The final stop on our European tour in May was Pompeii. We weren’t 100% sure if we would go there- we were on a tight budget and Pompeii is about 200 km away from Rome where we were staying. But we decided that it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and with the high speed Italian trains, it would be a fairly easy trip. We researched various tour options. They were quite expensive and many reviews were not favourable as the guides often use the typical commission garnering tactics of taking the whole bus load of tourists to one restaurant for lunch. Also, the tours are very rigid and you have to do what they want- not always our strong suit. So we decided to head out on our own. The plan was to catch the high speed train to Naples from Rome Central Station and then catch the local, Circumvesuviana, train to Pompeei. We would start at the Pompeii site and if we were too hot or had enough time, we would head back to Naples and to the museum there which houses most of the artefacts taken from the archaeological site.
The trip was very easy. We left Rome at about 7 am and we had to book a business class ticket because we booked the night before- so much for our budget. At least we got coffee and some crackers during the trip. It took about an hour and then we had to find the Circumvesuviana train- not so easy- it was in the bowels of the train station. This train was quite a shock- it was nowhere near as sleek and shiny as the train we had just used but rather more like a South African train- i.e. graffitti and rust abounded. It was easy to know we were in the right place because there was a good mix of locals and lost and uncertain looking tourists (including us). This train took about 45 minutes to reach Pompeii and the “station” is right by the entrance.
We bought entrance tickets and a map and headed in. Wow! I was totally absorbed in every thing from the moment we walked in. The entrance to the town is through a gateway next to the wharves which are surprisingly intact. We used my iPhone and started our Rick Stevens free audio guide to Pompeii here.
There is a restaurant with food, ice cream and cold drinks as well as a loos- many of which were out of order so be prepared to queue for a while. We had our packed lunch next to the theatre on the base of an ancient ruined temple in the shade of some ancient Pine trees.
A guided tour may be worthwhile- we heard many interesting anecdotes from the guides around us. But beware- sometimes the guides are very rude. Apparently their tourists are the only ones who should be allowed to view the site..
There were plenty of phallic symbols and sexual references to be found throughout the city.
If we go again, we will allocate more time to this area. There are a few more sites nearby that are similar to Pompeii- namely Herculaneum, Stabiae and Oplontis which apparently have less tourists. It wasn’t too hot or touristy in Pompeii when we were there but I think its because we went in May which is outside of the main crazy season. We would also visit Naples. There is a museum there that houses all of the artifacts removed from Pompeii and the other sites. I think these would have been fascinating to see.
I was quite disappointed that there were far less artifacts in situ than I had hoped. But I understand why, they have been moved for safe keeping to the museum. The city has also been mined by the early discoverers of its marble and sculptures- this is so sad. Can you imagine what it was like when they first uncovered the ruins- probably far better preserved than we see it today. But even so, I loved Pompeii!