Pompeii and Vesuvius–the brutality of a volcano and the kindness of strangers

It’s difficult to recall the splendors of Italy while in front of my computer a month later. Especially since I’m in my robe and PJs after a dinner of toast and peanut butter. But I will give it my best shot.

This day was still night when we got to the assembly point for our tour of Pompeii. We found ourselves practically the only people in the Piazza del Popolo, and the photo opps were once-in-a-lifetime. I’m pretty sure that this was the only time in the day when it would be this empty.

It started filling up fast though. There were other tours waiting for their buses, and interspersed with them was an increasing number of the citizenry trying to get to work or wherever. I could see why the tours would start so early. How else would they be able to keep track of all us foreigners?

Our guide was Louise, an Irish gal who’d been in Italy for some time. I found out from her that, not only did she live here, she had a master’s degree in Italian. And boy did she use that mastery throughout the day! Especially at lunch time, when she had to get all of our orders straight…

Our route had us passing under the watchful gaze of Montecassino, a place I had hoped we would visit on this tour. Alas, I was sorely disappointed. So much history! Another “next time” thing.

Louise told us a number of fascinating historical details about this place, but sadly they didn’t stay in my mind. I did find an informative website though:

http://www.abbaziamontecassino.org/abbey/index.php/en/

It took quite a bit of time, but we finally made it to our destination: Pompeii.

We had a pretty good view of Vesuvius as we approached. There it sat…silent…waiting…

But I digress.

Our group got connected to another tour guide, whose personality was stellar but whose name is long forgotten. Great guy–very informative. Louise stuck with us too–had to keep track of everybody. She’d stand by every door, counting us as we went by. Wonder if she had been a sheepdog in a previous life–ha!

Our guide took us up and down streets…

(That last picture–you can see where wagon wheels had made ruts in the stone.)

Through an amphitheatre and environs…

…through a bath house…

…into a brothel…

through a high-end home…

and finally out into a plaza/public area.

Everywhere we looked there was a new thing to wonder at. A few things he told us I remembered from our trip to Herculaneum, but there were other things that were new as well.

We finally got to the place where some of the castings of people and animals were kept. They were behind glass, along with rows and rows of jars and equipment, so it was not easy to get pictures. These were not the only casted bodies in Pompeii, but they were the only ones we were able to get to today:

(That last one is a dog’s head.)

This was the first time I’d gotten so close to the castings of the human remains that made this site, and Herculaneum, so famous in the first place. I wish we could have seen more, but the day was waning and we had one more stop.

We got back on the bus and headed up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. I’m pretty sure I heard it chuckle under its volcanic breath as we approached our stop.

 

 

Louise told us we had exactly “X” amount of time (I can’t remember if it was an hour or not) to get up to the top and back down because the bus wouldn’t be able to wait for stragglers–there was not enough parking space to accommodate all the buses that came and went. No pressure, right?

I had a look at the switchbacks leading to the summit, and all the people of all ages going up and coming down, and decided, “What the heck? I won’t get this chance again. How hard could it be?”

Yeah, that “famous last words” thing…

So up I started. Paul was already ahead, as usual (I’m not a fast walker), but he stopped on occasion to take pictures. And to catch his breath, I imagine. Gave me an excuse to do the same.

(That’s the coastline down there.)

The incline was extremely hard on my legs, but I’m too stubborn to let that stop me. Despite the hate mail I was getting from them, I strove onward and upward.

Near the top are some concrete constructions, which I found curious. There seemed to be no info about them anywhere around. Odd things to find on the top of a mountain…

Later, back on the bus, Louise told us that they had been part of a funicular railway that had been built there for the tourist trade. However, the people who used to get paid to accompany hikers to the summit saw a threat to their livelihood and sabotaged it. Plus, Vesuvius tried to shake the thing off a couple of times as well, so it was finally given up as a bad idea.

http://www.vesuvioinrete.it/funicolare/e_funicolare_storia.htm

(The info on that link is in English, by the way.)

Looking into the maw of the beast at its very summit was awe-inspiring, to say the least. In my own area of the world, the closest we have to that is Mt. St. Helens–but that one blew the side of itself off, so there is no pronounced crater like this one. It’s still inecredible to see, but not quite as breathtaking as looking down into Vesuvius’ immense and dangerous space.

This was not fog–it was a plume of smoke. Proves that ol’ Vesuvius is merely taking a nap. I would not want to be anywhere near it when it finally woke up…

 

 

 

 

 

Time was getting short, so we started back down at a fairly brisk rate. It wasn’t fast enough for Paul, though, who envisioned us left behind and having to call a cab. I told him to go on ahead, which he did. As for me, I did my best to keep up with him, but my legs just are not as long as his. By the time I got to the bottom of the trail, they were ready to give in entirely.

I’m sure you’ve seen video (or the real thing) of newborn calves/foals/deer getting up on their feet for the first time. They wobble around, unstable and ready to fall at any given moment. Well, that was me, as I finally made it to a stop on flat land. I didn’t quite make it to where Paul was standing, and he was oblivious to the fact that I had finally arrived. He was keeping an eye out for our bus, not sure if it had arrived yet or if it had left. I, for my part, didn’t have enough energy left to let him know that I had landed, so to speak.

As I stumbled around, trying not to fall, I suddenly felt a presence behind me–a presence with a chair. A couple who had been seated near the gift shop (there is always a gift shop) saw me and came to my rescue. The woman helped me into it and asked if I needed water.

Um…very much so.

The manager of the gift shop came out and said I’d have to move, because we were where the buses turned around. The kind lady who had brought me with the chair took it back to the patio, while the manager helped me toward it. Then he went inside and got me a bottle of water. The couple sat beside me and kept an eye on me.

This all happened within a minute or so, and without a lot of fuss. So it was no wonder that Paul didn’t realize that what was going on was happening to me. But he finally did, and after checking on me he went into the shop to get me a bottle of water–at the same time that the manager was bringing one out to me.

Of course I shared…

The tour group was now re-assembling and the bus returned a few minutes later. Fortunately all of the riders were accounted for.

I thanked the nice folks who had helped me, and headed back to Rome.

Phew! It’s beer time!

(I laid the fork there so we would remember how big these steins were.)

Word to the wise: don’t try to climb Vesuvius, or any mountain, if your legs aren’t up to it. A month has passed, and I’m still having trouble walking any great distance. My fault for being obstinate.

But for me it was worth it!

***

Next–When in Rome, see all the sights–with half a million of your closest friends.

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