Historic Southern Italy (Day 3)

Pompeii & Napoli

November 20 – 25, 2018

Day 1 * Day 2 * Day 3 * Day 4 * Day 5

A new day dawned in Pompeii – and it would not be experienced in Pompeii. The sound of the street cleaners greeted my ears once again at 6:00 AM. I hadn’t actually known what had been making the horrible racket, but today I got up to throw my blame on the guilty party. I saw him, down below on the sidewalk designs, revving the blower’s motor as he waved it back and forth, herding the debris into the street. Just behind him followed the street sweeper, ready to collect and remove the offending detritus. Yeah, I appreciate wanting to have a clean city, but, really? Six o’clock in the morning?

After another light breakfast, Dan and I walked through the center of town and again stood near the Porto Anfiteatro. But this time we weren’t heading for the park – we were waiting for a bus.

Our journey today would be to the top of Mt Vesuvius. To the scene of the crime, if you will. I had looked into just what it meant to get “to the top of Mt Vesuvius” and it wouldn’t be easy. There were no legitimate hiking trails up the slopes and the only way to get “up” was via the road: the long, narrow road that was best navigated by car or bus. We didn’t have a car, so we were going by bus. We opted for the public bus, a steal at only 3.10€ each, and a pick up point just minutes from our hotel.

As we stood on the sidewalk waiting for the bus, a familiar pair of faces showed up: Ashley and Derek from yesterday’s gate debacle. It turned out that they were also planning on getting to the top of the volcano and were taking the same bus as us. What a small world!

The bus ride was a comfortable fifty minutes, starting out along the busy main motorway north. At Torro del Grecco our driver pulled off the motorway and we took a very narrow, windy road that snaked its way through the trees and up the side of the mountain. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately the bus windows were dirty so photo opportunities were rare. The driver honked his way around the tight corners, letting any oncoming traffic know to stay clear. Near the top the driver pulled over and instructed us to all get off the bus, buy our entry passes for Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio (10€ each) and then get back on the bus. We had ten minutes.

The park office was a shell of a building, its single purpose in life to allow the tourists somewhere to queue in order to hand over their money. I was the first one through the doors and disturbed the single employee sitting behind the glass booth. I paid for Dan and I, and then headed back out to the bus. Everyone made it within the ten minute window and we drove the remaining 400 meters to the parking lot.

The weather could have been better. And it could have been worse, too. As we passed the entrance where treats and souvenirs were offered, I looked around. There wasn’t much to see, but what I could see was beautiful.

On our way up!

The lower trail was comprised of deep, loose volcanic soil

It was a 20 minute walk from the entrance to Hut #1, with a steady 850 meter climb on the loose trail surface. The other riders from our bus (there were about a dozen of us) quickly spread out to walk at our own pace. When Dan and I reached the hut I told him that I had read about the guides that man this spot. Every fifteen minutes or so, a guide would spend about ten minutes to give a very brief overview of the volcano, its current state and what we were seeing (or not seeing, as the clouds dictated). Our guide was very pleasant and helpful and worth taking the time for.

Still on the way to Hut #1

We have reached the crater

The clouds cleared long enough to get a view down to the bottom

The steaming side of the volcano’s crater wall

There is a well-maintained trail that follows the western edge of the crater. Hut #2 is about 1/4 of the way along, and Hut #3 is at the other end. The entire distance was about 800m and more or less level. We walked all the way to Hut #3, taking our time since this was the activity for the day.

A view west towards Naples

Where the guide gave us our overview

Hut #1 in the clouds

Lichens on the rocks

The “Guide’s Spot” is directly across, in the top center

See it now?

Hut #3 with Pompeii in the distance

I was disappointed when we reached Hut #3 and we could go no further. In my research I had read about some hiking trails that would take me further around the edge of the crater. But now that we were here, I couldn’t see any signage that would lead us there. So Dan and I settled for a hot drink and an ever-changing view.

Pompeii used to be on the coast, and after the eruption, was now 2 km inland

Not sure what this is a picture of

Great colors at the top

The steaming side of the crater

Very short video of the steam (I cut it short since someone decided to whistle “Popeye the Sailor Man” when I started to record).

Your hosts for this trip

As we returned to Hut #1 there was a large group of military-looking people. They were being led by a loud woman who encouraged them to quickly take their photos, as they had to leave soon or they would be late for their meeting. They were a police force from Uganda. Why they were here, I have no idea, but it was still fun to see their excited faces as they hurried to take photos.

Ugandan police tourists

Selfie time!

Ever since we left the bus in the parking lot, we had loosely kept in contact with Ashley and Derek. We didn’t make any particular effort to keep with them, but we still managed to mingle frequently along the trail. We had reached Hut 3 together and were casually heading back towards the return bus to Pompeii. The return times were limited and Dan and I realized that if we hurried, we could catch the next bus and not have a thirty minute wait for the next one. Boogie time!

Dan and I practically ran back down the trail. Too late, I realized that I should have mentioned the bus timing to Ashley and Derek, as they were still planning on visiting the archeological park in the afternoon. Selfishly, I kept on running, figuring that they would either figure it out and hurry along, or have some extra time in the clouds.

Surprisingly, Dan and I reached the parking lot before the bus did. We stood along the edge of the lot, a couple of other clusters of people scattered around waiting for other transportation options. There was minor chaos as other buses came and went, trying to turn around in a very small area. If it is this crowded now, what must it be like in the high season?

Our bus to Pompeii pulled up just a few minutes later and Dan and I hopped on. As the driver started to close the door, I glimpsed Ashley and Derek emerging from the park entrance and sauntering towards us. I approached the driver, pointing out that my friends were coming and would he wait? He was more than willing to wait and I jumped out of the bus to let them know that they should hurry if they wanted a ride. They picked up the pace and clambered on board, all of us thanking the driver for waiting.

Photo from the bus, despite the streaks and rain

The four of us decided to get off one stop prior to where we had boarded the bus, which meant that we would be at Porta Marina, the main entrance to the historical park. Ashley and Derek would go back into the park while Dan and I would go check out something called the Villa dei Misteri (Villa of Mysteries).

Dan and I really didn’t know what else to do. It was just after noon and we had no plans. We toyed with the idea of going back into the park, but the idea of seeing this Villa was also intriguing. We opted for the villa and headed down the road to where it sat, near the northwest corner of the park.

It was a kilometer down an otherwise unremarkable road before we came to the Villa. Dan and I approached the gate to ask about entry tickets. The man behind the counter seemed really surprised to see us, as it turned out that this was an exit to the archeological park. In order to see the Villa, we would have to buy tickets to the entire park!

Well, that was disappointing, since we just wanted to see this one building. We explained to the man that we had been in the park yesterday but hadn’t realized that this Villa was part of it. He relented and said that if we promise to only enter the Villa, he would let us in. That was an easy promise to keep, as we really didn’t have plans to go further anyway.

Villa dei Misteri

Built in the 2nd Century BC

The black entrance hall

Egyptian detail from above

From wiki: “The Villa had both very fine rooms for dining and entertaining and more functional spaces. A wine-press was discovered when the Villa was excavated and has been restored in its original location. It was not uncommon for the homes of the very wealthy to include areas for the production of wine, olive oil, or other agricultural products, especially since many elite Romans owned farmland or orchards in the immediate vicinity of their villas.”

This villa is known for its many frescos

This was funnier when we thought it was a male and female. “I am a great woman!”

The fresco that gave this villa its name; it is 17 meters long and wraps around the three walls

A fine Impluvium

There weren’t as many rooms open to the public as I would have expected, and the ones that we were able to see gave me only a disjointed idea of what the property would have looked like almost 2,000 years ago. Still, it was worth the walk and the time to wander through.

Part of the conversation at the exit booth where we were let in was that we were invited to go to the nearby restaurant for lunch when we were done. As Dan and I hadn’t eaten and the restaurant was right there (and nothing else was around), we decided to go ahead.

The restaurant, Bacco e Arianna, looked very cozy and inviting. There was an open air courtyard and many interesting decorations crammed into every nook and cranny. The owner had come back from the Park gate and took our order. We were the only ones in the restaurant and were the focus of his attention. While we were waiting for our food the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. It was good timing for us to be under cover.

The restaurant owner watches the rain

Inside the restaurant

The courtyard

This looks familiar for some reason….

Although the service was good, the food was mediocre and the prices were too high – but the location was convenient. I would not go out of my way to eat here again, and I would not advise anyone to come here, either. The online reviews we read (while waiting for our food) weren’t happy with the quality and price of the food. I am guessing that the proprietor capitalizes on the location, being the only restaurant in the area.

The rain had passed and we still had an afternoon to fill. Before we parted ways at Porto Marina I had suggested to Ashley and Derek that if they had no other plans for the evening, perhaps we could meet for dinner. They agreed and we set a time and a place. Now it was just a matter of time before that happened. We walked back to our hotel under mostly blue skies and freshly washed streets.

Piazza Bartolo Longo

Looking back at Mt Vesuvius

I could zoom in on Hut 3! (red circle in the photo above)

The sun was fading

We met Ashley and Derek on the steps of the “Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary” Church. I poked my head in to see what was going on, but I could see that people were busy inside so I didn’t bother them.

Dinner was at la Bettola del Gusto, a slightly upscale restaurant between the Piazza and the train station. The food and service were quite good, and it was fun to get to know our dinner guests a little more. It really was a great way to spend our last night in Pompeii.


Tomorrow we’re off to Napoli!

Day 4

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