Crazy Naples and History Time in Pompeii & Herculaneum

The more South we got in Italy the worst the roads became; pot holes, bumps and general bad Italian driving were the norm rather than the exception! I don't think we would have gone down there, had we known how bad they were. But, how often do you get to be that close to probably some of the most famous ruins in the world, PompeiiWe'd also started to watch The Sopranos - even though it is set in New Jersey, USA - Tony and his family are all Italian Americans from around Napoli/Naples. The fourth episode of season 2, "Commendatori" sees Tony and his crew going to Naples. So we thought we'd pay a visit to what was once one of the oldest mafia hotspot and stroll around Herculaneum too.

Huge viaduct just before coming to Naples.

After a week parking in sosta camper stop and mixed parking sites, we were in need of a proper shower - we do use the one in Izzy, our motorhome, but it's not the best - washing, but also electricity and WiFi. Most campsites were shut, so we stayed at the ACSI-discounted campsite, Spartacus which had been recommended to us by the elderly Dutch motorhomer in Volterra (i.e. See our review of the parcheggio communale in Volterra - fourth one). Only a five-minutes walk away to Pompeii's entrance and to the local train station, small & friendly lemon-tree shaded Camping Spartacus was the perfect location.

Walking through the gates of Pompeii was like entering your history book and being able to visualise what Roman life would have been like before the eruption. Ahead of its time, the Roman city already seemed like one of today's towns or cities with its own shops, boulangeries, gardens, public baths and pubs. How sad and horrific then to think that it had all disappeared in the space of 24hours. Jamie and I even watched the cheesy dramatized BBC documentary, "Pompeii: The Last Day" the night before to remind us of the events.

Number 5. Basilica (Download the Excavations Map)

Number 13. Granai Del Foro (Barns Hole). The covered fruit & veg market's now used for storage. 

By the way, Jamie and I got a bit confused and entered through the excavations by a side gate, not far from Porta Marina, manned by a security guard. The guard made us a deal and asked us 15 Euros (7.50Euros each) instead of the full price, 22Euros (11 Euros per adult). Although it saved us money, we did get worried of being stopped as we had no tickets. It also meant that we couldn't go back to the main entrance and get some audio guides as recommended in our Lonely Planet Italy guide. Looking back, I'm not sure we would have gone through with it, had we known beforehand what was in store.

Via Del Foro. The Arco Onorario at the start of Via Di Mercurio can be seen in the background.

Number 17. Casa Del Fauno (House of the Faun). One of the most luxurious Roman aristocratic private residences.

Number 38. Jamie's working one of the bread ovens of the Panificio (Boulangerie) on Vicolo del Panettiere.

Pompeii is such a huge site that you just cannot see everything unless you'd spend the whole day. Jamie and I walked in around 4pm and ended up running around for the last half an hour trying to fit as much as we could before the gates shut at 6pm!

Number 49. Casa Del Citarista (House of the Citharist).

Number 60. The huge Anfiteatro at the top of Via di Castricio.

Inside the Anfiteatro.

Number 43. Teatro Grande.

Number 44. Quadriportico dei Teatri.

Bye Bye Pompeii! The exit gate near Porta Marina.

The small road on the right hand side leading to the entrance of the ruins.

After the ruins, the city of Naples was next on our agenda. We hopped on the Unico local train from our stop, Pompeii Scavi - Villa Dei Misteri to the last stop on the Napoli-Sorrento line; Napoli Garibaldi, Naples Central Railway station. A few minutes walk to Porta Nolana, the medieval city gate and its market streets; we walked through the greengrocers, delis, bakeries, ethnic food shops but also clothing & luggage stalls onto the narrow and busy streets of the Centro Storico including Via Dei Tribunali...

Our stop: Pompei Scavi - Villa dei Misteri.

Our train arrives; Napoli here we come!

Mount Vesuvius in the background. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go up in the end.

The busy market street through Porta Nolana.

... From there we went underground and discovered Naples dark & mysterious passageways. Although our young German student guide was friendly and there were only three other people in our group, we were a bit disappointed by our Sotterranea tour. We expected to hear about World War Two tales of spies & the Italian resistance, and most of all secret stories about the mafia, but there were none of it. At 19.20Euros for the two us, it wasn't that expensive; we had just expected a little bit too much of it. 

Exhibit of kids' toys found after the WWII. Neapolitans used to live underground, taking shelter from the air raids.

As people used to live down here. The University of Naples is doing some research on growing plants underground.

We were given candles to walk through the darkest & narrowest passageways.

Back in daylight, we continued our tour of the city walking passed some of its landmarks and finished it off with a staple Neapolitan dish: pizzas and red wine at Antica Pizzeria Vesi back in the Centro Storico

The beautiful traditional shopping arcade near the theatre.

The church of San Francesco Di Paola on Naples' largest square: Piazza Del Plebiscito.

The royal palace facing the church of San Francesco Di Paola.

Our visit had been so much fun, maybe too much as it nearly turned sour!... Once our stomachs were full and we were a little bit merry, we realised that we hadn't checked the trains timetable to get back to the campsite. We ended up missing the last tube around 10.15pm! We worriedly asked what we could do and were told to catch a bus back, but people kept directing us to different stops... 

... I must admit that I freaked out and was being uselessly agitated and angry. It wasn't nice and helpful at all for Jamie, who desperately was trying to find out which bus and where we could take it from on his nearly out-of-battery phone. It turned out that the coach station was only a few meters down the main square where we'd been waiting for a while for the wrong bus. Once hopped on the warm and dry coach, I never felt so much relief and safe! We were lucky we didn't have to pay for a taxi back in the end. Our day passes included the cost of the coach too.

Recovered from our eventful evening, we headed out to the less famous ruins, but still a UNESCO World Heritage site, Herculaneum/Ercolano on our last day, Friday 22 November. We loved it; Pompeii had been fantastic, but quite a few houses and road were shut for conservation during our visit, so Herculaneum felt more complete. The excavations are much smaller so it is a lot easier for archaeologists to maintain. For visitors, it means that you can walk around the whole site in two to three hours and leave you with a contended feeling that you haven't missed anything. 

Panoramic view of the whole site from the entrance path.

Number 40. House of Argus (in the Brief Guide to Herculaneum).

Number 38. Thermopolium. The Roman pub!

The men's baths.

Number 21. House of the Tuscan Colonnade.

Number 22. Another Roman pub!

Number 24. Hall of the Augustals.

The main street.

A mosaic of Neptune in one of the rooms of the women's baths.

Number 27. Women's baths.

Number 31. Samnite House.

Number 30. Food shop.

The sign of Camping Spartacus very visible by night!