Day Trip to Pompeii and Vesuvius from Sorrento
For our 3 week stay in Sorrento, our apartment high on the hill about Sorrento looked out at Pompeii and Vesuvius. At first the top of the volcano was shrouded in cloud. But as the days passed (and the wind swung), the top of the volcano cleared.
A tour of Pompeii and Vesuvius was one of the few things we planned to dol. But the first two weeks in Sorrento passed without us booking. But we finally got a great day tour of both sites.
Choosing A Tour Company For Pompeii and Vesuvius
We considered a few options and decided on the Syrene Tour group for our visit to Pompeii and Vesuvius. This was mostly because they advertised hotel pickup and we saw dozens of their smaller buses everywhere we looked.
The first not so big surprise was that they would not climb our twisty road up to the apartment to get us. We had to walk down and get picked up at the “big tree”. This was apparently the common pickup point for many tours. We discovered the second surprise when a full sized bus stopped to pick us up. It was not a smaller intimate tour group! The biggest pleasant surprise was that our tour leader Lia was both well informed and quite amusing.
Lia provided ongoing commentary on most of the whole inbound trip. Her overview of Pompeii and Vesuvius covered all the information that the specialized guide at the crater top also provided. This allowed us to wander off when we reached the crater top. We looked rather than just listened.
Stop Enroute To Pompeii and Vesuvius At the Cameo Shop
The downside of going on an organized tour was always the places they chose to stop along the way. Our bathroom stop was at a cameo shop. And the restaurant they chose was a low rated 3 star restaurant. We just wandered off on our own and found lunch!
We were skeptical about the cameo shop stop. But it was interesting when we saw how cameos are made. We saw the artist at work and saw the wide breadth of designs that were carved.
Real cameos were made from carving on one of three different types of shells – each a different colour. The outside of the shell was ground off and then the middle white layer was carved. This left the inside shell to form the coloured background.
We looked at some beautiful jewellery . But we left without indulging in our “special” 20% discount.
Heading To Mt Vesuvius
As we drove we saw Mt Vesuvius getting bigger and bigger. Lia told us about the big eruption in 79AD. It buried Pompeii in 4m of ash and rock and Herculeum in 23m of mud and lava. She noted that Vesuvius was originally 3 times as high as it now was. The eruption left the two crater tops that are now the iconic picture of Mt Vesuvius that is instantly recognized.
The bus climbed the twisty road to the drop off point. Along the way we saw views of Naples laid out below us. We clearly saw the optimistic spirit of the Italians when we were told how many millions lived in the shadow of the volcano.
The “red zone” was clear marked. This represented the high risk zone that would be evacuated when the sophisticated monitoring equipment at the volcano indicated an impending eruption. Not surprisingly, it was not possible to get volcano insurance!
For the last eruption in 1944, there was almost 2 weeks notice provided and deaths were minimal. They expected to provide about a month notice next time. But the bigger problem will be finding a place for the population that has grown to over 5 times what was evacuated in 1944.
On the trip up we caught glimpses of modern art commissioned for the roadside. Many pieces reflected on the horror of being caught in an eruption.
Climbing Mt Vesuvius
The bus dropped us off at 1000m. From there we walked to the crater at elevation 1280m. The path up was a gravel quite steep walkway. For those few who chose not to walk to the top, there was a small cafe and the standard tourist junk stalls for amusement. I hoped they planned for the 90 minute wait.
There was no rest for this billy goat. Up we went. We were very thankful for the 9 weeks of hill walking we did during our 10 weeks in Italy.
The Top Of Mt Vesuvius
Arriving at the top, we fought our way through the shop and started the walk around the crater. At this time we could join a tour guide offered in various languages offered. We stayed with the group long enough to know that Lia did a good job of briefing us.
Looking over the crater rim we saw the 250m or so crater hole. It was filled with sharp lava rock and ash.
The most recent eruption in 1944 was a relatively minor eruption. But it capped the volcano and allowed the pressure inside of Vesuvius to build and build. It was expected that the next time that Vesuvius erupts will be a very major event. In spots we saw steam escaping through fissures.
Lia told us to inhale the sulphur smell and ignore the rotten egg smell. Sulphur was apparently good for clearing your respiratory system. David claimed this stopped his snoring for 2 nights! Although I was real skeptical that he took in that much sulphur steam!
The Views From The Top
On the walk up and along the rim, we looked out over first Naples. At the opt we looked out to the Sorrento peninsula. We were again up at the cloud level looking down on the vista below.
The trek back down was much easier, the biggest risk being the slippery gravel. At the entrance there were wooden sticks available for a “donation” (2€). This helped to provide a little stability when the path down got steeper. We saw the Pompeii site way below us. What a great way to start our visit!
Down To Pompeii
The bus navigated back down the mountain and dropped the group close to the Pompeii gate. Passing on the group lunch, we wandered around and looked at our lunch options. Lia was right about the prices being high at some places. We settled for a light lunch and gelato.
When we re-joined the group we again lined up in slow Italian fashion for tickets. No Vesuvius / Pompeii tour included attraction tickets. So plan to pay 10€ to walk up Vesuvius and 11€ for Pompeii entrance. The guides did not even have tickets so we lined up with everyone else. It was a good thing we visited almost at the end of the season.
We entered along the Grande Progetto Pompeii. A gentle sloping path that slowly took us up and up to the excavation site on the hill. The steps back out were the old entrance. Walking along the path we got a view of the outside walls. But it in no way prepared us for the 40 hectares of uncovered site (of 66 hectares total) we found as we entered.
Wandering the Streets of Pompeii
We visited ruins in Greece, Turkey, Spain and other parts of Italy. But I was really not prepared for the complete city layout we found. Walking along ancient rock roads, we saw the over 600 shops that lined the major street and alleys. Walls were largely intact while most roofs were gone (or had been recreated). In some ancient bars we still saw the marble bar tops.
We spent a fair amount of time as we wandered around a more recent restoration of a noble’s house. We saw all the rooms and understood how the house was used, complete with a garden at the back. In almost every room you could see restored frescoes and in a few of the rooms you could see remnants of mosaic floors. When the house was discovered they found a basement room with a complete set of silverware. It was hard to imagine that all of this was buried under 4m of ash!
We were lucky to be there at the end of the season when the crowds were smaller. Some of the smaller roads and the inside sites would have been much harder to navigate with huge crowds. This also allowed us to visit one of the infamous brothels. The frescoes on the walls depicted the “menu” of the various services available.
The site included the training arena for the gladiators, a small amphitheater and the massive main square with the various buildings and temples. Vesuvius sat in the background. We saw the temples and alters dedicated to Apollo, Isis, and Jupiter still largely intact.
The Artifacts Of Pompeii
There was an area off of the main square where some of the artifacts were stored on the site. There were shelves and shelves here. But the vast majority of artifacts were at the Architectural Museum in Naples. We planned to visit on another trip.
The storage areas also included the plaster casts made in cavities they found that had once held buried residents. The bodies were all disintegrated in Pompeii. But we were told that the material that covered Herculeum left bodies more intact that are still being recovered.
We spent a few hours as we walked the site of Pompeii and listened to the good narration provided by Lia. Because it was less crowded, we covered a lot of ground. But Lia said it would take 2 days or more to see all the buildings and artifacts. For this day, we were done. Quite overloaded with all we had learned!
It Was A Great Day Visiting Pompeii and Vesuvius
On a return visit we might visit Herculeum to see the difference in the devastation and remnants on the other side of the volcano. We will also make a trip to Naples and the museum. It was a quiet trip back and we all were quite still when we finally hobbled off the bus.
Every night the last sight we would see from our patio outside Sorrento was Mt. Vesuvius calling to us across the Bay of Naples!
Were you awed when you visited Pompeii and Vesuvius? Should we visit Herculeum and the museum in Naples?
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