The early plans for this trip did not include Pompeii, not because it would not be interesting to see, but just because it didn’t seem a high priority given everything else we wanted to do. But when we hired a car to take us from the airport in Naples to our agriturismo in Ravello, the car service offered a stop at Pompeii for an additional charge. It is not far out of the way, and Pat argued that we are unlikely to come this way again soon, so why not see it.
Of course, Pompeii has been there for more than 2,000 years, interrupted in its industry only by the odd volcanic eruption, but we made the trip in any case and I am quite pleased that we did.
Pompeii is just a short drive from Naples, and there are plenty of tours available. We knew we were just going to be there for a couple of hours, so other than paying for admission and obtaining the accompanying map, we didn’t indulge in any of the other tour amenities – either the audio guide or a guided tour by one of the many fairly aggressive local guides. That was a mistake. There is virtually no signage inside, and
the map provides precious little information. We had to read up on it on the internet afterward.
Of course the Pompeii story is well-known. It was a thriving Roman town until an eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius, the ash from which provided a coating of preservation until its excavation. The site is much more extensive that I had realized, and the Roman ruins very well preserved in a few places, including remnants of frescos on some walls.
But somewhat less visited is another city, Paestum, which is near the coast south of the Amalfi area near the city of Salerno. There was a sign in our agriturismo advertising day trips to Paestum, and our visit there was remarkable. Of the same
vintage as Pompeii, 6th and 7th Century B.C.E., Paestum has not been excavated as much as Pompeii but has three remarkable Greek temples. Paestum was founded by the Greeks, although later went under Roman rule. It was abandoned not because of onrushing lava flows but because the area became unlivable because of the malaria and climatic conditions. While there is a street-long row of tourist shops, it is less-visited and less commercial – and also less visitor-friendly – than Pompeii. And quite a bit harder to get to unless you happen to be staying in Monte Brusara, as we are, and a driver, Vito, is a friend of the family. Here’s his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
And while I highly recommend Paestum, the drive there from Ravello was a great trip as well. We drove the coast road from Ravello through the towns of Minori and Maiori – Maiori looks like it would be a great location with a very nice beach and a beautiful waterfront – on the way to Salerno. I was in the shotgun seat and thought I was going to meet death. Patty was in the back seat – with no seatbelts – but only whimpered a little bit. I don’t think Vito heard it. Our Edmonds colleague and travel
guru Rick Steves recommends hiring a driver for the Amalfi Coast, and like much of Rick’s advice, this is a good plan.
Part of the aggressive driving needed for this road includes the Italian requirement that you talk with your hands. So it requires real skill to drive, talk with your hands, and talk on a cell phone at the same time. We were comforted only by the fact that Vito’s day job is as a fireman, so we assumed he had EMT training.
Amalfi Coast summation: Stay in Ravello if you can, and choose your location based on how far you want to walk. Monte Brusara is a great spot, and next year, Filomena plans also to rent out two apartments in town.
We didn’t like Amalfi, but we were only there in the busy part of the day. We were attracted to Minori, Maiori and Atrani. We have not been to Positano or Sorrento. Wherever you go, the towns are very different at night than during the day. Daytime crowds are touristy; in the evening, you get strollers, folks out for dinner, residents. It is much nicer to stay overnight in any of these places.