One day in 79 AD unsuspecting citizens of Pompeii were buried under 30 feet of hot mud and volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius. Rediscovered in the 1600s, excavations have been ongoing. I have had a macabre desire to visit Pompeii ever since learning plaster poured into cavities revealed the victims at death.
While planning our Italian tour and having to decide what to eliminate from the itinerary, Pompeii was never an option. The Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Paestum survived the cut. The beautiful Cinque Terre had to be saved for a future trip. So it was with extreme anticipation on Sunday, October 10 we had our final breakfast under the citrus trees in the sunny Il Roseto B&B garden, said goodbyes, and started the walk to the train station to catch the Circumvesuviana to the Pompeii Scavi station.
The plan was to store the luggage and have 4 hours to explore Pompeii before heading to the Pompeii City train station to catch the southbound train to Paestum. I still remember practically jogging with excitement, my suitcase wheeling behind, past vendors of postcards, guidebooks, and water lining the sidewalk when we came to an abrupt halt! A huge crowd was blocking the entrance! No problem – I would walk on through. But they would not let me through. I was stunned – it took a few long moments for my mind to comprehend. It was a protest! As they shoved their flyers in my face explaining grievances and I tried explaining that it didn’t concern me as it was my life-long dream to visit Pompeii. It looked ugly – what were to do?
This is where my studying proved helpful. I knew there was secondary “backdoor” entrance but that it didn’t have baggage storage so I hoped that we could get to the Pompeii City station, find a place to store our bags, and get into Pompeii on the other side. Since time was off the essence we paid 10 euros for a short taxi ride, only to discover there wasn’t baggage storage at the station. Thinking quickly, I dashed to the closest hotel (another Rick Steves’ tip) and asked if they would mind storing our luggage for a few hours, explaining the situation. To me, what I asked seemed like no big deal, but in hindsight, I realize that due to terrorism it would not be prudent for them to accept luggage from strangers. Bless their hearts, they made a phone call to a Tourist Information office that officially was closed that day, but the manager was working until 1:15 and agreed to store our luggage! They told me it was one block away and as I headed off in the wrong direction I noticed a man waving his arms and beckoning me. To make a long story short, Alessandro Falanga saved the day! He gave us walking directions to the Pompeii site, and we were admitted.
Maybe the protest was over, I don’t know. But, the delay left us with very little time in Pompeii. We dashed around like chickens with our heads chopped off, weaving around slow moving tour groups. Pompeii was so beautiful, somber, and interesting – and one place where a guide could have made a world of difference. There was much more to see, but we were out of time, we had to leave in order to return to the Tourist office by 1:15 but we were lost in Pompeii and didn’t know in which direction was the exit. We asked an employee for directions, and he turned out to be another angel, personally escorting us to the exit, detouring once so he could show us something really spectacular! Once outside the gate, my husband ran ahead to the Tourist office, in order to not keep Sr. Falanga waiting.
Breathing a sigh of relief, we boarded the now-10-minute late 1:25 p.m. train to Paestum.
The day was only half over – how much additional adventure could we squeeze into one day?
As it turns out – plenty! Next: Greek Temples Found in Forest