are now just blocks of stone, and it takes a bit of imagination to see how it looked before. From here, you have an excellent view of Mount Vesuvius. How terrifying it must’ve been for people who were standing on the exact same spot hundreds of years ago seeing the volcano spewing hot ash and lava in the air on that fateful day. Such a tragic loss of so many lives.

The entire tour was about 3 hours long, which we mostly enjoyed except for the very end when our feet and legs started to ache from all the walking. Whenever we talk about our trip to Italy, we would often laugh about how tired (and for me, cranky) we got walking around the different cities which was surprising since we live in New York and New Yorkers walk EVERYWHERE. Man, we were tired that day! Nevertheless, it was an afternoon well-spent, especially with views like this. 

During the drive back to Sorrento, we again caught glimpses of the Amalfi Coast. Beautiful!

We finally got back to the hotel around 5:30pm. We had to hoof it because we were supposed to go to Naples to take an 8:30pm train to Rome. It was only supposed to take about an hour and forty-five minutes to get there but there was so much traffic on the way to Naples, it took us about 3 hours! Our cab driver was really sweet because one time while traffic was at a standstill, he stopped by a street vendor to buy a coconut snack and gave us some to munch on. He drove really fast, weaving in and out of traffic and taking multiple shortcuts. We even had to consider just taking the cab all the way to Rome but when he asked his manager, they informed us that it would’ve cost us €400! Yikes. When we finally made it to the station, we thought the driver was just going to drop us off at the entrance but he parked the car, grabbed our luggage from the trunk and told us to run so we ran like crazy through the station. We got lucky because our train was delayed so it was still at the station even though we were about 10 minutes late. He figured out the correct track and even translated for us with one of the conductors so we can get on the correct car. I couldn’t believe it but we made it!!! We didn’t get his name, but we are forever grateful for the kindness (and skill) of that Italian cabdriver.  We settled into our comfortable seats, and were finally able to breathe a sign of relief. We had a wonderful time in the southern region of Italy but we were excited to continue with the rest of our trip. Rome, here we come!

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Other Sites in Pompeii: House of the Tragic Poet (see “beware of the dog” mosaic at entrance); Temple of Isis (inspired Mozart’s The Magic Flute); Villa of the Mysteries (see wall painting) We did not use any itinerary while we were in Pompeii, but you can find the Viator tour that we took here. As always, HAPPY TRAVELS!

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