We left Naples early Thursday morning and boarded a crowded, graffiti-covered train that we thought would drop us off outside the ruins of Pompeii — but luckily we figured out that was not the case just as the doors started to close and jumped back onto the platform. Twenty minutes later, we were on the correct crowded, graffiti-covered train, and about 40 minutes after that we were standing in the ticket line outside Pompeii’s entrance. The site has free luggage storage so the plan was to spend the day exploring the ruins and then reclaim our bags and take the train to the port of Sorrento with enough time to catch the last ferry to Capri. We had a couple of further hiccups — like waiting for the ferry at the wrong dock — but we made it to Capri in the end. And Pompeii itself? Absolutely worth the logistical headache.
For starters, the ruins are absolutely huge. I’ve been to other archeological sites and often found that only a small portion is actually excavated and open to the public, but Pompeii is a labyrinth. You get a real feel for what the ancient city was like before it was destroyed (and preserved) by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. We visited the site without one of the many tour guides peddling their skills in multiple languages near the ticket line and thus repeatedly got lost, but still managed to navigate our way to the highlights with the help of our guidebook. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has taken a guided tour of the site. What was that experience like?
During our wanderings, a few spots stood out: I thought the floor mosaic illustrating an early “Beware of Dog” sign was incredible. It’s behind glass and dusty, but I managed to get a semi-decent photograph (below). Gui was awestruck by the amphitheater, which is apparently the oldest in the world. We also enjoyed looking at the decorative detail preserved and restored in the larger homes, bath houses and the neighborhood fast-food shop. We chuckled at the carving of a penis on the outside of one building (look carefully at the photos), but we were unable to see the brothel itself because that section was closed during our visit. And, of course, we saw plaster casts of the people (and a dog at one point) who had been unable to escape the catastrophic eruption. Very unsettling, especially with Mount Vesuvius still looming over our shoulders.
We made the mistake of waiting too long to stop for food and found ourselves on the other side of the ancient city from where they installed the modern cafeteria with growling bellies, so I’d suggest planning out your snack breaks carefully. The tomato and mozzarella sandwich was pretty darn good for a tourist site, if you’re looking for a recommendation. Oh and you’ll see quite a few modern art installations placed around the ruins in the photos. I wasn’t the biggest fan and thought they could be confused with the pieces of art actually recovered from Pompeii… What do you guys think?