We did not have a Cole Porter moment on our last day but it did…
So today a couple of things: An amazing experience seeing both Pompeii and Herculaneum. Stupendous. And then something else: Getting there and back.
At our age we could have hired a driver; pick us up at the hotel, drop us off on site. We could have done what zillions of tourists do and taken a private, air conditioned coach. But no, we did what the locals do, we took transit. There is a commuter train direct (milk run direct) and it’s only two and a half euros. So, like, $100 cheaper, maybe $200 than the private option. And who would be commuting on a Sunday, right? Well I can tell you: Thousands of Italians going to the beach in Sorrento, that’s who. Thousands.
We boarded at the terminus, Garibaldi station. The train was very full from the get go. All the seats were taken immediately. SS and I stood in the exit door vestibule. In my estimation we were a mix of about 2% tourists, 8% Italian families, and 90% Italian teenage boys. It was just plain lousy with teenagers. And every stop (there were 21 stops between Naples and Pompeii) more teenagers got on. Sweaty, smelly, loud, obnoxious, compelled to get to Sorrento, no time to spare. And it got more and more crowded. And there was no air. We were dripping in sweat, soaked in sweat, there was no ventilation, and at each stop, with no more room, one more group of teenagers squeezed themselves into the car, and the air got worse, and the space decreased, and the train chugged along noisily with boisterous teens staring down the odd woman, and another stop would come and go and more would board; OK, it wasn’t a commuter train in India, with as many commuters on the outside as in, but it was unbearable, brutal and maddening. About 18 stops in a tourist more or less my age had a panic attack; he shimmied his way to the sliders and stuck his nose through the rubber partition of the doors and willed himself to manage the remaining stops. I saw one couple tumble out of another car, hands on knees in exasperation, dripping. The teenagers looked on oblivious. It was like the tenth circle of Dante’s hell. Anyway, we both just stood there pressed into a corner, drenched, and 21 stops or a little less than an hour later, we squeezed out at Pompeii. I am really too old for crap like that. Ouch.
Pompeii, though, it was amazing. Despite the tourists and the group tours, it was easy to find quiet streets and breezy passages and quiet remains. And, having seen all the frescoes and recovered remnants the day prior, really easy to imagine how it all was, how it could have been. Less the stench of, I guess, animals and rotting food and fetid water. But still…
Pompeii fun facts: The amphitheatre predated Rome’s Colosseum by a century and was initially called the spectacula. Palestra Grande, the gardens outside the amphitheatre, the centre shot above with the gorgeous plane trees in the distance, was originally a large gym. They collected urine to use in laundry, it cleaned oil out of cloth: one emperor tried to tax it. Who needs a guide when we hacked our way through everyone else’s tour?
After a light nondescript lunch in the shade we took the train a few stops north to Herculaneum. Not as heavily trafficked as Pompeii, it was in fact “discovered” first, but covered in four times as much dirt and more difficult to excavate with fewer treasures to loot it languished. Another fun fact is that unlike Pompeii, where the bodies buried there were essentially casts of clay where flesh decomposed, actual skeletons were found at Herculaneum. And, surprisingly, a fair bit of the actual wood used as roof beams still exists. See below.
And now a gallery of our wanderings at Herculaneum. Right top row, temple of the four divinities, Minerva, Neptune, Mercury, Vulcan (or as the Italians translated it, Volcano); myriad skeletons, and other remnants:
After Herculaneum and a (lovely) inconsequential return on transit, we took a rest before heading out for dinner.
Remember the shots of the Castel Nuovo from yesterday? This is Sophia Loren in the rather dire Vittorio de Sica film Marriage, Italian Style (which of course I had to lift from the net) with her in front of the castle.
Well just around the corner from our hotel is the Piazza de Gesu Nuovo, a lovely spot for a drink or a meal. We took our dinner there tonight. See the pic I took in the evening light from our table and the pic from 1964 and see if there are any similarities…