Yet Another Amphitheatre

16/02/18

After Vesuvius we migrated north east through Caserta, a town strung along a main road lined with relatively affluent showrooms and stores. Our parking spot was towards the western end of the urbanisation; a free sosta in a large car park. We had been warned in reviews that there would be boy racers turning donuts, but really it seemed quite tame. Maybe it was the wrong day of the week, but just a handful of the ‘white car club’ turned out to park alongside each other and occasionally rev their engines.

We weren’t complaining, we were well rested by the time our alarm went off the following morning. We had only chosen this parking spot because it was free and in the right direction, but the bonus was it’s proximity to the second largest Roman amphitheatre after the Coliseum – a fact we only found out after visiting. We’ve seen a few amphitheatres now, but at €2.50 each we thought it was worth a look.

This amphitheatre has shot to number one in our favourite amphitheatres of all time. Was it better than the Coliseum? We spent some time discussing this as we wandered around and decided that yes, we thought it was. Now the Coliseum is spectacular and huge and incredibly intact, but it is thronged with tourists, sanitised and large areas are off limits unless you book a tour. In contrast we were walking through an unkempt site where grass and weeds grew with abandon in the late winter sunshine. There were large sections of stonework piled in a ring around the site awaiting archaeological inspection, and many of the decorative elements have been plundered to enhance later buildings in the area. The walls of the amphitheatre don’t stand as high as the Coliseum, but what you get is an ancient monument that is quiet and allows you to wander at will, especially in the area underneath the main arena. As you explore this virtually deserted building you feel as though you are the first person to find the many corridors and stairways. It is incredible that a country can be so full of ancient monuments that a site like this is virtually unknown and it’s restoration underfunded. For the freedom of exploration, the sense of adventure, the peace and tranquillity, the friendliness of the staff and the price it cannot be beaten.

We moved on after seeing the amphitheatre, but there is a lot more to see in the area, making it one of the places we would like to return to. In particular the Reggia de Caserta – know as the ‘Versailles of Campania’.

         

Almost to the Top of Vesuvius

15/02/18

Snow had been falling on Bertie on Valentine’s evening. Fat flakes that hadn’t settled on the road but had frosted the trees. We didn’t know what Vesuvius summit would be like but chances were that the summit cone would be closed.

On Vesuvius there are nine marked walking routes of various lengths. Route 5 is ‘Il Gran Cono’ – the walk around the summit cone – and is the most popular. A ticket is needed for this which is purchased from a ticket office just below the summit, buses run from Naples and other spots, transporting people up the mountain to the ticket office so that the summit can be approached pretty easily.

Getting ferried practically to the summit didn’t appeal to us, we wanted to spend more time ascending the mountain to get closer to the volcanic terrain. Our chosen route was La Valle dell’Inferno, this spoon shaped route joins up with the summit walk at the ticket office so we could get right to the summit as well as seeing more of the mountain. Information about the various routes can be found here.

It was Paul’s birthday, so I allowed him a lie in before we set off. I made our packed lunch while he was busy snoozing and waved at a couple of mountain bikers who were setting off up the mountain. By the time we were ready to leave they were coming back down again, giving us a brief ‘Ciao’ as they sped down hill. We set off following their tracks uphill along a steeply zig-zagging asphalt road that soon became a dirt track. At first there was little snow but as we ascended we started to encounter more patches of snow and the melt off the trees pattered down on us so that we were glad we had hoods on our jackets. We were in awe of the cyclists who had slogged up this hill through the snow.

Following bike tracks in the snow

We reached a point where another route split off, there were a couple of useful map boards here. We kept left to follow our chosen route which continued to ascend through more and more snow up to a plateau where the route became circular. At this point we made a pact that if the snow got more than ankle deep we would turn around. We had gaiters and waterproof trousers but it would be foolish to walk on an unknown path in deep snow. We could see that this was the point where the mountain bikers had given up and turned downhill.

View of the Bay of Naples with the Sorrento Peninsula in the distance

Luckily the snow stayed about ankle deep all the way and only got deeper in pockets where the strengthening wind had blown it into small drifts. From the plateau we found our route markers leading off to the left through sparse alder trees, some of which had been blackened by forest fires. Eventually we made it to a cobbled road, still mostly snow covered, which we followed to the ticket office. The views along this section were beautiful with the snow covered cone of Vesuvius rising in front of us and a ridge to our right.

We could see views of the summit cone as we walked

Between us and the ridge was the Valle dell’Inferno and our return route would take us down here, but first we had to get to the ticket office. It was closed as we had suspected. We stopped here to have our lunch on the useful picnic benches as we decided what to do. We could retrace our steps and take an alternative path to the summit, but we didn’t know whether we would be able to make it to the top or whether it would be fenced off. It was Paul’s call as it was his birthday – he decided that we should continue our route and not try to get to the top, the biting wind had put him off continuing further uphill.

Outside the ticket office

It took a bit of a search to find the snow obscured path down into the valley, but once found it was a pretty straight forward to follow between trees with the twisted formations of lava cliffs on one side, festooned with icicles. 

Lava formations in the cliffs above the Valle dell’Inferno
Shrine in remembrance of a mountaineer who fell to his death, a stark reminder of the danger of walking in winter conditions.
Volcanic rock formations with a beard of icicles

Finally we reached the plateau again and were able to follow our original route back downhill to Bertie. By now the snow on the paths was starting to melt, but we could still see our own footprints melted into enormous yeti style tracks.

We rewarded ourselves with a cuppa when we got back to Bertie before we moved on. We were now going to follow a route north along the Adriatic coast. Our next stop was on the eastern side of Vesuvius near Caserta. This time we decided to take the toll roads rather than try to navigate through the towns.