Naples to Pompeii: Ambika vs. Vesuvius
Any sightseeing fatigue I may have had when we arrived in Bologna was short-lived. The high speed Italian trains really are fast. Going 200 mph, I arrived in Napoli just a few hours after leaving Bologna in the early morning. I’d arranged for a car to take me to the sights, and so I was driven around by Pino, a philosophy major who works for his wife.
First stop was Pompeii. Despite the sun beating down and the crowds of visitors, it was pretty incredible. My favorite parts showed the regular lives of the people who lived there - ruts in the streets where carts once ran, political graffitis, gladiators scratched into the walls like posters of a sports star. I was unable to find my own tour guide, so I joined a larger group of British tourists and kept my big American mouth shut.
After Pino found me again - I’d gotten turned around because turns out Pompeii is pretty big - we drove up the side of the volcano that had caused all this destruction. We chatted about his favorite philosophers (Heiddegger, Nietzsche), which was a bit of a challenge given his limited English and my nonexistent Italian. By the time we reached the top, a thunderstorm was looming, so the guards turned us right back down the road.
Instead, I went to Herculaneum in the drizzle. After the scorching sun and packed streets of Pompeii, it was a relief to be able to explore all the nooks and crannies of this second petrified city in relative peace. It was a seaside town now sunken into the ground by the weight of volcanic ash. You actually can see dozens of skeletons in shoreline hideouts where residents thought they could protect themselves from the eruption.
In happier times, they had a baker’s shop, which still has ovens, and a lunch counter that still has beans in the hot basins, a laundromat with a still intact wooden screw contraption for pressing clothes. I was particularly impressed by the men’s and women’s bath houses, with their perfectly preserved mosaic floors, and the temple of the Augustals, where I could see all the charred original beams. The centerpiece was an intricate wall mosaic of Neptune and Salacia in House number 22.
Pino felt very bad that Vesuvius had been rained out, and he volunteered to drive me back up for free after the weather cleared (his wife managed the business end of things). I had a very nice time hiking up to the crater of Vesuvius, peering into its steaming depths and looking out at the vista of Naples and Pompeii.
When I was back in Napoli, I took myself out to dinner at a packed pizza place in the old city. Delicious, of course.