Day Fourteen: The trip to Pompeii

The usual gorgeous day dawns, all rosy gold blurring to blue. Kat and I decide to hit a short workout early, as we’re driving to Pompeii for the day. She picks a 20-minute Pyro routine. It’s called Fire for a reason. Holy crap! This may be low impact, but it ain’t low energy. 

And done!
We gear up, sunscreen, water, hats, guides, program the GPS and we’re off.
Shortly BW is wary as our Brit GPS girl is taking us in a different direction than he believes she should. Stop, consult map. They are both correct, so we go with the Brit. This, we discover, may be a shorter route by a couple kilometers, but OMG. She takes us climbing on the skinniest roads yet, beside high unforgiving walls on one side, parked cars on the other–and it’s considered a two-lane road. Up and squeezing, up and snaking. We pass the red villa we can see–high up–from our own. I’ve wondered about this place, but now that we’re going by I just want to live through the drive.
We go through what appears to be a vertical village, the road all but straight up, the houses stacked on top of it and each other. I feel I could have snatched laundry hanging out on balconies. We decide, firmly, we won’t come back this route.
Out again on the marginally wider road. We’re heading more or less to Sorrento, and there’s considerable traffic jammed the other way. So scooters and motorbikes just swing out, come at us in our lane, zip back between cars. Again and again, shooting out, coming balls out toward us, until I just say: Stop that! Stop that right now!
It’s harrowing, but they don’t stop.
 Ultimately our navigation gives us the turns, we learn, when we’re AT the turns. Now we must begin to anticipate as her 50 meters is not reality. But we get to an actual highway, and into the longest tunnel I’ve ever been through, out, into another, then a third. Still, this is the straightest road we’ve come across.
We drive over and by the contemporary city of Pompeii, sprawling, urban, big.
And finally into the bustling, touristy area outside the historic site. Many options for parking–with people actively waving cars into lots. We’re a little confused as it’s very, very busy, very active. We make a turn, and a man perched on the corner tells us: Go down! Well, we gotta now.
It turns out it’s a small lot, mostly with caravans. And we park for the day.
I’m very grateful to get out of the car.
Up the road again, but not before a little girl encourages us to come see the ‘baby’, a pretty gray kitten.
A man comes up with us, guiding us across the busy road. A short stop in a shop with cameos and coral and so on at his insistence, then we make our way to the entrance. Jason’s bought tickets on-line, so after some confusion this saves us a line, and we walk down a wide promenade, tree-lined, sun and shade. A long walk which none of us recognize from our initial visit.
Entering Pompeii. Photo by BW.
Entering Pompeii. Photo by BW.
But eventually, with a turn here, there, we come to it. Kat has a map and a guide, not especially easy to follow, but helpful.
Many things strike about Pompeii. The size of it–this was a large, thriving city, a sprawling center with good stone roads, villas, houses, shops, gardens, orchards, an aqueduct–there are wells that still provide water. And art. The art lives on, and I find that achingly wonderful. The frescoes, some stunningly well preserved, are a testament, I think, to human imagination and creativity, to the love of beauty. The softly faded reds, somehow still vibrant blues, all those images someone saw in their own heads, created with their own hands are still there.
A small bird on the wing, a flowering tree, a goddess. All still there among the ruins.
Along with the wonder of that, the respect and appreciation of that, is the strong sense of sorrow. So many people, ordinary people going about their lives. Mothers tending babies, children sleeping, servants preparing food, every day things–all with their lives ended so suddenly, so abruptly by the eruption of the great mountain. Minutes, only minutes, for that intense heat then the smothering storm of ash to bury them where they stood or slept. A horror, a tragedy we’re now part of by walking those same streets, stepping inside those houses and shops.
It’s almost too much, it’s an actual weight despite the crowds of people in shorts, with cameras, with babies in strollers. Thousands of people gone in a matter of heartbeats lived and walked right here.
So I look instead of what they accomplished, what they left behind, how they lived, what they loved. There’s an expansive villa that catches me especially. A woman’s villa–Julia. It must have been stunning, as what remains still is. The frescoes and mosaics, the lovely, lovely central gardens with pools (that were heated). There’s a chamber done in white marble, the floor, two long sloping benches, wall niches, overlooking the gardens. To my delight, I read this was the dining room. Guests would lounge on the marble beds while water trickled down one of the niches, there to dine and enjoy the gardens.
Photo by BW.
Photo by BW.
It’s so wonderfully, outrageously decadant.
I wonder about Julia, how she accumulated her wealth and position, how she entertained, lived, loved.
We go into a villa dedicated to Venus where the large fresco of the goddess is almost perfectly preserved. The guide says it’s awkwardly painted, but I don’t find it so. I find it beautiful and hopeful. Art survives.
Pompeii art. Photo by Kat.
Pompeii art. Photo by Kat.
The larger view. Photo by j a-b.
We’ve seen theaters–they had two–the grand and the every day. What may have been a humble shop or home still shows bits and pieces of the frescos, the color and imagery that seems to have been a part of the fabric of life here.
Jason, Nora, Kat. Photo by BW.
Jason, Nora, Kat. Photo by BW.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by j a-b.
Photo by j a-b.
Pompeii hillside. Photo by j a-b.
Pompeii hillside. Photo by j a-b.
In Pompeii. Photo by Kat.
In Pompeii. Photo by Kat.
We walk and look, stop and wonder for a couple of hours, and don’t see half the city.
We make it to the amphitheater, take the ramp down as this was dug out instead of built on. It’s massive–and according to the guide, the oldest known of its kind. So art, commerce, games and sports. And likely some brutal combat as there’s an iron hook fixed into the ground in the center. I can’t imagine those–human or animal–chained there had a good day.
Still, it’s truly amazing, the size and scope of it, fascinating to imagine those stone stands filled with people cheering.
We go into what I think was billed as the grand palace–it’s now used for exhibitions. Not only is the art inside a bit odd–very Egyptian–but the set up is strange and disorienting. Lots of twisting, weirdly lit corridors with dark walls (Kat bills it as the Fun House). I’m actually dizzy–and some relieved when Kat announces she’s dizzy. Our guys admit they’re off, too, and we find out way out into the air and light.
A nice open area–and there it is–the rise and loom of Vesuvius. It’s beautiful, no question, and supposedly still active. But he’s quiet today, and we can look out to him as I imagine the thousands who once lived there often did.
Walled vineyards in Pompeii. Photo by BW.
Photo by BW.
Pompeii structures. Photo by BW.
Pompeii structures. Photo by BW.
In Pompeii. Photo by Kat.
In Pompeii. Photo by Kat.
More walking, more streets, more turns and a short, vertical climb up some stairs. I nearly balk at the stairs as they feel slippery under my feet, but up we go with me pulling myself by the wood rail.
It’s worth it for the view. The city, the vineyards, the great mountain, the world spread out.
Down the path, around turns. The map causes some head-scratching. A sit on smooth-topped broken pillars in the shade for a minute. Jason goes off and finds displays of pots and utensils, that heart-breaking every-day again.
We find the big open area, the forum I think of as a big park. They’ve added some huge and interesting art–I’d have wished for art reflecting of the time, but it’s still fascinating. Icarus is very popular, so popular one of his statues, depicting him fallen after his brush with the sun, is well-weathered–but for his prominent phallis. That’s very shiny!
Modern art in Pompeii. Photo by j a-b.
Modern art in Pompeii. Photo by j a-b.
Photo by j a-b.

We’ve missed much, but you’d need days to truly cover the site. It’s marvelous and achingly sad, a mirror into the ordinary and the extraordinary of ancient culture and life. A reminder to live as fate can be quick and cruel. And certainly a testament to archeologists, anthropologists, preservationists, historians, all who dedicate their skills to uncover and study what was, and who was.

We find our way out, breeze through the souvenir stalls (many) but I want some tee-shirts for the kids from Pompeii. Jason and Kat grab cold drinks, and we head to the garden restaurant attached to our parking lot.
It’s mostly shaded and they have a fine mist that blows through cool at intervals.
And they have wine.
Four tired adventurers revive with lunch. Across from me, a woman at a table is eating pizza with a knife and fork. To me this is already just wrong, but I see she’s carefully cutting around the crust, eating only the inside and leaving an almost perfect ring of crust on her plate.
If lunch revives, surely gelato will polish it all off. It so happens our little lot also has a gelato stand. One-stop shopping!
Now, the long drive home.
Back through the tunnels, back onto the winding coast road. A stop for a vista–and as there’s a stand hugging the curve, a cold drink. I get a kind of lemon slushy–just a little cup of delish.


The view from above Naples. Photo by BW.
The view from above Naples. Photo by BW.
But the drive really takes a toll on my system, and poor Kat’s in the backseat. Kudos to BW for handling it all, but nothing looks sweeter than the gates opening on our villa. I take a walk around in the air, Kat takes a lie-down.
Some quiet time, some catch up time. Some wine for me as the rose comes back to haze the horizon.
Smoothed out again, it’s time to consider dinner. Nobody wants to go out–yay! We have some leftovers, and as Jason and Kat will walk down to the market, they can pick up a couple things to supplement what we have.
They come back with good news and bad news. Bad news? The market’s closed, but they got the additional pasta to mix in with leftovers, a big salad to add to our field greens, and were given a big half loaf of fresh bread.
We put all this together–with some tomatoes, mozzarella and basil prepared fresh in our kitchen–and have a fine meal in that kitchen. It’s gotten really breezy out, and the kitchen meal is nice and cozy. After a team clean up, the calico drops by. She and Jason have a nice visit.
I was sure I could polish off my lemon cake, but I can’t. Hey, it could be breakfast.
Today, BW and Jason head into Sorrento where the villa manager has a boat. They’ll have a day on the water. Kat and I aren’t much for boats. After our workout, likely after I write awhile, we’ll try our hand at baking fig newtons. I have to add that two pounds of figs are recommended. To determine if we had enough, too many, Kat–being Kat–devised a scale using a coat hanging and a bag of sugar.

Kat's inventive scale.  Photo by Nora.
Kat’s inventive scale. Photo by Nora. 
We’re good on figs!
Note from Laura:  I’m not sure if it was internet or a food coma, but I finally received photos from the meal with the chefs.  I’ve added them to Day Thirteen.

18 thoughts on “Day Fourteen: The trip to Pompeii”

  1. Wow!! Pompeii and the art looked wonderful ! Thanks for sharing.

  2. My stomach was doing flips as you described the trip to Pompeii. It is such a sad story what happened there, but not so hard to imagine with Mt. St. Helen’s erupting years ago and so many others since. Of course, back then they didn’t an early warming system. Sounds like a very sobering visit, but a beautiful one, also.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. I so loved Italy and the Sorrento area! Along with the wine, the pasta, the heart -breaking vistas, and the history, I hope you are also sampling the limoncello! Absolutely addictive but with a powerful punch…word of warning from experience! You and yours are living the dream!

  4. I felt like i was with you all the descriptions so superb!! Love your vacations Nora!!

  5. I am more and more impressed with Kat every time she is mentioned. Smart girl! These travelogues are so fabulous. Whether it’s Montana, Italy, or Ireland, I feel like I’m there just with the words. Add in the fabulous pictures and it’s unreal! Thank you everyone who contributes to these!

  6. If you ever run out of ideas for novels (let’s hope not!), I do believe you could give old Fodor a run for his money and write travel guides. You make us see what you saw, feel what you felt, especially the apprehension over the narrow, steep, winding roads. You provide the commentary while BW and the gang provide the photos. And ..voila! Keep the commentary coming and enjoy what remains of your trip.

  7. A visit to ancient Pompeii! Amazing! Seeing the picture of Vesuvious so patient, quiet and waiting in the distance gave me chills. Those poor people gone so quickly and cruelly with no chance or hope of escaping the rain of heat and ash. Thank you for posting the wonderful pictures. I did wonder about the room with all of the round holes–for washing up or a sort of community relief? No stalls in those days I guess. I wonder did they chat while they were–you know–or read from a scroll they had in their purse? Local paper maybe? Did they even have them in those days. Reporters running around enquiring about the political scene or the rising price of olives and figs. Was it men and women together? Can you imagine! Thank you for the addition of pics of the dinner prepared by chefs. Looked delicious! Thank you once more for the marvelous descriptions of your visit. And thank you for enjoying all that gelato as I am lactose intolerant but can enjoy vicariously. It must taste like heaven.

  8. This took me back to my pompeii visit. They added art to the open area. I just found it all very depressing.its basically a large graveyard turned into a tourist attraction.

    The way you described your ride down, reminded me of the opening in one of the ID books, when eve is on the back of roarkes scooter, in ireland,going to visit his family.she shares your view of heights as well.

  9. You saw parts of Pompeii that I missed 3yrs ago. I had the same feelings you did, everyday people doing everyday things when the Volcano erupted. The art and the wells, and the heated pools. It’s so amazing. Thank you for the pictures. I enjoyed them.

  10. Nora,

    Your ability to transport us with your words so we experience what you & your family are seeing, doing, tasting & feeling is a special gift. I wake up each morning in the beautiful northwest and when I open your email, I am instantly transported across the seas to another culture, another time, another place. I taste the smooth icy gelato & feel your fears of the winding steep roads. I agonize & exhilarate with you & Kat in your workouts & enjoy that glass of wine. Thank you Nora for your gifts – they keep on coming.


  11. I love the picture of all four of you, the one where BW had his hands on one of your shoulders and his other hand on Jason’s.

  12. Your pictures bring back great memories of our trip there in June! Thank you! An amazing place!!!!

  13. Being fascinated with the ancients, I took Latin in high school, and more world history in later years. After all this time, I find out today that there is ANOTHER Pompeii??? Are these people crazy?? That’s really asking for that second lightning strike, in my thinking. Awesome pictures and your words painted the sadness I’d always felt about that tragedy, thank you. Thanks, Laura, for putting the new pictures in with the chefs – looked yummy!

  14. I’m so glad we had a big tour bus take us to Pompei. I couldn’t imagine having to drive there or be a passenger on those skinny tiny roads. What a sad, beautiful place it was to see! Wonderful photos?

  15. I was in Pompei back in the 70s. No bad art to corrupt the scene. Vesivius was smoldering at the time. We ate at an outdoor family restaurant. The 3 girls I was with wanted pizza. I tried asking for eggplant parmeson. They made me eggplant pizza. It was different, they were happy to make it.
    I was much struck by the theatres. Back then they were grassy. The sites of actual people petrified by the lava is something I can still see and feel sad for all the lost families forever cast in stone.

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