Pompeii: Going, Wandering Around and Coming Back.

Pompei Ampitheatre

Tina giving a sense of scale

Part One: Going, Wandering

Don’t let the photograph fool you. We didn’t magically appear in Pompeii. We had a lot of struggle, hassle and grumpiness before we could explore these fantastic ruins.

Here, for your delectation is the unabridged, uncensored, unkempt version of our wonderful trip to… where was it again?

So, where to begin… [Try the end and work sideways? Always worked for Spike :)] {Well Ok, if you think it would work…}

Ahhhh, Home again. You do drinks darling and I’ll do the necessary….

“Ombrello? Ombrello?”

“Well, that’s one way to give a place a complex.”

“Oh Glods, this is delicious.”

“Every Sperm Is Sacred…”

“Do we stick it in here?”

{Do you know I don’t think this is going to work… I’m going to go back to the usual narrative convention of starting at the beginning.} [If you must, but I think you are missing a trick…]

Date: 5th Nov 2012.      Time: 3.30 AM      Action: Alarm Sounds…

I stumble out of bed. My mind/body is already suffering a mild case of schizophrenia… part of me is very tempted to roll back under the duvet (it’s 3.30 am for Pete’s sake) the rest is already up and dancing… Today we go to Italy.. Yay 🙂 But first… to the airport… This is not as easy as it seems. Yes we could have booked a cab to take us and our one ton suitcase straight there but where’s the fun in that? No, let us instead get the first train of the day. At 4.57 am! If we are lucky we will get to the airport just in time to check in… Cue non-working ticket machines, late trains, cold platforms and running for airport shuttles… but we did it!!! We check in, have final ciggie in Old London Town and then another jog for the gate (with all the usual faff of “Coats, bags and shoes on the tray… Step through the scanner slowly”)

One airline breakfast and twenty minutes doze later and we have swapped the chilly darkness of a London early morning for the sticky mugginess of an Italian mid-morning… Passport control, Baggage claim and then my first fag in over three hours…  Ahhhhhhhhhh! That’s better. Now Napoli Airport to Pompeii… How do we do that again? More importantly, How do we do it with a three ton suitcase , a lack of even basic Italian and before we melt… Hey, we dressed for November pre-sunrise in London!

All aboard the omnibus to Naples town… Hold on tight… Welcome to the wonderful world of Italian Driving… tighten those sphincters and let’s go  😉 :O

I’m not going to fall into the usual cultural stereotyping of Italian Drivers being all crazy… Buuuuut … well, let’s put it this way… If there’s a gap someone will attempt to get through it. Pedestrian, Scooterist, Fiat 500, Delivery Van… it doesn’t matter… If the gap looks like you can get a packet of cigarettes into it, somebody will attempt it…

I’m going to zip through Naples (pretty much like we did on the day) simply because everywhere we looked was dirt, noise, chaos and tourist traps. Not our idea of a fun place to be. But we have to walk across the main plaza to get from our bus to the train station.

I would just like to say at this point that this trip would not have been possible without the thorough and exhaustive planning done by the divine Ms Price-Johnson. Thanks to this planning we have a route planner supplied by our hotel to guide us through the chaos that is the Italian public transport system. We follow these directions and head straight for the ticket office. Did I mention I am dressed for a very early morning in London in November? Did I also mention Naples is currently basking in an unseasonable 24 degrees. Oh yeah, and Naples main rail station has a huge glass facade and I’m dragging four tons of suitcase.

To obtain a ticket one must first “take a number”. Easier said than done. First, find out which of the seemingly dozens of rail lines services the stop you want, then find out which desk sells these tickets, then get in line (with your number) and waiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. Then when you are bored, frustrated, melting and in dire need of nicotine attempt “quick tickets” machine. What do you mean you don’t recognise the word Pompeii? How can you call yourself a rail service? No! I don’t want a copy of yesterdays newspaper, I want a ticket and a fag! 40 minutes  pass and we finally reach the man that sells tickets 🙂 Oh happy day, time to try some Italian… Don’t bother, the words “Due Biglietto… erm to… Pompeii…” are barely out of Tina’s mouth before the nice Italian gentleman tells us we can’t get our tickets here, we have to go to the other side of the station, down into the underground and get our train on the Circumvesuviana service. The next hour is not pretty. Struggling through the midday congestion with our  five ton suitcase, down stairs barely wide enough for a toothpick, and onto train that – in every way – shows the public transport system is seriously underfunded and understaffed. Hot, crushed, tired, dripping, suffering in ways you couldn’t imagine… we arrive. We are here. Pompeii!

WTF?! It’s closed?! How can it be closed? It’s nearly four in the afternoon!!

Right, well if I have to drag this seventeen ton suitcase any further I want at least a fag and a coffee. But how? It’s all bloody closed!! Wait. What’s that? An ice-cream parlour?! Yes! let’s have an ice-cream… My Glod!!! How many flavours?! All thought is now glacial. I point at something with cherries and smile. Next stop, our hotel.

Hotel Diana

The Best Hotel in Pompeii

We do all the usual hotel things. Checking in, finding room, dumping bags, washing ice-cream covered hands and faces, trying to book dinner in the hotel restaurant that isn’t open during the off season and then it’s out we go… First, find the entrance to the ruins and then food. The first part of our quest is easy, follow the signs and then follow the line of tacky souvenir stalls and voila! The second part… not so easy. It is now about 4.20 p.m. and even though we have left our winter coats and the fifty-two ton suitcase in our room we are still exhausted, hungry and I for one am very close to ripping the head off anybody that looks at me funny. So let us now find food. Failing that, let’s go into that Burger King 😦 Welcome to Italy, here, eat some generic crud.

Tummies now protesting both the size and the quality of our first meal in Italy we emerge onto a street buzzing with life and shops open. We later learn that Pompeii siestas during the afternoon… :/

Our three thirty start, flight, travails from airport to hotel and late “lunch” have now caught up with us. Time to return to our hotel and relax in the garden with a coffee – via a supermarket to get evening supplies because we know, we will not be venturing out again today because we are bushed, done-in and downright knackered.

The lack of English TV and our inability to walk any further than the bathroom means we read our way into sleep.

Day two; and we find this… 

Bloody gorgeous

How’s that for a dining room…

when we go down to breakfast.

We use part of our breakfast to make our lunch, grab a taste of everything and head out for our first “proper” day in Pompeii.

I have been waiting for this moment since I was knee-high to a tea-bag. I have little tingles going up my spine (and twinges through my knees) as we stroll through the cathedral piazza, past tourist trap stalls – each and every one of them selling the same things – the millions of pictures of a caucasian gentleman with long hair and beard, plastic and base metal replicas of Roman period artifacts, and the cheap tatty toys you can find in any pound store. All vastly over-priced and as tired looking as the buildings we have seen on our train journey here.

Deft as we are at avoiding the gazes of those wishing to depart us from our hard earned monopoly money (I’m sorry,  but the Euro just doesn’t look like real money to me, what can I say… I just cannot take those dull little slips of paper seriously… which probably explains why I have great difficulty keeping hold of them for very long)[Yeah, that’s the reason]…

Anyway, as I said; Deft as we are at avoiding the cheap tat sellers, as we get closer to the entrance to The Ruins {What? No dramatic music? Honestly, this is a cheap arse production.} we are drawn to a stall covered in posters for Pompeii, Herculanium and Vesuvius. This is the “official” agent for the site (one of three I believe) and it is here we buy our handy guidebook [which you barely looked at] and the very much needed map. We avoided hiring the horribly annoying and heavy “audio guides” and so you should. Never let anybody else dictate your emersion into a historical site. Promptly at ten of the clock we pay our eleven Euros – Only eleven Euros? Yeah sure, here you go, have a couple of these funny little slips of coloured paper… If you had said; That’s ten quid mate, I would probably still be standing there in apoplexy… But Eleven Euros?! That’s Nuthin’ –  and ENTER THE RUINS!!!!

Are they everything I have dreamed of? Are they magnificent, majestic and awe inspiring? Are they going to leave me breathless? Am I going to be running around like a hyperactive five year old on a sugar high, always just this side of going Squeeee and having a little accident?

OH GLOD YES!!!! Well maybe not the running around and the little accident… but I will admit to having to bite back the occasional squeee 🙂

Ok, this is where this blog gets a bit complicated. The Angel of my Heart claims I am a witty and humour-some writist. I say I just let the drivel inside my head filter out through my fingertips and let others decide. This presents a problem. Our visit to Pompeii was filled with laughter and witticisms but truth to tell it wasn’t what you would call a funny experience… If that’s the right way of putting it.

As you wander around the ruined city (at least as far as I’m concerned, and let’s face it, this is my blog so I’m going to be writing from my experience…) you (I) are filled with such overwhelming contradictory emotions that it’s difficult to process and reconcile them all.

Without the tourists it's a ghost town

Without the tourists it’s a ghost town

As you would expect, wherever you look there are ruins [Well duh!] {Do you mind, I’m trying to write something intelligent and meaningful here…} [Well there’s a first time for everything I suppose, but why break the habit of a lifetime?]{How Rude!}… as I was saying, yes it’s all ruins but it’s so much more than that. A few of you will already know this but for the newcomers I must point out I’m no great fan of the Bloody Romans. I really don’t think they improved the lives of anybody during their tenure as ” The Worlds Greatest Empire”. They stole most of their culture from the Ancient Greeks and the Etruscans, they enslaved the vast majority of Western Europe and quite a bit of North Africa because empire is by it’s very nature ever expanding and all-consuming. They had no concept of social awareness. They were brutal and unforgiving. Yes they had some amazing engineers and were quite gifted in the arts but they were primarily a militaristic culture that raped, pillaged and slaughtered their way across their “known world”, leaving a few thousand sculptures and blood-soaked soil wherever they went. [Boy, that got a bit heavy there…]

This is not to say that I am totally “Native before Imperial” in my outlook. I can appreciate that some cultures develop faster than others. Actually that’s a bit of a misleading statement. When I say “develop” I mean move from a loose confederation of independent extended family group/tribal agrarian/farmstead cultures to centralised government and urban centres being the norm. That being said, there was a lot to recommend the pre-Roman Celtic/Baltic/German/Iberian/etc cultures. And it is at this point that the mixed emotions come in.

Pompeii as a town/city has been around since approximately 400 BCE. What we see is a small part of what was there at the time of it’s destruction in 79CE. That is a minimum of nearly 500 years of development, change, urban planning, rebuilding and all the other things that go together to create the physical city.  We also see (where it hasn’t been stolen or  destroyed by treasure hunters, museum “collectors”, world war II bombing raids, the elements and just plain carelessness.. not to mention the earthquake and volcano) a few of the items and architectural flourishes that made this a living city. We see statues, tables, amphora, storage jars, wall paintings, graffiti, mosaic floors and stucco ceilings… We walk the pavements that Pompeiians walked along 2000 years and more ago… Using their crossing places… entering their homes and shops… running your eyes and fingers over their bedroom walls and temple statues… Photographing and marveling at these buildings that have stood (though in most cases only the ground floor) for two millennia. You do all this, and believe me we did, but it is a bittersweet adventure.

Forever in the back of your mind is the fact that this was a living city. You imagine you can hear the original inhabitants living their lives. You walk into a bar (and believe me there are plenty to choose from) and believe that if you just squint a bit you could make out the 1st century clients drinking, dicing and chatting up the waitresses. You trip in wheel rut that has been there since before the writing of the bible and you are awe-struck and overwhelmed again and again. You know that when the original inhabitants of the tenements were complaining to their landlord about the distressing smell on the stairs  those of us from more northerly climes were living in round-houses with dirt floors and no kitchen or toilets. But, at the same time, you know it’s all an illusion. This isn’t a living city. This isn’t even the remnant of a living city. This is the remnant of a remnant of a dead city. Most of the artifacts are spread around the world, in the hands of museums and private collectors (those that remain are primarily copies), most of the famous wall paintings are gone (either, again, into museums or collections or into the spoil heaps that now provide allotments for modern Pompeiians), practically everything that could be seen as a window into the lives of the people that lived here at the time of the eruption has been whisked away over the past century or so.

That is not to say that what is left isn’t worth seeing. It Is! I just felt that Pompeii has lost it’s way a bit. Yes, you can have a guide (who are both knowledgeable and numerous) but then you have to go where they point and see what they want to show. Or you can use the audio-guides that will cost a partial kidney outside the gates. Or you can do as we did and just get a map and guidebook and wander where you will (within the confines of these streets and buildings that are not closed for safety reasons or archaeological exploration/renovation)… I don’t want Pompeii to become Disneyfied but at the same time it does need something. Something to relieve the ghost-town element that pervades the town.

I’m going to end this rather dry and quite boring section with a photo of one our favorite finds of our first day inside the ruins…

Pompei Nov 2012 086

Well of course it’s the brothel… what else would you expect from me 😉

We left the ruins after 6 1/2 hours (so much for all the guides saying we could do the whole thing in four hours) with still at least a third of it to see… But our tummies were rumbling (and insisting we avoid all the trappings of Americanised “culture” ) and so we took our tired and aching little bodies back to our hotel for a quick wash and brush up before venturing out in search of real Italian nosh.

We found some 🙂 of course it was a pizzeria. A German pizzeria, but then that’s us… we don’t go for the easy options when we dine out in a foreign nation 🙂  We go out at a time that is (for us) perfectly reasonable but which is for the locals probably way too early. We sit in the deserted restaurant for an hour watching an incomprehensible Italian gameshow waiting for the pizza ovens to be fired up so we can fill our increasingly noisy stomachs… We stare dumbfounded at the screen sipping our drinks as the tables around us continue to remain empty… Finally we eat… in a word (Yummy!)… and it’s only as we are paying that I notice the beer I have been drinking – predominantly on an empty stomach – is 8%!! Feeling refreshed, sated (and on my part, a little bit blurred) we stroll back across the road to our hotel and bed…

That’s it. Days one and two of our Pompeiian adventure… If you want more let me know… if you don’t… tough, I’m doing another one (probably next week) 😉 in which we shall visit the public baths, the Villa Di Mysteri and stroll up and down the volcano that led to the whole thing 🙂

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3 comments on “Pompeii: Going, Wandering Around and Coming Back.

  1. Can’t read for the tears of laughter! You spelled Villa de Misteri wrong. Probably. But then again, so have I repeatedly since we saw it, and I have a photo of the correct spelling, so you win. I DEMAND MORE!

  2. Pingback: 3 Euros and a Tip Box | inthewordsofnevyn

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