Visiting Pompeii

ABOUT. The Pompeii excavation site is located about five miles from the base of Mount Vesuvius and is a short walk from the center of the small town of Pompeii, in south-central Italy.

Now an UNESCO site, it was birthed in 79 A.D., when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and spewed a ferocious amount of ash and mud upon her base. The volcanic event ended with a pyroclastic surge that forced a 100 mile-per-hour spray of superheated poisonous gas into the air. These combined events completely swallowed the site (and anything living within it) with millions of tons of volcanic residue, hence, a morbid time capsule was created. The town of Pompeii remained buried and mostly untouched until 1748.

Before the destruction of Pompeii, it was a flourishing resort town containing all of the typical Roman intricacies: a busy forum, a few arenas, several bath houses, atriums, brothels, and an array of temples. Elaborate villas lined the streets of Pompeii alongside taverns and cafes. At the time of the fateful eruption, it is estimated about 20,000 people lived there.

THE RUINS. It is fairly common to find Roman ruins when traveling -- rather in England, Turkey, or N. Africa. These typical ruins consist of faded white marble structures strewn about an area. But because Pompeii has been protected from the wind, sun, and human encroachment -- her ruins offer a more vibrant glance into the daily life of the ancient Romans. The Pompeii site reveals an obsessive attention to color and design, with painted interiors and meticulous mosaics found in nearly every space.

GETTING THERE. [How we did it.]

Our flight arrived Naples in the morning, so we planned to visit Pompeii en route to Sorrento.

The Naples airport is small and easy to maneuver. We didn't have to go through any formal immigration steps when we landed because we had entered the EU via Paris. This means our passport got stamped in France, not Italy. After we grabbed our backpacks, we extracted some Euros out of an ATM machine and then walked out of the airport. We followed a sidewalk along the right-side of the entrance area that was lined with signage. Our goal was to find the CURRERI VIAGGI bus - which was parked at the end of the sidewalk path (a few blocks down) in a gated parking lot with a large tan umbrella (near a car rental lot). We paid the driver 10 Euro/cash a piece and asked to be dropped off in Pompeii (this bus goes straight to Sorrento for 10 Euros and we received no discount for being dropped off early).

For a few dollars cheaper, we could have taken a different bus to the train station, and then hopped the train directly to the site - but we didn't think the hassle was worth it. Since we travel with backpacks, we also didn't care that the Currieri Viaggi would drop us off in Pompeii, not at the excavation site. Once we got off the bus the driver pointed us in the right direction (cross the street and walk in the opposite direction of the bus, under a bridge). We walked about 1/4 mile until we began seeing the typical tourist vendors. The walk was easy and all via a sidewalk. Once near, we bought hats and water and entered the site - first looking for the baggage drop off area. We dropped out bags off for free, received two baggage ticket claims, and then purchased our tickets.

The site is big. And hot. And shadeless. Take a hat, some snacks, and some water bottles. There are a few areas inside the site where you can refill your water bottles for free - but you can not purchase water once in the site. These refill fountains are marked on the map you get when you buy your ticket.

There are very few educational signs. I suggest buying a small tour book before leaving your country of origin to ensure you see everything you want to see.

Once we were ready to leave, we exited the site and walked across the street to eat and drink at a little outdoor cafe next to the train station. We then bought a train ticket for Sorrento at the station (the Circumvesuviana ticket was cheap $2.00 or so) and validated the ticket via one of the old YELLOW machines on the wall as you exit the purchase counter. We then hopped on the train and landed in Sorrento about 30 minutes later. EASY!


-- tickets are free the first Sunday of each month,

-- entry/exit/baggage pick-up closes from 1 - 2:30 each day,

-- once you leave you can't come back in on the same ticket,

-- the Circumvesuviana train was not as sketchy as people make it out to be,

-- few of the plaster human remains are at the site, most are on display at the Napoli Museum.

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