Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Campania Day 4: Pompeii

We checked into our B&B in Portici around noon on Thursday, and after the stress of travel, the first order of business was showers and naps. Once we were cleaned up and rested, we walked back to the Circumvesuviana station and caught a train to Pompeii--a place I've been fascinated with ever since reading about it as a kid and was very much looking forward to visiting.

I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, but somehow I was unprepared for how huge Pompeii was. I mean, duh--it's an entire city. And just like you wouldn't expect to take in all of a modern city in just 2-3 hours, you can't possibly see all the sights of Pompeii in just a couple of hours.

We rented audioguides and did our best to hit some highlights, but the reality was, we had to choose between multiple interesting spots. The amphitheater (Pompeii's answer to Rome's Colosseum) is at one extreme end of the city, and one of the most famous private houses (Villa dei Misteri) is at the extreme opposite end. Our legs and backs couldn't possibly handle both ways, nor did we even have time to make it to both before Pompeii closed for the evening.

The main forum, with Vesuvius looming in the background

We were fascinated by the way they put a marble facade over rough brick and stone construction in some of the temples

Stepping stones across one of the streets

Teatro Grande

Outside the amphitheater

Entrance to the amphitheater
A panoramic shot inside the amphitheater
One of the saddest, creepiest things about Pompeii was the plaster casts of the dead. The pyramid pictured above was a temporary exhibit set up in the center of the amphitheater; inside were bodies that have been excavated and preserved in plaster. Normally at least some of them are displayed where they were found, but when we visited, most were collected here. I did take some photos, but I felt funny about doing so and don't feel right about posting them here--it was tragic to look at them and know that these were *real people* who died horrific deaths.

I wouldn't say Pompeii was one of my favorite sights of the trip, but it was definitely worth seeing and I wouldn't even mind going another time to catch some of the private houses we missed. We spent most of our time on the public places--temples and markets and baths and such--and didn't see very many of the best-preserved homes. But walking on the uneven paving stones was especially exhausting, and there's very little shade in Pompeii on a sunny day. I don't even know what I was thinking to plan to explore Pompeii *and* hike Vesuvius on the same half-day! I was glad Steve vetoed that idea. I don't think the Vesuvius hike is very long or difficult, but it wouldn't have worked with our schedule at all.

On our way back to the train station, we marveled at this fruit stand. These aren't freakishly tiny bananas--they're normal bananas next to HUGE lemons!

Lemons and tomatoes, among other foods, grow especially well in the volcanic soil around Vesuvius. We didn't get to try any, but we were told that these lemons are much sweeter and the pith isn't bitter.

We stopped for gelato--of course--and then took the train back to Portici for a dinner that would turn out to be one of the highlights of our entire trip! More on that tomorrow.

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