Naples, Pompeii, and Mt. Vesuvius

Trip Start Apr 11, 2012
Trip End Oct 10, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Campania,
Friday, June 29, 2012

The ride from Capua, though short at 30 miles, was not so fun. I found myself on a freeway after misunderstanding a sign on the entry ramp. I had thought that only the "A" roads were freeways, but it turns out that any of the regular “SS” roads can be freeways as well. I did realize that I was indeed on a freeway, which carries a 150 euro fine for cyclists, after getting honked and yelled at by several vehicles. Unfortunately, as exits were few and far between, I was on it for a couple miles. Most all the roads are like this near Naples apparently, so I had to stick to smaller streets that go through towns. Here, this means riding on really rough cobblestone…not a pleasurable experience. Then, there is the traffic. People here are extremely aggressive and aren't shy about using their horns, which doesn’t reduce the stress level much. Partly due to this, my stay in the Naples area ended up stretching to 10 days; only half of the days did I venture out to do any real sightseeing. That is what happens when I’m not feeling much like riding—I don’t ride.

My hostel was relatively close to Pompeii, so I did choose the bike for my mode of transportation. That was fun. After getting beaten to death on the cobblestone roads for the first 3 miles, they smoothed into asphalt, but navigating in the traffic here is a wild ride. I was almost clipped by a car door opening on me and the rest of traffic is a fast-moving bit of chaos that requires all of one’s focus. I never relaxed even to take a sip of water during the whole 11 mile ride. At least Pompeii was worth it, though. I walked around on my own for 6 hours and saw everything that was open to the public. It is one of my favorites on this vacation so far. Afterwards, I went to a separate site of Villa Poppea, Emporer Nero’s wife’s place. It is a small excavation, but the place is more complete than any of the ruins at Pompeii, and well worth it.

The next day, I went to the other buried city, Hercolaneum, which was less than a mile from my hostel. I had read that it is more complete than Pompeii, but it didn’t really seem so to me. They are both ruins, but Pompeii is much larger and has more impressive sights and frescoes. Certainly, Hercolaneum has a few buildings that are more than two stories tall, but I don’t quite understand why the entry fees are the same at each site. Yes, well, bitch, bitch, moan, moan…anyway, I was lucky to have a roommate from Australia who was fun to hang with. We both went to a place near Naples with some underwater Roman ruins and did a little scuba diving. Neither of us had done any diving before, but for only 50 euros, we received a short lesson and were thrown right in.

My roommate is an avid swimmer, rather unlike me, the uncomfortable swimmer. I wasn’t expecting the mind twist that occurs when trying to breathe while water is over your mouth and face. Yes, I panicked a little. Still, I just had to calm myself and I was fine. However, even with the shallow 15 foot dive, I had issues with equalizing the pressure in my ears on the way down. In spite of these issues, diving is certainly much more fun than snorkeling, I will say. There was a good number of colorful fish in addition to the Roman roads, statues, and marble floors. Not too bad for my first dive.

You get the impression that the people in Naples don’t care too much for their surroundings and are maybe a bit lazy. It isn’t the cleanest part of the world and many people are overweight. Then, there is the way things are run. After the dive, I tried to go see the old Roman amphitheater in Pozzuoli, but it was closed when it should have been open. Then, there is the park of Mt. Vesuvius. While there are supposed to be around ten hiking trails, none are open except for the one popular with tourists. Even that one, which goes around the crater at the top, is only open for half its length. And the fee to hike this short trail? 8 euros!! You’d think the park would be in tip-top shape with the oodles of tourist traffic. Apparently, corruption drains public resources rather badly in the Naples area.

My last sightseeing day, I went into Naples to visit the archeology museum, containing many items removed from Pompeii and Hercolaneum. Very impressed, I was. Huge statues, ornately carved marble coffins, impressive frescoes and mosaics. I’m very glad I saw it; though I almost didn’t after the ornery guy in the ticket office insisted on exact change, which I didn’t have. I had to go into a bookstore to get change just to get in, but even if it means putting up with these strange Italians, I still recommend it. However, I do not recommend riding a bike anywhere near Naples. I made an incredibly intelligent decision and rode the metro into the center of Naples. After seeing the roads and traffic, I was most happy to be navigating the city on foot.

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Alison on

Fantastic photos Jon. Sorry the bike-riding was so hairy.

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