A Travellerspoint blog

3 August 2015

Ercolano, Pompei, Sorrento

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Woohoo and boohoo, my final full day in Europe! Today's agenda: visit Herculaneum and Pompeii, then spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening in Sorrento, enjoying a good dinner before catching a hydrofoil "water taxi" through the Bay of Naples--hopefully getting some shots of the Isle of Capri along the way. (As always, more photos from this day are available at Flickr.com, username OhMissLia.)

First stop: Herculaneum, or, in Italian, Ercolano. Named for, yes, Hercules, this prosperous little coastal town suffered horribly from the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius, roughly five miles to its east-northeast. Rather than its ash cloud, which traveled toward Pompeii, Ercolano was struck primarily by the volcano's pyroclastic flow, resulting in well-preserved remains that include organics like wood and skeletal material.

Standing where water used to be, looking over Herculaneum toward Vesuvius. The row of arches at the lowest level were boat loading areas; the only place where bodies were found, except for the priest at the Temple of Hercules. The theory is that the residents were evacuating when the pyroclastic flow came in at about 100mph. The "bones" here now are fakes; the priest's body is real, but behind a closed gate.

The best-preserved part of the Temple of Hercules. Some of the floor's tiles remain, and the frescoes are clearly seen. It must have been magnificent in its prime, with gleaming marble and statues everywhere!

The temple's priest was found in his bed, the only body found within the city--he must have chosen not to evacuate. This is behind a closed gate; our tour guide is one of the excavators, and showed us how to stick our arm through an opening to blindly take a shot.

Outside a wine shop. The painting is a description of what was being offered that day, with prices, kind of like today's blackboards with the colorful chalky stuff.

Gutters which took away gray water. Our guide very much wanted us to understand that Roman cities did not have sewage in the streets--solid waste was used for fertilizer and liquid waste was used in laundry for its ammonia.

The ladies' spa! First, the room where you'd store your stuff, then the bath itself, with marble bench. There's a massage room, too!
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Roman fast food joint. Your food would be served in a lidded pot in these holes, which kept the food hot or cold.

A panorama of someone's home. The detailed mosaics are just incredible, and there is quite a bit of it visible throughout the site.

Naturally pink marble. Can you imagine seeing this all over town?

Okay, that's enough. There are lots more photos, but I can't post them all. They're on Flickr (OhMissLia) but don't have descriptions yet--so if you're wondering "Why did she take a shot of a splash of water on the floor?" just look more closely... you'll probably see the reason. :)

Next stop: Pompeii, or, in its modern spelling, Pompei. Far larger than Ercolano, Pompei was a busy city of 11-16,000, about five miles to the southeast of Vesuvius. The eruption filled in much of the bay; the site of this port city is now 1.25 miles inland. I confess that I hurried through Pompeii--the terrain of both Herculaneum and Pompeii required my wearing the closed-toe shoes that were hurting me so much; plus I was really starting to bake after spending all day in the Italian sun. Pompeii is huge; you could spend all day here and not see it all.

Pompeii's Forum, with Vesuvius in the background. I had to keep reminding myself that it was ONE volcano, not two; I'd mentally make a triangle from the two peaks to get an idea of what it must have looked like prior to 79 A.D.... and then I'd picture all the tourists in togas. :)

The remains of the Temple of Jupiter.

Just a cool shot looking down the main drag, with Vesuvius framed by the aqueduct arch.

The brothel. This fresco, above one of the rooms, is sort of a menu of services available.

Roman plumbing--a metal pipe! (This is a photo of the ground. That's my left toe on the left side of the shot.) The city had three pipe systems; one for public baths, one for private homes, and one for public fountains. If there was a water shortage, the systems were turned off in that order, ensuring folks had drinking and cooking water as long as possible. Unfortunately, the pipes are made of lead.

A statue in the courtyard of the House of the Faun, clearly the home of a very wealthy family. The house takes up an entire block, had heated floors, and was decorated with an eye to history; very sophisticated. (The statue is a replica; the original is in the museum in Naples.) My question is... aren't fauns supposed to have goat's legs?

Roman crosswalk. The streets were regularly flooded (either by Nature or by the public utility guys) so these stones are there to keep you from getting your sandals wet! Note the chariot marks; sizes of chariot axles and crosswalk stone spacing were all standardized. (But contrary to popular belief, are NOT the reason our railroad tracks are the width they are.)

Roman streetlights. The sidewalks are inlaid with white stones that gleam under a handheld lamp, guiding your way like a row of white cat's eyes.

Like Herculaneum, Pompeii is still being excavated. The exit from the site brings you right past a work area where more fabulous things are being discovered, dusted off, and appreciated by human eyes for the first time in 2,000 years.

Final stop: Sorrento. Smaller and less hectic than Naples, it's often the "base" for people visiting the Amalfi Coast, just to the south. I'd heard a lot about this resort town, but I was just as excited about changing out of my uncomfortable shoes!

It was about 4pm when I got off the train. Based on the information I had, the last water taxi to Naples should be leaving sometime around 7-8pm. I wanted to confirm the time frame, then head to the shore to find a seafood place and relax with some good Italian wine. I felt like a freshly-baked calzone; hot and steamy. Visions of cold wine and a breeze off the bay are all that kept me upright.

I wandered around a bit, taking photos and buying souvenirs...

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...until I found the place with the water taxi schedules. And discovered that the last one had just left. I'd walked through the entire town to get here, so in theory, I'd seen everything there was to see without being on the shore. And if I wasn't going to get on a boat, I didn't want to hike all the way down to the shore, because, duh, I'd have to hike all the way back up. So... I was done. I'd reached my limit, I could go no further. I decided to spend my water taxi money at the fancy restaurant next door and an expensive--but air-conditioned--train back to Naples.

It was only 5pm at this point, early for dinner, so when the host (whose attention I had to spend considerable effort to get) told me to sit anywhere I wanted, I did. I chose one of several lovely tables with a water view. After I'd settled in, a waiter came over and asked me to move. He insisted that this table was reserved, and made me move down to a table with no tablecloth. I wondered if "tablecloth" signifies "reserved." There was no other difference between the tables, other than a very slightly obstructed view. Something about this exchange bothered me, but the view was still basically fantastic, so I blew it off. My mistake.

I decided to order linguine with prawns and shrimp freshly caught from the bay below me. I wanted a white wine, so I perused the beverage menu and found something called "grappa" that had both a "bianca" and "rosse" version. Thinking that would be a wine, I ordered a "grappa bianca" with the food, then settled in to write out my postcards while enjoying the view.


When the food and drink arrived my first thought was, "Jeez, what a tiny wine glass!" I'd expected one of those half-carafe things I'd been getting everywhere else. Then I tasted it... UGH! NOT WINE! Turns out "grappa" is some kind of brandy. It was really strong and not to my taste at all, but I sipped at it until it was gone. (I'm shuddering as I type this weeks later, just remembering.)


I paid for my food, still getting a strange vibe from the waiter and cashier. Even now, weeks later, I still don't know why. Maybe it was a cultural thing--restaurants in Europe, particularly Italy, don't rush you out the door like they do in the US; leaving you alone as much as possible so you can eat in peace is good service--but I didn't feel like that was the case. I wasn't left alone, and the attention I got had a questioning feeling to it. It felt more personal, but I was so exhausted that I didn't trust my judgment on that. Maybe they just thought it was weird for an American woman to eat alone and sip brandy. :)

After dinner, I had plenty of time before my train left. I took my time walking back through town; mailing my postcards and buying gelato. Sorrento really is a pretty town, but I wasn't getting the friendly vibe that it's famous for--but again, I didn't trust my own judgment, because it was entirely possible that my tired self wasn't being nearly as friendly as I thought I was! I ended up hanging around the train station until my train came... annoying various employees by not knowing which platform to go to (it wasn't on the ticket, nor was there an info board anywhere!) and by daring to sit in a seat not-clearly reserved for patrons of a nearby cafe. It was the first time in three weeks that I felt even faintly frustrated at not being able to read the language around me.

Eventually, my train arrived. It wasn't nearly the "luxury" ride that was promised, but the faint air-conditioning alone was worth the fifteen euros. I dragged myself up to my hotel room, showered, did a little journalling, then said goodnight to Mount Vesuvius and went to bed. The final day of my big adventure had completely worn me out. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 16:10 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sorrento pompeii herculaneum pompei ercolano summer_2015 3_august

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