Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pompeii and Sorrento

We chose to go to Naples for 3 reasons: I hadn't been before, we wanted to eat pizza, and it was a good base for exploring the region. 

Our first day trip from Naples was Pompeii. 

Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background.

I've been interested in seeing Pompeii ever since I was a (weird) child who always pulled a book about the Vesuvius eruption off of my grandparent's bookshelf. 

To get to Pompeii from Naples, you take the Circumvesuviana train. The reviews about this train online are hilarious. A lot of Americans are very frightened of this train. It's an old, rickety train with no AC and not many seats. It's also extremely crowded, especially during the summer tourist season. Apparently, pickpocketers have also been known to make an appearance.

We had an hour-long ride. Being mentally prepared for an uncomfortable trip and keeping our expectations low actually helped. This is why I like being a pessimist. It was indeed very hot and crowded, standing room only... but it got us where we needed to go. 

The thing that most surprised me about Pompeii was how huge it was! It was thanks to the eruption in 79 A.D. that so much of the city was preserved (completely buried under volcanic ash that protected everything from air and moisture). In other ancient cities I've been to, it's hard to imagine what it used to look like when only a few crumbling walls are still standing. In Pompeii, you can still see entire neighborhoods.

The second thing that really surprised me was how advanced their standard of living was. I guess the Romans knew what they were doing. There were nice roads, water collection systems inside the houses, and so much art.

The water collected in the pool in the middle through a hole in the ceiling.

What didn't surprise me was that it was so hot. August is probably not the ideal time to visit southern Italy. For the first hour, I was super energized, taking pictures, and excited about what I was seeing. Then I hit a wall and was totally dragging my feet for our second hour in Pompeii. Elvera said it best: "I can tell you're tired because you completely stop talking." Normally I'm chatty when I'm around people I like ;)

At the exit, I finally got to see the dead bodies. I realize that sentence sounds creepy. I just laughed for 5 minutes when I read it back to myself, so it's staying in. 

This would be me. "If I cover my eyes, this volcano isn't actually happening!"

Pompeii was buried for over 1,500 years. During the excavations they discovered empty spaces in the layers of ashes where human bodies used to be. They came up with the method of filling the spaces with plaster so you can see the exact position the residents of Pompeii were in when they died. Pictures of this is what so fascinated me as a morbid little child. I don't know if I should admit that. 

There are some "bodies" left in the city where they were found, but most are in museums or at least in protective cases.

I don't know how much of Pompeii we ended up seeing, but my guess would be no more than half. Like I said, it's so big! Maybe I'll come back someday in the winter and see it all.

We decided to walk through the modern town of Pompei (one i) before braving the Circumvesuviana again. After browsing some jewelry shops and chugging an entire water bottle, I suddenly felt 100% energized again. Knowing me, it was probably the jewelry more than the water that did the trick. 

We visited the Pompei Cathedral (full name: Pontificio Santuario della Beata Vergine del Santo Rosario di Pompei - try saying that fast). I learned later that Pompei the modern city sprung up due to the celebrity of this church when it became a pilgrimage site.

After a good lunch of risotto, we went back to Naples and toured the palace (after Elvera snuck in illegally, if you remember). I tried to eat gelato at the end of this day, but it was honestly a struggle because I was so tired. #firstworldproblems

I almost forgot... we came close to not making it back to Naples. When we got to the Pompei train station, the ticket office appeared to be closed (lights off, no one sitting at the desk). There were no electronic ticket machines, so we asked some people with a combination of broken Italian/Spanish/French/English/hand gestures. They answered back in Italian/hand gestures that we should knock on the office window. Skeptical, we went back to the ticket booth. Upon closer inspection, we saw a guy dead asleep with his feet up in the corner of the room. Elvera knocked for a few minutes until he woke up and gave us our tickets. So sorry to interrupt your siesta, signor.

Our trip to Pompeii was such a full day of sightseeing that we took it a little easier on our last day in Italy. We started out by taking a ferry ride to the lovely coastal town of Sorrento.

After a little wandering, we didn't need to find a restaurant. A restaurant found us. Meet the hardest working man in Italy. 

I heard him speaking at least 4 languages trying his best to lure every tourist to this restaurant. I've never seen such a salesman. I was hungry and they had gnocchi on the menu, so I was easily convinced.

Sorrento is a small town. There aren't really "sites" to see, but it's such a nice place to walk around.

The only thing on our itinerary was the Vallone dei Mullini, or Valley of the Mills. This old abandoned mill at the bottom of a gorge is on the edge of town. It really looked like a "fairy tale" setting to me.

We called this street the "danger zone" because of the amazing shopping. I think considering the circumstances we both showed a lot of restraint. There were so many beautiful leather purses and so much beautiful jewelry. I fell in love with this style of cameo earrings (carved from shells), so that was my souvenir of the trip.

Not exactly mine, but they're similar.

I really enjoyed Naples and Pompeii, but I think Sorrento was my favorite! Coming up next on the blog... why I fell in love with Denmark.

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