10th – 11th April……..Santa Maria Capua Vetere / Pompeii
Whilst we were parked up at Rome we had a change of mind as to where we would go for next leg of our trip. Italy has taken our hearts and where before we were going to take the ferry to Split in Croatia; we have now decided to drive on down to the toe of Italy and then to take the ferry to Sicily. From there we plan to take a ferry to Sardinia and Claire has been great searching for prices and the practicality of this plan for us. Originally the plan was to go from Sardinia to Corsica but the crossing back to Livorno in Italy afterwards has proved to be just a little difficult to arrange so now we will go straight for Livorno from Sardinia and cut out Corsica. The intention then is to go straight across Italy from there so we can do Ravenna,Venice and then we will take in the lakes in Northern Italy. Well that is the plan at the moment but as you can see; plans are there to be changed.
Throughout Italy the roads are getting worse and the further south we go the more the road surfaces are in dire need of repair. We were warned about this but we are still amazed about the contrast between the richness of Northern Italy and the poorness of the south of the country.
So after leaving Rome we headed for Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius and the roads were getting worse and worse. After 15 kilometers we were both like James Bond’s drink…….shaken not stirred. Elaine had a great idea that we should leave the route we were on and that we should take the toll motorway. When we got to the gates to get on our way I pulled up and there were machines either side of us. Imagine the scene…….I was hanging out my window trying to get a ticket…….Elaine was hanging out here window doing exactly the same thing. Meanwhile the traffic was building up behind us and the crescendo of hooters from the Italians we were holding up was getting worse and worse. The thing I hadn’t understood is that the barrier was up in the lane we were in so in the end I just drove on without the precious ticket. We drove the 138 miles on the very smooth motorway and then took the exit towards a camperstop a few miles north east of Naples. We headed for what we thought was the manned gate where we thought there would be someone there to help us. The once manned exit was now an automatic system and the voice kept saying in Italian ‘insert your ticket’…….but we didn’t have a ticket so I had to get out and sign to the vehicles that followed us in that they had to back up so we could reverse out so we could find out what we had to do. We went to the office and used the app, Google Translate, to explain our predicament. Finally we were able to pay the toll and get on our way. What we had done is gone through the gate for people who pay automatically on their credit cards which is why we hadn’t been able to get our ticket.
After a quiet night we got on our way and after a couple of wrong turns we arrived at Pompeii and the camp we are parked on is right beside the entrance to the archaeological excavations and Mount Vesuvius is just a few miles away. We are going to do a four wheel truck tour to the summit and the core tomorrow and leave the ruins until Monday. So we relaxed and then walked into the local town to get a few supplies. On the way in to the campsite we were shocked to see rubbish just dumped in all the laybys and now we needed a few supplies so turned right and walking in to the town there was rubbish everywhere and it was all too obvious that we were now in a different Italy. We walked past vast, empty, abandoned factories and most of the cars we saw were in a very poor state. The recession has really hit this part of Italy very badly.
12th and 13th April …………Pompeii
Sunday the 12th we took as a rest day and despite the fact that we were camped right beside the entrance to the Pompeii Ruins, we relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine. Later on in the day we again went for a walk and this time went the other way and walked into Pompeii. What a difference to our walk yesterday. Pompeii is lovely and we sat in the park opposite the large church there.
We then walked around some more and saw in many of the shop windows signs saying that the Pope has been there recently and this visit is being used as a selling aid advising people to come and shop in the town that the Pope has blessed. Near the park is an excellent memorial to the tragedy in America on that September 11th with a twisted metal girder as the centre piece with the Stars and Stripes and the Italian flag flying on either corner of the metal fenced square.
Later on we researched Mount Vesuvius and came up with a few interesting facts. This volcano is 1281 meters high and last erupted in 1944 and is the only volcano to have erupted on the European mainland for 100 years. It is regarded as the most dangerous volcano in the world because of its tendency towards explosive eruptions and 3,000,000 people live nearby. It did go on to say that it is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.
Monday the 13th we chose the 4X4 tour to go up Mount Vesuvius.The packed bus drove out of Pompeii and headed over to the National Park (Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio) where we were to take what were described as 4×4 ecological jeeps that would take us up to the 1000 meter height of Mount Vesuvius along an ancient trail that faces the Gulf of Naples. After that there would be a 1000 meter walk up to the crater and there meet with an expert guide for the visit to the volcano.
Five kilometers out….. the bus broke down so we had to wait for a replacement. Two enormous 4×4 army type vehicles came down from the National Park to pick us all up.
Once we got to the Park, what followed was the bumpiest, most uncomfortable ride imaginable up a potholed, single track road. To call this a road is giving it a title it does not deserve and 20 minutes or so later we arrived at the point where the trucks could not go any further. We all alighted and now we had the 1000 meters to climb to the crater. The ground underfoot was littered with lava rocks and the loose lava granule path was a quite treacherous footpath surface. Unfortunately the haze spoilt the views back down to Pompeii and the Isle of Capri was barely visible in the distance.
At the level of the crater is the first stall set up to sell mementos to the tourists and that is where we had to meet the guide. We had to wait for all the other people to get there before he started a very interesting explanation about all things Vesuvius. This nice young Italian man spoke perfect English and conducted his whole explanations in English. For once, the Germans amongst the party had to be disappointed as he spoke lots of languages but German was not one of them.
Walking around the perimeter of the crater was fascinating and further round a still hazy Naples came into view far below but coming right up to the base of a still active volcano.
Round this side is the next “shop” and this is the side that the majority of visitors arrive at first. Quite a way down is a huge carpark and most visitors come this way missing out on the excitement of the 4×4 tour through the national park. We made our way back down to where the huge trucks would meet us to take us back down the track. I managed to get a ride in the front of the truck on the way back and filmed the whole descent.
When I got back I showed Elaine the three different lumps of lava I had collected, the film of the decent, the pictures of the crater and all the photos of everything I had seen. The “we “ I referred to earlier on was me and my camera because Elaine decided 4×4 travel up an active volcano was not for her.
Today we are visiting the ancient city of Pompeii and the excavations. Amazing for me as this was something that I had studied at senior school during ancient history lessons and now I was going to be walking around this old city. In 62 AD a violent earthquake struck the whole Vesuvius area. Reconstruction began immediately in Pompeii but the extent of the damage was so great….. not to mention the aftershocks that followed……repairs took a very long time. 17 years later on the 24th of August 79 AD Vesuvius erupted and the whole ancient city was buried under ash and rock.
So, 1,936 years ago this place was devastated and we just could not believe just how much of this ancient city is still standing. Archaeologists are working still all over the very large city and some of the main buildings to see were closed off but others that were not even featured on the guides were now open to the public. The entrance fee was 11 euros each and that included a free map and a book giving you a full description of all the featured houses and buildings. We walked around the whole area for seven hours and we didn’t get to see everything noteworthy but our feet told us quite firmly that they had had enough.
On our whole trip so far we have seen some amazing historical sites. Whilst we rested on the steps of the Tempio Dorico by the Grand Theatre
having our lunch we sat discussing what we both think is our most memorable, important, historical site we have been to since we started our trip in September. For me this is it and on the excavations here then it is the Amphitheatre
which somehow remains virtually intact except for rows of the tiered seating that are no longer there. Elaine, quite rightly, listed a lot of the fantastic places we have been to: she agreed that this rated very highly in her estimation.
I couldn’t leave this blog without publishing this picture of a part of the ancient city with a very hazy Mount Vesuvius in the background.