11/02/18 – 12/02/18
We spent Sunday driving down to Pompei (the town) where were due to visit Pompeii (the ancient city). Our route took us initially through pleasant agricultural landscapes, but it wasn’t long before we reached coast and from that point the scenery became less pleasing. Mondragone summed it up for us, this large town with a romantic name straggles along the coast with many campsites, cafes and car parks. The development is not high rise, but it’s still ugly and uncontrolled with a feeling of a shanty town about it’s unkempt fences and poorly maintained buildings. People were wandering around with not much to do in the off season, most places were closed. Beggars lined the streets and tried their luck at every traffic light, whores plied their trade on the outskirts of town, refuse was piled in each layby. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, maybe it improves in the high season. This is what I imagine the detractors of Italy are seeing, take me back to the mountains and the beautiful Italy!
We were dispirited, and we took the autoroute as soon as we could, bypassing Naples to get into Pompei. As we drove towards Naples we had the sight of Vesuvius – oddly small and unprepossessing compared to the mountains we’d seen so far – and the Sorrento peninsular to keep us buoyed up.
Our choice for a campsite in Pompei was Fortuna Village, there are a few along the strip of land across the road from the entrance to Pompei and we just chose the cheapest ACSI one. €17 euros for a campsite close to the site was good value from our perspective (but don’t forget the tourist tax). It also had awesomely hot and powerful showers, but the smallest cubicles I have ever seen. Paul’s dressing gown came into it’s own as there was no practical way of getting changed (and to think I’d told him it was unnecessary).
So…Pompeii…I have always wanted to visit, having a bit of an obsession with volcanos. We set off, not too early, walking boots on and a rucksack of hot drinks, cold drinks and snacks to see us through what we knew would be a long day (we topped up with a slice of pizza at lunch time – I may never eat pizza in the UK again as even the meanest Italian pizza goes to a whole new level).
We paid our entry fee of €13 euros each and picked up a map, our strategy was to walk around the outside first, and then spiral back into the centre of the city. We didn’t quite walk every street and enter every building, but we did our best and covered just over 15k. I loved it, and even Paul managed to maintain his enthusiasm as we walked around. Our opinion is that you need to see it as a bit of an adventure – look into nooks and crannies, don’t just go for the obvious places, don’t get frustrated when some buildings aren’t open (it’s common for about a fifth of the buildings to be closed), be prepared for a long day with a lot of walking and lots of people (and school groups in low season). Our favourite bits; the roads, their cobbles with the deep scars created by ancient wheels are really evocative. The recently restored Villa of the Mysteries, out beyond the city walls but worth the walk to see the frescos. The forum granary with it’s everyday objects. The casts of the people, animals and trees (yes, there are casts of tree roots) caught in the eruption, gruesome but fascinating. The many shop fronts with their marble counters a testament to the vibrant commerce of the city. Looking for naughty pictures/mosaics/statues as a way of keeping Paul’s interest levels up. Oh and the Pink Floyd exhibition in the amphitheatre adds a bit of a surreal touch after seeing so much ‘old stuff’.
Our personal suggestion for improving the experience – do more to emphasise the lives of the ordinary people.
I’m really glad that we made the time to fulfil a long held ambition, now to climb Vesuvius.